Until recently, I was completely unaware of the magic held in Moldova and had no idea why it should be a destination for adventurers. But now that I have discovered all this country has to offer – from its lush forests high up on rolling hills, to their unique art museums - one visit is simply not enough!
Tucked away in a corner of Europe, Moldova is an oft-overlooked gems that draws few tourists. Spending a week exploring this country with Intrepid’s Moldova, Ukraine and Romania Explorer trip revealed just what makes it so special; from intriguing attractions to its unique setting between two countries there are plenty of wonderful surprises waiting for visitors!
My group and I experienced a whirlwind adventure through both the urban jungles and rural byways of an unknown country. We sauntered, savored, sang - becoming immersed in local life as we went! Our palette was tantalized with flavors that even surpassed our expectations for such cuisine; adding to this delightfully exotic experience were fascinating lessons on their historical roots and cultural customs. It's been truly unforgettable!
Reasons to visit Moldova
Make new friends
It may take a little effort before locals warm to you, but they will. Consider this a quirk of history. The area, formerly known as Bessarabia, was ruled by multiple empires throughout history including the Ottomans and Russians. At one point it was a region of Romania, and later a territory in the Soviet Socialist Republic. After declaring independence in 1991, it has faced delicate relations with Russia, and has a breakaway region, Transnistria, within its borders.
That is to say, Moldovans may be wary of visitors at first, but after a conversation (the younger generation speaks English) over a cup of strong coffee or a shot of local brandy, you’ll have a friend for life. This tour, packed with a mix of planned activities and free time, provides ample opportunity to meet locals perched on bar stools or lingering in outdoor cafes.
Sample wine in the world’s biggest cellar
Moldova is a hidden gem of European winemaking, offering some of the best quality wines at knock-down prices. Whether you're looking for bold reds or sweet white Rieslings, excellent bottles can be found in restaurants and grocery stores alike - with most costing under 10 dollars! It's time to explore Moldovan vintages: an unbeatable taste experience without breaking the bank.
Soak up the atmosphere of centuries-old winemaking at Moldova's Mileștii Mici, home to a sprawling 120 mile network of underground tunnels that house one of the world's largest wine collections. Our group was lucky enough to take part in an unforgettable tasting experience featuring an extraordinary range of reds, whites and sparkling wines - something no true oenophile should miss out on!
Sing and dance alongside a Eurovision finalist
Don’t discount the culture in this diminutive country. In 2005 Moldova’s favorite percussion-playing grandmother, Lidia Bejenaru, took the Eurovision stage with rock/funk group, Zdob şi Zdub.
They placed sixth – the country’s highest placement ever in Europe’s annual music showcase. The reason judges cite grandma’s energetic performance pounding the drums in traditional garb – a sort of sexagenarian version of Sheila E.
Today, she still performs typical Moldovan folk songs alongside her husband at ceremonies including cultural feasts and weddings. We had the chance to sing and dance with the duo at a home lunch overflowing with food and local wine. What an experience!
Experience Eastern European cafe culture
In Moldova’s capital, Chişinău, cafes, restaurants, and shops dot the roads surrounding Cathedral Park, as well as the Boulevard August 31 1989 (a lively street named for Moldova’s independence day). Sip a strong cup of coffee, similar to Turkish coffee, while nibbling on flaky pastries or cake-style sweets.
Alternatively, opt to relax al fresco with the locals lazing on benches in Cathedral Park while enjoying a takeout cup of espresso from one of the many snack stands offering beverages, ice cream and sweets.You’ll spot plenty of young entrepreneurs in warmer months taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi available throughout the green grounds.
Explore Chişinău like a local
When it comes to capital cities, Chişinău may be small but its packed with enough adventures for an unforgettable long weekend. Take a leisurely stroll around Piata Centrala and explore the vibrant outdoor market - here you'll find all sorts of goodies such as locally-sourced fruits and homegrown treats that can't be found anywhere else! With clothing, meat and more available right at your fingertips, this is one spot in the city where no traveller should miss out on exploring.
Ask your guide for primer on Moldovan shopping etiquette, then hone your haggling skills at the Souvenir Bazaar, which carries far more than trinkets. Here you’ll find antiques, souvenirs, artisanal goods, and plenty of Communist-era relics. If you ask nicely, you may even get a free kaval (traditional flute) lesson from a local musician.
Feast on a budget
Where can you indulge in a three-course meal, with local wine, for under $10? Moldova. From casual spots in Comrat to restaurants offering traditional or international style cuisine in Chişinău, meals will hardly make a dent in the wallet. The country is known for meat-heavy dishes, however there’s plenty of lighter options and vegetarian dishes. Be sure to sample Moldovan-style borscht which can be ordered with or without meat.
Dining with my fellow travelers was a great way to sample a large variety of local foods, including Plăcintă, a savory pastry available with a variety of fillings including salty cheeses or meats. If you’re on the road and not sure what to eat, look for an Andy’s Pizza. It’s a local chain that offers pizza, Moldovan specialties, salads, and cocktails.
Discover hidden monasteries
If climbing to the top of a hill to visit an ancient cave monastery isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. The Orhei Vechi monastery is perched high atop a hill overlooking the Răut River. The structure was dug by Orthodox monks in the 13th century, abandoned in the 18th century, and is currently home to a few solitary monks once again.
Walk outside to the cliff’s ledge and place a coin in the naturally pitted limestone structure for good luck. Just don’t look down if you are afraid of heights!
And don’t wait until this country gets discovered by travelers worldwide. Now is the time to visit before tourism to Moldova increases!