I expect aggro, given what we’re driving, and for a while it looks as if we’re going to get it. We have only photostat copies of the Rolls’s documents, over which the border blokes pore, frown, shake their heads and talk in low voices. Eventually, they decide we’re genuine, though, and we’re away, forging again through countryside like Death Valley without the scenery.
Mind you, this road is endlessly beautiful. For 100 miles’ travel, our journey is simple: straight roads, fine surfaces, gradual corners and all of it financed by the EU, where an easy 90mph is possible without trouble.
Then, at a little town called Margina, it all goes wrong: the countryside has changed progressively back to more complex going, with rivers and hills and little ravines. Suddenly, the EU’s efforts have disappeared and we’re back on Romanian roads as they were.
Trucks do 25mph. Locals in swaying bangers pull phenomenal passing manoeuvres (shaming my own sense of enterprise) and risk the worst kind of head-on collision. For 90 minutes and a miserable 40 miles we endure this, then suddenly we’re at Deva, the EU has returned, our speed doubles and soon we’re homing in on Sebes, then Sibiu and our jumping-off point for the Transfagarasan pass.
We’re earlier than planned, so we turn south onto the pass itself, climbing gently, then more steeply through hairpins lined by dense trees. Occasionally, we catch glimpse of towering tops, still white with snow, thousands of feet above. On occasional straights, we consume distance. At 5000ft, the trees are thinner, then sparse. Then they disappear altogether. Huge rock walls tower over us but we forge relentlessly upward.
The Rolls is doing well, taking countless opportunities to prove its supreme ability to grip well, corner neatly, roll just a little and emerge from brisk corners right on line. I’ve decided it’s a driver’s car – on a road that has been somewhat oversold as a driver’s thoroughfare. It’s an amazing experience but not quite the inspiration I’d been expecting.
Rolls-Royce Phantom: eight generations of luxury
We arrive at a concrete lean-to tunnel, one of those reinforced structures meant to protect cars from rockfalls. A police sign says no entry, and for a while we weigh the prospect of ending our exploit here. But no policeman is looking so we just drive through the barrier, marvelling at the way the vista rapidly clears, fearful of increasingly scary, urgent signs, even now, of recent rockfalls and – believe it or not – avalanches. How will it feel to ring Rolls and tell them their car has been lunched in rockfall? Still, we’re too far in now and the scenery is extraordinary. You can see a dozen apexes in one glance.
We round a last left-hander and there’s Cabana Paltinu, Ceausescu’s former hunting lodge on the lake, reinvented as a kind of hard person’s ski lodge. It’s picturesque, ringed by rock walls but positioned far enough from them to avoid avalanches. The best-placed buildings up there survive the winter but the many stalls built for selling stuff to tourists in summer are routinely reduced to wreckage.
Bespoke Rolls-Royce Wraith models celebrate legendary British musicians
A few yards away, there’s a tunnel through a hill that is supposed to lead us down the other side and away from this ferocious place, but it’s still blocked with snow and will be for a while yet. Ceausescu’s Folly, indeed.