I can’t claim to have watched much Top Gear, and I am most definitely not a fan of Jeremy Clarkson, its now former presenter, but when I began researching how to reach Poenari Citadel, the “real” Dracula’s castle, in Romania, my curiosity was piqued by everything I read quoting Clarkson as describing the Transfagarasan Road, the highway cutting through the mountains where we’d find the fortress, as the “best road in the world”.
The pictures I looked at certainly made it look dramatic. The road was constructed in the 1970s under the orders of Ceausescu, its path blasted out by dynamite to create a route through the Carpathian mountains in case of a Soviet incursion into Romania. It was featured as a highlight of the tour we were taking to the ruins.
We weren’t disappointed. It didn’t take long for the road to rise and the mountains to close in, and soon it was like we were in the middle of a fairytale, high forested peaks and cliffs shrouded in mist, descending sharply into deep valleys, the highway twisting around crags and corners.
Our first stop for photographs was at the Vidraru dam and lake, with our guide taking us through a heavily potholed tunnel that he told us was usually only used by trucks, for the best views. We strolled a little way up the road and encountered no other vehicle or pedestrians braving the rain, meaning we were all alone high up above the misty lake where there was no sign of life either.
Further along, at the dam, we met a few others taking photos, while placid stray dogs mooched around us sniffing at our pockets, heads raised expectantly. The view down into the dam, leaning over the road fence, was dizzying, and the whole place was quiet apart from the pouring of the rain, in a slightly eerie way…again, like we were in a fairytale.
Our last stop was the ruins of Poenari Citadel, which I wrote about earlier, and which provided a suitably atmospheric finale to our Transfagarasan Road trip.
Not having driven it myself, I can’t comment on Top Gear‘s claim that it’s the best road in the world to navigate…but I can recommend it for the mountains, valleys and the views.