Officially called the DN67C, the Transalpina in Romania crosses the Carpathian mountains south to north, reaching an altitude of 2145 m at the Urdele Pass. It runs from the town of Novaci on the south side of the mountains to the town of Sebes to the north.
Back in 2012 I was still driving an old Dacia Berlina. Mine was a 2004 model, but it was still basically the same car as the Renault 12 that Dacia copied almost 40 years before under the name Dacia 1300. Sure, they did add electronic injection and seatbelts in the meantime, they rounded off the corners and put a smiling front grill on it, but that car was still the most basic driving machine you could find, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to see its EuroNCAP ratings. No ABS, no airbags, no ESP, no assisted steering... The crumple zones are probably the front seats... So what better car to drive across the highest road in Romania?
The road from Novaci starts with a rather sudden climb with tight hairpins, climbing up a barren mountain side of reddish rocks and gravel. The turns are so close to one another that I couldn't really stop for photos by the side of the road - so unfortunately no pictures from this section. As we get higher the colors change and the road becomes smoother for a while, eventually reaching the overpriced mountain resort of Ranca. We spent the night here without any problems back in 2012, but I have heard some bad experiences with accommodation here (overpriced with poor conditions, rude hosts, etc) so you might want to drive on if you get here early enough.
After Ranca the road alternates between relatively straight, smooth sections and sudden climbs with tight hairpins. Quite quickly we reach the tallest point at the Urdele Pass. On this day there was a thin layer of clouds just below us in the valley, making the drive particularly spectacular.
After the pass, the road starts to descend to "Obarsia Lotrului", an old mountain resort that is now all but deserted, with only a few accommodation places and not much else. From here you can continue down the Transalpina DN67C or you can turn right on DN7A, a road that goes up and down along the mountain range until slowly descending to the Olt valley and the bigger E81 road. We chose to drive on DN7A just until we reached Lake Vidra and then turn back and continue the Transalpina route.
Eventually the road descends to Sebes, from where Transilvania opens up in all directions. To the east you can head to the medieval towns of Sibiu, Sighisoara, Fagaras and Brasov. To the north-west you can head into the Apuseni mountains, a sparsely populated area of Romania that still keeps a wild, natural feel and is known for caves, glaciers and other natural wonders. To the west you can get to medieval castle of Hunedoara and further west to Timisoara and west plains of Romania, and drive on into Hungary.
If you ever consider doing the drive yourself, do keep in mind that, like most alpine roads in Europe, the Transalpina is only open from early June to late September, and is extremely exposed to weather. While it's lovely on a sunny day, it can be very rough on a bad day. It is also a road that is officially still under construction/improvement, so most sections don't have any guard rails and some sections are quite narrow. Drive safely and have fun!