Why should you consider visiting Moldova?
Nestled between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is a relatively small country with a total population of 3.5 million people. A former Soviet Union country, Moldova is classified as one of the least visited Eastern European destinations. Nevertheless, it has a lot to be proud of, starting with wine. The country produces some of the finest wines and is famous for its immense underground wine cellars such as the one in Milestii Mici that is the biggest in the world. The second largest in Moldova, Cricova, is also a “city” of more than 120km of underground roads. You can find many monasteries in Moldova, some of which are more than 2000 years old. Picturesque green landscape is abundant here, for instance, the Orhei Vechi complex is not only home to charming monasteries and cute authentic villages but also to a vast green valley. Moldova also invites with its delicious food and cheap living cost since it is indexed as the poorest country in Europe.
So if you want to discover all Moldova has to offer, you should definitely add these 7 spots to your itinerary. The route starts from the North and continues to descend through Chisinau to Purcari, the furthest spot at the Ukrainian border.
1. Soroca Fortress and Gypsy Hill
Soroca Fortress (Romanian: Cetatea Soroca) is a 16th century fortress in the town of Soroca. This small town is located by the Dniester river, facing the Ukrainian border. The fortress is perfectly round with its main tower (rectangular section) and its four secondary towers (round section). On the way to the fortress, Soroca is also home to the so-called Gypsy Hill which is the largest concentration of Roma people (gypsies) in Moldova. The district surprises with many extravagant houses inspired by famous monuments such as the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City or the United States Capitol. This small community of only 37k inhabitants has even its own president known as their “baron”.
2. Saharna Monastery
Saharna’s “Holy Trinity” monastery, located about 110km north of Chisinau is considered one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Moldova. According to the legend, the Virgin Mary appeared on a hill in Saharna, leaving her footprint in the ground. A monk discovered the footprint and, in 1776, decides to build a site, testifiyng of the purity of the place. Later, some monks rediscovered this abandoned monastery and renovated all the facilities, especially the small church in the rock decorated with colourful frescoes. What is more, the monastic complex is a nature reserve offering beautiful walks.
3. Orhei Vechi
The archaeological complex of Orhei Vechi (Romanian: Orheiul Vechi) is an open-air museum located between the villages of Trebujeni and Butuceni, some 60km north-east of Chisinau. The first constructions date from the 10th century BC. One of the most beautiful landscapes composes the Church of the Ascension of Saint Mary, nestled on the hill and surrounded by the Raut river on one side. Built in 1905, it was abandoned under the Soviet regime and has just been renovated. There are also troglodyte caves with abandoned monastery, built in the rock that can be reached following the Raut further in the green valley.
4. Capriana Monastery
Capriana Monastery is the main monastery and one of the oldest in Moldova, built in 1429. The site is divided into three parts. The oldest part, the 14th century Assumption church, the church of Saint-Nicolas, built in the 19th century, and the Saint-Georges church from the beginning of the 20th century. Orthodox monks currently live there. The monastery is also home to the largest religious library in Moldova that contains gifts from different kings. Capriana is an important religious site and a major place of pilgrimage.
If the origins of Chisinau go back to the beginning of the 15th century, it was almost entirely destroyed during the Second World War and the earthquake of 1940. Ten years later, the Moldovan capital was rebuilt in a Soviet style. The square of the Great National Assembly is a central spot of the city. The emblematic monuments of Chisinau include the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ located near the central park Stefan Cel Mare or a more remote, Valea Morilor park, that is a pleasant place to stroll or take a bike ride around its artificial lake. The famous Triumphal Arch commemorates the victory of the Russian Empire over the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829. To try some delicious Moldovan cuisine on the go, La Placinte restaurant offers some specialties on the menu such as sarmale, placinte or pelmeni, to name a few.
6. Cricova Winery
Cricova is the second largest wine cellar in Moldova, after Milestii Mici which is considered the largest wine cellar in the world. It concentrates a remarkable wine collection. In 2003 Cricova winery was included in the cultural and national heritage and has been since under protection of the State and UNESCO. The cellars constitute a network of almost 120km consisting of boulevards, streets, alleys, traffic lights and traffic signs that make Cricova an “underground city”. It is an ideal place for wine conservation with its constant temperature between 12-14 °C and the high air humidity. Originally the cellar was in fact a quarry. The extracted limestone was used for the construction of some buildings in the capital. Among the collection of more than 1.3 million bottles, one can find for example the private collection of Vladimir Poutine or Angela Merkel. Poutine celebrated his 50th birthday there in a room dedicated to wine tasting. Today the visit of this underground labyrinth is done with a guide on a mini bus.
7. Purcari Winery
The Purcari winery is the oldest wine estate in Moldova, located more than 100km south-east of Chisinau, on the border with Ukraine. Located close to the Dniester river and about 30km from the Black Sea, Purcari benefits from exceptional climatic conditions for wine production. The cellar has been awarded numerous prizes with their first gold medal obtained during the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878. The complex also includes a charming castle transformed to a hotel among its bucolic surroundings.
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