Not many people visit this country, but perhaps they should. Romanians are warm, welcoming people that care a lot about tradition and their mythical past. There is an almost archaic vibe flowing through these lands, as we got to experience during our 10 day road trip. The landscapes are incredible, with the Carpathians, the Danube and the Black Sea all within reach. Romanian food is delicious and all the prices are very low.
We chose to visit Romania for its castles rich in myths and medieval history and for the wilderness of the Danube Delta. What we discovered was so much more.
Transfăgărășan – the best road in the world
To reach one of the most beautiful castles in Europe you must first drive on the best road in the world. This is the Transfăgărășan road that crosses the Carpathian mountains, connecting two main regions of Romania: Muntenia and Transylvania. It is marked on the map as road 7C and it is open only a few months a year, usually between 20 June and 20 October. The name Transfăgărășan comes from ‘trans’ (across) and ‘Făgărăș’ (the name of the mountain it crosses).
To reach this road you must rent a car from the capital Bucharest and head west on the highway to Pitești. At Pitești leave the highway and take the road to Curtea de Argeș.
If you have time for a stop, you should visit the Argeș Monastery here. A dark legend tells of the architect Manole who, being unable to finish building the ever-crumbling walls, was forced to follow the ancient custom of human sacrifice and thus place a living woman into the foundations. The other masons warned their families to stay away, but Manole’s wife came anyway and so he ended up sacrificing her. After the monastery was completed, Manole bragged to the prince that he could always build an even greater one, so the prince had them all stranded on the roof so that they could never build something to match it. The masons fashioned wooden wings and tried to fly off the roof, but, one by one, fell to their deaths. And where they fell there is now a spring of clear water in the Monastery courtyard.
From Curtea de Argeș go north on the 7C road. You will sonn arrive at the Poenari Fortress, built high on a mountain top and famous for being a former residence of Vlad Țepeș, known to most of the world as Dracula. There is a path of 1480 steps that leads up to the fortress. No more than a ruin remains now of the once majestic walls, but the view from there is still spectacular. We did not see any vampires during our visit, then again, we did not linger there to wait for nightfall.
We then followed the road further north and reached Vidraru dam, one of the tallest in Europe. The dam and the lake look spectacular. Also, on a nearby mountain there is a large sculpture of Prometheus with the flash of lightning in his hand, as a symbol of electricity. The road runs over the dam and continues deeper into the heart of the mountain.
At the highest point on the road (2034m), we stopped for some fresh air on the shores of Bâlea lake. Even in summer it can be very cold here, so you must have a spare jacket with you. We enjoyed the incredible scenery and went for some drinks at the Bâlea cabin.
Shortly after departing from Bâlea, we reached the most spectacular part of the Transfăgărășan. The road winds around the slopes of the mountain, crossing over 830 small bridges and 27 viaducts, passing by waterfalls and impressive rock walls, in a sharp descent with hairpin turns that create an exciting challenge for any driver.
Built in the 70s at the request of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Transfăgărășan had military strategic purposes. Now it is simply crowded by tourists who are there to experience driving on the best road in the world.
After crossing the mountains, we headed west again, this time towards Sibiu. We discovered colourful two-storey houses with tall roofs and gates opening passages to inner courtyards, narrows streets and medieval fortifications.
If you want to read more about our visit in Sibiu and our road trip in Romania follow the posts in the ‘Romania’ category.