Welcome to Moldova.
As one of Europe’s least visited countries, Moldova retains a certain off-the-beaten-track charm. But even that’s changing as budget flights from London and other European cities make the lively capital, Chişinău, a popular weekend break. Meanwhile, those looking to plant the flag in a land few others have visited still have their Shangri-La in the form of the breakaway republic of Transdniestr, where the Soviet Union still reigns supreme.
As for Moldova’s ‘unhappy’ reputation? Well it’s shed that, too, thank you very much. According to the most recent UN survey on the subject, Moldova is now the world’s 55th happiest country.
Of Moldova’s many vineyards, Cricova is arguably the best known. It is the second largest wine cellar in Moldova, after Milestii Mici (largest in the world). Its underground wine kingdom, 15km north of Chişinău, is one of Europe’s biggest. Some 60km of the 120km-long underground limestone tunnels – dating from the 15th century – are lined wall-to-wall with bottles.
Half of the roadways are used for wine storage. The roads are named by the wines they store. This “wine city” has its warehouses, tasting rooms and other facilities underground. It goes down to 100 metres (330 ft) below ground and holds 1.25 million bottles of rare wine. The oldest wine dates back to 1902. The temperature is maintained at about 12 °C (54 °F) all year round (which is perfect for wine). This place is especially famous for hiding Jews in wine barrels during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.
The largest importer of Cricova wines is Kazakhstan.
Previously Russia was the main importer, however this changed in 2014 when Russia imposed embargoes on Moldovan wine in retaliation for Moldova making moves towards joining the European Union.