Salut! Welcome to Moldova!

Lush green slopes, quiet lakes, vast vineyards, fields splashed with bright yellow sunflowers - Moldova is everything dreams are made of. Its quaint old fashioned ways and pristine villages make travellers feel like they've stepped back in time. Everyone should take the opportunity to visit Moldova, tasting the sweet Moldovan wine, staying in one of the fine Moldova hotels peppering the country and enjoying true Moldovan hospitality.

Summers here are warm and winters mild and pleasing - a paradise for wine growers.

Moldavia or The Republic of Moldova shares three borders with Ukraine and one with Romania, to its west. Interestingly, the language spoken here - Moldovan - is easily mistaken for Romanian by the outsider. However, as much as 11% of Moldova speaks Russian and there is plenty of evidence of Russian influence in the life and ways of the people here.

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With the unfortunate title of being the poorest European nation, this country was once in the throes of Soviet rule. Even though the Moldavian SSR elected itself a government and president in 2001, the option to be communist has meant little change has been seen for years. The years since its independence from the USSR, on the 27 of August, 1991, have seen the Republic declare itself a neutral state and align with the NATO Partnership for Peace.

Most of Moldova exists in a strip of land flanked by the Prut and the Dniester rivers. The fertile lands and temperate climate of the continent have made the area perfect for agricultural production and have earned Moldova the role of key producer of grains, vegetables and fruits in the region. Summers here are warm and winters mild and pleasing - a paradise for wine growers.

The Prut runs into the Danube and meets the Black Sea to the west, while the north-south route of the Dniester in the north-east covers most of Moldova and makes it the main water source for the republic.

The north of Moldova has hills and slopes but all under 430 metres high, making it a scenic and pleasing region for residents and visitors alike. The tallest peak in the area is the Dealul Bălăneşti. The capital of Moldova is the centrally located Chişinău (the erstwhile Kishinev). Other key cities are Tiraspol, Tighina and Bălţi.

The overuse of pesticides and insecticides has polluted the land and groundwater with traces of chemicals like DDT, so it is safest to drink water only after checking with the locals if it is okay to drink or even rinse your mouth or face with. Remember, boiling water does not get rid of chemicals, so be extra careful.

Knowing the rules of chivalry isn't just a bonus here; it is almost expected of you. Like with other Slav areas, women expect to have doors opened for them, to be allowed in first and to be given a seat. Avoid making derogatory or negative remarks about any women here, unless you are looking for trouble!

The Moldova transportation options for travellers looking to get to from and around Moldova are relatively inexpensive and reliable. Flights landing in Moldova from abroad usually arrive in Chişinău and there are direct connections from several European cities, including Berlin, Amsterdam, Bucharest, Istanbul, Budapest, Paris, Rome, Prague, Sofia, and Vienna, and also from places like Moscow, Timişoara and Minsk. While it is not impossible to arrive by bus via Bucharest, it is not advised. It is cheaper but far tougher. If you do decide to bus it, then other options include routes from Iaşi and Suceava in Romania. For a not too expensive but far more comfortable option, take the train in from Bucharest.

The traditional food of Moldova draws inspiration and influence from Russian, Ukranian, Bulgarian, Greek, Turkish and Gagauzian cuisine and has in turn influenced some of these regional cuisines as well. Locally grown capsicums, aubergines, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, garlic and beans are widely used in recipes, along with staples like maize. Stews, pies, cakes and cheeses are ever present on the festive table as are local wines. Ranging from the tart and dry to the strong and sweet, wines here are distinct and flavourful. Wine lovers will find familiar wines like the Muscat, Cabernet and Sauvignon as well as local creations like Black Rara, Moldova and Feteasca. Try and fit in a visit to one of the top wineries like Purcari, Cricova or Milestii Mici for a local wine experience.

The utopia of a mall-free Moldova is soon to be broken when the region sees its first ever glitzy mecca of shops open up by the end of 2008. Until then, though, it is the local markets and neighbourhood vendors on the street side where most of the action is.

In recent times, the thrust has been on developing wine tourism in its 142 wineries, rural tourism and even health and beauty-based tourism alongside cultural tourism in Moldova.

The arts have flourished in Moldova and there are a variety of activities you could get involved in on a visit to the region. From music, theatre, fine arts and photography-based art to circuses, broadcasting, cinematography and folk arts, Moldova's many cultural tourism options will keep you mesmerized. For more high-brow stuff, there is the architecture and scientific research to be explored. In all of these areas much progress has been made and museums (over 50 major ones), archives and libraries of precious material are available for those interested.

Museums of note include the Alexandr Pushkin House and Museum, the National Archaeology and History Museum of Moldova and the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural History.

The old fortress town of Benderi (Tighina) is one of Moldova's most ancient, and still has the remains of the structure of the fort dating back to the 17th century.

Orheiul Vechi is located close to Butuceni and Trebujeni in the district of Orhei, to the north-east of Chişinău. It was once the site of a pair of medieval towns and is today famous for being home to a unique cave monastery run by an orthodox order of monks. Other sights here include mausoleums, a mosque, bath houses and a caravan-seraglio.