Built as a strategic military route, the Transfagarasan, as this road is best known, is the highest and most dramatic of all asphalted Romanian roads. It runs north to south across the tallest sections of the Carpathians, between the highest peak in the country, Moldoveanu and the second highest, Negoiu. This road is about 45 kilometers east of Sibiu on E68 on the north side, or on highway 73C in Curtea de Arges. If you come from Bucuresti, you can take the A1 freeway into Pitesti, and then hop on Highway 7C toward Curtea de Arges.

The road was constructed between 1970 and 1974, as a north-south crossing at the historical border between Transylvania and Wallachia. It came as a response to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Ceausescu wanted to insure quick military access across the mountains in the event the Soviets attempted a similar move into Romania. Consequently, the road was built mainly with military forces, at a high cost both financially and from a human standpoint—roughly 6 million kilograms of dynamite were used on the northern face, and about 40 soldiers lost their lives in building accidents.

Today, the road is an attraction for hikers, bicyclists, drivers and motorcycle enthusiasts alike. Given its layout and altitude, it is generally only open from June to September. The most dramatic and usual route is from the north.

Starting from E68, the drive runs pleasantly through the low hills and a few villages. On a clear day, the majestic peaks of the Fagaras Mountains are clearly visible. As you click through the gears on this fairly fast section, you begin to sense the anticipation of the adventure to come. You run through the village of Cartisoara which hosts a monastery with glass icons. About 12 kilometers into your ride, the road begins to climb—the curves become pronounced and the forest thickens as it envelops the road.

As you climb, the trees change with pines being more prevalent—the smell is a real treat as you move the motorcycle through the turns, leaning from one side to the other and realizing that this is just a warm-up. The higher you ride, the curtain of pines pulls aside to reveal fantastic views of rock and jagged edges. After riding 20 kilometers, you arrive at Cascada Balea (Balea Falls). The views here are already absolutely breathtaking—a 360-degree panorama, running from the distant peaks above, highlighted by the picturesque waterfall to the wide valley below. At this stop, there is lodging, a restaurant and a cable car that can whisk people up to the top of the road, at Balea Lake. During inclement weather, this is the highest open point on the road.

After a brief stop, the road beckons you to follow. You have 13 kilometers (about 8 miles) to the top of the road. But, do not be fooled by what seems like a short stretch. The remaining section of the road is filled with dozens of sharp zigzags and dangerous precipices, while the fantastic views compete with your attention to the motorcycle controls. This road is akin to one of Ulysses’ sirens—utterly beautiful, yet potentially fatal. Enjoy it, but pay attention. Plenty of drivers and riders have lost their lives on this section of the road.

As you coax your bike from one sharp turn to the next, your eyes move from the towering peaks above and the clearly visible cuts in the rock made by this road, to the rock face running down the mountainside. And you keep your throttle steady as you shift through the lower gears in-between turns. You also begin to feel the temperature drop as you gain altitude—layering-up for this road is recommended. Along the way, you are likely to notice the cable cars gliding up and down the mountain, as you remind yourself how glad you are to be experiencing this road from the saddle of your motorcycle.

As you approach the top and Balea Lake, you are likely filled with adrenaline and excitement. More than likely, you are also ready for a break. This is the perfect place to do so. There is parking on the side of the road, just before the tunnel, or you can take the service road toward the Cabana Balea and the lake for additional parking. The lake is glacial in its origins, with clear, icy waters reflecting the peaks above and the ice shelf guarding it year-round. No matter the length of your stop here, you are likely to experience frequent clouds moving across the mountains, and a constantly shifting weather. The temperatures are low, most of the time hovering near zero degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit). There are a couple of cabanas offering lodging and a decent restaurant lakeside. Take your time enjoying the sights, and even sliding down the northern snowy slope (assuming your gear is waterproof).

After your break, mount your bike and proceed through the tunnel to the equally enjoyable southern face. The tunnel is 887 meters long and curves to the left as it runs under the Paltinu Ridge. Regardless of the road conditions outside, the road in the tunnel is always wet. As you exit the tunnel, the road changes from the jagged and angular character of the northern section to reveals itself—a sinuous ribbon of asphalt, barely hugging the cliffs as it moves down the mountain. The southern section is not as dramatic in nature, but just as rewarding in sights and experience. The vegetation is greener, and the temperatures milder. Along the way, you are likely to encounter another waterfall and several scenic spots, well suited for a picnic. In about 25 kilometers you arrive at the pleasant Vidraru Lake, a man-made lake retained by a 165-meter dam.

On the southern shores of the lake, you will find Poienari Castle, which was Vlad Tepes’s residence. Those of you looking for the real Dracula castle, this is it. From the castle, the road  straightens as it continues its run south through Arefu and into Curtea de Arges. The road quality is not quite as good as on the northern side and even the twisty upper sections of the southern side.

If you find yourself in Romania between June and September, this road is an absolute must. It will provide you with an amazing and unforgettable experience. And for the U.S. riders who have been impressed riding Deal’s Gap, this Romanian Dragon is a different beast altogether.

Transfagarasan

Roads > DN7C

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Motorcycle Adventures for the 21st Century