Moldova – why you should discover it now

Moldova might not be the first name that comes to mind when planning a European adventure, but that’s precisely what makes it so enticing. Wedged between Romania and Ukraine, this petite country is making waves in the travel scene for its centuries-old culture, unspoiled landscapes, and, most notably, its burgeoning wine culture.

 

Moldova is Eastern Europe’s best-kept secret

After San Marino and Liechtenstein, Moldova is the least visited country in Europe. All the more reason for us to explore the off-beaten path. The main attraction is its rolling vineyards and historic wine houses. On our three-day visit – with the capital Chişinău as our main base – we explored Moldova’s wineries Cricova, Sălcuța, Purcari and Asconi. Each of them is unique and worth a visit. In addition, we discovered some of the highlights of Chişinău and a few of its best-kept secrets.

 

Wine routes and tasting in Moldova

Often hailed as the “Land of the Golden Grapes,” this country has an ancient winemaking tradition dating back over 4,000 years. Moldova ranks among the globe’s top 20 wine-producing nations and boasts the highest concentration of vineyards per arable land area compared to any other country on Earth. That must be worth a visit, right?

Wineries Moldova

Cricova Winery

For the first stop of our vinous journey, we went a little to the North of Chişinău to Cricova. This underground winemaking marvel is the home of an extensive network of cellars and tunnels, stretching for over 120 kilometres. Dominating the nation’s sparkling wine production, the labyrinthine cellars house countless barrels and a unique collection of wines. The tour through the wine city below ground shows their winemaking and its history.

Winery Cricova Moldova

Sălcuța Winery

While you might find bottles of Cricova and Purcari in our shops already, Sălcuța Winery is the one to watch. Owner Sergiu anticipated our arrival because our Dutch flag is flaunted beside theirs. This third-generation family-owned winery, with vineyards near the Ukrainian border, produces surprisingly fine wines. Also, of the 400 ha of vines, everything is plucked by hand, day and night(!). Daughter Dina explains that they want to add more tasting rooms and stays, so visitors can spend the night at the vineyard. I can’t wait to see what they’ll make of it!

Sălcuța Winery Moldova

Château Purcari Winery

Near the border on the East side lies the well-known winery Château Purcari, with its historic vineyards and award-winning wines. Renowned for producing some of the finest vintages in the region, Purcari stands as a testament to Moldova’s winemaking prowess. Complete the experience with an overnight stay (they even have a campsite!) and a lunch or dinner in their restaurant.

Purcari Winery entrance

Purcari Winery - Moldova

Asconi Winery

Last on our list to visit is Asconi Winery, not far from Chişinău. Upon arrival, I felt like I got swirled into a Moldovan fairytale. Our tasting took place in an old barn, outside were traditional cottages used as accommodations and we got treated to the traditional Moldovan cuisine. Even the logo on the wine label showed the Hora, the typical Moldovan dance. Asconi Winery is a celebration of Moldovan wine culture, inviting you to revel in the beauty of the vineyards and partake in the warmth of Moldovan hospitality.

Asconi Winery food

All the wineries we visited produce quality wines and each of them has something unique to show. Even if you’re not a wine lover, this is the way to explore Moldovan culture.

Visit highlights in and around Chişinău

Alternate your trips to the wineries with highlights in and around Chişinău. This city is raw and unrefined, which is logical if you think of it. Like more unfortunate cities in Europe Chişinău was one of the cities that got bombed to the ground during WWII. Rebuilding didn’t go without Sovjet influences and that’s exactly what you can expect before visiting here. But, and here’s a big but, that doesn’t mean Chişinău has anything interesting to offer! A destination as we like it, off the beaten path, ready to explore.

Chisinau Coffee stand, Moldova

The city’s wide boulevards are lined with Soviet-era architecture, but complemented by spacious parks. In addition, the Autumn vibes are giving the city a little extra as the parks turn in vibrant yellow and orange colours. Close to the park, right next to the Metropolitan Cathedral, you’ll find Bonjour Café. Get your matcha latte and almond pretzel here before your day starts. On the same street as Bonjour, there’s a food market called Teatrul Gastronomic. We haven’t eaten here, but inside we came across different cuisines like The Burger Factory and The Vegan Station. In the evening, this place turns into a bubbly hotspot to have a drink.

Bonjour café Chişinău- Moldova

Chisinau bar

Another great place to start your day is Gastromarket & Café Sincer. Vegetarian and vegan-friendly breakfast and lunch, and with lots of good-looking pastries. Across the street from Sincer, you’ll find Raw Café, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant with a little shop. What was utterly surprising was the amount of vegetarian options across the city.

Since there’s only little left of historical sights, we went out and about to find sightseeing spots worth a visit:

  • The National Museum of History of Moldova is majestic in architecture and offers a deep dive into the country’s past;
  • The Triumphal Arch cannot be missed, you’ll pass this ‘Arc de Triomphe’-looking building while walking towards the centre;
  • The wooden church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a must-visit when driving back to the airport.

Outside of Chişinău

There wasn’t enough time to visit everything, but these tips I got from locals:

  • Orheiul Vechi (50km north) is an important historical site known for its Cave Monastery;
  • Tipova Cave Monastery (95km northeast) is built into cliffs that tower some 200m above the Dniestr River’s right (west) bank (combine with Orheiul Vechi);
  • Bendery Fortress (60km east) is an Ottoman fortress, outside the centre near the Bendery–Tiraspol bridge;

Practical information

  • In Chişinău centre, it’s easy to go around on foot. But if you want to visit the wineries and other historical sights, it’s best to rent a car. Bus tickets are cheap, but it will also limit you in how many sights you can visit.
  • You won’t notice anything of the war between Ukraine and Russia, not even close to the borders.
  • Note that you’ll need to exchange your money for Moldovan Lei and ATMs are scarce. But what else to expect from an off-the-beaten-path destination?

Lots of love,

Danielle

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