The Transfagarasan Highway – If we can’t do it, then who can?
There are stories that unfold sporadically and the genesis of this trip is one of those stories. While having a beer at the pub with some friends, we couldn’t help but start dreaming. In those moments quickly these dreams began to materialize. I don’t even remember how exactly the idea was born; all I remember is our frantic planning, packing, and logistics. With the car packed, our tank full, our stallions “chained down” to the roof. We’re ready – smiles on our faces, we set off. Knowing that gasoline was going to be expensive in other countries, we loaded two fuel canisters in the car. We had 1415 km to cover and we were eager to cover that distance in one go. We adopted the Le Mans style driver change every 400 – 500 km. When tired, we didn’t hesitate to sleep in our modest-sized Honda HRV, which provided a roof and some much-needed warmth in the chilly mornings. Step by step route description can be found in our store.
Welcome to the world of vampires
Transylvania is one of the most beautiful regions of Romania, filled with many forests, mountains and small villages. Sometimes it can even feel scary, especially at night. After our departure we wasted no time in driving out of Poland. Only stopped in the Czech Republic to have supper on the lake (we even forgot to pay the road tolls). We passed Austria so quickly that if you blinked you would have missed it. In Hungary we got lost in the morning, but that’s no surprise given the tongue-twisting names of all the roads and villages in Hungary.
Our main destination was Transfagarasan Highway, but this day only Sibiu. On Sibiu we were going to leave the car, get on our bikes and start our two-wheeled adventure. The plan was to leave the car at the relatively safer Hilton Hotel parking lot and cross our fingers that it would still be there when we returned in a few days. When we arrived at the Hilton after 22 hours of traveling, the parking lot’s high walls and security cameras were a welcomed sight as it reassured us that the parking fee would be worth it. Having put our minds at ease, we stoically soldiered on without testing the Hilton’s comfortable beds and showers and set off once again, this time on the bikes.
Yes, we start!
The first part of the trip was not ideal as we were forced to join a highway on our bikes. Unfortunately, the only way to get to our next destination, Cârțișoara, was through this bit of the highway. The way we saw it was that we had two alternatives. Once drive to our destination and risk not seeing our car the next morning. The second, leave the car safely at the Hilton parking lot and ride our bikes on a dangerous highway.
As you already know, our love for the Honda proved to be too strong. On the road, every time we wanted to take a moment to enjoy the fabulous mountain views, a tailgating truck would come barreling down and ruin the moment. Our cycling adventure officially began when we turned on the DN7C route. Here Transfagarasan Highway began. And here waited for us the most charming camp-site in this village. This was the first camp of our trip. Tasty food, delicious drinks, great conditions, all in all off to a good start!
The lush and evenly cut grass of the campsite was a lot of fun. At times felt like a cushy green carpet under our feet. In the cold morning, the frost covered grass stood at attention and outside the tent window, snow-capped peaks of Transfogar revealed themselves. They are not colossal by any means. Few of the highest peaks in this area. Moldoveanu (2544 m), Negoiu (2535 m) and Vistea Mare (2527 m) and still they look beautiful….
The cyclist-friendly campsite had a cordial and communal atmosphere which made for a lovely morning. We set off early in the morning to finally meet the real Romania – the one we had imagined and waited for.
Lake Bâlea is one of the largest glacial lakes in the region, spanning an impressive 4.65 hectares. The circumference of the lake provides a great opportunity for some exhilarating single track runs. Covered in mud and stones, the cliffs were spectacular and even dangerous. If that wasn’t treacherous enough, the heavy downpour made our clothes drenched and the going very tough. The cold was piercing and it felt like we were single-tracking in wet diapers. At night, we waited for Count Dracula to tuck us in and kiss us goodnight.
Wandering around the area, you can treat yourself to the passage through the longest tunnel in Romania, which is 884 m.
The night was cold and dark and the silence was broken only by the occasional howling of the stray dogs. Truly, they’re ubiquitous in Romania. It’s important to exercise caution with these dogs as some can be starved and we were not equipped to fight with their strong animal instincts. The best we could do was keep pepper spray in our pockets, just in case. As a more humanitarian back up, we took some canned dog food with us as well.
After a long day of riding we were exhausted and as soon as we laid down we were fast asleep. The next sunny day was a relatively easy 23.6 km. The journey was enhanced by the astonishing views of the snow-capped peaks emerging from behind the trees.The DN7C section is referred to as the “real” Transfagarasan Road and has a length of 90.2 km.
The Transfagarasan Highway connects the village of Bascov near Pitești in Muntenia with Cârțișoara in Transylvania. It crosses from the south to the north the main ridge of the Fagaras Mountains, between the two highest peaks. Moldoveanu and Negoiu (the highest mountain range of the Romanian Carpathians).
The ride to the pass begins in Cartisoara at an altitude of 632m and ends at 2064m – only 23 km – which should not be a problem for an intermediate biker. Only 1432m of elevation to gain the whole day. One part of the ride uphill – 1 km at a slope of 8.4% – really stands out as it requires a tremendous amount of effort to climb. For those who wish to take it easy on the climbs, we suggest focusing on the views, breathing fresh Transylvanian air accompanied by mountain streams.
On the way back, soaked and chilled to the bone again, we get a surprise from fate. Hotel Dracula, which stays alone on the Transfagarasan Highway, was surprisingly spooky. He wasn’t spooky enough to stop us from going in for a hot tea. Having only a few Romanian lej. Honestly looking very rough, we were kindly offered a free shower to warm up in the uncleaned room. We were also offered mulled beer along with the tea.
That’s how we remember Romania – warm and kind, where good hearts could be found everywhere. At the end, I’d like to add that we didn’t cross the whole Transfagarasan Highway. The snow stopped us 😉 We were blinded by adventure and we forgot to check weather conditions at the top. Here’s a good tip for you guys – don’t be so crazy like we were and do your homework 😉
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