August 01, 2018

Top 10 Things to do in Moldova

Moldova is one of Europe's hidden gems. An independent country since the break up of the Soviet Union, it has also been occupied and fought over by the Ottoman Empire, and Romania. The people are friendly, it has some great sights to see, and produces some wonderful, and very cheap, wine.

One of the least visited countries in the world, Moldova used to have a difficult visa process. That has now changed and entry is easy for most visitors. With low cost airlines now flying to its capital, Chisinau, tourism is likely to increase.

Here are our top 10 things to do in Moldova:

1. Taste the major export
Moldova is a major wine producer. During Soviet times most of the produce ended up in Russia, but these days the vineyards are exporting worldwide, particularly to China. The country excels in meaty red and tasty sparkling wines.

Go to the source and enjoy a day out at a winery. We recommend Milesti Mici with its underground wine cellars that you drive through, and a wonderful tasting experience. There are other wineries to visit if you have the time and the inclination, including Cricova, Chateau Vartely and Purcari.

The Milesti Mici Winery fountain
2. Get some tranquility in a monastery
Not just your standard monastery, but one built out of a cliff. Two hours out of Chisinau is the Tipova Cave Monastery. The road is a bit rough, and you will need to arrange a car as there is a lack of public transport, but the effort is worth it.

Built in the 11th Century and still in use today. The highlight is the walk from the top of the cliff as the path winds down towards the caves, with great views of the River Dniester and the surrounding countryside.

3. Experience a little bit of the Soviet Union
The breakaway pro-Russian province of Transnistria is only an hour east from Chisinau. It proclaimed itself an independent nation in 1990 provoking a short war. Peacekeeping troops from Russia are now based in Transnistria.

It is one of the few places in the world that you can see many Lenin statues still in place, as well as of Yuri Gagarin. There are also some great places to visit, such as Bendery Fort and the KVINT cognac factory. For more see here.

Yuri Gagarin
4. Experience a little bit of Turkey
Not content with just having Transnistria carved out of the country, there is also the autonomous unit of Gagauzia (as it is delicately known) about an hour west of Chisinau. The residents have not declared themselves as a country, yet, and relations are good with the rest of Moldova.

Instead of Lenin there are statues of Ataturk, the first Turkish President. You can also enjoy Turkish food as you visit the main town, Comrat. An interesting museum, and Soviet tank monument are the main things to see outside of this unusual Turkish enclave.

5. See the colour of the Central Market (Pieta Centrala)
Markets are always good for photography with their mixture of colourful products and constant activity. This is true for Chisinau but there is an added bonus of an incredible cheese hall with a selection of local and imported cheeses to try and then buy, including rare sheep and goats cheeses.

The meat hall is best avoided for vegetarians or anyone slightly squeamish as it contains parts of animals for sale that you do not usually see, pigs brains for one, and get an education in dismembering animals.

Legging it to the Central Market
6. Visit the Patriotic War Memorial
At some point in your time in Chisinau you will see the large orange memorial towering above the surrounding buildings. The actual memorial is four rifles leaning into each other to make a pyramid, beneath which the eternal flame burns, while an honour guard from the Moldovan Army stands nearby.

A somber but quite beautiful place, situated in the centre of a park with friezes of war images sculpted in stone beside the path which leads to a small cemetery.

7. Catch a show at the Theatre
Not only is the Mihai Eminescu National Theatre a rather beautiful neo-classical building, it also hosts many international and Moldovan plays, sometimes in English.

Chisinau also hosts a Philharmonic Hall with regular classical concerts, and the modern, but still beautiful, National Opera & Ballet building where you may get to see Swan Lake or Don Quixote from a ballet company which still rivals the Bolshoi.

The Mihai Eminescu Theatre
8. Uncover the past at Old Orhei
The most important archaeological site in the country. The area has been occupied for over 2,000 year years, and ruins can be identified from ancient bath houses to fortifications built by the invading Mongol hoards. A museum on site exhibit many of the finds discovered here.

A short walk will take you to a cave monastery and the picturesque village of Butuceni, with its  brightly coloured houses.

9. Learn more about Moldova in a museum
You have the choice of visiting many museums in the Moldovan capital. You can learn more about  archaeology and history, nature, and even the poet Pushkin (who was exiled for three years to Chisinau).

Our pick though is the Military Museum. Packed with tanks, weapons, and MiG fighter jets, as well as detailed history of war and conflict involving Moldova, right up to the recent Transnistrian conflict.

A MiG fighter not going anywhere in a hurry at the Military Museum
10. Travel on the Prietenia Sleeper
If you get the chance to arrive or depart Moldova by train, do it. One of the old luxury Soviet sleeper trains, although bear in mind this is 1950's 'luxury'. One of the very few old Soviet trains still running is on the Chisinau to Bucharest route.

There is one train a day each way and you can travel in Second Class, sharing a four berth cabin for approx US$50. US$10 more gets you a First Class cabin for only two, although if you are travelling alone you will get it to yourself. An unusual and historical experience, and the cabins are not bad even though they are seventy years old.

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  1. Wow! Moldova sounds quite interesting. Lots of things to do. :)