Chiprianu Monastery © Andrey
Moldova is a small landlocked country in Eastern Europe between Romania and Ukraine. Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Moldova achieved independence in 1991 but remains the poorest and one of the least developed countries in Europe. The far eastern portion of the country, Transnistria, has formed a breakaway republic backed by Russia and is a source of continuing cross-border conflict.
Moldova is most famous for its wines, which are of a very high standard despite being largely ignored in the west. The average rural household will press an average of 3,500 litres per year, mostly from grapes grown in their own fields. Aside from this enterprise there is little industry in Moldova, which means that the air and rivers are largely unpolluted, even within Chisinau, the capital and largest city.
The majority of the buildings were destroyed during World War II, and subsequent Soviet-era rebuilding has provided a drab and functional air to the resulting structures n Moldova. However, several historical gems did survive and these are well worth a visit. Orheiul Vechi is an ancient church complex carved into limestone cliffs, and the nearby village of Ivancea is a perfectly preserved medieval settlement populated by people of Ukrainian descent. Cahul, two hours from Chisinau, has restorative thermal spas, while Milestii Mici is home to an astonishing underground city of wine cellars stretching 120 miles (200km) below the city.
Despite these charms very few people visit Moldova, making this a genuinely offbeat destination that appeals to adventurous travellers, wine lovers and those interested in post-Soviet republics.