Nestled between Ukraine and Romania, the Moldovan Republic's history has been rather chaotic, due to a disagreement between two local minority communities: the Gagauz and the Russophones, meaning travel to Moldovia isn't always easy. Independent since 1991, Moldova still sees few tourists. Despite the Second World War bombings, Chisinau, the capital city, as well as the rest of the country, has some fine pre-war monuments. A few miles north of Chisinau, the Caves of Cricova reveal 40 miles of underground galleries. A mini wine city exists underground, including streets like 'Cabernet' and 'Pinot', warehouses and tasting rooms. The latter phenomenon is the main draw to the country.
This is still a fairly new tourist destination, and thus there aren't as many attractions as you might expect. However Moldova's underground wine cellars are renowned throughout Europe and are certainly worth visiting.
+An unsual underground setting for wine country.
-There is still some political tension here with occasional clashes between locals.
-This is a relatively new tourist destination, so there aren't as many attractions as in other destinations.
New Year's Day is a good opportunity for the Moldovans to do credit to several traditions. One of them happens at nightfall when children gather up and walk from house to house. They take a "plugusor" along - a little carved wood cart. They recite poems praising the work of the farmers. This way, they collect a lot of sweets and even sometimes a little money. In the south, people celebrate "sorcova", which corresponds to a small fruit tree branch, decorated with ribbons and artificial flowers. It symbolizes life, youth and happiness. People gently whip each other with it because the contact with the branch is supposed to bring good health.
Moldovan food is not remarkable in any way. Local gastronomy is saved however by the wines which give the country its good reputation. Romanian mamaliga (a sort of corn mixture similar to polenta) is available almost everywhere. It is served with many dishes, along with cottage cheese. Fried pork with a hot sauce with and an egg resting on it is the speciality of the country. You will also find Turkish kebabs and baklavas for dessert. Red, white and sparkling wines are produced all over the country and truly are a pleasant surprise for your senses. Some of the wines "à la française" were much to the taste of the Russian tsars.
You can find Persian style rugs, to hang on the wall or to use as a throw. You can find ceramic objects and music instruments - they are very popular - like the pan pipe. You can obviously buy white and red wine, aged wine and brandy. Shops are open from 8am to 8pm on week days.