Bicaz Gorge & Lacu Rosu | Câmpulung Moldovenesc | Ceahlau Massif | Cotnari Winery | Iasi | The Muddy Volcanoes | Painted Monasteries | Piatra Neamt | Rarau Mountains | Radauti, Marginea and Vama | Suceava | Târgu Neamt | Transport between Romania and Moldova | Vatra Dornei
Moldavia has an excellent mix of the best of Romania; the bucolic vistas Maramures, the wild history of Transylvania, mountains, fortresses and world famous painted monasteries.
Great hiking and decent skiing opportunities are also on offer as well as a growing agro-tourism industry.
Being so close the border with the Republic of Moldova, and some of the historic ugliness spilling over from that region, this area tends to be a little more uptight and closed than the rest of Romania. Also, they still don’t get a heck of a lot of tourists outside of the Suceava area, so in places like Iasi (where I lived for a cumulative 16 months), you may feel like you’re being stared at (because you are).
In 1359, under Prince Bogdan of Cuhea, Moldavia became the second Romanian principality to divorce itself from the Hungarians. During the 18th-century the region served as refuge for thousands fleeing persecution in Hungarian-ruled Transylvania. Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) and his son Petru Rares erected fortified monasteries and churches throughout the Bucovina region, many of which have unthinkably survived centuries of war and brutal weather and now enjoy UNESCO World Heritage status.
After suffering through Turkish rule after Petru Rares’ defeat in 1538, Moldavia was finally united with Wallachia by Alexandru Ioan Cuza in 1859. Almost immediate cultural and economic growth followed and the modern Romanian state was born, with Iasi ever so briefly acting as its capital.
Moldavia used to be much larger. Bessarabia, the area east of the Prut River, was annexed by Russia in 1812. Despite being recovered as war spoils from 1918 to 1940 and again from 1941 to 1944, Bessarabia is now split between Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. “Northern Bucovina” is now in southwestern Ukraine and “Southern Bucovina” is in northern Romania.
Southern Bucovina is on par with Maramures as a rural paradise, with the added perk of being scattered with fantastic Unesco-recognized painted churches, considered among the greatest artistic monuments of Europe. Moreover, Southern Bucovina is bursting with folklore, picturesque villages and bucolic scenery that’ll enrich any train ride.
While coordinating transport between the remote villages can be challenging with infrequent maxitaxis and rarely serviced train stations, there are plenty of alternatives, including hitchhiking, biking, car hire or arranging a private tour.
One mind-screw of note: Romanians refer to Moldavia as ‘Moldova’ (the Slavic form of Moldavia), a Stalinist legacy and constant point of confusion for visitors. The neighboring country of Moldova is referred to as the ‘Republic of Moldova’.
My Top Five list for Moldavia:
• Ponder the beauty, detail and longevity of the painted monasteries around Suceava
• Hike (or ski) the dizzying Ceahlau and Rarau mountains
• Gawk at the mind-bending Bicaz Gorge and its ‘neck of hell’
• Engage your “how’d that happen?” powers of deduction at the mysterious slanted tree stumps sticking out of Lacu Rosu
• Delve into small-town life and bond with endearing locals in towns like Radauti, Marginea and Vama
• BONUS SIXTH JUVENILE OPTION: Seek out and have your picture taken by the village sign in Clit, south of Marginea, not listed on most maps (probably for good reason)