Should I visit Moldova?

Moldova is a small territory wedged between Romania and Ukraine, which used to be part of the Soviet Union until its independence in 1991. Before that, it was part of Romania. With a size slightly smaller than South Korea, Moldova has seen a lot of wars and conflicts, and the problem with the self-proclaimed country of Transnistria continues. Moldova’s land is rich and fertile, the climate is mild, and it used to be called the Garden of the Soviet Union. Moldova and Romania share the same language and cultural roots. But what is it really like in Moldova? Should you visit Moldova?

Moldova is the least happy nation on the planet according to data from the World Database of Happiness. That’s the first time I learned about Moldova. The author of The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner, narrates his experience that supports this data. On his yearlong travel in search of the true meaning of happiness, he visited some of the happiest nations on earth, like Bhutan, but he also kept his interests on a batch of nations stuck at the bottom of the happiness spectrum: the former Soviet Republics of Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and others.

The author heads to the former Soviet Republic to see if happiness exists there or not. The Moldova chapter of the book for certain won’t encourage you to travel to the seemingly depressed country. It’s heart-wrenching. He expected to see misery, so he saw misery everywhere. He interviewed different people in different professions about happiness and their quality of life. He drew a particular conclusion, that the unhappiness of Moldova is because of a lack of hope. The unhappiness in Moldova is planted in their culture.

Weiner’s trip took place nearly a decade ago. So, what is it really like to visit Moldova today? I went to find the answer myself.

Moldovan Wine is why you should visit Moldova

Wine tasting at Purcari

“Moldovan wine doesn’t rise to the level of feevty-feevty. The sad truth is that nobody has the heart to tell the Moldovans that their wine, their national treasure, stinks.”

Sunny plateaus, plains, and plentiful streams make this fertile land a perfect place for growing grapes. Moldova is even shaped like a bunch of grapes if you squint your eyes a little. The history of winemaking goes back to 3000 BCE while the first vines are thought to start here in 7000 BCE. As a national product, wine is what put Moldova on the global map.

During the Soviet era, Moldova produced most of the wine for the USSR. The wine people drank back then was “cheap and drinkable”, which means sweet. After the republic’s independence and privatization of the wine industry in the mid-90s started to push winemakers to produce a more delicate taste for the global market. A 2006 blessing in disguise, Russia banned wines from Moldova (and Georgia) which crushed Moldova’s economy. Many small producers had to close up shop but the hardship pushed the market further into the next step. The new style of wine industry might not have been ready when Weiner visited but right now, in 2017, the quality of Moldovan wine competes on the global market.

Wine storage at Purcari

Moldovan wines are getting recognized in the international wine industry. One California man even searched for a region in France called ‘Moldova’ after drinking Moldovan wine for the first time. The biggest wine collection in the world with over 1.5 million bottles, recorded in the Guinness Book in 2005, belongs to Moldova. The underground galleries of Cricova and Milestii Mici are national landmarks. The dry red sparkling Pinot Noir from Cricova was one of the most memorable wines I’ve ever tasted. Et Cetera, founded by two brothers Alexandru and Igor Luchianov, produces some of the finest wines Moldova offers. Together with their own mother, who is a great chef, and complete with a guesthouse on the property, Et Cetera is a full package for a weekend getaway. Château Purcari, producing fine wine since 1827, is considered one of the best wineries in the country. The wine festival in October is attracting more wine enthusiasts from around the world. It’s not too long before we’ll see a selection of Moldovan wine in our local wine shops. Wine alone is enough reason to visit Moldova.

Former Soviet Culture and History

Hotel Cosmos

Moldova is a great country to visit If you are interested in experiencing the culture of the Soviet Union. It’s easy to get to most of Europe by plane or train, and most countries can enter without a visa.

When we arrived in Chisinau by train from Bucharest, after traveling for 15 hours without a good night’s sleep, all I wanted was to take a shower and sleep for 8 hours. We booked at the Hotel Cosmos because it was near the train station. I was stunned when I entered the room. The carpet, the bedding, the broken lock on the door, the flickering fluorescent light, the atmosphere, and everything else, it was from another era. The next day when I recovered from the trip, I understood that it was the Soviet style interior that hadn’t gone away. Along with Hotel Chisinau close by, the Hotel Cosmos is popular for travelers who are looking to feel Soviet nostalgia (or just need a cheap bed).

The flea market in Chisinau has a lot of Soviet memorabilia

The Flea Market in front of the train station also takes you back in time. With a broad collection of Soviet memorabilia along with hand-knitted wool clothes, and everything else under the sun, the market stretches all around the block. The main central market of Chisinau is still in the Soviet style and you’ll see Russian signs everywhere as well as Russian restaurants.

Transnistria, a self-proclaimed republic

House of the Soviets
House of the Soviets

If you are really interested in the Soviet Union, you can’t miss Transnistria. Officially the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), Transnistria is a self-proclaimed republic on the border with Ukraine. It’s formally recognized only by three non-UN states which are post-Soviet frozen conflict zones. However, the PMR controls the border between Moldova and has its own currency (ruble), flag, constitution, national anthem, coat of arms, and president. After the fall of communism and the USSR, Moldova and Transnistria went through the War of Transnistria from 1990 to 1992. The Moldovan government stopped influencing Transnistrian authorities and the area still remains the biggest problem of stability in Moldova.

We drove about 1.5 hours from Chisinau to Bender, a border town of Transnistria. Entering Transnistria is indeed like going to another country. The first thing I saw were the Russian soldiers standing between the Moldovan and Transnistrian border. Shortly after we passed the Russian tank, we went out to the customs and immigration control with our passports. We got a small paper that said we had to be out of the country by 7 p.m. From then on, Russian was the only working language.

We then drove to Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria. Our afternoon in Tiraspol was surreal. Surrounded by the Russian and Transnistrian flags, Soviet coat of arms, Russian language, and Russian-speaking people, I felt like I was visiting Russia rather than Moldova. We had to be careful with our cameras (we were advised not to show our cameras in front of the police). I could feel that the atmosphere here was more rigid. A couple of people came up to us to ask for money, people who didn’t look like conventional beggars.

Places to Visit in Moldova

Castle Mimi’s in-house restaurant

I enjoyed Moldova a lot more than I expected. After learning about Moldova from Eric Weiner’s book, I had very low expectations. But surprise, surprise, I actually loved Moldova. The culture, food, and wine were great, but more so, I was happy to see the possibilities in tourism. Moldova is largely an agricultural country but tourism is getting bigger thanks to the fast-growing wine industry, rich culture, and entrepreneurial spirit of some creative locals. Here are some of the best places to visit in Moldova.

Wine tasting room at Castle Mimi Winery

The Castle Mimi, currently listed among the most beautiful architectural masterpieces in the wine industry, has prepared something very exciting. Not only can you tour and taste their excellent wine, but the large property has turned into a resort. The big garden in the backyard of the castle is where they grow their own vegetables and herbs for the in-house restaurant. The new glass building near the front gate is used as a showroom for a variety of events. They are currently building 5-star bungalows as well as a wine spa.

If you are curious how people used to live back in the Stone Age, wait no more. Branesti Winery is currently building the first underground hotel in the former Branesti limestone mine, called Stone Age. The hotel has rooms, a restaurant, a dining room, a bar, recreation rooms, a wine spa, and of course, wine cellars. There are even areas for various activities like art shows and concerts.

There are places like Old Orhei and Soroca that are already established in Visit Moldova tourism. New roads are being built which makes driving much easier. Because the country is small, 5 days is enough to experience the highlights and a week is enough to tour the entire country. Things are starting to move. I felt like Moldova was like what people say about Myanmar ‘You have to visit now before it changes’. It’s going to be a while for Moldova to change completely but I definitely see the possibilities.

Moldovan Hospitality

Meeting Mr.Robert at Gypsy Hill in Soroca

I kept expecting people to be unhappy, especially in places that are very much Soviet. In Hotel Cosmos, I was doubting the quality of breakfast considering the first impression I got from the room. Two ladies in uniform greeted us. No smile. There was a simple buffet, like what you see in an old Chinese hotel. I was looking for a place to fill up my hot water bottle and one of the ladies came up and took the bottle. She came back with it full of hot water and said ‘The tea smells good’ and went back to her TV show. They were like Korean grandmothers, who wouldn’t show their emotions but they cared, deeply. Same as in Polish milk bars.

Moldovan hospitality

When we visited a Romani family near Soroca, we were offered a table full of food, whiskey, homemade bread, and even candy. Mr. Robert said ‘This is Moldovan hospitality’. Whoever comes through your door, it’s common to bring out all the good food no matter what time of the day it is. Very similar to Korea in that sense. He kept insisting that I should bring my dad here because I said the way he offers food and drink is similar to my dad’s. Maybe someday I will.

This is Moldovan hospitality.

Is Moldova worth visiting?

Moms know best!

There were certainly several moments that reminded me of the unhappiness of Eric Weiner in Moldova. After traveling to 10 countries for his book, he said he enjoyed visiting all those countries except Moldova. For me, the rigid atmosphere in some places was hard to get used to. A Moldovan train conductor just stood and watched me when I was struggling with my bags like he wasn’t allowed to engage with a passenger. People don’t hold doors for each other. I don’t hear back ‘You’re welcome’. Looks like smiles and laughter aren’t part of the common language.

Cultural differences and understanding foreign cultures are why we travel and why travel is so important to grow. Witnessing other cultures allows you to reflect your own knowledge of the world. In that way, Moldova was certainly an interesting country.

Is Moldova worth visiting? I say yes. Visit Moldova right now. This small country, a mix of Romanian and Soviet history is going to be the next big thing, I can feel it.


13 thoughts on “Why You Should Visit Moldova Right Now”

  1. Thank you for such a nice post about Moldova.
    The wine industry is indeed one of the main locomotives that can bring people to Moldova, so hopefully our wines will get more and more international recognition 🙂
    Safe travels!

  2. Dear Juno, you are a very brave traveler and a very good story-teller! Thank you for taking the challenge to visit the “least happy ” nation and prove to yourself and to your readers that this is not a true statement about Moldova. I’m happy that you felt our unique cultural identity and tasted the “pure joy in a bottle” and consider coming back sometime with your father! Looking forward to see you in Moldova!

  3. Hi Juno,
    Bumped into your site googling for some Moldovan history. Got “stuck” here in Chisinau thanks to covid-19. Being here has reinforced my contention that people everywhere are the same; cultures are different.
    I’ve been limited In exploring Moldova, but I can say with some conviction that Moldovans are a generous, hospitable and gracious people, if my experience is even close to being typical.
    Funny story though: after walking around Chisinau for a few hours, I commented that, “In the whole time we’ve been walking, I don’t think I’ve seen anybody smile!” And for the rest of our time out, I think that remained true. BUT, without exception, everyone I/we engaged with was friendly and welcoming. I’m still trying to understand why this is so, but regardless, I like these folks. Like you I would encourage others to consider a stay here and make it ten days or two weeks. …when we get this vivid-19 mess straightened out.
    Thanks for your post.


    1. Thanks Rick! I’m glad you got to experience Moldova, even in these difficult circumstances 🙂 Moldova did grow on me, a lot, I fondly remember the time we spent there. The culture in that region is something that I’m not too used to, but I also knew that they didn’t mean any harm just because they didn’t smile. I really wish to go back in Summer, to see all their amazing agriculture and taste some more amazing wine! Don’t forget to drink some fine wine while you’re there!

  4. you say its the culture but thats not true at all, you try being wedged inbetween Romania and Ukraine in such a volatile historical and geopolitical location. The people there have been battered by hundreds of years of oppression from Ottomans, Russians, Polish, Mongols etc and are still there fighting for a little nation to call their own even though the mountains and the coastline has been stolen leaving only 1/3 of the original country. Moldovan culture is very friendly full of dance and music and laughter but its hard to be cheery when everyone around you keeps trying to tell you how to live or what language to speak. You guys have such a simplistic view of Moldova it makes me sick. Typical western view, especially when it comes to things like wine and calling it not as good.. why? cause the wine isn’t full of 50 different chemicals like the ones in the West? get your heads out your own asses your wine tastes like crap.

    1. Dear Cris,

      I myself am born and raised in Moldova and I can relate to the collective PTSD that is imprinted in the National DNA. We’ve been indeed oppressed, ridiculised and marginalised over the years, however, there is no need to get defensive as we do have an amazing variety of wines and it is statistically improbable for all of them to taste well, and don’t forget the homemade wine, that we are so proud of, but let’s face it its taste is far from luxurious bouquet offered by a winery’s product.

      Nevertheless, Juno made justice to our hospitality and in full honesty we do lack the genuine smile. We are just not used to it. But not to be confused with being unfriendly.

      Leaving aside the poverty and the post soviet stink, Moldova is a beautiful, green, absolutely gorgeous land with lots to offer. And we are looking forward to seeing more visitors and I hope we can even encourage our people to open their houses to the tourists so they can experience the Moldovan lifestyle at its fullest, rather than getting a distorted impression of being hosted by Cosmos, National and Chisinau Hotels: that’s not us! A proper stay in Moldova has to be cozy and homish with hearty food and warming tales.

      To summarise all the above: we have lost the hope, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope for us! Discover Moldova! Let yourself be amazed by its beauty…

      Love from Moldova 😉

  5. I fist visited Moldova in 2008 and was truly intrigued, enough so , I would fly back to Moldova from California at least twice a year.
    Then the “Covid Scare” struck. . .I cannot wait to return to my favorite hotel, The Cosmos and my favorite restaurant, La Placinte when I can.

    Michael R.

  6. I flew into Moldova the 2nd week in January 2018 and enjoyed my stay there. The holiday displays were up and winter festival was still going strong. In the old town there was a merry go round that cost .50 cents when converted to U.S. dollars. Went on it twice. La Placinte serves good food and I also went to a cafeteria style place for dinner. There are excellent museums in Chisinau. I stayed in a hostel nearby the old town and 2 roommates 0ne teaching English and the other i think was computers. I also took a day tour of Transnistria and recommend that. Back in the USSR. You stop at the Sheriff store and exchange money. One of the guest at the hostel is from Norway but he is living in Transnistria. Next took the mini bus to Ukraine and sightsee and train to Belarus and next to Poland and then Kaliningrad, Russia and back to Poland and fly home from Warsaw.
    Moldova is probably the cheapest country in Europe. I am glad I went to Moldova. You should check out Moldova.
    No Visa required for U.S. citizens.
    2021 Europe requires travel authorization now. That was the requirement before Covid hit.

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