I already mentioned the Fagaras Mountains: I grew up with them looming in the distance, they are just south of the town of Fagaras, we drove parallel to them on our way to Sibiu and Alba Iulia. Now it’s time to take a closer look. We’ve come to my favourite day of our trip Fagaras and Beyond: Day 3 – the day we took to the mountains. Not by foot, but by car, climbing the Transfagarasan Highway, which, as the name implies, crosses the Fagaras Mountains – North/South for a distance of 90km (60 miles). It reaches the altitude of 2,034 meters (almost 6,700 feet), being the second highest road in Romania (Transalpina is the first) but arguably the most impressive.
The Transfagarasan Highway has gotten some international publicity. For example, Top Gear filmed there, racing some of the world’s best cars on one of the world’s best roads. There are also cycling and motorsport festivals that take place here throughout the summer.
To get to the Transfagarasan from Fagaras, we headed west towards Sibiu and after about 33km, an indicator at a roundabout directed us to the left, towards the mountains. After we turned, we soon reached the village Cartisoara, a traditional Saxon mountain village. The road starts to climb after the village and we passed through lush green forests. The first stop was Complexul Balea Cascada – The Balea Waterfall Complex. You can’t miss it, it’s milling with tourists. Just park on the side of the road.
For most of the year, about November to June (always check the opening dates before going!), the highway is only open to cars until this area. If you want to continue to the top of the Transfagarasan there are cable cars that take you to Lake Balea.
From the road, if you walk past the souvenir and food stands, and past the hotel, you will find a marked trail that takes you to the Balea Waterfall. If you have an hour or two to spare, are equipped with hiking equipment (at least running shoes and comfy pants) and are in descent shape, I highly recommend taking the time to visit the waterfall. It’s about 30 minutes to hike to the falls and the last 10 minutes are somewhat steep. It’s definitely worth the effort. I’ll let these pictures speak for themselves. And as you can imagine, the real thing it even more amazing.
The moss of the rocks give it a fairy-tale look
The water absolutely sparkles in the sunlight. It’s worth waiting around a bit for the clouds to part.
This is what you look like to the waterfall
Next, we got back in our cars and kept climbing the famous highway. This is where it got exciting. Hairpin turns, steep valley below, tunnels and viaducts. The views are stunning.
Our final destination on the Transfagarasan Highway: Lake Balea. Here you can find a few hotels and cabins, including the Balea mountain cabin which has been here since the beginning of the 20th century. There are also many tourists, food stands and cheap souvenirs. We tried to ignore all that and enjoy the nature.
This is me being silly
Lake and Cabin Balea
The Fagaras Mountain Crest – can be reached by foot in about 2 hours from Lake Balea
Our furry friend enjoying a much-needed break
From Lake Balea, the highway crosses through the longest tunnel in Romania and starts its descent on the southern and less steep part of the Fagaras mountains. The southern part of the highway is longer, more lean, mostly surrounded by forest. It does offer three tourist destinations worth visiting: Vidraru Dam, Poienari Fortress (Vlad Tepes’ – Dracula’s residence) and the town and monastery of Curtea de Arges. This is the most beautiful, albeit very long, way to cross from Transylvania into Southern Romania, or vice verso.
(Romania is observing national mourning of the many victims of a fire which happened in a crowded club in Bucharest on Friday night. I’d like to take a moment here to remember those victims and offer my condolences to their families.)