In 2015, Moldova received 15,514 international visitors – about as many as a city like Paris sees in just a few hours.
Since a huge chunk of those is made up of guests from former Soviet republics and Russia (many visiting family), the numbers certainly leave much to be desired. Expectations were, understandably, low before we first embarked on our grand Moldovan adventure – judging by the country’s notorious unpopularity with tourists and underwhelming images offered up by search engines, we were expecting to be faced with panoramas not too dissimilar to the one below upon arrival.
Little did we know, parts of Moldova were ridiculously easy to confuse with some of the world’s most sought-after tourist destinations. Moldovan lavender fields could, as it turns out, give Provence a run for its money, and some parts of the country are virtually indistinguishable from the Tuscan countryside.
The capital – Chisinau – still bears traces of Soviet presence, and what it lacks in refinement, it more than makes up for with its appealingly nostalgic feel. Golden-domed Orthodox cathedrals mix in with staples of Soviet architecture, creating an oddly idiosyncratic atmosphere.
Moldova is only now opening up to curious trailblazers from abroad, and the relative lack of tourist infrastructure appears to be more of a draw than a turn-off. Sparse promotion brings with it significantly lower prices, and gives the country grit and authenticity long-lost by trendy destinations across the globe.
To get a feel for Chisinau, walk down the city’s main artery – the Stefan cel Mare Boulevard – and see Moldova’s very own Triumphal Arch (pictured above), take a stroll through the Central Park (named, likewise, after Ștefan cel Mare, one of Moldova’s most prominent historic leaders), pass by the imposing Government Building, and venture into the thick of Piata Centrala (the Central Market), geared exclusively at local shoppers – if only for the experience.
Some of Moldova’s most enticing attractions are its wineries – the incredible Milestii Mici contains the world’s most extensive collection of wines (a fact documented by the Guinness Book of World Records), and reputable Cricova (only a few kilometers away from the city center) is an easy day trip from Chisinau.
Further away from the capital lie Moldova’s true hidden treasures – magnificent monasteries such as the open-air museum of Orheiul Vechi, Saharna cave monastery set amidst rolling green hills in the heart of a nature reserve, and Capriana, the closest one of all to Chisinau.
Natural beauty is, perhaps, the country’s strongest suit. Untouched by mass tourism, the Moldovan countryside holds some awe-inspiring landscapes, and is perfectly fit for active pursuits such as cycling, hiking (the so-called “100 hills” reservation is good for that), and even caving – the easiest cave to reach from Chisinau is at Criuleni, a mere 50km away from the city.
The self-proclaimed, de-facto independent republic of Transnistria – dubbed as “the country that doesn’t exist” – is an easy day trip from Chisinau, too, and we’ll be taking you on a quick journey through it very shortly. Like our Facebook page or sign up for the newsletter to stay tuned for regular updates.
Visitor statistics provided by the National Bureau of Statistics