Delicious wines, untouched countryside, traditional life and hidden cultures all make this former Soviet country ooze with intrigue for travellers seeking that next off-beat destination.
Wedged between Romania and Ukraine, eat and drink your way through this remote and obscure nation before venturing into the breakaway republic of Transnistria where life under Soviet rule continues. From minority ethnic groups, to unheard of world class wineries, monastic life and monasteries hunkered in caves, the entwinement of culture, raw nature and former regime life make this journey fascinating for the traveller looking the last corner of Europe to discover.
Welcome to Moldova! Upon arrival at Chisinau International Airport, you will be met by your guide and transfer to Chisinau city for your first taste of Moldova. A city dating back over six centuries which has been rebuilt many a time from WWII conflicts, through to earthquakes, absorb the soviet style architecture squeezed in alongside modern skyscrapers and trendy cafes.
Be acquainted with the city’s history as you explore the historical part of the capital. Pause at the monument of a great Moldova Ruler Stefan the Great and Saint, the Bell Tower, Lord Nativity Cathedral, the Triumph Arch followed by the Parliament, the Central Square “Stefan cel Mare”, and City Hall. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner at a local restaurant serving traditional Moldovan cuisine. (D)
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Following breakfast, set off to explore the Cricova Wine cellars – a must-see when in Moldova. Venture into the underground tunnels of the wine cellars and see a large collection of exclusive wines. Here you will become acquainted with the process of wine and sparkling wine production. The oldest wine to be stored at Cricova is a Jerusalem Wine (bottled in 1902). Cricova is a unique place housing historic wines among which Goering’s collection holds pride of place. Head into the winery tasting hall for wine tasting and lunch with dishes paired to match the wines.
This afternoon, visit the monastic complex of Curchi, located in one of the most picturesque areas in the centre of Moldova, the Codrii forests. Here you will talk with a local monk about their daily life in the monastery.
Continue to an open-air museum complex Orhei Vechi (Old Orhei) that presents the remains of different civilizations established between the nearby Nistru and Prut rivers. The complex comprises of caves, grottos, churches, hermitages, and a Geto-Dacian fortress. The open-air museum represents a true natural fortress inhabited since ancient times. Walk into the Orthodox Cave Monastery and feel the spirit of ancient times. Learn the way of life of the villagers of the past and visit a typical 19th century Moldavian house-museum.
Your destination for the night is the Moldavian village of Butuceni where the style and traditions of the Moldavian architecture of the 19th century are preserved and carefully maintained – ornamentally decorated houses, gates, fences, wells with potable water, old cellars and more certainly provide character to traditional life here. Check-in to your local accommodation in the village of Butuceni where you will spend the night in the spectacular countryside, surrounded by huge rocky hills. Dinner this evening will be in house and combination of traditional dishes and home-made wine. (B,L,D)
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Before driving to the oldest cave monasteries on the river Nistru and a countryside walk, you will make a stop in Clisova Noua village to visit the ‘Arta Rustica’ Handicrafts Museum showcasing a rich variety of national articles which reflect the Moldavian way of life, customs and traditions. Among them traditional carpets, pottery, garment, old weaving looms, which are still in use today, and many other ornaments created and decorated in traditional style that have been carefully preserved. Here, you have a fantastic opportunity to take part in a master class in weaving with local artists, and the studio owner Mrs. Ecaterina, who are excited to share their skills and experience with you.
Continue to the North-East of Moldova and discover a rocky monastery and fascinating village named Saharna, known for its Holy Trinity Monastery and magnificent nature. Saharna cave monastery boasts picturesque natural surroundings including numerous waterfalls and cascades that the river Saharna forms as it winds its’ way through the valleys. There is time for a rest at the bottom of a cascade in the shade of the high hills and soak in the tranquillity of the forest surrounding you. Continuing on, walk to the top of the Grimidon rocky hill, where you can see a little chapel, where, as Moldovian legend says, you may see the footprint of the Mother of God who appeared in front of Saint Varfolomei.
Lunch today will be served by a Moldovan family in the village of Lalova, hidden on the banks of the river Nistru. Getting to know your hosts while enjoying their warm hospitality and delicious meal is sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Returning to Butuceni village and fresh up at your guesthouse, this evening you’ll participate in baking a delicious traditional pastry called ‘placinte’. These are round pies with various stuffings such as cottage cheese, potatoes, cabbage, pumpkin, apple and other seasonal fruits. You’ll want to take the recipe home to make for your friends! Serve your ‘placinte’ creation for dinner with a glass of good Moldovan wine. (B,L,D)
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This morning, continue heading to the north of Moldova. Your first stop is the village of Old-Russian Believers – Pocrovca. The Russian Orthodox Old Believers (starovery), are descendants of medieval Russians who refused to adopt the mid-17th century church reforms as promoted by Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov and implemented by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow.
You will meet a local retired teacher who will share her stories and knowledge about the way of life of Orthodox Old-Russian Believers from this area. As it’s a closed community, you will not meet the villagers of Old-Russian Believers; however a local guide will show you around their village of Pocrovca, telling you about their lifestyle, habits, traditions and will show you the old wooden church where the Old-Russian Believers pray.
Then, visit the only UNESCO listed site in Moldova – the Geodaetic Arch Struve, built nearby Pocrovca village. The Struve Geodetic Arc is a chain of survey triangulations stretching from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, through ten countries and over 2,820 km. These are points of a survey, carried out between 1816 and 1855 by several scientists under the leadership of the astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve, which represented the first accurate measuring of a long segment of a meridian. This helped to establish the exact size and shape of the planet and marked an important step in the development of earth sciences and topographic mapping. It is an extraordinary example of the development of sciences and of collaboration among scientists from different countries, as well as monarchs, for a common scientific cause. Continue to Soroca town and take a break for lunch in a local restaurant. The town of Soroca lies by the Nistru (Dniester) River which also marks the border with neighbouring Ukraine.
Over the centuries, as Soroca’s importance as a strategic military point grew, the city became a regional centre featuring large squares, modernized streets, hospitals, grammar schools and conventionalized churches.
After lunch, meet a local guide at Soroca Fort who will reveal all the secrets of Soroca fortress and tell you about the historical events that have taken place around the fortress over the centuries.
The first recorded mention of Soroca fortress dates to 1499. The fortress has been involved in many dramatic historical events including the invasions of the Tatars, Cossacks, Polish King Ian Sobesky and his troops, the military actions of Bogdan Hmelnitskyi, and the anti-Ottoman campaign of the Russian Monarch Peter the Great. The fortress itself has withstood numerous fires and undergone many stages of reconstruction as builders over the year have rebuilt the fortress again and again, slowly changing from wood to stone.
Continue to the Gypsy Quarter and see glorious Roma mansions, sometimes so much like real castles. You’ll surely find among these mansions a copy of ‘Bolhsoi Theatre’. On the way out of the Gypsy Quarter, pause for a photo stop at ‘Gypsy Hill’.
Departing to Chisinau and checking into the hotel to freshen up, you will then head out for dinner at a wine bar– soak in the nice and relaxing atmosphere with a glass of good Moldovan wine. You will be offered some wines for tasting from small and private Moldovan wineries, accompanied by the dishes from restaurant chef. (B,L,D)
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Transnistria – officially called the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic by Moldova – is a narrow strip of land between Moldova and western Ukraine that is home to about 500,000 people. It is an unrecognized breakaway state that left Moldova after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. The Transnistrian government has de facto independence, but it is recognized by other countries and the United Nations as part of Moldova.
Today you will have a full day trip to Transnistria, diving into the history of this self-proclaimed independent and unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic that has its own currency, border guards and policy.
You will explore the 16th century Tighina fortress and visit the on-site museum. The first documented mention of ‘Tighina Fortress’ was in 1408. Its walls have survived to the present time and offer an example of classic Moldavian defensive construction. Tour the city Bendery with lots of Soviet relics, visit a Soviet style café ‘Stolovka SSSR’ and feel the atmosphere of Communism. (Cafe visit is optional.)
While in the capital of Transnistria, Tiraspol, you’ll see the Drama and Comedy Theatre, the Lenin and Suvorov Monuments, the Parliament, the House of Soviets and have a walking tour along the river Dniestr. It was founded by the Russian general Alexandr Suvorov in 1792, whose statue is rising on the central square in Tiraspol.
Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, sampling several Soviet-style dishes.
After lunch, you’ll find yourself at KVINT, a distinguished cognac distillery. The KVINT brand produces excellent spirits like cognacs, whisky, liquors, vodka, wine and more. Tour the factory and taste some of their locally produced spirits.
In the evening, visit a Sturgeon Fish Farm in Tiraspol. Sturgeon Caviar is considered to be the gold standard in caviar, and this farm is one of the largest producers of Sturgeon caviar in the world. You will learn how sturgeon fish are farmed, and the process of producing black caviar. You will also try some of the black gold for yourself! Check in to your hotel in Tiraspol for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
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Following breakfast at your hotel, head to the South of Moldova to experience the history, culture and traditions of the Gagauzian people. The Gagauz, a Turkic-Orthodox Christian people, have lived in the Balkans for hundreds of years, managing to preserve their language and culture.
Today, the Gagauz people occupy a unique position between the Turkic, European, Muslim and Orthodox worlds. With a population of about 250,000, the Gagauz people primarily live in the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia (ATUG) in Moldova, where Gagauz is the official language along with Russian and Moldovan.
The Gagausian capital of Comrat is situated in the southern zone of Moldova. It is known for producing delectable red wines. While touring the city, you will visit the Central Cathedral, the History and Ethnography Museum, the Turkish Library, and the Central Market. On a walking tour of the local food market, you will mingle with local producers and see the freshest and highest-quality products on offer to locals and visitors alike.
Then, visit the winery ‘Comrat-Vin’ where you will have a chance to taste Gagausian wines which have a special aroma of south region wines. Enjoy lunch in Gagauzian style at the winery restaurant. You will taste traditional dishes like ‘kavurma’ – lamb roast, ‘guzlemea‘ – salty pastry with sheep cheese stuffing and other local delicacies.
In the afternoon, drive to the nearby Besalma village to visit the Museum of History and Ethnography featuring the story of the unique Orthodox people of Turkic origin that call Southern Moldova home. In 1966 the writer D. Cara-Ciobanu founded a museum in Besalma to preserve the culture of the Gagauzian population and their origin. Hundreds of artifacts collected from all over Gagauzia are now on display in the museum for visitors. Watch a short movie about Gagauzian nation, their traditions, and get the whole picture of their life.
A folk group performance of local Gagauzian women dancing and singing national songs will have you up and joining in too!
Continue to Congaz which is considered to be the biggest village in Europe. You’ll visit the ethno yard “Gagauz Sofrasi” where the locals will greet you with their traditional hospitality, welcoming you with bread and salt. Of course, you will be refreshed with some local Gagausian wine.
Tour Gagauz Sofrasi, visiting the village museum and small airbrick houses with wooden furniture and natural clay walls where you’ll be spending the night experiencing authentic countryside accommodation.
Take some time to settle into your accommodation for the night and freshen up. Before a Gagausian dinner, your host will invite you to a culinary master class where you’ll make a traditional salty pastry ‘giuzlemea’ which is stuffed with sheep cheese. (B,L,D)
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Today, you will explore the oldest Moldovan monastery, and the legendary wine collection of the world’s largest wine cellar at Milestii Mici winery.
Leaving the Gaugasian region to head towards Chisinau, the first stop is at Capriana Monastery. Capriana monastery is considered the oldest in Moldova and is located in the beautiful forest region of Codrii. It was founded by the great Moldovan Ruler Stefan the Great. Closed and dilapidated during the post-war period, it was only reopened again in 1989, becoming a symbol of national revival.
After breathing the fresh air of Codrii, step into one of the biggest wine cellars in the world and witness ‘the Golden Collection Milestii Mici’ which holds a place in the Guinness Book of Records for storing more than 1.5 Million bottles of wines from all types of drops including Pinot, Traminer, Muscat, Riesling, Feteasca, Codru, and Negru de Purcari.
The underground wine cellar is a maze of tunnels and you’ll be transported around the 200km of tunnels by buggy! Your wine tour is followed by wine tasting (of course) and lunch in the winery’s underground tasting hall. In the afternoon, continue to Chisinau and check into the hotel before enjoying your final evening in Moldova at leisure. (B,L)
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This morning is yours at leisure until it is time for you to be transferred to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
Download this tour’s PDF brochure and start your planning offline!
**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.