By now, everybody knows that Romania has at least one famous road, namely the Transfagarasan Highway. Featured on Top Gear as "the best road in the world for driving", this road has had its share of the spotlight and it keeps attracting aspiring drivers as well as sporting enthusiasts from all over the world.
Perhaps not that well known is the fact that only 100 km away to the West, lies the Transalpina Highway or "The Kings Road", as the locals call it. It's said that its history goes back thousands of years to the time of the Roman Empire.
I decided to put these two European landmark roads head to head and see which one takes away the prize for the most spectacular road for cycling.
The Transfăgărășan (trans [over, across] + Făgăraș) also known as Ceaușescu's Folly, is a paved mountain road crossing the southern section of the Carpathian Mountains. It’s the second-highest paved road (2.042 m) in the country after the Transalpina. It stretches 90 kilometers (56 mi) between the highest peaks in the country, Moldoveanu and Negoiu. The road, built in the early 1970s as a strategic military route, connects the historic regions of Transylvania and Wallachia. It has 833 bridges, 28 aqueducts and 5 tunnels, the longest one being 880 meters long.
Transfagarasan is the more popular road of the two. The small distance from Sibiu and Brasos makes it easy for tourist to hop in their cars and arrive at the base of the Transfagarasan in less than one hour. The road is also included in national and international cycling races such as Sibiu Cycling Tour, Transfier Triathlon and (big news!)...Transcontinental Race in 2017.
The elevation profile of the road is pretty straightforward. When you're riding in from the N, you have 30 km of climbing to the top of the Transfagarasan, Balea Lake. It's mostly all downhill from there, around 60 km, with the exception of the occasionally rolling hills.
The road is open every year between 1st July - 30th Octomber.
The Transalpina is a paved mountain road located in the Parâng Mountains group, in the Southern Carpathians of Romania. It's one of the highest roads of the Carpathian Mountains and the highest road in Romania. The road was built under the rule of King Carol II and rebuilt during World War II by German troops. It is called "The King's Road" by the locals because King Carol II and his family opened the road back in the 1930's. Also a story has it that Nicolae Ceauşescu had the Transfăgărăşan Road built during the communist regime just to surpass the Transalpina.
The road has its highest point at the Urdele Pass, where the elevation is 2,145 m above sea level. Given the high altitude, the road is closed during the cold months of the year. Works began in 2007 in order to transform this spectacular road into a modern highway (148 km), allowing a rapid transit between Oltenia and Transylvania.
The elevation profile of the Transalpina and it's length (+60 km when compared to the Tfg.) make this road a more demanding one for cycling. At the end of the day, you'll feel your legs a lot heavier than after cycling the Tfg. When you start riding from the S, you have 30 km to get to the top. After a couple of km of descending, you start a brutal climb that sucks the rest of the energy out of your legs. Wait, there's more. After a nice and peaceful descent, you still have 6 km of climbing and 10 km of flat roads, until you get to the final, long descent. Yeah, it's quite demanding!
HEAD TO HEAD
Before we drill into the results let me first tell you what are the criteria I selected to analyze these two epic roads. Landscapes - it's all about the glorious views that you'll remember; the higher the score, the better the views are. Car traffic - the higher the score, the less cars there are on a regular day. Road Quality - the quality of the tarmac, if it's new tarmac, if there are pot holes, etc.; the higher the score, the better the road quality. Accessibility - how easy is it to get to the base of the road, how close is it to large cities; the higher the score, the more accessible the road is. Extras - how easy it is to find decent food, drinks or accommodation while on the road; the higher the score, the more decent options there are. The maximum score for each category is 5.
There you have it. The score is tight, favoring the Transalpina slightly. I know I'm a bit subjective and I have to admit that I kind of wanted Transalpina to win. The road quality is better, the road is longer by more than 60 km and the elevation profile makes this road a lot more demanding. All of this, make it my favorite cycling road in Romania.