Being from Canada and from a province that is home to part of the Rocky Mountains, I have driven through the mountains on the Trans-Canada highway many times, which has this:
Not so bad. There is also a cement guardrail along the edge of the road for most of the mountainous part. Its a little scary, but you get used to it after going through it every summer.
Taking the Transfăgărășan was a whole other experience. It started out nice and flat, with trees lining each side of the road, it was like swaying smoothly from side to side as you went through the twists and turns.
So the first leg wasn’t so bad. Very smooth and you are protected by a forest of trees on either side of the road. The first stop was on the side of the road where nestled between the mountains was a number of huts selling snacks such as dried meat, pretzels and sweets. They had many souvenirs that said “Romania” on it, handmade bowls, cookware, knitted clothing and many other things I’d seen at the other tourist stops during the road trip. The only thing they didn’t have much of was “Transfăgărășan” souvenirs. I would have bought a “I survived the Transfăgărășan” t-shirt, hat or ornament of some sort. But there weren’t many options.
Traveller’s tips: (1) Before embarking on the Transfăgărășan, make sure you are not tooo afraid of heights. I knew after traveling the Trans-Canada highway that I had a mild discomfort when we got to the narrowest parts of the curving road. But after getting to the “third leg” of the road I was gripping the door with white knuckles and almost covering my eyes. (2) Make sure you have a full tank of gas because there is about 200km between Sibiu and Pitesti and there are no gas stations in between.
The Transfăgărășan attracts many tourists nowadays, but it wasn’t built for this purpose in the 1970s. In response to the 1968 invasion of what was at the time Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union, Nicolae Caeușescu wanted to ensure quick military access across the mountains in the event the Soviets invaded Romania. Thus the road was built with mainly military forces and at a high cost — roughly 6 million kilograms of dynamite were used on the northern face, and the official records mention that about 40 soldiers lost their lives in building accidents.
As you travel on up the mountains Făgărăș the road starts to get steeper and the hairpin turns increase. There are no guardrails on many areas of the road and when you’re going with the car up and up and all you see is the road drop off you will be thinking slow down, slow down or I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.
As I said to my traveling companion: “Could you slow down just a little bit more?”
Campanion: “I’m only going 25km/hour. If I go any slower, we might start going backwards.”
I did NOT want to start going back down the mountain. Going 25kms seemed too fast for me so it just goes to show exactly how steep the mountain is. The highest point on the road is 2,034 meters. We pulled over when the height was getting just a little to much for my nerves to handle. We got out and on my feet I felt much better even though with one slip I could be tumbling down the mountain. For some reason, be in control of myself felt much better.
When you reach the top, there is a place to pull over, take some photos and get a snack. There is also what looked like a hotel beside the road and I would bet that it has some of the best views Romania could offer.
Then before I knew it we stopped on the other side of the mountain to admire the big waterfall and to look down the other side at the snake-like road. I think this spot is the best place for photos with whomever you are traveling with. Group photos or couples shots, everyone was taking advantage of the view of the road below. There was a herd of sheep on the mountain side in the distance and there were also families camped out on the side of the mountain with tents and barbecues.
The way down was easier. It felt less death-defying. If you drive from Sibiu towards Pistesti on the Transfăgărășan you get the amazing views first and then the way down seems more relaxing and somewhat less striking so for me, it was what I needed. But for those who like to “save best for last” could drive from Pitesti towards Sibiu.
The last leg of the journey (going from Sibiu to Pitesti) is bumpier. The road itself has some potholes and uneven pavement. A lot of motorcyclists and even cyclists go through the Transfăgărășan and this part of the road would take longer and could be a little dangerous. So it would be advisable to take it slow on this part.
Other attractions along and nearby the Transfăgărășan include the the Poienari fortress which was the castle used by the Basarab Royal family of Romania and also by the more well-known Vlad III Impaler (aka Dracula). As mentioned in my previous blog, Vlad III Impaler (aka Dracula) is associated with Bran Castle which author Bram Stoker used as the setting for his novel “Dracula” even though he actually resided at the Poienari fortress.
Also along the way is the huge dam called Vidraru Dam which looks might higher than 166 meters. The resulting Lake Vidraru is very beautiful and can be seen from the road and also from the top of a tower built for people to climb up the mountain for a better view.
The Transfăgărășan was put in the spotlight in the TV show Top Gear when the hosts travelled to Romanian to take on the winding mountainous road. There is a video of this and it will give you a better idea at just how big (and scary for some people) this road is (if you watch it full screen its even better):
Have you ever driven through the mountains? Did you find yourself afraid of heights? What was the scariest or more dangerous road you’ve travelled on?