Just past Dracula’s castle, deep within Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, the Transfăgărăşan Highway is a 55-mile stretch of roadway so scenic and wickedly winding that it rendered Jeremy Clarkson—glib host of the BBC’s popular automotive show Top Gear—practically speechless. That’s no small feat, since for more than 20 years, Clarkson has made it his business to bomb around the world’s most breathtaking roads.
Surveying the twisted tarmac zigzagging below its summit from the cockpit of his Aston Martin DBS, he chuckled with pure delight, exclaiming to the camera, “That’s the most amazing road I’ve ever seen!” If he’d had a tail, it surely would have been wagging.
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This serpentine motorway is just one of many mind-bogglingly crazy roads around the globe. And these exciting—albeit potentially perilous—paths offer travelers a refreshing diversion in an era of monotonous interstates and traffic-controlling roundabouts. From the seemingly insurmountable Alps to the craggy coastline of the Amalfi, the steep hills of New Zealand to the arctic expanses of northern Canada, dramatic geography has left us with some of the world’s more brilliantly engineered pieces of pavement.
Or not so brilliantly engineered. Take, for instance, Bolivia’s ill-conceived Yungas Road, a rickety route connecting the high-altitude capital of La Paz with the low-elevation rainforest town of Coroico. This dangerous pass poses such a harrowing journey (largely unpaved, single lane, no guardrails, 2,000-foot drops) that it claims an estimated 200 drivers’ lives annually, rightfully earning it the nickname El Camino de la Muerte (“The Road of Death”).
Back in Romania, the Transfăgărăşan’s own bloody history began with its creation. Built in the 1970s under President Nicolae Ceauşescu as a means to mobilize armed forces in the event of a Soviet invasion, this roadway—connecting the remote regions of Transylvania and Wallachia in an endless series of bends, tunnels, and viaducts—exists at the cost of six thousand tons of dynamite and 40 road workers’ lives. Dracula might have approved, but to this day locals bitterly refer to the highway as “Ceauşescu’s Folly.”
Given those figures, Bolivian bus tours and Transylvanian road trips might not top your to-do list. But the next time you’re zoning out in cruise control or find yourself verbally engaging the Garmin GPS’s female navigator just to stay awake, think of the demanding, dangerous, and downright crazy roads ahead. Then thank your lucky stars for the carpool lane.