Romania Carpathian Transfagarasan Transalpina on motorbikes
The TV show Top Gear awarded the Transfagarasan highway in Romania as "Best Driving Road in the World". This award will undoubtedly be correct for beautiful fast cars, but we went to Romania to see if that title is also justified for motorcyclists. Before the Transfagarasan, the Italian Stelvio was awarded with the Top Gear title, so the expectations are high.
If we drive from the south to the pass, it is immediately clear that the construction of this road did require many labor and big material. Between huge cliffs the road winds 90 km over the highest parts of the Southern Carpathians, connecting the highest mountain in Romania, Moldoveanu, and the second highest mountain, the Negoiu.
In 1970 the former dictator Ceauşescu gave the order to build the Transfagarasan highway, so that the army could move quickly over the Carpathians with big material. The reason for this order was the invasion of Russia in 1968 in former Czechoslovakia, the neighbor of Romania. In a record time of 4 years the pass was build using more than 6 million kilogram of dynamite. Due to time pressure safety was often forgotten, resulting in more than 40 soldiers died during construction. Monuments commemorating those killed soldiers are along the entire route.
After passing the only real castle of Count Dracula (Vlad Tepes), the road winds along a beautiful large lake, between rugged cliffs and tall pine trees. Suddenly the treeline stops and a moon landscape instantly gives the feeling of driving somewhere high in the Alps. The bad road conditions betray that we are in Romania. After the longest tunnel in Romania (884 m) we reach the highest point of the pass where a restaurant, hotel, and souvenirs can be found. Here no "bratwurst" like in the Alps, but Romanian shalt and bacon. The view to the north is really incredibly beautiful. On the north side there are no foothills, so from the top on 2034 meters, you can look endless far away. In clear weather you can even see the larger town Sibiu 76 km to the north.
The absence of foothills and the steep descent makes the northside the best to drive. With only 28 counted hairpin bends, we descend in 45 minutes 600 meters, with regularly gradients of 20%. The road is spacious and uncluttered, allowing plenty of time to look around and enjoy the beautiful spectacular views.
All in all, we understand why Top Gear did give the title to the Transfagarasan highway, but we miss one very important aspect: good tarmac! For motorcyclists tarmac is obviously a lot more important than for cars with 4 wheels. Almost every turn contains long ridges and many small holes taking away the pleasure on 2 wheels. Large holes are mostly filled with bitumen, but a nice new asphalt coating for motorcyclists is missed.
A much better road for the title "Best driving road in the world", is only 40 km to the west and is called the Transalpina highway (Urdele Pass). This road was during the election by Top Gear still largely unpaved, but is currently almost completely tarmac. The road winds through dense forests without any roadtags, so it is important to read the road using tools from nature like the tree lines. Already at low altitude (1400 m) the tree line stops and the landscape change into an moonscape with sharp twists and steep hairpin bends. In this beautiful naked moonscape the road climbs over 20 km over new tarmac with 35 hairpin bends to the summit at 2,145 meters. On the summit no hotels or restaurants, only some caravans with Roma families that earn some money by selling drinks and snacks.
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