The historic region of Moldova spreads over the eastern part of Romania, boasting some marvellous landscapes, a rich history revealing ancient civilisations, and fantastic food and drink. Here’s everything you need to know.
Being the richest region in churches and monasteries, Moldova has a rich spiritual and religious heritage, as well as traditions and crafts, not to mention unwritten rules that guide its inhabitants’ lifestyle. Not to be confused with the Republic of Moldova, the Romanian region is an amazing mixture of picturesque landscapes, historic strongholds and traditional artistry.
Cultural capital of Moldova and named ‘The city of 100 churches’, Iași is a city of culture and history, brimming with Orthodox churches and monasteries. The most representative is the Church of the Three Hierarchs, a 17th-century monument boasting stone detailing mixing Georgian, Turkish and Armenian motifs in more than 30 decorative patterns. Another outstanding building of the city is the Palace of Culture, a 20th-century magnificent monument erected in Gothic revival style, housing the Ethnographic Museum, the largest and oldest Art Museum in the country and the History Museum of Moldova, displaying ancient Dacian, Sarmatian and Roman artefacts.
If you want to explore the great outdoors in Iași, take a walk on the Elisabeta Esplanade, a beautiful passage carved in stone, or wander in the Copou Park, where reportedly the national poet Mihai Eminescu wrote some of his brilliant poems. For nature and beauty lovers, the Botanical Garden, the oldest in Romania, houses a rose garden with more than 600 varieties, offering a unique mix of colours, smells and enchanting beauty.
If you are in Iași in October, you can sing and dance to traditional music rhythms at the ‘Trandafir de la Moldova’ Folk Music Festival.
A place where ancient civilisations meet some wonderful landscapes, Piatra Neamț is one of the most beautiful cities in Romania. History buffs will be delighted by the Cucuteni Culture Museum, which houses the most important Neolithic collection of southeastern Europe. Spectacular artefacts of decorative and figurative art are displayed here, forming an impressive millennia-old heritage.
Standing as a representation of the old glory days of Moldova, the Princely Church and Court built in the 15th century is representative of Stephen the Great’s rule, one of the greatest rulers of Moldova. As an emblem of local architecture, the court is one of the symbols of the city. From the belfry, visitors can enjoy some breathtaking views of Iasi and the Bistrita Valley.
Piatra Neamț also features a ski slope on Cozla Mountain. Take the cable car to reach its top, admiring the fantastic views of the city and the Ceahlau Mountains. The same cable car takes you, in winter, to the ski slope of Cozla Mountain. The 965 meter (3,166 feet) slope is a fun ride for winter sports fans.
For culture lovers
Besides the cities of Iași and Piatra Neamț, there are some other places in Moldova to absorb local history, beliefs, art and crafts. One of its most iconic citadels is the Neamt Citadel, a 14th-century stronghold erected by the voivode ruler Peter Ist Mușat. The fortress is known to have resisted several Turkish sieges and played a key role in the defence system of Moldova. Erected on the Culmea Pleșului hill, the citadel is monumental and a great viewpoint for panoramic views.
In Moldova, you can find hundreds of churches and monasteries, symbolic of the strong beliefs of the locals. The Agapia Monastery is not only a place of religion, spirituality and beauty but also a place of art. The Church Holy Kings was painted by the Romanian artist Nicolae Grigorescu, considered the founder of Romanian modern painting. The frescoes express biblical scenes and are of an exceptional value. The monastery hosts also a museum where several works of the painter are kept by the nuns.
In the village of Văratec lies the largest convent in the country, where more than 400 nuns live, dedicating their lives to prayer and work. The historic and artistic heritage of the area can be found in the monastery’s museum. Outside the monastery, you can stroll the streets of the monastic village, admiring its beautiful houses entirely maintained by the nuns. The church is also a place of pilgrimage for Orthodox Romanians.
The region boasts also talented inhabitants and a centuries-old tradition of weaving, practised in the villages. The women in the villages weave wall rugs, well-known in the Neamț area. During the process, the women use old wooden looms, passed down from mother to daughter. Needlework, knitting and crocheting are part of everyday life, and some women make their own clothes and home decorations, as well as blankets, tablecloths, towels. Artisans can be found in villages like Băltățești and Târgu Neamț.
For nature lovers
From wildlife reserves to mineral waters to impressive landscapes, Moldova has them all.
One of the few places in Europe where you can still see bison, the Vânători Neamț Reserve is home to a large population of bison living in the wild forests of the reserve.
Comparable to the mineral waters of Vichy in France, the Băltățești resort has mineral water springs, salted waters and mud, used mainly in treatments for physiotherapy, practised in the resort’s hotels.
Some of the most popular attractions in the region are the Red Lake, a natural lake formed after the 1838 earthquake and the Bicaz Gorges, where impressive stone walls border a winding path. Part of the Hășmașu Park, the area is one of the most spectacular in Romania.
Similar to the Red Lake is Cujdel Lake, the biggest natural dam lake in Romania, where forests have been covered by the lake’s water.
For those who love hiking, Ceahlau National Park is surely the place not to miss. The mountains offer breathtaking panoramas, dense forests, fresh mountain air and some gorgeous attractions like the Duruitoarea Waterfall or the ‘Polița cu Crini’ Natural Reserve, that can be reached by following the marked trails starting in Izvorul Muntelui, Durău or Stanile.
For wine lovers
With one-third of the vine-growing surface of Romania located in Moldova, the region’s wineries produce some of Romanians’ favourite wines. Two of the main vineyards are the Cotnari and Odobești vineyards.
At Cotnari, sweet wines are made of late harvested grapes, mainly Romanian varieties. The most appreciated ones are the Frâncușă, a dry wine, Fetească Albă, a semi-sweet wine, as well as the sweet wines Grasă de Cotnari, a naturally sweet wine with a smooth taste of fruits, and Tămâioasă, a wine with a subtle honey aroma.
In Odobești lies one of the oldest and largest vineyards of Romania. There are six wine varieties produced here, made from native grapes: Galbena de Odobești, Plavaie, Fetească Alba, Fetească Regală as white wines and Băbească Neagră as red wine.
Several wineries in the region offer visits and wine tasting, like the Bucium Winery, located near Iași, Odobești Cellars or the Panciu Royal Cellars, best-known for their sparkling wines.
From hearty soups to delicious stews and mouth-watering desserts, Moldova is a region where it’s impossible to leave a restaurant without a full belly and a large smile. Some of the best traditional soups include the bean soup and the ciorbă de potroace, made with chicken entrails boiled with carrots, onions, parsley, rice and flavoured with borș, giving it a sour taste.
When it comes to the main course, expect to be served with sarmale, meat rolls in sauerkraut leaves or vine leaves made with minced pork mixed with rice, salt, pepper, chopped dill and parsley as well as chopped onion. They are usually served with polenta. Another typical dish is the iahnie de fasole, similar to a bean stew, usually served with pork meat or sausages.
Moldova is the magic land where the tempting papanași, cottage cheese dumplings, boiled or fried, were first created. And if you love sweet cheese, you’ll also enjoy poale în brâu, a sweet cheese pie.