The Transfagarasan

The Transfăgărășan (trans (over, across) + Făgăraș) or DN7C is the second-highest paved road in Romania after Transalpina. The road starts near the village of Bascov, located close to the city of Pitesti, and ends on the crossroad between DN1 and Sibiu. Also known as Ceaușescu’s Folly, it was built as a strategic military route (in just 4 years, between 1970 and 1974, at the request of Nicolae Ceausescu, the last communist dictator of Romania), that stretches 90 km with twists and turns that run north to south across the tallest sections of the Southern Carpathians, between the highest peaks in the country, Moldoveanu, and the second highest, Negoiu. The road connects the historic regions of Transylvania and Wallachia, and the cities of Sibiu and Pitești.

In September 2009 the cast and crew of the British television show Top Gear were seen filming along the road. The segment appeared in the first episode of Series 14 which first aired November 15, 2009. They were in the country on a grand tour with an Aston Martin DBS V12 Volante, Ferrari California and a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 Spyder. Host Jeremy Clarkson went on to declare the Transfăgărășan as “the best road in the world” – a title that the presenters previously gave to the Stelvio Pass in Italy.

The road climbs to 2,034 metres altitude, making it the 2nd highest mountain pass in Romania after Transalpina. The most spectacular route is from the North to South. It is a winding road, dotted with steep hairpin turns, long S-curves, and sharp descents. The Transfăgărășan is both an attraction and a challenge for hikers, cyclists, drivers and motorcycle enthusiasts alike. Due to the topography, the average speed is around 40 km/h. The road also provides access to Bâlea Lake and Bâlea Waterfall.

The road is usually closed from late October until late June because of snow. Depending on the weather, it may remain open until as late as November. It may also be closed at other times, because of weather conditions (it occasionally snows even in August). There are signs at the town of Curtea de Argeș and the village of Cartisoara that provide information on the passage. Travellers can find food and lodging at several hotels or chalets (cabane) along the way.

The Cathedral of Curtea de Argeș (early 16th century) is a Romanian Orthodox cathedral in Curtea de Argeș, Romania. It is located on the grounds of the Curtea de Argeș Monastery, and is dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

The cathedral is faced with pale grey limestone, which was easily chiselled then hardened on exposure. The interior is of brick, plastered and decorated with frescoes. Nearby on the grounds stands a large Moorish style royal palace.

Among the attractions along the southern section of the road, near the village of Arefu, is the Poienari fortress. The castle served as the residence of Vlad III the Impaler, the prince who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula character. There is a parking area and a path to the ruins.

The Vidraru Dam is the next landmark of the Transfagarasan Road. Built in the 60’s, the dam was for a short period of time in top 5 largest dams in the world. It was completed in 1966 on the Argeş River and creates Lake Vidraru. The arch dam was built with the primary purpose to produce hydroelectricity. The dam’s height is 166 metres, the arch length 305 meters and it can store 465 million cubic metres of water. The reservoir has a total shoreline (perimeter) length of 28km.Then the windy road continues along the lake reaching in the end the alpine area of the Transylvanian Alps (Muntii Fagaras). The road pierces the mountains into Transylvania. It has more tunnels (a total of 5) and viaducts than any other road in Romania. Near the highest point, at Bâlea Lake (about 11m deep), the road passes through Bâlea Tunnel, the longest road tunnel in Romania (884 m). During the cold season a church and a hotel made of ice are built each year at Bâlea Lake.

Set at 2,000 metres above sea level, Bâlea Ice Hotel is located by Bâlea Lake, in the Făgăraş Mountains. All spaces are made by local craftsmen using ice blocks from the lake.
Rooms here feature hand-carved ice beds. Blankets are made of reindeer fur and thermal blankets are provided.
Accessible only by cable car, Ice Hotel Balea also offers a restaurant that serves international food. Breakfast is buffet style. At the bar, drinks are served in glasses made of ice.
The hotel is 40 km away from Carta Train Station. The distance to Sibiu Airport is about 80 km.

Situated at 2034m altitude, the 46508sq.m and 11.35m deep lake Bâlea dates back to the ice age. It is part of a 180 hectare reservation which is surrounded by the following peaks: Vânatoarea lui Buteanu (2507m), Capra peak (2496m), Paltinu Mare peak (2398m), Muchia Buteanu and Piscul Bâlii. The reservation is the home of many rare plants, for e.g. the edelweiss, and many protected animals, e.g. the chamois, lynx and bald eagle.

A cable car is operating on the northern side of the mountain, during the winter being the only way of reaching the top the mountain. The road is open to traffic from July till October when it is blocked by the first major snow.

Bâlea waterfall is situated on the northern side of the Făgărăşan alps, close to the Transfăgărăşan road at 1234 meters altitude. No tourist tracks approach it; the waterfall can be admired from a distance. Nonetheless, many tourists are drawn by the sound of the crashing water. Its true size can only be seen from the cable car. The water of lake Bâlea hurtles down 60 meters, turns into smaller waterfalls and continues its way.

The northern section is used for annual cycling competitions including the Tour of Romania (Romanian: Turul României). The difficulty of this section is considered to be very similar to Hors Categorie climbs (literally beyond categorization) in the Tour de France.