The Transfagarasan Highway

The Transfagarasan Highway
Some 40km east of Sibiu, the DN7C, also known as the Transfagarasan Highway, branches off the road to Brasov, heading straight for the towering Fagaras Mountain range. The highway is open only a few months a year. Ice can still block roads in June, while October brings the first new falls of snow.

The road makes for a perfect weekend trip from Bucharest (or even a very long day trip) if you have your own transport. It’s lonely at the top (we know), so make sure your car is fit for the trip and bring warm clothes.

The part of the road which gets all the attention is the dramatic northern approach from Cartisoara, which was described by the BBC Top Gear team as ‘every great corner from every great racetrack joined together in one place.’ The landscape is barren and alpine, there is snow even in the warmest months, and the road climbs steeply in sweeping curves up an amazing glacial valley. 

At the top, the road does not actually cross a pass. Instead, a 890m long tunnel (the highest point of the road; 2,042m) links the valleys on the northern and southern sides. At Balea Lac, just below the tunnel, there is a comfortable pension (and in winter an ice hotel) if you want to stay up here the night. See www.balealac.ro. (In winter there is a cable car which provides access to the pension and ice hotel, as the road is closed).

Once through the tunnel you will notice a dramatic change in the scenery. On the southern side, the road slopes much more gradually through pleasant greenery. It leads down to Curtea de Arges, passing the impressive Vidraru Dam, and ruins of the ‘real’ Dracula castle at Poienari.

The Transfagarasan Highway was built at considerable cost in the 1970s. After the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Nicolae Ceausescu was afraid the same thing might happen to maverick Romania, and had this road built so that troops and tanks could cross over the Carpathian mountains quickly.

The efforts made to build the road were enormous. It was essentially built using slave labour - conscript soldiers - in only four and a half years. In this time, just on the northern side of the range, 3.8 million cubic metres of earth and rock were removed. More than six million kilos of dynamite were used to blast through the rocks on this side - that’s 625 train wagons full. For four years there would be five blasts every day at set times. In between, soldiers would drag the rocks away, and would bring machinery higher up.

Monuments may praise certain pioneer groups for overcoming a difficult stretch, but there is no plaque to commemorate the many casualties: unofficially, it is thought that 38 soldiers died during construction. 

The road was opened on September 20, 1974, by a happy dictator and his beloved wife, and was even named in his honour - Drumul Transfagarãsan Nicolae Ceausescu.

An amazing road, it is a fantastic way to see snow in August, to breathe fresh air and to escape from dusty cities. It is highly recommended, now by Jeremy Clarkson and the Top Gear team, no less.

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