The Best Drives in Romania

the motoroamers

The Best Drives in Romania

If you’re a petrol-head, what would you class as the ‘Best Drive in the World?’  Let’s face it, there are plenty to choose from and many that appear on the maps of Europe.  Although head further east towards Romania you will be treated to not just one ‘Drive of your Life’, you have the choice of two no less!  In fact, don’t make a choice, do both and see how your Battle of the Passes stacks up.

We ventured into Romania in August 2017 for a fabulous five-week tour covering ground from the Danube Delta in the East to Bucharest in the south and Barsana and the famous Painted Monasteries in the north.  Yet many people who come here head straight for the central lands of Transylvania and Dracula and for good reason as it’s a fabulous region of Romania. Although there’s a mystery of hidden treasure waiting for you in the heart of the Carpathian mountains.  Transfagarasan and Transalpin Pass – both to be experienced and committed to the memory banks forever.

Transfagarasan Pass – DN7c Poenari to Sibiu 53 miles (90km)

Transfagarasan Pass – view south

You cannot pass up the chance of testing your nerve and driving skills on Ceausescu’s Folly.  The was a road carved between the southern edge of the Carpathian Mountains between 1970-1974 primarily purpose of giving Nicolae Ceausescu direct military access across the mountains to protect against Soviet attack.

It was a construction that was not free of tragedy and incident as many soldiers lost their lives whilst working on the road – official sources state 40, although it is believed to be in the hundreds in reality. These days the road is more geared towards adventure and personal achievement as cyclists (professional and amateur), motorcyclists and drivers of all shapes and size of vehicle attempt the twists and turns along its challenging route.

The Transfagarasan Pass is the second highest road in Romania and has more viaducts and tunnels than any other road in the country. And at 2042m at its highest towards Balea Lake, it makes for a truly memorable trip.  It is only open from June to October and dependent on the weather, so do check before you head out there.

There are three sections to the road-trip; the first (assuming a south to north transit), is through a river valley from Curtea de Arges. This ancient capital of Wallachia holds the record for the largest volume of rainfall in twenty minutes back in July 1947 and it is here where you will get clear indications of whether the road is open and suitable to pass.   En route through this section you arrive at Poenari Castle, where you will find the remains of the most authentically linked castle to Vlad the Impaler – Count Dracula to you and me.  It’s certainly worth a visit up the 1482 steps for the views alone.

From here, you begin to wind upwards towards the mountain’s heartland and drive through your first three tunnels finally reaching the most beautiful sight of Lake Vidraru. The road snakes around this lake through pine forest that smells evocative, especially if you choose to do this route by bicycle.  The views though are very limited.

Capra Waterfall – 1690m

After 20 miles or so, you then reach the second section where the landscape opens up and the mountains reveal themselves with their curvaceous allure. The Capra Waterfall is worth a stop at 1690m height and allows you to take a breather – even as the passenger.  And then you continue to wind up to the commercially oriented parking area where you can get access to Balea Lake and her waterfall.

Time this carefully and I’m sure the walk is fabulous, although high season at lunchtime was a bad judgement call on our part.

Transfagarasan Pass – at the top!

From this point you start you decent and the iconic wiggles that wend their way down the northern face of the Carpathian Mountains towards Sibiu and the start of the third and final section of Ceausescu’s Folly.  This is where the smell of fresh air soon gets replaced by the stench of over-used brakes – not pretty although the scenery undoubtedly is.

For us this was the least inspiring section of the road as after the beauty you have been privileged to see up until this point, it was always going to play second fiddle.  The flat lands beyond look uninspiring after the mountain giants that you navigate to this point, although still the stark contrast does add to the experience.

Transfagarasan looking south

Now if you believe what you hear and read, UK’s TV Top Gear team rated the Transfagarsan Pass as one of the greatest drives in the world, believing previously that it was Stelvio’s Pass in Italy. Armed with their Lambo, Ferrari and Aston Martin, their journey might lure into the belief that they were right, although this is where the battle of the passes truly commences in our opinion.

Much like many other visitors to Romania the highlights of the country are clear, although one of the most hidden and unpublished treasures is the TransAlpine Route or King’s Road. We were recommended to do it by locals, interestingly not the tourist guides and we almost didn’t take it and what a loss that would have been as it is a serious contender for the greatest drive in Romania.  Let battle commence.

Transalpin Pass – DN67c  Sebes to Scoarta 84 miles (147km)

More alluring because of its understated presence in Romanian marketing, the Transalpin Pass is significantly older than Transfagarasan, believed to be built under the reign of King Carol II 1893 – 1953.  It was rebuilt after WW2 by German Troops and it is thought that Ceausescu was secretly driven to build his more easterly road to compete with the Transalpina.

Transalpin Road

Sat in the heart of the Parang Mountains in the southern region of the Carpathians, the Transalpina is the highest road in Romania, reaching a lofty 2145m above sea level and when you reach the top, you certainly notice the difference in air quality. And that’s without this route having already taken your breath away.

This 84 mile route has a multitude of sections that make it a jigsaw of an experience.  Leaving Sebes in the north, you slowly wind your way up the road through quaint villages and farming communities that rely on the forest as their trade. Hugging the river valley, traditional Romanian buildings cling to the sides of the mountains that are already making their presence known and you get a real sense of isolation here.  The pine trees on this side of the route offer protection to the bright orange chanterelle mushrooms that call this place home and you will see road-side sellers calling you to buy their freshly picked produce.

Transalpin Lake – one of the many

Then the route becomes dominated by lake after lake – each corner offering a completely unique vista that holds your interest. Brilliant blue waters reflect against the greenery of the forest and offer your imagination playtime as you consider the life that is in and around these watery treasures. The odd hotel springs up from no-where offering special offers for motorcycles and Romania smells wafting from their kitchen windows tempts you to stop.  View points along the way as you cross and traverse these lakes are plentiful, so you must allow plenty of time to travel this route, especially if like me you are a photographer.  We didn’t start the route until 4.00pm so we found somewhere to stay by one of the Lakes in our camper, which provided a perfect sleepy spot for the night.

Transalpin Windscreen View

The road keeps your attention held throughout the trip as you can see you are climbing and you feel intrigued to know which corner will show you the top.  Yet more corners, more lakes, more unforgiving forest lay before you and the beauty of the landscape is almost beyond adjectives.  And without so many tourists on this route, you pretty much have the place to yourself and you find yourself with the space to simply marvel at what Mother Nature has crafted.

And then the road changes – a T junction has you heading east or west – west taking deeper into the Pass and heading for the peak finale. The vista starts opening up and you can see where the tops of the pine trees touch the sky and you begin to snake upwards. The rolling hills and gentle slopes tease you, lulling you into a false sense of security about how high you actually have climbed.

Transalpin Wild Donkeys

And then a place to stop with some souvenir shops and a herd of wild donkeys capture your attention or just a moment.  Although look up, look out and the views across the mountain tops is incredibly stunning. The shadows from the clouds create a patchwork quilt that mesmerises you until you realise that even this is not yet the top.  You still have further to go. Now the hairpin bends really begin.  Tighter than a brand new elastic band, the road twists one way, then the next whilst shepherds with their traditional blankets thrown over their shoulders tend to their flock. First gear, second if you’re lucky, this road is beyond description for its ability to transport you onto a real life Scalextric set. No this is a serious road-trip for any petrol-head and needs serious concentration and gear-management.  And the view from the top is just incredible.  So very different to Transfagarasan.

Transalpin – almost at the top

From its height at 2145m you may be forgiven for thinking it’s all downhill from here.  And of course that’s true, although the Transalpine route has not yet finished with you… It will take you on a ride across the ridges of the mountains, seeing vistas with 360 perspectives and you feel so close to the sky as if you could almost touch it.  This is not simply an up and down affair.  This is a real journey across, along, amongst and within the very soul of these Parang Mountains, with whom you feel at one.

Completely disorientated and not really knowing where the northern star might be, the mountains transport you towards the valley floor way off in the distance and here the landscape changes dramatically. You gently snake your way through forests of oak trees and green pastures where cows graze nonchalantly. There’s no great pressure on your brake

Transalpin west side

As as you feel like you glide your way to the bottom, gently rolling from left to right with grace and elegance.  It gives you space and time to relish your surroundings, to breathe in its beauty and leave a part of your soul here.

You need at least a full day travelling this road and to really do it justice.  It deserves your time and your devotion.

So who wins the Battle?

So you may rightly ask – who wins?  Well I guess only you can answer that for yourselves.  It is only our experiences conveyed through word, image and movie.  You are the best judges, which of course means you must come to Romania and you must experience both roads to truly make a judgement.

For us it would be the Transalpin every time.  It was like falling in love deeply rather than the adrenalin rush of a heady climax and it massages your soul rather than exercise your nerves. So I guess it’s all about what you love the most. Both roads are undeniably beautiful and individual.  Yet we were left wanting after our Transfagarasan experience especially after all the hype, and the Transalpin seriously filled the gap. My only conclusion is that Top Gear could not have experienced Romania’s highest driving road when they passed their judgement.

So come on – make up your own minds and tell us what you think.

If Romania intrigues you then read more from the Romanian Tourist Board or check out our page and YouTube for more information.

Published: September 02, 2017
Category: Romania | Travel


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow us

You can find us on social media,
different channels for different content.