Monasteries and vineyards in The Republic of Moldova – a two day itinerary

The Republic of Moldova is located just East of a homonym region of Romania and is surrounded by Ukrainian borders. It’s not on many people’s travel bucket lists which makes it a pleasantly uncrowded discovery. As it is only a few hundred km away from my hometown, it was only a matter of time for me to get an opportunity to visit.

Now you can fly directly to Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, from a number of European capitals, including Brussels and Paris. The airport is located only a couple of km away from the city and taxis are inexpensive. A trip to the city should be around 110 Moldavian lei, the equivalent of 6 Euro.

I travelled with friends and decided to rent a flat on AirBnb on Lev Tolstoy street, about 10 min walk from the city centre. You will find supermarkets and convenience stores every 100m or so so getting the essentials is really straightforward.

For those not used to driving in these parts of Europe, you will find roads to be a bit bumpy (at best) or a complete rollercoaster (at worst). Some local roads are still unpaved. A car is however essential to be able to reach anything outside Chisinau. Ideally you should try to rent an SUV or a car with 4×4 wheel drive. Drivers might be a bit pushy in Chisinau but once you leave the city, they are reasonably well behaved behind the wheel. We had a local friend driving us around which had the added benefit of being able to ask around whenever we were unsure to be on the right track.

We based our itinerary on the Center and North East of Moldova, with a mix of nature, wine tasting and culture thrown in.

If you are not accompanied by a knowledgeable local ( as we were), have a look below for inspiration:

Day one: In the morning, head to Piata Centrala in Chisinau. It is located between Stefan cel Mare Blv and Ismail Street. You will find everything from spoons to vegetables being sold in this open air market. It is an interesting experience as most open air markets of this type have disappeared from Europe.

After the market excitement, take the car and head outside the city to the Milestii Mici vineyard. They are located 30 km or so away from Chisinau. You can book tours in advance on their website which is recommended to be sure you get a spot at the desired time and language.

At Milestii Mici you can book tours in Romanian, Russian, English and French. Some tours include wine tastings. We took a tour in Romanian at 11h and it lasted about 2h. Only a limited number of vehicles are allowed in the underground cellars.

I do not want to reveal too much of the visit as to keep the surprise. It is a unique opportunity to see an underground world of a former stone quarry and learn more about the Moldavia wine making tradition. You will go in the cellars with the car and a guide. You step out of the car on 3 occasions to hear the explanations of the guide. Take a pullover as it gets quite chilly.

After the visit, you can stay in the area and visit the Capriana Monastery. Established in medieval Moldova. Căpriana is situated in a picturesque forested area once called Codrii Lapisnei and is one of the country’s oldest monasteries.

Then, head back to Chisinau to spend the afternoon walking around the city centre and visiting the main sights: the Cathedral, the Triumph Arch, the Central Park with the iron cast fountain in the middle. For drinks or dinner, head to Eugen Doga street , now transformed in a small pedestrian area.

For the second day, it is time to venture further afield and get to know the Moldavia centuries old forests. At the recommendation of local friends we headed to Saharna Monastery. This sight is located about 100 km away from Chisinau (1h45min drive).

After you park the car at the Monastery, there are several objectives in the area that should be visited. First, the most challenging, climbing the 200 steps to the Cross on the hill. The steps start on the right side of the parking and there is a blue roof chapel marking the destination. Allow 15-20 min for the climb. It will all be worth t once you reach the top and see the sweeping Nistru valley views. It is said that you should write wish an a piece of paper and put it in the chapel to come true.

Once you get back to the parking, continue straight to the monastery complex. You can visit the two buildings bordering the main garden. After crossing the garden, a small pathway takes you up, through the forest, to the old cave monastery. On the same path, you will spot a sign towards the waterfall, pointing down towards the river. If you follow the pathway next to the river, you will reach the waterfall in about 15/20 min. The walk is not difficult and can be done with younger kids too. The waterfall is less impressive than the cliffs surrounding this spot in the forest. It is a great activity to enjoy the unspoiled nature of Moldova.

After Saharna and in the way back to Chisinau, stop by Orheiul Vechi. This is approximately 50 km from Saharna and makes a good stop in an otherwise tiring itinerary. In Orheiul Vechi you can visit the monastery on the cliff for views of the valleys and the old city. Here there are a few renovated pheasant houses showcasing the activities of their former inhabitants.

Orheiul Vechi is well known for its traditional restaurants and a B&Bs (Pensiune) in renovated local houses. In particular, Butuceni restaurant comes recommended by our friends from Moldova. The village is a popular spot for day trips from Chisinau.

In Chisinau, we tried a few spots for lunch/dinner: the Bier Haus, Rozmarin cafe, Mojito Bar and the Andy’s Pizza chain. Both Bier Haus and Rozmarin cafe were very good, offering some traditional dishes but also international staples like pizza and burgers. The unfiltered beer at the Bier Haus was refreshing and tasty, the perfect treat after a hot Summer day in the city.

This are only a few ideas for a short itinerary in the Republic of Moldova. The South of the country hides more famous cellars like Mimi Castle, Chateau Varteli and Purcari, making Moldova a wonderful destination for quality wine lovers. I hope to discover these in my next visit of the Republic.

Happy travels!

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