Moldova Explorer

Moldova

Culture | Silk Road

Taste fine wines and explore lost Soviet enclaves in remote Moldova

8 days £1,245 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Located on the periphery of eastern Europe between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is quite far off the beaten track. Still trying to move on from the Soviet era, it is a curious mix of past and present. You will get to visit autonomous Gagauzia and explore the self-proclaimed republic of Transinistria. Marvel at monasteries, stop by small villages and meet friendly locals. Become a connoisseur of Moldovan wine after visits to Cricova, Et Cetera and Purcari wineries. Finally, compare the Moldovan, Ukrainian and Russian culinary delicacies you will sample throughout your travels.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Vibrant Chisinau, Moldova's capital city
  • Famous Curchi Monastery
  • Cricova Winery, the world's largest underground cellar
  • Self-proclaimed republic of Transinistria
  • Tasting at Kvint Brandy Factory
  • Tour of family-owned Et Cetera Winery
  • Autonomous region of Gagauzia
  • Perfectly-proportioned Soroca Fortress
  • Poetic Candle of Gratitude monument

Places Visited

Chisinau - Cricova Winery - Tiraspol - Transinistria - Purcari Winery - Et Cetera Winery - Gagauzia - Orheiul Vechi - Trebujeni and Butuceni villages - Soroca Fortress - Pokrovka village

What's Included

Arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Accommodation
Meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guides
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Arrival

Arrive at the Chisinau International Airport, where you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative and transferred to your hotel. In the evening, enjoy a welcome dinner in a traditional Moldovan restaurant with live folk music. Overnight in Chisinau. 

Meal plan: Dinner

Chisinau (pronounced 'kish-i-niow') is the capital of Moldova and the country's largest city. It is located in the centre of the country on the river Bic and was founded in 1436 as a monastery village. Compared to the rest of the country, Chisinau is quite wealthy and modern - although not nearly so by Western standards. As it was badly damaged during WWII and by a tremendous earthquake in 1940, it was rebuilt in the 1950s in the utilitarian Soviet style. Buildings are not especially pretty and most people live in large concrete blocks of flats. 

Moldovan food is heavily influenced by the Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Romanian cuisines. Meals typically centre around meat, fish, cheese, vegetables and cereals. Some traditional dishes include Zama chicken noodle soup, Borsch beetroot and duck soup, Mamliga cornmeal with cheese, Sarmale stuffed grape leaves, Placinte pies with various fillings and grilled meats.

Music and dance have always been an essential part of the cultural and social life of Moldovans, playing an important role during holidays, family celebrations, fairs and agricultural activities. Dances are typically accompanied by songs, drums, clapping, brass bands or satirical and humorous poems. An important attribute of the dance is the unique national costume, which is ornamentally-embroidered and full of creative spirit.

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Day 2 : Chisinau

Go on a two-hour walking tour of Chisinau, where you will see Stefan cel Mare main street, the Central Cathedral, the Parliament building and the Stefan cel Mare literature park. Drive to the Cricova Winery for a tour and lunch. Afterwards, visit the Curchi Monastery and return to Chisinau. You will have the evening free to spend at your leisure. Overnight in Chisinau.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Stefan cel Mare Boulevard is Chisinau's main street. It first ran along the border of the Russian military camp in 1789, then construction of buildings began in 1817. At the beginning of the 19th century it was known as Million Street and has since had seven different names. Nowadays, Stefan cel Mare Boulevard runs four kilometres long and is host to many important historical buildings like the Government House, Science Academy, the Arc de Triomphe and the Central Cathedral.

Cricova Winery is one of the world's largest underground cellars, located 15km north of Chisinau in a 120km-long labyrinthe of 15th-century underground tunnels. These tunnels, up to 100 metres deep at certain points, were created during the excavation of limestone used for construction in Chisinau. In 1952, the tunnels were converted into an underground wine emporium. About half of the roadways are used for wine storage and each 'street name' corresponds to the type of wine it houses. The streets are even wide enough for trucks! The most popular wine is Cricova Sparkling Wine, which is still produced using the classic Champenoise method. Some notable visitors to the winery include Brejnev, Gorbachiov, Gagarin, Merkel and Putin, who celebrated his 50th birthday here. In 2004, Cricova was declared an item of the country's national cultural heritage. 

The 18th-century Curchi monastery is one of Moldova's richest, largest and most scenic monasteries, located in the quiet Vatici valley among the forested hills of Bessarabia. Its main church, the baroque-inspired Nasterea Domnului cathedral, has the highest dome in Moldova that stands 57m tall. Many of the monastery's painted icons and the gilded iconostasis were destroyed in a fire during WWII.  From 1959 to 1995, the monastery was used as a psychiatric hospital with an addictology department, which led to further neglect of the building. Curchi is currently an active monastery and is undergoing complete restoration.

Stefan cel Mare is also known as Stefan the Great or Stefan III of Moldova. He was part of the House of Musat, the family that first ruled the Principality of Moldova beginning in 1363, just 11 years after it was founded by Romanians. While in power for 71 years (1433-1504), Stefan strengthened and maintained Moldova's independence. He became known throughout Europe for his long resistance against the Ottomans, winning 46 out of 48 battles he took part in. This in turn protected the whole of Europe from invasion. Stefan was deemed a true Champion of Christian Faith by Pope Sixtus IV and canonised in 1992 by the Romanian Orthodox Church. Many of the churches and monasteries erected during his reign still stand and several are even UNESCO World Heritage sights. 

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Day 3 : Chisinau - Tighina - Tiraspol (Transinistria)

In the morning, go on a tour of the Tighina Fortress, then transfer to Tiraspol, the capital of Transinistia, for a sightseeing tour. After lunch in a typical Ukranian restaurant, visit the Noul Neamts Monastery in Chitcani village. Overnight in Tiraspol. 

If your group contains 6 or more people, you will visit 'Kvint' brandy factory in Tiraspol for a tasting tour after lunch instead of the Noul Neamts Monastery. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

The 16th-century Tighina Fortress used to be one of Moldova's most powerful fortresses. Led by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, it was occupied by the Ottomans in 1538 and became the centre of an Ottoman raya (or region). In the 1370s and 80s, Tighina became an important stop on the Tatar trade route that connected western Europe with the Near East.

Tiraspol is Moldova's second largest city and the capital of Transinistria. Although the city was previously inhabited, it was officially founded in October 1792 by Alexander Suvorov, the famous Russian military hero. Time seems to have stood still here since the USSR period. Notable places to visit include the Vladimir Lenin monument and the tanks left over from WWII. Most of the sites can be seen by walking down the main street, called October 25th Street in honour of the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution.

The all-male Noul Neamt Monastery consists of four churches surrounding a central five-story bell tower, the upper level of which offers picturesque views of the surrounding countryside. It was founded by monks in 1861 in protest against Romanian authorities trying to secularise monastic estates. It operated successfully until 1962, when it was closed by the Soviets and used as a hospital until 1989. 

The Kvint Brandy Factory was founded in 1897 and is the oldest operational enterprise in the region. Its brandy is made using a process identical to French cognac with Colombard, Riesling and Ugni Blanc grapes. Today, Kvint is the leading producer of alcoholic bevarages in Moldova and the factory's image is used on the Transinistrian 5 ruble note.

The unrecognised self-proclaimed republic of Transinistria is located on Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine. It came to be after the dissolution of the USSR, when tensions between Transinistria and Moldova grew into a military conflict in 1992. Since then, Transinistria has been independent in practice, with its own government, military, police, postal service, currency, constitution and more. Transinistria's central bank sets the exchange rate for their ruble, which is freely floating and greatly fluctuates week-to-week. 

Ukrainian food is influenced by Russian, Austrian, Polish and Turkish cuisines. Ukraine's fertile soil and the foreign influence has meant a heavy emphasis is placed on grains, dairy products, beef and pork. Traditional dishes include Borsch beetroot and cabbage soup served with Pampusky (soft, fluffy bread topped with garlic butter); Vinigret beetroot and sauerkraut salad; Holubtsi cabbage leaves rolled with rice and meat; and Deruny potato pancakes served with sour cream. Popular beverages include Kompot (dried fruits and berries boiled in water) and Ryazhenka (fermented baked milk) - both very tasty, despite how they may sound!

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Day 4 : Tiraspol - Purcari - Chisinau

Visit Purcari and Et Cetera wineries for tours and tastings before returning back to Chisinau, where you will have some free time for souvenir shopping. Overnight in Chisinau. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Purcari Winery is the first specialised winery in Bessarabia. The soil in Purcari village is able to produce full-bodied grapes, much like the soil in the Bordeaux region of France, located on the same latitude. This soil is rich in rubidium and is able to give wines an intense complexity of taste and a distinctive deep purple colour. When the French learned of Purcari, they formed a partnership with the village's Agon Zograf Monastery and began cultivating grapes there in the 18th century. By 1878, the winery won its first gold medal at the Paris World Expo and is now a world-renown brand.

The boutique Et Cetera Winery was started by the Luchianov family in 2003. After years of travelling the world, mathematician Alexandru Luchianov decided to settle down in his native Moldova and pursue his passion of wine-making. Alexandru uses a unique combination of modern techniques and traditional methods learned during his travels. Wine made from Et Cetera's very first harvest won the gold medal at a local competition and the winery's success took off from there. During the tour, visitors can learn about the wine-making process and taste wine straight out of the barrels.  

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Day 5 : Chisinau - Gagauzia - Chisinau

Today you will go on a day trip to the Gagauzia region. You will go on a panoramic tour of Comrat, have lunch at 'Kolhoz Pobeda' in Copceac, then transfer to Besalma for a tour. Return to Chisinau for overnight. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Gagauzia is an autonomous region located in southwest Moldova, with its own flag, coat of arms and anthem. The region is named after the Turkic-speaking Gagauz people,who migrated to Moldova from Bulgaria in the 20th century and are the only people of Turkic origin affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox Church. Gagauzia consists of three main towns and 27 villages. 

Comrat is the capital of Gagauzia and is known for producing red and muscat wines. In 1990, Gagauz nationals and Moldovan armed forces clashed here after a call for a sovereignty referendum. 

Besalma is a small traditional village located 28km away from Comrat. A notable place of interest is the local Gagauzian Museum, which contains hundreds of valuable historical and ethnographic exhibits from the last two centuries. The museum was founded in 1966 by writer Cara-Ciobanu, who dedicated his life to promoting Gagauzian culture and values to the world. 


Founded in 1947 after a two-year famine, Kolhoz Pobeda sits in the Gagauzian village of Copceac where Romanians first settled in 1791. Its very existence in Moldova - two decades after the collapse of the USSR - is unique, because the 'kolhoz concept' of collective agriculture no longer exists in Moldovan legislation. Pobeda is currently home to over 10,000 people, 500 of whom consistently work on the farm looking after the wheat fields, sunflower fields, vineyards and fruit orchards. 

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Day 6 : Chisinau - Butuceni

Go on a morning tour of Orheiul Vechi. Continue on to Butuceni village for a cooking master class, where you will learn to prepare traditional Moldovan dishes like breads, pies, preserves and more. Afterwards, enjoy a traditional lunch with homemade wine. In the afternoon, go on a walking tour of nearby Trebujeni village. The rest of the day is free to spend at your leisure. Overnight in Butuceni. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

The Orheiul Vechi Monastery and Archaeological Complex is an impressive open-air site located along the Raut River gorge. The complex is strategically placed and is naturally well-defensible. Combining dramatic landscapes and archaeological monuments, Orheiul Vechi contains signs of ancient civilisations from the Paleolithic, Eneolithic and Iron ages. On the rocky hill, you will find the ruins of a strong Geto-Dacian fortification that acted as a sanctuary for celebrating religious holidays and rituals. The site is famous for its isolated cave monasteries created by the early Christian community. Monks returned here in 1996 and are slowly restoring this place of worship. Orheiul Vechi is currently being considered for inclusion on UNESCO's World Heritage List. 

Trebujeni and Butuceni are twin villages located on either site of the Ruta River within walking distance of each other. Trebujeni is slightly more 'tourist-y', as that is where Orheiul Vechi is located. Buteceni is a slightly smaller village that offers visitors a more real feel for Moldovan life. 

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Day 7 : Butuceni - Rudi - Chisinau

Visit the Soroca fortress, stop by the 'Candle of Gratitude' monument, then drive to Pokrovka village, where you will have lunch at a restaurant serving typical Russian food and explore the village. Make your way to Rudi village, stopping to see the 'Struve Geodetic Arc' en route. In Rudi, visit the monastery and then return to Chisinau for a farewell dinner in a typical Moldovan restaurant with live folk music. Overnight in Chisinau. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

The 15th-century Soroca Fortress played a key role in the Moldovan defense system. It is famous for being the site where the Moldovan and Russian armies joined forces against the Turkish in 1711. Soroca is the country's only medieval monument that has been preserved fully according to its original design. It was proportioned using the 'golden ratio' to achieve ultimate visual harmony, which makes it unique among other European defense structures.

The Struve Geodedic Arc is a series of 265 main station points marked by obelisks, plaques, iron crosses and other markings, established by scientist Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve between 1816 and 1855. They represent the first accurate measurement of a meridian segment that was used to calculate the Earth's exact size and shape. The Arc stretches over 2,820km and 10 countries, from Norway to Ukraine. In Moldova, the main station point is marked by a small monument that is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The 1777 Rudi Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Moldova. It is a great example of old Moldovan religious architectural style and features elements of Byzantine architecture. It was built using mostly natural stone and is situated near the 'Aeolian harp' gorge on the Nistru River. In the 1840s it was bought by Mihai Bogus and the monastery was destroyed. Between 1845 and 1846, Mihai and both of his daughters died unexpectedly. The estate was left under the care of the local villagers, who used it as living quarters for servants and partially demolished the monastic complex. It was only in 1921 that the monastery returned to its original purpose, except for several years after WWII when it was briefly occupied by a children's hospital and orphanage.

The 2004 Candle of Gratitude monument is dedicated to Moldova's destroyed cultural monuments and the unknown heroes who were able to preserve the country's language, culture and history through generations. Metaphorically, this is the burial place of all pain, suffering and unrealised hopes. The Candle also commemorates the unknown poet that penned the famous 'Mioritsa' ballad. The idea for this monument came from Ion Druta, an author of  Moldovan classics. The light from the candle is visible from as far as 60km away during the night.

Traditional Russian food is typically hearty and is centered around bread, potatoes, meats and cheeses. Popular dishes include Borsch beet and cabbage soup served wit sour cream and rye bread; dense Sirniki cottage cheese pancakes served with jam or honey; and Pelimeni dumplings with various stuffings. The Olivier cold salad, known internationally as 'Russian salad' is another must-try. In terms of drinks, kvass (made from rye bread) and medovukha (made from fermented honey) are popular options. 

Pokrovka village was founded by  Old  Russian Believers who came to Moldova in the 18th century and, in contrast to other Moldovan villages, almost no one ever moves away.  The Pokrovka community treasures its traditions, so here you can find real bath-houses, coal samovars and raspberry jams prepared according to old recipes handed down through generations. Many people have gardens and cultivate raspberries, apples and plums. The Pokrovka church has been in constant operation since being built in 1871. 

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Day 8 : Departure

At an appropriate time, you will be transferred to the airport for your departure flight home or onward destination. 

Contact us to arrange further extensions to Ukraine.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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City Park Hotel

City Park Hotel is located in the heart of Chisnau, near to many of the cities sights. The contemporary hotel has spacious and comfortable bedrooms. Each room is equipped with modern facilities including air-conditioning, satellite television and access to wifi. City Park Restaurant and Bar provides guests with a variety of traditional local and international options. 

Visit hotel's site
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Russia Hotel

Russia hotel is located in central Tiraspol, not far from sights such as Theatre Square and Victory Park. The contemporary and elegant style decor of the hotel is carried through to the spacious bedrooms. The Pokrovskiye Corota Restaurant serves largely European cuisine, whilst guests can also choose to fine at Spelti Cafe, which specialises in Japanese cuisine. The hotel has also got an on-site bar which plays live music in the evenings. 

Visit hotel's site
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Agro Pension Butuceni

The Agro Pension Butuceni is an eco-resort set in the rural Butuceni. The traditionally Moldovan house has been decorated in an authentic style, with clay walls that are heated by fire. The bedrooms are also fitted with modern comforts, including an ensuite, to provide for a relaxing stay. Guests can enjoy local delicacies such as 'palcinta' pie and homemade wine. The resort has an array of activities - beyond relaxing in the spa or the swimming pool, guests can also choose to learn local cookery skills or visit the on-site farm. 

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Extensions

Along Soviet Fringes (14 days)

Delve into the diversity of Belarus, Ukraine & Moldova

Moldova Explorer (8 days)

Taste fine wines and explore lost Soviet enclaves in remote Moldova

Reviews

We both very much enjoyed our trip including the ballet, the food and the wine. The guide and the driver were very helpful.

Sarah Burgess , Moldova Explorer

We had a really lovely trip to Moldova.Thanks to Travel the Unknown everything worked perfectly and we had no worries about anything.In particular the Moldovan guide and driver were very helpful and friendly.The duration and pace of activity meant we returned to the UK very relaxed.Moldova is not on everybody's list of holiday destinations but we found the whole experience interesting and educational.

Martin and Gillian Wilson , Moldova Explorer

We asked Travel the Unknown to come up with an unusual trip to 6 counties of the Caucasus and the ex-Soviet Union countries. They did so in a tour that flowed seamlessly the whole 38 days. The most impressive part was when Ukrainian Airlines cancelled our connecting flights from Kiev to Minsk, for 2 consecutive days. We contacted Unknown that morning and asked them to arrange an overnight train with a sleeping compartment. When arrived in Kiev, we were met at the airport, driven to the train station where tickets where waiting for us. They arranged for our pickup at the station in Minsk, as we left the train, and we went on our planned tours without losing a minute. That is what I call a great service agency

Irwin Drangel & Linda Schain , Tailor-made Caucasus and Soviet Fringes
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