A large swathe of land covering the easternmost portion of Romania, Moldavia used to be twice its present size, having at various times included Bessarabia (the land beyond the River Prut) and Northern Bucovina (on the edge of the Carpathians). Both territories were annexed by Stalin in 1940, severing cultural and family ties, though these have been revived since the fall of communism, especially between Moldavia and the former Bessarabia (now the sovereign Republic of Moldova).
Moldavia’s complex history is best understood in relation to the cities of Iaşi and Suceava, the former capitals of the region. The former is one of the country’s most appealing destinations, with numerous churches and monasteries retained from its heyday as the Moldavian capital, and a strong cultural scene. Suceava, meanwhile, is symptomatic of many towns and cities in Moldavia, a typical new-town development marred by hideous concrete apartment blocks and factories, though it does retain some significant historical associations. Suceava also acts as the main base for the jewels in the Moldavian crown, the painted monasteries of southern Bucovina, secluded in lush valleys near the Ukrainian border. Their medieval frescoes of redemption and damnation blaze in polychromatic splendour – Voroneţ and Suceviţa boast peerless examples of the Last Judgement and the Ladder of Virtue, while Moldoviţa is famous for its fresco of the Siege of Constantinople. The unpainted Putna monastery, final resting place of Stephen the Great, draws visitors interested in Romanian history.
Elsewhere, the countryside looks fantastic, with picturesque villages dwarfed by the flanks of the Carpathians. Just over halfway to Suceava, Neamţ county’s principal towns are Piatra Neamţ and Târgu Neamţ which, though nothing special, serve as bases for Moldavia’s historic convents – Neamţ, Agapia and Văratec – the eclectic Neculai Popa Museum in Tărpeşti, and the weirdly shaped Ceahlău massif, whose magnificent views and bizarrely weathered outcrops make this one of Romania’s most dramatic hiking spots. Backwaters such as Ghimeş in the Magyar-speaking Csángó region are worth investigating if you’re interested in rural life, and there are also numerous local festivals.