A little known corner of Europe wedged tightly between Romania and the Ukraine, Moldova is a tiny, fertile country of farming and separatism, even spawning two teeny breakaway ‘tin-pot’ republics. Despite its petite stature, Moldova is blighted with ethnic division, but has undergone impressive financial development since independence nevertheless, and has plenty for visitors to admire.
If you scan the tourist blurb on Moldova, you’ll find a heavy focus on wine: dry white Sauvignons and vibrant reds to be precise, which are produced in locations as diverse as the unusual underground wine village at Cricova. Plenty of the hillsides are coated with vineyards, and fans of the rural will enjoy the mammoth watermelons, bright fields of sunflowers and hands-on honey making businesses too.
Leafy capital Chisinau has a distinctly dodgy criminal undertone, and has grown into a startlingly rich boutique city against a backdrop of painfully poor countryside. There’s a weighty Soviet feel to the place, but Moldovan’s certainly know how to party, and dining on spicy sorpa soup accompanied (of course) by a bottle of wine, before hitting the unrestrained clubs is the essential Moldovan experience. Come the morning, the Central Market flogs anything and everything from the Far East, and plenty of other assorted tat alongside the occasional hard to find gem.
Be sure to visit one of those tin-pot republics, too, like Transniestr, which even invented its own imaginative currency by sticking stamps of a local war hero over out-of-use Russian rubles; a true ‘tell your friends about it’ destination. Then there are the monasteries at Orheiul Vechi, carved into the white stone of a remote cliff side, and hiding a surprisingly opulent interior. The picturesque rural landscapes of Zimbet and Satul Moldevenesc are corners of the realm locals revere, and give a scenic taste of this vivacious countryside.
While it’s unlikely to be top of your European travel list, Moldova reaches and exceeds expectations on almost every level. Minute yet lively, and home to both old-world Soviet influences and lively modern-day political strife, if you can land a hit-or-miss visa for this landlocked baby state, it’s an absolute must see.