Moldova is a small landlocked country in Eastern Europe. We are not well-known in the world, we are not a popular tourist destination, but still there are very good reasons to visit Moldova.
1. Turbulent history
The history of Moldova is quite complicated, if I may say so. As I am not going to retell all of it here, I will just mention some important things to help you understand its present.
A couple of centuries ago modern Moldova was part of a bigger country, the Principality of Moldavia. That historical Moldavia included the territories in the east of Romania, modern Moldova, Transnistria, south-western part of Ukraine (if you look at the map, this part is right below Moldova to the west from Odessa), and Chernivtsi region of Ukraine.
Moldavia was an attractive piece of land and many neighbouring empires tried to subdue it, with varied success. Sometimes Moldavian rulers were able to defeat their enemies, sometimes they lost. As a result of one of these wars Moldavia became the vassal of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1812, after the Russo-Turkish war, the eastern part of Moldavia, almost half of the country that included the territories now belonging to modern Moldova and Ukraine, were ceded to Russia and named Bessarabia.
The map of Moldavia and Bessarabia was redrawn many times after that. In 1859 the remaining part of Moldavia united with the neighbouring Wallachia to form a country that would be a predecessor of modern Romania, while the biggest part of Bessarabia was still under the Russian rule.
In 1918, when Russia was fighting its internal war, Bessarabia united with Romania. Aiming to attract the Bessarabians back, the Soviets created the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR) on the left bank of the Dniester River inside the Ukrainian SSR. In 1940 Bessarabia was taken back by the Soviet Union and a part of the MASSR became a part of the newly formed MSSR, the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (this is the reason why Transnistria exists today). Bessarabia was later split, and its southern part that had exit to the Black Sea alongside Chernivtsi region was given to the Ukrainian SSR.
When the USSR started weakening at the end of 1980s, nationalistic moods became strong in the MSSR: they demanded the use of the Latin alphabet and wanted to restrict the use of the Russian language. Naturally, the national minorities weren’t happy about it, and Transnistrians didn’t like it either. There has never been a Moldovan majority in Transnistria, so when they refused to obey, a war broke out. It ended in 1992, and nowadays Transnistria is de jure a part of Moldova, but de facto they have their own government.
During the same period the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia was formed in the south of Moldova. This is where the Gagauz people, a national minority, compactly live. They have their own language and culture, and weren’t happy with the Moldovan nationalism either. Nowadays they speak the Gagauz and Russian languages predominantly and have local administration.
As Moldova was part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union, Russian was the main language in the republic, and this is the language the national minorities spoke. After the collapse of the USSR, the Moldovan language took the dominant position, but Russian still remained as the language of interethnic communication. So, today you may hear some Moldovans getting angry when they hear Russian (it doesn’t happen very often, but I witnessed it myself more than a couple of times).
2. Off the beaten path destination
Moldova is very little known outside the former Soviet republics and some neighboring countries. Quite often people think that I mispronounce Maldives when I say Moldova. So, trust me, if you want to visit places without crowds of tourists, Moldova is a perfect choice. The majority of people you will see at the tourist attractions will be locals. According to some data, we had about 20,000 foreign tourists in 2019.
Why is Moldova so little-known? There are many reasons. Our country isn’t heavily promoted to foreigners by government agencies. We don’t have suitable tourist infrastructure and we don’t have world famous sights. Our travel agencies prefer outbound tourism to local, though it would be fair to say they offer trips to the most well-known places in the country.
But the recent situation has changed many things and we have started developing local tourism. As you will see below, we have plenty of beautiful places in Moldova, mostly natural landscapes. The nature reserves are free to visit, and the entrance fees to other places are usually less than 1 EUR.
In addition to the beauties of nature and old monasteries and fortresses, we have rich traditions and delicious cuisine, so you will definitely find something enjoyable in Moldova.
3. Old churches and monasteries
Moldova is an Orthodox Christian country, and people are quite religious here. We have many churches and monasteries, and some of them date back to the 17th-18th centuries.
For example, two of the oldest churches in Chisinau – Mazarachi Church and Church of Saints Constantine and Helen – were built in the second half of the 18th century. There is another one in Chisinau – a wooden church of the Dormition of Mary: it was built in 1642 in another place and moved to the capital in 2010.
We have many monasteries that are famous in the area. One of them is Tipova Monastery on the shores of the Dniester River. Relatively not far from it there is another one – Saharna Monastery. Some buildings and objects in the monasteries date back to the 15th and 11th centuries. But what makes these places even more spectacular is the natural landscapes around them: it is the river, it’s the forests and the cascades, so don’t just stay at the monasteries, but walk around them.
Another monastery, definitely worthy of a visit, is Capriana. It is located in the middle of Codru Reserve, the most well-known forest in Moldova. It was first mentioned in the documents in 1420, and later many local rulers, including Stephen the Great, Petru Rares and Alexandru Lăpușneanu, contributed to the building and restoration of the churches.
Curchi Monastery is one of the most beautiful in Moldova: just look at the colours! One of its churches is built in the neobyzantine style, another one is classical with baroque elements. According to some legends, it was founded by Stephen the Great, but there is no proof, so 1773 is considered the year of its foundation.
Old Orhei or Orheiul Vechi with its rock monastery is one of the most famous landmarks in Moldova. This place is a UNESCO heritage site, and, in addition to the monastery, there are old ruins of medieval fortresses, Tatar baths, churches, palaces, walls and a mosque. Actually, when you come to Moldova, everyone will advise you to visit Orheiul Vechi.
Other monasteries to consider are Condrita and Rudi.
Many centuries ago, when modern Moldova was part of the much bigger Principality of Moldavia, there were many fortresses here. In 1812, when about half of the principality was ceded to the Russian Empire, there were still quite a few fortresses, but further splitting of the land left us with two only: Soroca and Tighina.
Soroca Fortress was first mentioned in 1499. The first fortress, presumably built by Stephen the Great, was wooden, and was later rebuilt in stone by Petru Rares. It’s not big, its main designation was to protect the land from the hordes of Tatars, but it is still a fine example of the medieval Moldovan architecture. It was recently restored and pleases the eye.
Just like in the case of Soroca, the initial Tighina Fortress was built by Stephen the Great and was wooden, and later Petru Rares erected another one. During one of the wars with the Ottoman Empire, Suleyman the Magnificent seized it and renamed it Bender. Now the fortress is known by both names. Bender was remade and expanded according to the plan of the famous Ottoman architect Sinan. Later it went under the rule of the Russian Empire and gradually lost its significance. Now the fortress is territorially in Transnistria.
As both fortresses are located on the shores of the Dniester River, the landscapes here are stunning and majestic.
5. Soviet architecture
Because of the historical events, the best places to admire Soviet architecture are in Transnistria, and namely in Tiraspol. People who have been there claim that it is like going back in time. You can see multiple monuments to Lenin, formidable buildings, Soviet symbols. As it is Transnistria, foreigners need to fill in some documents at the border, and specify how many days they want to stay there.
Many cities and towns in Moldova have some specimens of Soviet architecture, but, naturally, the majority of them are in Chisinau. Here you can see hotels, government and scientific buildings, the famous circus, the camomille building, Soviet factories and plants.
Another place, though it may not be architecture, is Soldanesti nuclear shelter not far from Olișcani village.
6. Natural wonders
Moldova is a small country, but we have plenty of stunning natural landscapes. Though I have to warn you that getting to them isn’t easy: it will be hard, if not impossible, to find public transport, so taxis or rental cars are a better option. Below are some places around the country to visit.
– Beleu Lake is a picturesque lake in the south of Moldova in the Lower Prut Natural Reservation right at the border with Romania. In addition to stunning views, this is the place to see pelicans.
– Codru Reserve is a forest in the center of Moldova. It has a variety of plants, some of which are in the Red List of Endangered Species (Red Book) of Moldova, and multiple animals, including deer and wild cats. This is a popular place as some famous monasteries are located nearby.
– Duruitoarea is a location in the north-west past of Moldova. It is a picturesque area at the Prut River with hills, a lake and caves with prehistoric settlements.
– Padurea Domneasca Reserve is close to Duruitoarea. It is a forest along the Prut River with rich flora and fauna. The most notable residents of the reserve are deer and bisons.
– Old Orhei (Orheul Vechi) I mentioned above is a natural wonder as well. The Raut River creates a stunning bend here, and the surrounding hills and forests make the place even more spectacular.
– Limestone hills in Edinet District were formed 15-20 million years ago, when the sea that covered the territory of Moldova then disappeared. Now they are part of a stunning landscape near the villages of Trinca, Brînzeni, Gordinesti and Fetești.
– Molovata is a picturesque area at the Dniester River. Here the river bends and surrounding hills are a majestic landscape. Sunsets are spectacular here.
– Lavender fields become more and more popular every year in Moldova. While it is grown for a purpose, people come here for pictures. The nearest to Chisinau fields are in Colonița, Cobusca Nouă, Hrușova and Cimișeni.
7. Excellent wine
Our small country is one of the twenty biggest wine producers in the world and we do have many wine-producing centers 🙂 They are mostly located in the center and south of the country, but the most famous ones, like Milestii Mici and Cricova, are relatively close to Chisinau.
In Moldova you can taste any kinds of wine possible: red, white, rose, sparkling (champagne), young and old. And brandy, it is called divin in Moldovan/Romanian. Our wine is made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Aligote, Pinot Noir grapes and less known to international visitors local varieties like Fetească Neagră, Fetească Albă, Fetească Regală and Rară Neagră. There is wine to satisfy any taste 🙂
As we are proud of our wine, every year we celebrate it during the so-called Wine Day. In Chisinau it takes place in the beginning of October, and, a bit later, in Gagauzia as well.
You can buy wine in any supermarket, prices vary greatly, so just walk around. Keep in mind that it is illegal to sell alcoholic drinks after 10 PM in Moldova.
Our wineries are quite a site as well, with small museums and restaurants serving traditional food, so pay a visit to them. The most well-known ones are these: Castel Mimi, Chateau Vartely, Cricova, Purcari, Milestii Mici, Vinuri de Comrat, Et Cetera.
8. Delicious food
Moldovan food is yummy and there is no better reason to visit Moldova! Just think about delicious pastries, soups, salads, pickles. Or our wide meat selection, roasted and fried, for example, sausages like mici and mititei, frigarui (barbecue), friptura (a kind of stew).
Let’s start with the best part: desserts! The most well-known ones are Cusma lui Guguta cake, baba neagra and baba alba, and plums stuffed with walnuts. My personal favorite isn’t particularly Moldovan, but it’s the most delicious dessert: crepes with sour cherries and sour cream.
Now let’s get to the other foods. We love soups, I think our preference goes to borscht (though it’s not a Moldovan invention) and zeama (soup with home-made noodles and chicken stock).
Placintas and invirtitas are popular foods. It is pastry with different fillings like cottage, cow or sheep cheese, pumpkin, cabbages, potatoes, meat sometimes, but my favorite ones are with sour cherry.
We are proud of our sarmale: it is rice with meat wrapped in cabbage or grape leaves. Quite often the same filling goes to stuff bell peppers as well.
Mamaliga is another specialty. It is a kind of porridge made of corn flour and is usually served with cheese and tocana (roasted or fried meat).
And we love pickles! The vegetables we pickle depend on the region of the country, usually it is tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, cabbage, eggplants. In some places people pickle apples and watermelon.
We adopted many Slavic and, naturally, Soviet dishes, in addition to the borscht above, like meat jelly (racituri), smetannik cake, vinegret, olivier and herring salads, etc.
9. Low prices
Moldova is a poor country, and prices here are relatively lower than in Europe. Relatively because they become higher every year, and I know people from Europe complaining that it is quite expensive here, but it is mainly about food and restaurants.
Local and interurban transport is cheap here. For example, it costs 2-3 leis (0,15 eurocents) to take a bus, trolleybus and marshrutka in Chisinau. Moving between cities in a bus will cost 5-7 EUR.
Entrance fees to museums are dirt cheap. For example, tickets for two main museums in Chisinau – the National Museum of History of Moldova and the National Ethnographic Museum – cost 0,5 EUR.
Accommodation is cheaper than in Europe, but you will still have to shed some money if you want to stay in a central hotel. Anyway, the price range is between 30-140 EUR per night. Hostels are cheaper, of course, around 5-10 EUR per night.
I think our restaurants are quite expensive. You will have to pay about 10 EUR for the main course and a drink, but that, of course, depends on the place. There are some places where you can find cheaper options. But it is still not as expensive as in Europe.
10. Hospitable people
We are hospitable people, though we may not give this impression immediately 🙂 We are ready to share everything we have. When we invite you to visit us in our home, you can expect a table full of food, and we expect you to eat everything 🙂 We will go above and beyond to help you with everything you may need.
I don’t want to offend anyone, but people in and from villages are more hospitable and kinder than in cities. If you meet someone in a village and they invite you to their house, you will most likely have the privilege of tasting home-made wine. It is somewhat a norm here to have vines in the garden, so everyone in villages makes their own wine.
Make sure you befriend a local when you come to the country and you will have constant support and help.
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