Early next morning, we woke up ready to tackle the Transfăgărăşan yet again. I’ve already mentioned in Part 1 that Top Gear did an episode on this magnificent winding road. Built between 1970 and 1974 mainly by military forces with the aid of approximately 6000 tonnes of dynamite, it stretches 90 km across the Fagaras mountain range.
Bâlea Lac and the Transfăgărăşan … again
We drove back on the Transfăgărăşan all the way to Bâlea Lac. The weather was cool and kept getting colder as we were approaching the summit. Mist was rising from across the valley, but it quickly dissipated due to the sunshine making it’s way through the clouds. Reaching the top, we quickly realised we were a bit late for the party. Several brides and grooms were queuing up around the lake for photographs, thus making the possibility of a landscape shot quite slim. Luckily, even though it was quite cold outside, there was no wind to intensify it, so having a hoodie made it quite comfortable to wait around (with Cristi being the exception, who was in a t-shirt). We went to take some photos of the Transfăgărăşan road as it slithered down and away into the horizon. One good photo spot is to the right of the glass viewing point, since it offers a great panorama of the entire valley. After plenty of photos we stopped at one of the stalls for an oversized crepe with blueberry jam. There aren’t many stalls here, but they have a good diversity of products, ranging from smoked meat and sausage, cheese rolls to homemade wine and tuica (Romanian strong alcoholic drink, a sort of plum brandy). Although I cannot attest to the quality of the brandy found here, make sure that you try this firewater at some point while you’re in Romania. One thing to keep in mind though: in Romania there is zero tolerance policy when it comes to drinking and driving, so make sure you’re not the designated driver. Also, keep a chaser close by – did I mention that it is strong? After having one more look across the lake, we started our way back. Halfway down on the road we had to stop, since a sheep herd was crossing the road. The herd did not take long, after which we went on our way, descending on the north side of the mountains, leaving the Transfăgărăşan behind.
Clay Castle of the Valley of Fairies
Our next stop was not something that is on many travelers list when they think about Romania, but it definitely should be. Castelul de Lut Valea Zânelor, which translates to Clay Castle of the Valley of Fairies, is a soon-to-be hotel, located sout of Porumbacu de Sus, Sibiu county. One thing to note is that a small part of the road is unpaved. If you’ve seen our previous post, when you hear of a castle in Romania you think of a medieval massive building high on top of a crag with high walls and towers. You will be pleasantly surprised to know that this is not that. There are no square towers and it is not on top of a hill, ready to withstand an army. What it does have is an amazing, fairytale atmosphere. The building itself looks as if it’s taken out of one of Grimm’s stories. Each entrance has a rounded door, almost hobbit-like. It has two small towers at both ends, which albeit not tall, enhance the fairy tale architecture of the building. Behind the building there is a small meadow with a few trees. Add to that the sound of the stream that is flowing past the meadow, and the sound of birds in the trees and you found the perfect place for a nice, relaxing day. We could have easily stayed for the rest of the day, but we headed onwards, making a mental note to return once the hotel was open.
Our next stop was Sibiu. Sibiu was built by German settlers in Transylvania in the early 1200s. In 2007 it was chosen as the European capital of culture and in 2008 it was ranked by Forbes as “Europe’s 8th-most idyllic place to live”. We went for a walk around the city centre on the paved streets, admiring the old houses that seemed to have eyes instead of windows, crossed the Bridge of Lies (an old pedestrian bridge connecting the two parts of the small square) and climbed the tower of the Lutheran Cathedral for a great view of the entire city. For lunch we chose, again based on Tripadvisor, a restaurant called “Crama Sibiul Vechi”. The place itself was not big, tucked away in a cellar, but you can expect great food, rustic atmosphere and waiters dressed in traditional Romanian clothing.
Ready to hit the road again, we continued onwards to Corvin Castle but this is a story for another time.