10 Reasons to Visit Moldova—A Hidden Gem Worth Discovering
10 Great Reasons to Visit Moldova
Moldova is usually depicted by both the mainstream and social media in the West as a dismal and impoverished former Soviet republic that has nothing to offer tourists. These statements are backed up by some old official stats confirming that Moldova is the least-visited country in Europe. But all that couldn't be further from the truth.
My trip to Moldova opened my eyes to the beauty of this country, and I want to do the same for you. If I had to pick just 10 reasons why you should all visit Moldova, they would be as follows.
1. It's Unspoilt and Natural
Moldova still has its Old-World charm, unspoilt by big tourist crowds. The capital is clean and pleasant to walk through, and the countryside is lush green and dotted with old-fashioned villages with domestic animals freely roaming around.
2. It's Safe
Whether you are in the capital or the countryside, Moldova is a small and safe place. You can go to a bar, a night club or a karaoke bar and then back to your hotel at 3 or 4 am without trouble. In fact, because there are not that many tourists, Moldovans are genuinely interested in foreigners and they are always ready to help tourists.
3. You Get to Meet the Delightful Moldovans
Moldovans are very friendly, well-educated and honest people. From taxi drivers to waitstaff, tour guides, vendors and common passersby, you get the same level of integrity and honesty.
Neither myself nor my students have been overcharged even once! Quite the contrary, in fact; when we gave them more money, the locals would always respond, “This is too much money” or “Oh, you are tourists, I will give you a discount.” This was really a breath of fresh air for me after all these con artists and tricksters in other Eastern European countries.
When I think about it, during my 3 days in Budapest, Hungary, in 2017, I had only one occasion in which the waitress charged me the right price. In all other cases, I was constantly overcharged. I was utterly sick of it. Nothing of this sort ever happened to me in Moldova, and I really appreciated it!
4. The Food Is Exceptionally Delicious
The food in Moldova is excellent. Soups, salads, pies, meat, vegetables, desserts, you name it—it was all super delicious. Moldovan cuisine is an interesting mix of Romanian and Russian food, yet it has a Moldovan twist and is far from the bland, tasteless, spice-free, and—dare I say—soulless food you often get in Russia.
5. The Prices Are Unbeatable
A public transport ticket in the capital city is 10 cents; a cab ride is 3–4 euros; a scoop of great gelato is 1 euro (even at the airport!). You cannot beat these prices anywhere else in Europe!
6. The Wines and Wineries Are World Class
Moldova not only has superb wines, such as Negru de Purcari, but its biggest wine cellar, Mileștii Mici, is actually a Guinness record holder; with its 200 kilometres of tunnels, it is the biggest wine cellar in the world! The nearby Cricova wine cellar is also incredibly good, and its interior is stunningly beautiful and luxurious.
7. The Architecture Is Beautiful
While brutally ugly Soviet-style buildings do exist in Moldova, there is also so much more than that. Moldova actually has some really beautiful Art Nouveau buildings in its capital city, including theaters, churches, the building that houses the National Museum of the History of Moldova, and more. On top of that, it has well-restored Orthodox monasteries, such as the one we visited in Curchi, and really nice castles and fortresses, such as Soroca Fort and Bender.
8. Its History Is Fascinating
If you are a history buff, Moldova offers a very curious and turbulent history. It has ancient pre-Thracian origins, then it was a part of the Roman Empire, followed by a turbulent medieval period when it became one of the major Romanian principalities constantly fighting the Ottoman Turks for its independence until 1812, when it was conquered by the Russian empire.
In 1918, after a referendum, the Moldovans—most of whom are actually ethnic Romanians—happily joined Romania until 1940, when Stalin forcefully turned Moldova into a Soviet republic and tried to Russify the country by imposing the Russian language and a newly-invented Moldovan language (which was, in reality, Romanian language written in Cyrillic script).
It was only in 1991 that Moldova gained its independence, and there is still some tension between the Romanian speakers and the ethnic Russian settlers.
9. There Are Loads of Authentic Souvenirs
If you are sick of the same "Made in China" plastic trinkets, you'll love the authentic Moldovan souvenirs, including local musical instruments, dolls in traditional costumes, pottery and many more original handmade souvenirs.
10. It's a Visa-Free Democracy
Moldova is visa-free for all visitors from developed countries, and it has a democratic government, which makes tourist visits much smoother. You can freely walk around, talk to people and feel comfortable. I didn’t feel intimidated and observed all the time like I did in Belarus, Russia and some post-Soviet dictatorships like Turkmenistan.
All the travel articles and YouTube videos mentioning Moldova that I checked before my trip were full of prejudice and manipulative information right from the start. I read and watched many biased reports, but I was not convinced that I should skip visiting this country. Some of these travel "experts" have not even bothered to visit Moldova and were just repeating old clichés about the post-Soviet countries. And the ones who have actually visited Moldova concentrated on the worst places in the country to prove their point.
Personally, I am not impressed by dilapidated buildings, broken sidewalks and ugly graffiti. You can find those in any country if that is what you are after. If you want to see impoverished and shockingly defaced buildings and areas, you can find them easily in London—just go to Newham or Hackney. Or in New York City, have a peek at Port Morris, East Harlem or Hunts Point. Brussels has its Molenbeek, Schaerbeek and Bois de la Cambre.
Even Paris has its depressing suburbs; the Stalingrad Metro station in northeastern Paris is a good example. Yet travel bloggers and writers tend to focus on the Eiffel Tower and all the other beautiful sights in central Paris. And rightly so! It would be very misleading to show a shanty cardboard camp in the outskirts of the city and claim that this was the real Paris.
It is equally misleading and manipulative to treat Moldova this way! And more importantly, the number of tourists currently visiting a country does not prove anything. We tend to forget that well until the 1990s, Dubrovnik, Prague and even Barcelona barely had any international tourists, whereas now, they are swamped with international visitors.
My Trip to Moldova
Thus, regardless of all the negative coverage in the media, I decided to go to Moldova in October 2019 with 9 students of mine. We were not sorry for a minute! We had such a blast that we decided one visit wasn't enough; all of us agreed that a return trip to Moldova in the near future would be a must.
Our Itinerary (Broad Strokes)
We visited the capital city Chișinău, where we had a tour of the city with a very professional tour guide who fluent in English (for just 4 euros per person). Our visit of the Moldovan parliament and Ministry of Foreign Affairs were also very interesting and informative.
We also saw the beautiful 18th-century Curchi Monastery, the open-air historical complex Orheiul Vechi and Cricova winery where you can taste and buy high-quality wines. And when I say high-quality, I really mean it; John Kerry, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and many other politicians and celebrities have a reserved spot in Cricova with their wine collection.
The food everywhere was absolutely delicious, with natural products that were all so fresh and so incredibly cheap! You could easily have a whole feast with white and red wine, lemonade, soup, salad, main course and a dessert for less than 10 euros!
Things to Be Aware of While in Moldova
English Speakers Are Hard to Come By
Due to the Soviet past, only young people speak English, whereas most people over 40 are more likely to speak only Romanian and Russian.
You May Want to Skip a Visit to Transnistria
A narrow strip of land on the Ukrainian border, called Transnistria, is a separatist region supported by Russia and it has to be avoided. This is a self-proclaimed country that is unrecognized by the international community; in reality, it is a dismal neo-Soviet horror zone that is best avoided. The government of Moldova has no control over this territory.
If you don’t go there, you will have a great time in Moldova—a hidden gem that you need to discover!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2019 Chris Kostov