The Transalpina

Anna and her family made a road trip to Transalpina and she and her boys are writing about their own experience of the trip.

The Transalpina

Anna, the Mom

On Labor Day we made a two day trip to the southern part of the Carpathians to drive on Transalpina, the highest altitude road in Romania located in Parâng Mountain group. Its highest point reaches 2,145 meters on Urdele Pass. The whole road can take about 3 hours to cross from one end to the other, has a speed limit of 30km/hour. The word "transalpina" means "over the mountains".

lovely day

It appears on history maps as a "Roman strategic corridor" which led to the speculation that the road was first built by the Roman legions during their wars with the Dacians.

The route was called Poteca Dracului (The Devil's Path) and originally was a pass used by shepherds to cross their sheep across the mountain. As early as 1731 the Austrian authorities put forward the idea of building a road on the path of the old transhumance route to link Transylvania with Oltenia.

Some restoration work was done on it by King Carol the II between 1934-1939. The road was known back than as the Royal Road (Drumul regal) or the King's Road (Drumul Regelui), replacing the name of Devil's Path.

The road was once more rehabilitated by the Germans in World War II as they needed it for military purposes.

After the fall of the communist regime, the road was improved once more, 99% of it has a first concrete layer and now it is used mostly by tourists.

The beginning of the road coming from the north

Coming from the northern part of Romania on a cloudy day we managed to cross Transalpina in one day, stopping from time to time just to enjoy the view as it is a very scenic drive through the mountains.  I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of Parâng mountains, seen from the road. They are not as spectacular as the craggy Făgărași hence not so intimidating. I felt at peace in this scenery strewn with flocks of sheep grazing lazily on the gentle slopes of the mountains.

The flocks of sheep grazing in the distance

The first day of the trip we crossed the whole Transalpina from one end to the other. At one point, on the top of the mountain a thick fog settled over the road, as a curtain, hiding everything around.  We could barely see anything for a while, and when we least expected it, the fog curtain would get very thin only to subtly reveal for a few passing moments the ravines on the side of the road.

The fog on the top of the mountains

High on the mountain it was shocking for me to discover the spectacular gorges patched with groves of dark fir trees that looked so small and distant. I didn't expect that after I got used to the gentle looking hill country at the feet of the mountains and the mist covering the depth made it even more awe inspiring and mysterious.

the hills at the beginning of the road

At the end of Transalpina we went through Cheile Oltețului, a very deep canyon to see Polovragi, a famous cavern that is said to have been the refuge of Dacians when they fled Roman invaders.

The entrance to the cavern

The cavern was known to be used by Orthodox Christian monks and hermits as a place of meditation and prayer. A special medicinal plant "polovragi" is said to have grown in these parts that was used by witch doctors to heal people. Not too far from the cavern, I enjoyed visiting the Polovragi Monastery that was founded in the early 1500s and is still being used today.

Entrance to the Polovragi Monastery

Next day, on our way back home, we set out to take the lift to the Vârful Păpușa (Doll's Peak) that was very close by, in Rânca, the mountain resort where we lodged for the night. Unfortunately, the lift was closed.

Rânca, not far from Doll's Peak

We didn't give up the idea to go there so we thought we would hike to it. We soon found a place to park our car next to the road by a trail we deemed the closest one to the peak (we saw another closer point after we started on the trail, but it was too late).

The gang ready for the hike to the Doll's Peak

The hike to the Doll's peak from where we parked our car was quite enjoyable, my mother and my 3 year old nephew could do it easily, the slope was gentle. The only problem we encountered was a thick fog/cloud that hid everything on a radius of a few feet around us.

The morning fog

The Doll's Peak (2, 135 meters) was covered in a thick fog when we arrived there, so we couldn't really enjoy the view around it too much. We all agreed it felt funny to be with our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground.

Doll's Peak :D

After we started our descend on the trail towards the parking place, we were happy to see that the fog was melting in the warm morning sun and we could see all around. We didn't realise how deep the sides of the mountain went and what a spectacular view the gentle mound of rock seen from the road hides behind it.

Fog removed. The landscape was wow.

On our way back to the northern end of Transalpina, as we went back home, we stopped at a mountain ranch for sheep and cattle where we could taste fried mutton and try on the sheep herders' sheep skin coats.

All in all our trip to Transalpina was a lovely one. We loved the fact that it was used mostly by tourists, so not so many big trucks are going there, the sort one gets fed up with on the regular roads in the country.

I would definitely go again. Next time I would love to explore Cheile Oltețului more and other mountains in that area.

an old W&B picture of the Oltețului Canyon displayed in the Polovragi cavern. It looks more like the earth crust suffered a deep crack rather than the water digging it for "billions" of years.

Mihai, 14

The Transalpina is the highest road in Romania. It is about four hours away from Cluj, the city in which we live.

To the top

Our uncle and grandma came with us in this road trip, and after two hours away from home, we stopped at a restaurant named Popasul Regelui, or the King's Rest Stop in English. The pork and beans there were quite good.

Attacking the pork leg

About halfway down the road, we noticed that something funky was happening to the engine; an unearthly whistling sound came out from under the hood. We kept going and eventually got to the famous road.

The road had just been repaired and repainted. For some unknown reason, the markers were yellow instead of white, but I was soon too impressed with the scenery to notice the markers on the road.

Magnificent expanse of grazing grasslands and fir tree forests

We stopped at a small hill to stretch a bit, and enjoy the scenery. Sprawling forest girded the steep mountains, and the air was full of the smell of fir sap.

Later on the road, we went so high up, we were in a cloud, and we could barely see in front of us.

Next, we went to a cave called Peștera Polovragi, where we saw weird shapes of stalactites and stalagmites, like the one called "the snake". We even saw the part of the cave where it is said that Dacians lived while they were fleeing from the Romans.

Inside the Dacian stone hut in the cavern. It was a cave inside a large mound inside the larger cavern with a very small opening but a lot of space inside.

We hiked up to another cave in which a hermit lived and soon cleared out on account of the army of mosquitoes living on the walls.

Next we visited a small monastery close to a field with sculptures of Dacians in it. A small dog came rushing towards us, and it followed us about the field. We gave it some bread crusts and it wolfed (pun intended) them down.

Field with sculptures of Dacians next to the Polovragi Monastery.

We went to our motel, which was only half an hour away. We ate some food at a restaurant a few minutes away. The food was good, it needed just a tad of salt.

The next day, we visited Doll Peak, a tall mountain peak near the road. On the way up, a huge cloud covered the path leading up the mountain and we could barely see a few feet in front. When we went back down, it had cleared and people were already motorbiking up the dirt road.

Later, we visited a ranch called Stana Ștefanu, where we ate cooked mutton and tried on fluffy sheep skins which were used for keeping the shepherds warm.

The Transalpina is:

The winding mountain road leading to the base of Doll Peak.
The constant whistling coming from the engine.
The spiky fir needles pricking me.
The curious yellow markings on the road (why!!!).
The dense cloud on top of the mountain floating on the wind.

I would go again to climb Doll Peak when it is clear to be able to see the scenery nearby.

At the top of Doll's Peak

Paul, 10

On Labor Day we set off to drive on Romania's highest road, The Transalpina.

On the way we stopped at a few places, one of them was Pestera Polovragi. This particular cave is said to have housed the Dacians who fled from the Romans. In some parts of the cave, the walls were covered in a rock formation that looked like leopard skin. There was a shape on the ceiling that looked like a man's skeleton.

A light in the dark cave

It felt very gloomy and weird to know that my ancestors had hidden in this cave. Most of all in the cave I liked the pattern on the cave ceiling that looked like a leopard's skin.

"Leopard skin" rock on the ceiling of the cavern

Above Polovragi cavern was a cave that had once been used by a monk named Săbăreanu as a place to meditate and pray. The entrance was gloomy and the inside likewise, so much so, that it even felt a little creepy. I felt creeped out because inside the cave was the old man's grave looming next to the wall. On the sides of the walls were millions of mosquitos which we thought were sleeping.

Not far from these caves, we went to a park that had wooden statues of Dacians, eagles, chickens, and other animals all over the place. There I met a cute little doggie that was very hungry so we fed it. Ironically, one of the wooden sculptures was that of a labrador.

The wolf with the dragon body, the banner of the Dacians

Our next stop was Vârful Păpușa (it means Doll's Peak) a 2135 meter tall mountain top. The trail to Păpușa mountain top led right through the clouds. Along the pathway, some people evidently had come up the mountain in powerful beasts of cars. Once halfway up the trail, we saw a lot of random logs piled up on the sides of the pathway.

Logs next to the trail. This sight always strikes a sensitive cord in our hearts as lots of trees are cut down illegally in Romania :( 

We arrived at a place where a cloud kept moving back and forth like a large curtain. At the top of the mountain, we found a doll tied to a rock tied to a pole by a piece of rope.

Farther down the road leading down the mountain we made it to a small ranch for cows and sheep where we ate lamb-chop. There we took a few photos dressed up in sheepskin. The sheepskins are still used by shepherds in Romania to keep them warm during winter. I wouldn't wear them again because they were super itchy.

Scare-the-wolf pose 

I would go again to use the lift all the way to the Doll's Peak.

The Transalpina is for me:

The morning cold that made my lips turn blueish.    
The rumbling of my car's wheels on the asphalt road.
The amazing scenery from the top of the mountain.      
The gasping of my little cousin staring out of the window.      
Me and my dad debating how one would survive on the mountain top.