I've had occasion to drive on some seriously challenging roadways. They were usually coastal highways or winding roadways through mountain passes in both my native Canada and abroad. The Transfăgărășan, or DN7C, ranks up there as one of the most memorable.
The Transfăgărășan road is the second highest paved road in Romania, and was built as a strategic military route. The highest elevation, paved roadway in Romania is the Transalpina Pass. Although it too winds through amazing alpine vistas that often pass through clouds, in no way does it get the adrenaline pumping the way a downhill run on the Transfăgărășan highway does.
The road was constructed between 1970 and 1974, during the rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu as a response to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Ceaușescu wanted to ensure Romania was capable of quick military passage across the mountains in the event the Soviets attempted a similar move into Romania. Consequently, the road was built using military forces. Roughly 6 million kilograms of dynamite were used on the northern face, and the official records mention that about 40 soldiers lost their lives during construction. The 90 km of twists and turns run north to south across the tallest sections of the Southern Carpathians, between the highest peak 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, and provides access to Bâlea Lake and Bâlea Waterfall..
If I ever have the opportunity to drive the Transfăgărășan again, I'll mount a video camera on the dash. Still photos from the roadside, not matter how dramatic the angle, can't properly represent the experience. Nor can video taken from aircraft or a perch far above the roadway. Of course video can't compare with actually driving it to feel the centrifugal force taking hold of your car as you round each corner, and hearing your tires squeal as they struggle to keep a grip on the pavement.
In the meantime, I found this Top Gear trailer of the drive that both I and the folks at Top Gear consider to be one best roads to drive in the world. There are other videos, but with too much talking or seriously poor choice of music dubbed over the sound track. Sadly the video doesn't give a proper representation of the drive through the Bâlea Tunnel, the longest road tunnel in Romania, and one of the longest in all of Europe.
The road climbs to 2,034 metres altitude, so it often closed because of snowy weather. Generally the road is opened some time in June and closed again in late September or early October. However, it will often snow in August, so it's a good idea to check on weather conditions. I visited Lake Bâlea early September and although the morning was bright and sunny, by late afternoon it was cold and as I was starting back down after supper snow was already falling.
The most spectacular route is from the north, where it's winding and dotted with steep hair-pin 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 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 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.
It has more tunnels, 5 in total, and viaducts than any other road in Romania. Near the highest point, at Bâlea Lake, the road passes through Bâlea Tunnel, the longest road tunnel in Romania at 884 m.
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 northern section camprises part of the annual Tour of Romania cyclist competitions . The difficulty of this section is considered to be very similar to Hors Categorie climbs in the Tour de France.