Set on the southeastern edge of Europe, Moldova has undeniably received very little tourist traffic compared to the rest of the continent. Ask most people where Moldova is and there’s a good chance they’ve never even heard of it. However, more and more travellers are venturing to this little-chartered destination just a bit too far off the radar for mass tourism. What they find are traditional villages, pristine countryside, charming farm-style accommodation and, of course, Moldova’s celebrated wine.
Bunches of Grapes
With a geographical outline that some say bears a resemblance to a bunch of grapes, Moldova is a famous wine country – in 2005 it ranked seventh in the world for wine exportation – with hundreds of wine-producing companies. In fact, just 30 minutes from Chisinau (Moldova’s capital city) is the world’s largest underground wine complex of Mileşti Mici, even titleholder in the Guinness World Records as the largest wine collection in the world! Composed of 250 kilometres of subterranean galleries (only 120 kilometres of which are used) that reach as far as the edge of Chisinau, Mileşti Mici contains over 1.5 million bottles of wine.
Moldova’s second largest wine cellar is the Cricova Winery, located in a village of the same name 15km north of Chisinau. Set in limestone tunnels from which rock was extracted for the development of Chisinau, the mines were converted in the 1950s to the storage of wines. Famous for fine vintages (including a true méthode champenoise sparkling wine), Cricova is just as legendary for its underground labyrinth, albeit at 120 kilometres a bit less extensive than at Mileşti Mici. Both are like underground cities where you amble along avenues named after wines or even drive your car down the oak barrel boulevards.
For wine lovers, a particularly excellent time to visit Moldova is the autumn (October) Wine Festival. This celebration brings all the wine families together to mark the end of the year’s grape harvest. Throughout the country, the villages’ small houses transform their courtyards into tiny wineries, where everyone is invited to join in wine tasting and a traditional ‘hora’ dance.
In Chisinau, although there are wine shops on every corner, the only one that features all of the Moldavian wines is the Casa Vinului, where you can taste before purchasing. More about Moldavian wines can also be found on the websites for Mileşti Mici and the Cricova Winery.
Agritourism near Prime Attractions
A seeker of true Moldova rustic authenticity must visit the village of Lalova on the Nistru River, 100 kilometres north-northeast of Chisinau. Travellers can stay at the Hanul lui Hanganu Guesthouse, which offers unique accommodation options ranging from an actual hayloft to a cellar with a fireplace. Here, travellers can relax and engage in traditional activities, such as fishing, tasting honey in the beekeeper’s house, boat rides or visiting a handicraft workshop. Conveniently, the Tipova complex, one of the country’s top attractions, with an 11th-century cave monastery and many beautiful waterfalls and springs, is only two kilometres away.
Ten kilometres away is another appealing site: Saharna village. Set in incredible natural surroundings, it boasts the 18th-century Holy Trinity Monastery, as well as a small chapel built on Grimidon, the high rock on top of which a monk had a vision of St Maria and then subsequently found her footprint. Saharna is a great place for trekking to waterfalls, archaeological sites and exceptional panoramic views of the immaculate landscape.
For a different taste of Moldavian country life, another option is a trip to the rural boarding house of Casa din Lunca, located in Trebujeni village, 47 kilometres north-northeast of Chisinau. Owned by the Benzin family, this house is set within a natural park, where visitors can participate in horseback riding, milking sheep and cows and cooking traditional Moldavians dishes, as well as enjoy the traditional songs and dances of Moldova.
For more information about Moldova, including Chisinau hotels, Chisinau tours and lots of insider tips, contact your local whl.travel connection: Olga and the Uniglobe Slavion Travel team at www.travel-chisinau.com.