Bucovina, located north of Moldova, is a small, beautiful region where both Romanians and Ukrainians live. Bucovina, formerly Buchenwald or ‘the beech land’, evolved into a distinct area when it became part of the Habsburg Empire in 1774.
Today, the area boasts outstanding painted monasteries, a warm and welcoming population, centuries-old crafts and spectacular natural landscapes. Wood carving, weaving, pottery, basket making and egg painting are all part of the incredible heritage of the area, and the fabulous food will make you fall in love with the local cuisine.
The old capital of Moldova, Suceava is a city where ancient citadels and fortified monasteries stand as the legacy of the old voivodes of Moldova. The Suceava Citadel, erected by the voivode Petru Musat I in the 14th century, features 10-metre-tall (32 feet) walls that used to protect the city, mainly from the Ottoman invaders. Perched on top of a hill, a visit to the citadel offers magnificent views. Suceava is also a town of monasteries, monuments of the local Orthodox belief. The most impressive ones are Zamca Monastery, a fortified medieval church erected by the Armenian refugees in the 17th century, and the Saint George Church, part of a UNESCO Heritage Site, showcasing outstanding frescoes.
Botoșani is the birthplace of several Romanian personalities, including the poet Mihai Eminescu, the historian Nicolae Iorga, the biologist Grigore Antipa, the painter Ștefan Luchian and the composer George Enescu – all people who have shaped Romanian art and thinking. Once in Botoșani, you can visit the Nicolae Iorga Memorial House, where works of the historian are on display, the Ștefan Luchian Art Gallery, which is part of the Art Museum of Botoșani, and the Antipa House, a beautiful eclectic building where the great biologist was born.
If you’re interested in ceramics, then you will want to visit the Ceramics Workshop to see the work of Sonia Iacinschi; it displays plates, mugs, vases and other household objects.
For the culture lover
The Bucovina region is mostly known for its painted churches. Eight of these architectural wonders, built in the late 15th to the late 16th centuries, make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The magnificent frescoes depict religious themes, with each church having specific dominant colours and extraordinary aesthetic values that ‘embody a unique and homogeneous artistic phenomenon, directly inspired by Byzantine art’. The churches lie in the Voronet, Humor, Sucevita, Moldovita, Arbore, Probota, and Patrauti villages and are surrounded by fortified walls, standing as bastions of the Christian Orthodox beliefs.
Another outstanding monastery, the Putna Monastery represents one of the biggest cultural, spiritual and artistic centres of Romania, featuring a museum that displays old manuscripts, embroidery, religious objects and icons. At Putna is the tomb of one of the greatest Moldovian voivodes, Stephen the Great, who demanded the construction of several monasteries in the region, including the ones in Putna, Pătrăuți and Voroneț.
But the painted churches and monasteries are not the only cultural and spiritual heritage highlights of the region. There is the whole art of painting and decorating Easter eggs, displayed in the Eggs Museums in Moldovița, Vama and Ciocănești. An open-air museum, the village of Ciocănești boasts lovely painted houses and the National Easter Eggs Festival, organised every year in April, where national and international artists compete for the most beautifully decorated eggs.
Locals can also brag about their ceramics. In the village of Marginea, black ceramic is used in household and decorative objects. The local masters are known throughout the whole region for their talent, and they are happy to show visitors how they transform clay into art objects.
For the nature lover
In Bucovina, you can fish, sunbathe, relax on the beach, hike, climb and practice winter sports. Bordered along the west by mountains and the east by the Prut River, Bucovina’s landscapes are spectacular.
The Prut River’s meadows feature rich fauna and flora, the Stanca-Costesti Lake and a beach. Since the Black Sea is far away, the locals sunbathe on the local beach all summer long. The whole area has thick sections of poplar, willow and oak and exhibits delta-like landscapes. Around Botoșani, several little lakes, such as Dracșani, a small paradise for fishermen, and Costești, which is home to more than 300 swans, display mesmerising sceneries filled with silence and peace.
Winter sports lovers can have fun in Vatra Dornei, on one of the five ski slopes, including the second largest one in the country, the Telescaun Slope, 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) long. In Vatra Dornei, you can ski, snowboard and go snow tubing.
From Vatra Dornei and its surroundings, several hikes are possible. Some of the most popular ones take visitors to the Natural Reservation 12 Apostles, where nature has carved quirky figures into the mountain rocks; the Pietrosu-Caliman Peak, located in the volcanic Caliman Mountains, at 2,100 meters (6,889 feet) high; or the Rarău Peak in the Rarău Mountains at 1,651 meters (5,416 feet) high. While these hikes require some effort, the views at the top are awe-inspiring.
Bucovina is the land of boletus, cream and fish. These three ingredients are often in the main dishes of the region. The food is plentiful and delicious, and if you eat at a local’s house, make sure you finish everything because it is considered impolite to leave food on your plate. But that shouldn’t be too hard to do with such appetising cuisine.
One of the dishes specific to the region is the Hârzob cu păstrăv afumat, which is trout smoked in fir branches and spiced with salt, pepper, garlic and boia, a powder made from red peppers. Pork dishes are also popular, including the Tochitură Bucovineană, a pork stew served with polenta and a fried egg.
For something lighter, try the Ciorbă Rădăuțeană – chicken soup with vegetables and a broth thickened with eggs, cream and flour – or the Boletus stew, typical for the region.
On Easter, there is one dish found on most locals’ tables, and that is Drob de miel, prepared with lamb offal, vegetables, eggs and spices all mixed together and baked in a casing made from the lamb’s stomach.
Your senses will surely be surprised in Bucovina!