In the awe-inspiring Carpathian mountains, discover bend after bend of pure driving pleasure on the Transfăgărășan pass
A sense of foreboding. And funBack in the late 19th century, the mountainous roads of central Romania’s Transylvania region could only be negotiated with the utmost care by horse and carriage – if they could even be at all. It was here, amid its jagged peaks, dense forests and sinister castles, that Irish author Bram Stoker set his masterpiece of Gothic fiction, Dracula. Today, using the main DN7C road, a road trip into Romania's Carpathian mountains is infinitely easier and more pleasurable in our Porsche Cayenne S. But the scenery, and the adventure itself, is no less dramatic.
Leaving the town of Bascov, at the foot of the Carpathian mountains, we arrive at the gateway to a road that has gained legendary status among those who love driving. A strange sense of foreboding overcomes you as we encounter its name, written on a sign – Drumul Transfăgărășan. The Transfăgărășan road. It’s a foreboding borne not just out of its name and reputation, but also the sometimes-variable condition of the tarmac that it’s made of. You are beckoned to take on the challenge of a road that, with its seemingly never-ending series of uninterrupted bends, is on the bucket list of committed petrolheads the world over. A stretch of black top that no less than an authority as Jeremy Clarkson once dubbed “the best road in the world” on an episode of iconic TV car show, Top Gear. A road that has the chutzpah to leave even those acclaimed European mountain roads, the Stelvio Pass and Grossglockner, in its circuitous wake.
Back and forth and back and forthAlong a flowing network of hairpin bends, viaducts and tunnels, this breath-taking mountain pass snakes its way northwards, from the Wallachia region, into the heart of Transylvania. Over its full 90km (56 miles) you climb over 1400 metres in height, with a maximum gradient of 8.6 percent. Of course, it’s a lot easier to tackle this challenging slalom on this Romanian travel experience, when you are at the wheel of a safe, powerful Porsche. On its most spectacular section, this dream route runs almost horizontally along the face of the mountainside, like a series of steps joined together by tight 180-degree switchbacks that have been cut into the rock. Occasionally, a crash barrier will suddenly appear.
The rawness of this driving experience only serves to make your adrenaline surge even faster, each new section of road a gift that opens itself up to you. The incomparable view from the breezy heights of its summit – at nearly 2000 metres – near Bâlea Lake, is said to be a just reward for all who negotiate it. Unfortunately for us today, the panorama before us is lost in mountain mist. But then this mystical pass is not known as the “road to the clouds” for nothing.
A total blastIncredibly, the Transfăgărășan highway was hacked out of the mountains in just four years, between 1970 and 1974. Romania’s then dictator, the notorious Nicolae Ceaușescu, had the construction team blast it out of the Carpathians using 6,000 tons of dynamite. Concerned by the threat of invasion by his country’s political masters, the USSR, the Transfăgărășan was originally intended to be a quick military route across the Transylvanian mountains, connecting the north and south of the country. Although today, as was back then, snowdrifts and ice melt usually close the road throughout the winter. It’s why a summertime rendezvous in Transylvania is essential.
Out of darkness…At its highest point, the Transfăgărășan pierces the top of a mountain peak. For almost a kilometre, you drive into the dark abyss of the Bâlea Tunnel – the longest in Romania – emerging the other side to spectacular views of the wide plains below, which is where we’re heading. We drive past surging waterfalls and pristine, pretty lakes. Woodcutters trot by in their horse-drawn carts, like a scene not far-removed from Dracula itself. Ageing tractors splutter along past flocks of sheep clinging on to the craggy slopes. While it’s fair to say that you will get high odds on encountering a vampire round here, it’s not the same for brown bears. They are a not uncommon sight in this wild and rugged region.
These beguiling sights, plus this incredible road’s unique topography, are the main ingredients in making the Transfăgărășan one of the world’s most fascinating roads – and a highlight of this travel experience in Romania that you will never tire of telling.
This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.