Cycling The Transfagarasan Highway: My Bike Tour Across Romania, Serbia and Bosnia

By Darren Alff

After two full months in Brasov, Romania, I packed up my things, loaded up my Co-Motion touring bicycle, and hit the road on the next major leg of my 2015 bicycle tour across Europe. This particular leg of the journey would take me more than 800 kilometers – from Brasov, Romania (in the east) to Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina (in the west).

The first day on the road was a short one. I packed up my bicycle, cleaned my AirBNB rental apartment in downtown Brasov, Romania, and then cycled just a short distance to the Brasov train station. From there, I loaded my fully-loaded touring bicycle onto a local commuter train and traveled for about three hours west to the nearby town of Carta, Romania. Once there, I jumped off the train and began cycling the Transfagarasan highway (the second-highest paved road in all of Romania).

After four short, but intense, hours of cycling, I had already climbed more than two-thirds of the way up the mountain. But it was getting dark, so I made camp in a remote hillside area just off the highway and called it a day.

The next morning I was woken to the sound of a massive thunderstorm outside my tent. Even though I was awake by 7 AM, it didn’t stop raining until almost 10 AM, so I stayed inside my tent and rested my tired body. After two months away from my loaded touring bicycle, I was feeling tired, dehydrated and out of shape. Cycling the Transfagarasan highway after so much time away from my bike was probably not a good idea! But I did eventually climb out of my tent, pack up my bicycle, and begin the short, but steep and windy climb to the top of Romania’s second-highest road.

After a short distance, I met a couple Romanian guys named Cosmin and Lazar who were also cycling to the top of the Transfagarasan. They invited me to cycle with them, and I was happy to accept their offer. They were traveling slow, which gave me plenty of time to stop and take photos/videos. It also made the climb to the top a whole lot more fun.

We were lucky that the weather was so great during our climb to the top, because once we reached the top of the Transfagarasan highway, the rain clouds came in and totally drenched us. We decided to take shelter inside a restaurant located at the lake at the top of the mountain and eat lunch while waiting out the storm.

Afterward, I said goodbye to Cosmin and Lazar (my new Romanian friends) and then I continued on my own, through the tunnel and down the other side of the Transfagarasan highway. I cycled for hours on end, almost entirely downhill the entire time, and then made camp in a desolated lumber yard on the eastern side of Lake Vidraru.

After yet another night of rain in my tent, I woke the following morning and cycled south along the eastern edge of Lake Vidraru, before continue my bike ride south on Romania’s highway 7C. Somewhere along the route, I ran into another man traveling on a bicycle. He was stopped on the side of the road taking a photo when I first met him. He said he didn’t speak English, but he did speak German. And because I know just a little German, I was able to communicate with the man just enough to learn than his name was Bernd, he was 54-years-old, he was from Koln, Germany, and he was traveling in the same direction that I was traveling.

Bernd asked is he could cycle with me for a while, and I said that would be fine. So, we cycled south to the city of Curtea de Arges, where we stopped for lunch (pizza and lemonades) and to refill out food and water supplies. Bernd had originally planned on cycling a bit further to the south, be he was generally heading in the same direction I was. Not wanting to travel alone, I think, Bernd asked is he could come with me all the way to Serbia, and I said that would be fine. So in an instant, a stranger on the road became a week-long travel companion.

Bernd and I spent our first night together camping in a small local campground that he just happened to cycle past during our evening ride. I wasn’t quite ready to pay for camping at this point in my journey, but I was certainly happy to get a shower. And since camping is so cheap in Romania, I had no problem shelling out a couple extra bucks. The shower alone was worth it!

During our second day of cycling together, Bernd and I cycled through the city of Ramnicu Valcea and ended the day camping in an orchard just east of Targu Jiu, Romania. Along the way we stopped and ate lunch at an inexpensive restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious soup that only cost $0.50 USD. At the end of this video, you’ll hear Bernd talk about why he was traveling around Europe on a bicycle. (Sorry, but Bernd’s interview is available only in German.)

The following day, Bernd and I packed up our things, walked our bicycles out from the orchard to the main road and then cycled into the nearby city of Targu Jiu, which was much more crowded than either one of us expected.

In the city of Motru, Romania, we stopped for lunch at a city-center restaurant, only to find that they had very little food on the menu. When we asked if they had pizza, the waiter said that they did not, but that they could order a pizza from a different nearby restaurant and that we could have it delivered there, to the restaurant where we were currently eating. So that’s exactly what we did!

Then, after loading up on food and water for the night, I talk about some of the differences and difficulties of traveling with another person (especially someone who doesn’t speak the same language). Then we settled down for the night in a dark, wet roadside forest.

Our last day of bike touring in Romania was a good one. We cycled a short 30-something kilometers to the city of Drobeta-Turnu Severin where we ate a huge lunch (in order to spend the last of our Romanian money) and then ran around trying to find a place to exchange our money.

Once we crossed the Romania/Serbia border, we cycled for several more kilometers to a small campground located on the edge of the Danube River. The campground was free, but it lacked even the most basic facilities – such as flush toilets and warm showers.

Our first full day of bike touring in Serbia was a good one – despite the cold and wind that we encountered along the way. Bernd and I spent the entire day cycling along the edge of the Danube River and were treated to countless impressive views of the river and nearby villages as we cycled along. After a big, delicious and inexpensive lunch, we pitched our tents at a riverside campground, where we both took warm showers and charged up our various electronic devices.

If you want to see a video tour of my tent and how I set up my things when I’m camping, this is the video you want to watch!

Our second night camping in Serbia was not a good one. We were at an established campground where some of the other guests at the campground (and possibly even the owners of the campground) were up late into the night (4 AM) drinking, dancing, singing, fighting and making all kinds of noise. Neither Bernd nor I slept very well that night, so when we woke the next morning we were happy to get out of there – despite being very rested.

While I was packing up my things, I reached my hand inside one of my panniers and felt something kind of strange. It only took me a second to realize what it was. It was a snake!

After a good day of cycling, Bernd and I made camp in a small cherry orchard along the southern edge of the Danube River, just outside the city of Grocka, Serbia. The following day we would cycle into Serbia’s capital city – Belgrade!

After waking in the cherry orchard, Bernd and I packed up our bicycles and prepared ourselves for the short, but scenic bike ride into the Belgrade city center. Once there, we ate lunch at a riverside floating restaurant (a place where the prices were high and the portions were small)… and then later in the day checked into an AirBNB apartment that I had rented on the Internet.

After checking into the small apartment, Bernd and I took showers and then went out for our last meal together on the waterfront. We both ordered large Serbian pizza (mine was the best I had had in months) and we sat watching from the restaurant patio as hundreds of people walked along the waterfront.

The following morning, Bernd packed up his things and left the city on his own, while I stayed in Belgrade for three additional nights – working on my business and preparing for the next leg of my bike tour.

When one of my BicycleTouringPro.com readers found out I was in his home city, he asked if he could join me over the weekend for a three-day bike ride from Belgrade to the Bosnian border. I was happy to have some more company, so I invited him along. His name was Marko… and he was a young 20-something from Belgrade who had already done a number of short bike tours in his local part of the world.

Sadly, the day Marko and I were scheduled to leave Belgrade, the weather was not on our side. It rained almost the entire day and we were forced to camp in a dark, wet forest. After pitching our tents, we jumped inside and did our best to dry our clothes and stay warm.

Cycling with Mark was interesting because I got to quickly see some of the differences between his life and my own. For example, when I was traveling with Bernd (from Germany), we were constantly saying how cheap everything was (at restaurants, for example). But for Marko, going to a restaurant wasn’t a possibility – it was out of his budget. Even the types of foods that Marko was eating were very different to anything I would ever eat myself. But for him, eating this way was normal.

This is one of the things I enjoy so much about traveling with other people – or meeting other people on my travels. You get to see how other people live… and sometimes you are very surprised by what you discover!

During my second day of cycling with Marko, the weather greatly improved and we crossed the border from Serbia into the neighboring country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The border crossing was an easy one, and I found cycling in Bosnia to be quite enjoyable.

We made a short stop at an amusement park-like place (I jokingly refer to it was “Bosnia’s version of Disneyland” in the video), and then continued cycling west, just past the city of Bileljina, where we jumped over a ditch in the road and pitched out tents in the forest once again.

During my third and final day of bike touring with Marko, we packed up our bicycles and cycled south, following a road and river that ran parallel to the border of Bosnia and Serbia. In the city of Kozluk, I said goodbye to Marko and began cycling on my own once again. While it was enjoyable to have some company for the bike ride from Belgrade to Bosnia, I was happy to be on my own once again. Now free to do as I pleased, I could cycle at my own pace, stop whenever I liked, and camp where I pleased.

Then, finally, I spent my last day of the bike tour camping on a hillside just outside the city of Tuzla, Bosnia, where I would spent the following week. I packed up my bicycle, loaded up my things and pushed my loaded touring bicycle down to the road. From there it was just a short bike ride into the center of Tuzla.

I arrived in the city a few hours early, so I bought my train ticket from Tuzla to Copenhagen, Denmark (something I would need for the next leg of my travels) and then checked into the AirBNB apartment I had rented in the city. This apartment would be my home for the next six nights and was conveniently located just a few short minutes from the city center.

Tuzla was a nice, quite city, with not a whole lot to see or do, so I spent most of my days inside, working on my computer and preparing for the next major leg of my bike tour: a three-month-long bicycle tour across Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

My bike tour across Romania, Serbia and Bosnia was a good one. I was lucky to have some good company join me on the tour. I specially enjoyed cycling with Bernd, as we had similar riding styles, similar budgets, and (despite the language barrier) were able to communicate in a positive manner.

I’ve now been to Romania three different times and I still think of it as one of the best places I have ever been. And frankly, I don’t understand why more people don’t go there. It’s beautiful, interesting, inexpensive, with great food, friendly people, wonderful resources (like lots of cheap hotels, fast internet, etc) and plenty to see and do. If I had to recommend any single location for a self-supported bicycle tour, Romania would be my choice! Go to Romania – you won’t regret it!

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3 Comments

  1. Marko

    July 31, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    Hi from Marko (lol another one) from Serbia, i just wanted to say that i really enjoyed your videos from Romania-Serbia-Bosnia after i accidently found your channel at the time you started that ride, of course i subscribed to your channel and i am now watching previous videos and looking forward to Scandiavian tour.

    I learned a lot from your videos and i hope i will do some bigger tour soon.

  2. Sergio Procaccino

    September 4, 2015 at 4:51 am

    Join this incredible ride through one of Eastern Europe’s least visited corners. Explore the amazing Carpathian Mountains, ride across the incomparable Transfagarasan Highway, and explore the legend of Count Dracula as our ride reaches its crescendo at Bran Castle high in the mountains.

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