1,600 km in a Mercedes C 220 BlueTec T-Model around some of the most charming places in Romania: natural parks, historical cities, monasteries, centuries-old fortresses and mountainous defiles that simply take your breath away.
Many of you have probably seen that Top Gear episode made in Romania, with an Aston Martin DB9 Cabrio, a Lamborghini Gallardo and a Ferrari California along the Transfagarasan. Jeremy Clarkson said back then that the Transfagarasan is the most beautiful road in the world, even more beautiful than the Stelvio Pass.
It’s just that Romania has four such roads, one more captivating than the other: the Transfăgărășan, the Transalpina, the TransBucegi and the TransRarau, as the latter one was opened this past spring.
On our tour, we cruised in a Mercedes C 220 BlueTec T-Model along two of them: the Transfagarasan and the TransRarau.
While building the Transfagarasan between 1970 and 1974, during the former dictator Ceausescu’s era, 6 million kilograms of dynamite were used and, according to the official figures, 40 service men lost their lives. 90 kilometers long, the Transfagarasan is the second highest road in Romania, following Transaplina, reaching a 2,034-meter height at Balea Lake. But it holds the records from many perspectives. The longest road tunnel in Romania runs along it (884 meters at the Balea Lake) and it also holds the record for being the road with the highest number of bridges and viaducts in Romania. It is a string of wide corners mixed together with hairpin bends and huge level differences, all providing an impressive panorama.
The Mercedes C 220 BlueTec T-Model is perfect to run along this glorious road, thanks to a generous 400 Nm torque available starting from very low revs of only 1,400 rpm, which keeps its constancy up to 2,800 rpm. It is the exact rev interval used for going up the steep upgrades. And the rear-wheel drive mated with the automatic 7-speed transmission provides an uncommon comfort for long distance drives.
The Transfagarasan lies between Curtea de Arges up to Cartisoara, located on the other side of the mountains. From that place on, we go up towards Bucovina for 360 kilometers, passing by Sighisoara, Targu Mures, Reghin and Bistrita. Right between Bistrita and Vatra Dornei, we run along the Tihuta Clough, where the quality of the asphalt reminds us of the best of the German autobahns. 20 kilometers away from Vatra Dornei, another heavenly road starts, which is yet unfamiliar even to the Romanians.
It is called the TransRarau and connects the Chiril establishment located along the Vatra Dornei road to Bicaz dam with Pojorata, to the Vatra Dornei-Suceava route. The 28-kilometer route even reaches a 1,400 meter altitude in the Rarau Chalet area. From this point, the Rarau massif (1,651 meters high) can be spotted, just as well as the Lady’s Rocks. Along the TransRarau, half-way to the end, there is the wooden monastery Rarau. The first 12 kilometers of the TransRarau go up with a single newly paved lane through the forest and starting the Rarau Chalet down, a marvelous alpine space is displayed, as the road extends to the double lane.
Starting Pojorata, a new heavenly route begins towards the monasteries placed in the northern part of Moldavia – the Moldovita, the Sucevita, the Putna, the Gura Humorului and the Voronet. If the TransRarau is smoothly paved, the bendy road towards the Sucevita and the Putna is quite bumpy. Along this route, just as much as along the one between Targu Neamt and the Bicaz dam, the Mercedes C-Class makes the most of its fundamental quality: its out-of-this-world comfort. The test car had been fitted with the Avantgarde package, including the Avantgarde suspension together with the 17-inch 5 double spoke wheels wrapped in 225/50 Continental Sport Contact 5 tires. It turns out to be a perfect combination. Mercedes delivers the C-Class according to the customer’s choice, fitted with a comfort suspension, an Avantgarde one (it is, in fact, still a comfort suspension, but lowered by 15 mm, placed in the test Avantgarde lineup car) and a sports one, also lowered by 15 mm. As an option, an a unique feature in the mid-size premium segment, an Airmatic air suspension can be ordered (1,416.10 euros), available only together with the Avantgarde, Exclusive and AMG lineups. The tested version also had the Agility Control system (standard with 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox), adjusting the response of the gearbox, throttle and steering, but also of the suspension, if the air suspension should be ordered.
Standardly fit with the Avantgarde suspension (the comfort suspension with a 15-milimeter lowered ground clearance) and selecting the Sport mode in the Agility Control for the steering, the compromise provided for the drive train is absolutely superb: a comfortable suspension and a minimum body roll on bends, together with a sharp steering having an excellent response while cornering.
Even though they were not built all of them under his command, the monasteries in Bucovina owe their existence to Stefan the Great, the ruler of Moldavia between 1457 and 1504. He led 36 battles against the Ottoman Empire, winning 34 of them. As he was quite a religious man, he raised monasteries after his greatest victories.
One of his love children, Petru Rares, lord of Moldavia between 1527-1538 and 1541-1546, built the Moldavita monastery and hired craftsmen to paint the murals on the inside and on the outside of the monasteries. The best preserved of the monasteries – the Moldovita, the Sucevita, the Voronet, the Suceava, the Humorului, the Arbore, the Probota and the Patrauti monasteries are included, starting 1993, on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are known as the painted monasteries of Moldavia.
The Sucevita Monastery was built by the family of the Movilești, a bloodline of great scholars and aristrocrats, and it was first testified in 1582. The monastery is located inside a 100 x 104 meter enclosure, surrounded by 3-meter thick and 6-meter high walls with traverses, four corner towers and counterforts.
The Putna Monastery was raised right during Stefan the Great’s ruling between the years 1466 and 1469 and it was commissioned on September 3rd, 1469. This is where the tomb of Stefan the Great is located. The Monastery of Voronet was also carried up by Stefan the Great in 1488, for his reputed battle in Vaslui. It is famous for the ubiquitous Voronet blue from the outside murals and known by the name of the “Sistene Chapel of the East”.
After touring the monasteries in Bucovina, we are descending towards Targu Neamt, where there is the Neamt Fortress. It was elevated by the end of the 14th century by Peter the First (1374-1391). The archeological research has revealed material clues of the 14th century and silver coins from the era of Peter the First.
An enticing road then rises from Targu Neamt up to storage reservoir at Bicaz, the biggest of its kind in the south-eastern Europe. Its maximum capacity reaches 1,250 millions cubic meters of water and the dam measures 127 meters in height and 435 meters in length. On the shore of the lake, the road crawls up for a 44-kilometer distance before reaching the dam. From this point on, only few kilometers down, there are two other dreamlike spots: the Bicaz Gorge and the Red Lake.
The Red Lake is a natural storage lake cast back in 1837 by the root of the Hasmasul Mare mountain, by the obstructing of the Red Creek valley, as the fir forest was flooded. Even today, the remains of the sunk firs can still be seen, guaranteeing a rare distinctiveness to the entire scenery.
From the Red Lake, the road goes down to Gheorgheni and then to the Zetea dam, a tiny storage reservoir located along the Tarnava Mare river, which is the home of the trout in Romania. From Zetea, we are heading to Sighisoara, the only inhabited fortress in the Central and Eastern Europe and then, on towards Viscri, a village renowned for the fortified Lutheran church, but also for being the favorite of Prince Charles, who owns two dwellings right there, recently refurbished as to preserve the particularity of the lodgement.
The Lutheran fortified church was built back in the 13th century on the spot of a former Romana basilica. The assembly includes the church, the fortified enclosure, a defense belt, two towers, two bulwarks and a gate tower.
After having ridden for 1.600 km, we can’t but appreciate the utility and the efficiency of the new C-Class T-Model. The C 220 BlueTec ate up 98 liters of Diesel fuel, meaning an excellent average of 6.1 l/100 km for a ride with a lot of bendy roads, significant level and temperature differences, from 8 degrees Celsius along the Transfagarasan up to 37 degrees around the monasteries in the northern side of Moldavia. And we must consider that this fuel consumption was achieved on maximum load and with a version bearing an automatic transmission.
The C 220 BlueTec T-Model offers many benefits as a family car. The 40/20/40 splitable rear seats and the luggage net come as standard equipment. The trunk load sill can conventionally tilt or can rise by the simple touch for easier luggage loading. The suspension comes with an automatic level of the ground clearance, no matter the trunk load. There is an option for ordering an electrically opened tailgate. The electrical front seats with height and backrests adjusting and covered in an art leather/alcantara combination of the Avantgarde package have an excellent configuration and the driving position is low and very comfortable in long distance drives.
With a price of 42,988.75 euros, the C 220 BlueTec Automatic is a very appealing offer. With the exterior and interior Avantgarde package (1,249.50 respective 1,011.50 euros), the LED headlights (1,029.35 euros) and the Garmin navigation system (595 euros) mated with the 20 CD Audio system (119 euro plus 130,90 euros for the touchpad), we reach a price below the 50 000 euros mark.
Foto: Liliana Măgureanu