The TransFagarasan Highway is a throwback to the bad old days when Romania was a dictatorship. The megalo-maniacal boss man liked to build really big things. One time he knocked down a bunch of neighborhoods in the capital and built an over-sized parliament building. Another crazy project was to build a highway over and through the Fagaras mountain range from nowhere to nowhere!
That project is now called the TransFagarasan Highway and was named the Best Road in the World by Top Gear (for you car people). Clearly a must-see, especially since we can see part of the road from our farm.We caught a ride into nearby Sibiu and rented a little Opel Corsa go-cart to take the big scenic drive.
The turn-off to highway 7C is a little to the east of our little village of Sarata on an empty stretch of highway. You go through one little village before the climb starts for real. The first part of the climb is a winding, heavily forested highway until you pass some chalets and the base station of the gondola. The gondola was closed but looks like a very scenic ride up to Lake Balea. I think the gondola ride gives the best views of the falls coming down the valley.
Not long after, you get up to the treeline and start passing through avalanche tunnels similar to what we Canadians are used to seeing in Roger’s Pass, B.C. Once you get right out of the trees, the really spectacular views start.
It’s pulling into the upper valley that the craziness of the project really sinks in. You can see hairpin switchbacks built right on top of the one below. It looks like it was designed by M.C. Escher.
Thankfully, drivers get a little more conservative than usual up there, except for the motorcycles. Often there’s no guardrail, and at least once the road slims down to only one lane.
All the way up to the lake, there are mind-blowing views and a lovely little stream cascading down under and around the highway. There are even spots to pull off and take pictures, but they only hold about two cars each.
The last switchback piles you out into the upper, upper valley and into a scene reminiscent of the top of Mount Fuji (for those who have been). Roadside stands selling roasted corn, toys, handicrafts, knick-knacks, paddiwacks, etc. line one side of the road. On the other side is one of three large chalet hotels overlooking the lake and a big (pay) parking lot.
The lake is, of course, breath-taking. There’s a little walking path around the shore suitable for little legs, and hiking trails all around for longer ones. The temperature up there is a solid 10 degrees cooler (at least) than down in the valley, so bring warmer clothes.
If you’re vegan, like us, the only food you’ll get up there is a salad or roasted corn so bring snacks. We brought a whole lunch and had a picnic in the grass beside the lake. So dang SCENIC!
The next leg of the drive starts with the crazy cherry on the loony TransFagarasan sundae. If you drive straight past all the souvenir stands, the road goes straight into a dark hole! Apparently (and obviously, if you’re standing there looking at it) the mountainside is too steep even for crazy switchbacks. Instead of just calling it a day, they tunneled straight through to the other side! Nutty as a fruitcake.
The other side is beautiful and more serene with less traffic and no souvenir stands. The road winds down into the woods again and then weaves drunkenly around the shores of an enormous hydro-electric reservoir. This part takes forever. If you’re persistent, or hate back-tracking, you’ll arrive at the 167 m high Lake Vidraru dam.
A little lower is the ruins of the actual home of Vlad Tepes, AKA Dracula. To get there you just have to climb 1480 steps up from the highway. We did not do that. No time.
A little below Dracula’s run-down chalet you start to cruise through villages and homes again. The road is a bit less winding, but going is still slow due to tractors and horse-drawn wagons full of hay and firewood. Still a very cool driving experience.
We decided to stop for dinner in one of the larger villages at a restaurant called Italiano where we actually found a vegan pizza on the menu! The pizza was too small and the service was terrible, but still!
After dinner we strapped in for the boring slog back to the farm. We went around the mountains instead of back over them for two reasons. One: We hate back-tracking. Two: A chorus of police, fire rescue vehicles, and ambulances passed us on their way up the mountain. I don’t know, and I don’t want to know, what happened up there after we left.
That crazy highway took 4 years to build, 38 workers died in the process, and I can’t imagine what final economic cost was. These days it’s a superb day of auto-tourism, but objectively, what a completely mental thing to build!