Top Places To Visit In Moldova. After spending two days in the capital of Chisinau, I decided to explore more of Moldova on a day trip. The first part of the day was spent visiting two historic monasteries and I finished the day with a wine tasting.
Lack of expectations and off-the-beaten-path occasionally result in positive experiences. I drove to Curchi Monastery with no knowledge of this holy site. The car pulled to a stop and I slid out of the front seat. I strolled the short distance to a small pond at morning time. A smile crossed my face.
I stared at a beautiful reflection of Curchi Monastery. A burnt orange exterior with charcoal black onion domes shimmered in a near perfect mirror of the actual monastery.
This monastery dates back to the 18th century when the Curchi brothers founded this complex and then eventually became monks themselves. This for many decades was considered a very holy site in Moldova. In 1958, the Soviets expelled the monks, burnt icons, and turned the monastery into a psychiatric hospital. A massive restoration that started in the 1990s restored it to its current glory.
The complex was near isolated besides several monks and a couple of caretakers. I amazingly had the complex to myself. I entered the first church and was greeted with golden perfection. Icons covered the walls and ceilings. I entered the second church, and again was met with splendid isolation and perfection. I breathed in the incense and admired God’s hand.
My guide and I weaved around open roads passing villages and green fields. We strolled down the one-street village. Men directing horses with carts, stacked with firewood, overpassed us on the dirt road.
A brief uphill trek brought us to a ridge overlooking the Raut River. Keep your eye trained for a cross and a bell tower. It marks the entrance to a Cave Monastery carved by Orthodox monks in the 13th century. This monastery is part of the Orheiul Vechi (‘Old Orhei’) complex and is also designated as a UNESOC site. It became abandoned in the 18th century, and then re-inhabited in 1996. On my visit, a solitary monk paced in the darkened room, darting from icon to icon. Incense burned and candles illuminated the cave. The opposite side of the caved overlooked a farmer’s fields. Further up the ridge is the Orthodox Church. It was shut down by the Soviets and also reopened in 1996.
Ok. Moldova does not roll off the tongue when mentioning wine. Moldova does not run in the same circles as France or Chile, but yet, Moldova is the 7th largest wine producer in the world. Moldova prior to its independence from the Soviet Union was known as the wine region of the communist empire. And today, 25% of Moldova’s GDP is tied to the wine industry. So despite my generous lack of knowledge when it comes to wine, I made sure I incorporated a vineyard during my time in Moldova.
My visit was with Cricova, only about ten miles from the capital of Chisinau. Cricova happens to be a large subterranean wine cellar with over 60 miles of tunnels and over 1.2 million bottles of wine. Originally, this was a limestone quarry used to build the city of Chisinau, but after World War II a brilliant idea was hatched. The empty tunnels and caverns could be used to store and ferment wine. The average depth of these tunnels is over 200 feet providing a constant temperature of 55 F.
This place is incredibly large, it is truly difficult to gauge the size of this cellar. But to put this in perspective, they are two lane roads for automobiles, including traffic signals. If you were traveling independently, you could easily get lost.
That was not going to be my issue, since I joined a tour and was whisked around in a red tram. We drove down multiple streets in the dim light surrounded by massive oak barrels. I also visited a production line where they were bottling sparkling wine.
During the Soviet era, Cricova which was founded in 1952, was off limited except to dignitaries. Thankfully, these restrictions ended with Moldova’s independence. Of course, the afternoon ended with a wine tasting and a piece of history. Our tasting took place in the Yuri Gagarin room. Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, was the first man to venture to outer space in 1961. Legend has it that Gagarin spent two straight days “tasting” wines and was eventually “assisted” from the caves. My tasting was a bit more abbreviated. For an hour, I tasted several wines as well as Cricova sparkling wine. I channeled my inner Gagarin and savored the experience.
Enjoy the top places to visit in Moldova. Also, check out the top sites in the capital, Chisinau.
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