The Republic of Moldova is situated in southeastern Europe bordered by Ukraine to the north, east and south and Romania to the west. Chisinau, the capital, is 286 miles (about a six and a half-hour drive) from Bucharest and 111 miles (a three-hour drive) from Odessa, Ukraine.
This land-locked country started as a feudal state in 1359 and was a prosperous country during the rule of Stefan the Great between 1457 and 1504. It became part of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-15th century, was part of Romania in the early 1900s and became a Soviet state in 1940. Moldova declared its independence on August 27, 1991. Moldova’s official language is Romanian, but Russian is widely spoken there as well.
Today, Moldova is the least visited country in Europe. The absence of mass tourism means you get more for your buck and you can have an authentic travel experience that no longer exists in most places throughout Europe. Here are five things to do in Moldova:
1. Underground winery tour
Moldova’s wine industry can be traced back to 3000 BC. Today, a quarter of the country’s population works in the wine industry. There are three wine regions in Moldova: Codru, Stefan-Voda and Value lui Traian.
For an exciting and unique wine tour, go to an underground winery. Visit Cricova and Milestii Mici Winery, the winery that holds a Guinness World Record as the largest wine collection in the world.
The underground wine cellars at Milestii Mici Winery, founded in 1969, were once a limestone mine. The constant humidity and the temperature in the mid-50 degrees Fahrenheit make the extensive system of underground tunnels an ideal place to store and age the millions of bottles of wine.
You need a vehicle and a guide to visit the subterranean space that houses over two million bottles of wine, and stretches almost 150 miles. Drive through winding tunnels with street names like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot. And go deep into nearly 200 feet underground. While inside, you’ll get a chance to tour the cellars and enjoy wine tasting or wine tasting and a meal. But you won’t get to drive the whole 150 mile stretch inside the underground wine city.
Cricova has about 75 miles of underground tunnels and offers the same type of tour like Milestii Mici Winery. It’s the second-largest underground winery in the world.
2. Tipova Monastery
Tipova Monastery is one of the oldest cave monasteries in Moldova. It’s carved into the hillside limestone on the banks of Dniester River. There are three complexes with tunnels, stairs, and galleries.
The oldest complex, The Church of the Feast of the Holy Cross, was built around the 11th century. The second complex, Church of St. Nicholas, was added in the 14th and 15th centuries. The newest, Dormition of our Lady was built around the 15th century. There are 20 rooms in these complexes connected through tunnels, and stairs.
3. Explore Chisinau
Chisinau is not touristy and is not in most traveler’s list of top places to visit. The fact that it’s not touristy makes Chisinau an attractive place for those who like an authentic travel experience. From the Central Market and Parcul Stefan cel Mare to the Nativity Cathedral and National Museum of History of Moldova, you won’t find flag-waving tour guides. Or hundreds of people waiting to enter the museums. But instead, you’ll have the opportunity to mingle with the locals.
Here are some of the highlights in Chisinau:
- Nativity Cathedral
- St. Theodor Tiron Convent
- Central Market
- Triumphal Arch
- Parcul Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great Central Park)
4. Orheiul Vechi
Situated about 38 miles northeast of Chisinau is Orheiul Vechi or Old Orhei. This is an open-air museum featuring ancient fortresses, monasteries, and buildings that dates back to the 10th century and to the Golden Horde in the 13th and 14th centuries. The monastery complex is carved into the massive limestone cliff, and the rich nature reserve makes this a magical place to visit.
5. Stay at an old Soviet-style hotel
Although new luxury hotels are available in Chisinau, there’s something about staying at an old Soviet-style hotel. The Cosmos Hotel and Chisinau Hotel in Chisinau are two hotels that you can experience Soviet-style rooms and breakfast.
At the Hotel Cosmos reception, there is no computerized check-in system. The friendly receptionist still writes everything on a piece of paper. Even the breakfast vouchers were handwritten notes.