If you have ever looked into the best road trips in the world, then you are probably familiar with the Transfagarasan Highway. The Transfagarasan Highway, which stretches roughly 130kms (80 miles) and connects the historic regions of Transylvania and Wallachia, gained its popularity after appearing on the BBC TV show Top Gear in 2009, which labeled Transfagarasan as “The Best Road in the World.”
Our adventure along the Transfagarasan Highway may have been only one of the highlights of our road trip through Romania, but this short drive in and of itself was worth the journey to Romania.
About the Transfagarasan Road
Where is it?
As the name suggests, the Transfagarasan Highway crosses the Făgăraş Mountains, dividing northwestern and southern Romania. They form part of the Carpathians mountain range, which has also been referred to as the Transylvanian Alps, to give you an idea of just how impressive they are!
Heading south, the Transfagarasan Highway starts at the small town of Cartisoara, located in Sibiu County, Transylvania, and extends just past the little village of Albestii de Arges in northern Wallachia. Although the highway itself is only 130km (80 miles) long and can be easily enjoyed in an easy 3-hour drive, we chose to spend 2 days exploring the area.
Why is Transfagarasan Road so Famous?
Transfagarasan, Romania was brought to the attention of the world by the popular TV show Top Gear. In 2009, Jeremy Clarkson spent a day filming the drive along the Transfagarasan Road, with its twists, turns, and tunnels. The show and the fact that Clarkson declared the Transfagarasan Highway as “the best road in the world” helped make this unique highway one of the main attractions for visitors to Romania.
Of course, Transfagarasan Road was important before Top Gear! It has played a huge role in Romanian communist history. The Transfargarasan Road was constructed between 1970 and 1974 in response to Soviet Union invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, as a way to provide quick military access across the mountains should the Soviet Union invasion come any further.
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Best Stops Along the Transfagarasan Road
Our first destination as we embarked on our journey along the Transfagarasan Highway was Balea Lake. Located at an altitude of 2,042m, this is the highest point of the Transfagarasan Road and the glacier lake makes for a must-see stopping point along the Transfagarasan Highway.
The scenery at the lake is incredible and we were incredibly fortunate to see it in all of its beauty on that perfectly clear day. This is also a good overnight stop along the Transfargarasan Road. We recommend the Balea Lake Chalet, where we checked in for our first night.
After devouring a delicious meal at the Balea Lake Restaurant, you can work off all that food with a short (2-3 hour) afternoon hike in the Făgăraş Mountains. The Făgăraş Mountains are the highest of the Southern Carpathians, in Romania. There are lots of marked trails in the area, but be sure to stick to them and keep an eye on the weather forecasts.
The particular time of year we were visiting the Transfagarasan Road was late October, the last weekend before the Transfagarasan Highway would close for the winter season. As we made our way up the Fagaras Mountains, the bone-chilling wind and snow capped trail kept us alert and shivering the entire way up.
The view from the top was nothing short of spectacular. The pink and purple hues over Balea Lake make it seem absolutely magical. The sun hid behind the horizon as we made our way back down to the lake, grateful for hot showers and warm soups that awaited us inside.
Take your time along the Transfagarasan Highway, and stop to admire the amazing views, gushing waterfalls, natural gorges, staggering cliffs, serene lakes, and, of course, the Vidraru Dam. The dam was built back in 1966 on the Argeş River, which in and of itself offered amazing views of Lake Vidraru and served as yet another highlight on the Transfagarasan Highway.
This is one for the history buffs. The visually striking Poenari Castle looms high above the start of the Transfagarasan Road above the Argeș River and gives a stunning view of the winding pass below. It was once used by Prince of Wallachia, better known as Vlad the Impaler…or Dracula! The castle is considered “the real Dracula’s castle,” as Vlad spent more time here than in Bran Castle. Get ready to climb a LOT of steps to visit this creepy castle with its dark past.
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Where to Stay Along the Transfagarasan Road
Hotel Valea cu Pesti
The Hotel Valea cu Pesti is perfectly placed for a stop along the Transfagarasan Highway. It’s just 13km (8 miles) from the Poenari Castle and right on the shores of Lake Vidraru in the shadow of the Făgăraş Mountains. They offer apartments, mini-suites, or twin rooms. If you can, get a room with a lake view!
Balea Lake Mountain Chalet
We really loved our stay at the Balea Lake Mountain Chalet! It’s located right next to the glacial lake. The rooms are decorated in wood, just as you’d expect from a mountain lodge, and it has everything you need and then some! The view of the lake is just stunning and makes the stay even more special.
A little further from the lake (12km) is Vila Balea. It’s like a fairytale setting and perfectly located for a bunch of activities, including walking tours and mountain trekking. Budding wildlife photographers will also enjoy the chance to spot and shoot the local deer, wild boars, bears, lynx, and grouse.
Magical and Mystical Transfagarasan, Romania
As you wind along the Transfagarasan Road, you are captivated by the sheer wild, rugged beauty of it all. The fog and clouds just add to the atmosphere and energy of this unique place!
Before we knew it, the beautiful curves of the Transfagarasan Highway were in our rearview mirrors. And just like that, it was time to say goodbye to one of the best road trips in the world and make our way back to Bucharest.