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With visitor numbers fixed at only a few thousand annually, Moldova remains among Europe's least visited countries, with the capital of Chisinau (Kee-shee-nau), by extension, one of its least travelled-to cities. It's a state of affairs bound to change withing the coming few years, so making your way to Chisinau while its naiveté remains unperturbed is a possibility that certainly won't be around for too long. There is plenty to do in and just out of Chisinau, and the impression one is left with following a city tour largely depends on the weather – the absence of sunshine can make Chisinau feel rather bleak and bring out the ubiquitous grey tones, wheres a bright summer day may highlight the Chisinau's abundant greenery and make for a pleasant walk in one of the parks, or people-watching at an outdoor cafe. An excursion many find exhilarating is a short, often one-day tour down to Transnistria, a self-proclaimed independent republic that feels a lot like an open-air museum of Soviet nostalgia, not least thanks to the ubiquitous statues of Lenin dotting the capital of Tiraspol.
The city's main artery is the Stefan cel Mare Boulevard, one of many Moldovan landmarks named after the revered Stephen III of Moldavia, whose monument also marks the entry to Chisinau's central park (named, likewise, after the 16th century prince). From here, it's a manageable to walk to most of Chisinau's city centre attractions. The city is delightfully green, and its pleasant parks readily provide refuge on hot summer days.
Moldovan cuisine is largely made up of hearty staples like meat, potatoes and grains. It shows trace of Romanian, Russian and Turkish influence, and significant variation is present even within the relatively compact country itself, with ethnic minorities (the Gagauz, Ukrainians and Bessarabian Bulgarians) having their own characteristic specialities. Mamaliga (a variation if polenta) is a ubiquitous Moldovan staple which often constitutes the base of a meal - have it with pork or beef, and wash it all down with fine wines from nearby wineries.
Cafe culture is on the rise, and every year sees welcome new additions to the Chisinau cafe scene. Tucan Coffee is a trendy coffee shop chain that rose to prominence in recent years, alongside thematic cafes and restaurants serving up Soviet nostalgia on a plate. The best on-the-go bite one can have in Chisinau is a placinta - a typical stuffed pastry with cheese or other fillings.
Chisinau is known to have an active nightlife, fuelled in part by quality Moldovan wines (which are also unbelievably low-priced), and part the animated spirit of the capital's young residents. The city has seen a few trend-setting establishments open their doors in recent years, slowly but surely setting counter example to some of the tired flashing-lights-and-go-go-girls clubs that once monopolised the local clubbing scene.
Shopping is an enjoyable affair in Chisinau, with plenty of local products on offer to suit any budget. Apart from a couple of bottles of wine that every visitor simply must make room in their suitcase for (if in doubt, go for Cricova, Mileştii Mici or Purcari), there are Moldovan art and traditional crafts, which span knit accessories and embroidery, wood and stone carvings, pottery, woven rugs and intricately painted souvenir eggs.
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