Romania is famous for many things; Transylvania and its Medieval Castles, Count Dracula and Bran’s Castle amongst other things. Although perhaps one of its lesser known assets is its collection of monasteries in Moldavia. Whether you are religious or not, these magnificent houses of worship are dotted all around the countryside in this north-eastern region and you can not help to be impressed by their stature, reverence and story-telling painted walls.
Most people head straight for Transylvania and miss out this corner of Romania. Yet if you decide to make the effort to come this way, then you will be in for a treat. With its charming countryside and rolling hills laced with tradition and folklore, fused with Romania’s eclectic mix of brightly painted homes with Russian and Asian styled architecture, you will not be able to blink for one second.
The main attraction of Moldavia are the Painted Monasteries of Bocovina; displays of incredible artistry, both inside and out are to be admired, especially given that they are between five and six hundred years old. The artists’ palettes dating back to the 15th Century are a sight to behold and it silences you into respectful admiration.
Do not be fooled however, because whilst these masterpieces may certainly impress, your tour of this enchanting fairyland starts way before Bocovina and so we must start our monastic journey right at the beginning…
Romania’s religious scene
Romania is a secular state and has no state religion, although it is one of the most devout countries in the EU. The country recognise 18 different denominations, according to the latest Census, although over 80% of the population are identified as Eastern Orthodox.
It’s important to understand that we’re not just talking about a few cute little churches. We’re talking about entire settlements; communities that have built up within and around the monasteries, where nuns and monks live, work and worship together. It is a symbol of harmonious, co-dependency living that has survived through the generations.
We have put together this comprehensive Guide to Moldavia’s must see Monasteries to inspire you to travel here, which we offer to you download for free. Click the blue link for immediate access to the Guide.
It shows you the path we took as we travelled around this fascinating region of Romania, a detailed list of must-see monasteries and our camping spots, if this is your chosen style of travel. Over five days we meandered our way around this endearing countryside and up through the Carpathian Mountains, drawing ever closer to a feeling of nirvana.
It is an incredible region and gifts you with a pocket full of amazing memories of this unique corner of Europe. You must come here…
Our Recommendations for your Monastery Trip
Moldavia is a huge region, with much to see – not just monasteries. You have hiking in the Carpathian Mountains, buzzing towns to stop off along the way and the general historical depth of the region to absorb. Doing a whistle-stop tour would miss out so much. Here are our recommendations about how to get the best of your visit.
- Take a least 3-4 days to explore from Piatra Neamt in the south over to Sadova in the east. This is not a place to be rushed, so do build in some rest time if you can.
- Don’t come to Moldavia just for the Painted Monasteries – come to see the range of churches as we’ve mentioned in this Guide as this will capture the real spirit of the region.
- There’s a lot of options for staying overnight in this region from campsites if you have your own camper or tent, to hotels in the larger towns and plenty of guest houses (Pensiunea) in the villages along the way. Even in August it didn’t feel overrun with tourists.
- Travelling in our motorhome, our overnighters were at Bistrita Monastery (46.957125 26.289086), where they kindly allowed us to stay in their car park in our motorhome. Outside Neamt Monastery (47.262982 26.208707) we had a couple of nights in their car park with water and free WiFi. Camping Dragomirna (47.757902 26.22857), which is a basic site offering a few pitches, wooden huts and a car park with access to showers and electricity for €8.50 per night. Pensiunea Cristina Camping d Guest House (47.602546 25.852718) €10 per night with full facilities.
- For all monasteries there is a dress code, so come prepared. For ladies, you must cover up with trousers or long skirt and a head scarf. For men it is less strict, although they prefer not to have shorts and t-shirts. In the larger monasteries like Voronet and Sucevita they have wrap around skirts for men and women to wear. Although in others, you may not be allowed into the churches if you do not have the right attire.
- For all the Painted Monasteries there is an entrance charge; 5Lei (€1 per person) and a Photography Tax of an additional 5Lei to take any pictures or video. For the other monastery settlements we visited, there was no charge, unless you wanted to take pictures and then there was either a donation or a 5Lei fee. During our trip we spent 100Lei €20, which isn’t bad and it funds the churches’ upkeep.
- The Painted Monasteries are generally open from 0900 until 1830 every day, although weekends get significantly busier.
- Time your visits ‘on the hour’ as you will then witness the traditional ritual of the call to prayer. A nun will take up a piece of wood (a ‘toaca’) and beat it as they walk around the church, which is followed by the ringing of the church bells. It’s a practice that goes back to the siege of Moldavia by the Ottoman Empire when the Turks didn’t allow the ringing of bells and the wood tapping replaced the chimes.
- If you have your own transport, then getting around to the churches is easy. There were only a couple of roads that were gravel and they were short lived. The Painted Monasteries are all accessible by good quality tarmac roads.
- If you don’t have your own transport, then why not pick up a personal tour guide such as Sorin Fodor who has a great website over at www.paintedmonasteries.ro. We didn’t use him, although we were impressed by the information he gave on the Painted Monasteries. Alternatively local buses and taxis will give you plenty of options for visiting as they are on the local tourist trail.
- We only came across one monastery car park that needed paying for, the rest were free. Voronet required a tariff per hour depending on the size of your vehicle. Not expensive, although worth knowing.
- And finally, do watch out for beggars who loiter around every monastery. Some are children who arrive on horse carts, others are mothers with young children holding kittens asking for money for an operation, yet are wearing the latest branded shoes. So just be vigilant.
And finally…. Here’s a little piece from Myles and there’s a little rendition of ‘The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Now tell me you’re not intrigued?
These monasteries are gorgeous! Thanks for the great details into visiting them. <3
You’re very welcome, our pleasure. They are truly a magical discovery. Kx
These monasteries look and sound stunning! I can imagine it’s quite a serene place to visit as well.
Love the motor home tips on where to stay.
Hi Mel, they are stunning and the peace and tranquility in their grounds is palpable. Kx
Your posts are always so informative Karen! Really appreciate the detail you provide and the free guide. Such an interesting region to explore, fingers crossed I’ll get there soon.
Hi Lisa, thanks so much for the lovely feedback, I really appreciate it. Come soon! It’s stunning and is so undiscovered by the world. Kx
I have visited these monasteries twice: once in a school trip and once with my parents when we did a tour of Moldova. I was fascinated by them every time, especially because each of them has been built for a reason (winning of a battle, etc). Our history books tells us about the old rulers of the country and how they’ve built the monasteries. It is a shame that not many tourists adventure themselves in the Northern part of Romania to visit them.
Hi Joanna, they are incredible buildings with so many tales to tell. On the one hand it was lovely to not have to share them with tourists, and on the other they need to be experienced by more people such is their magic and legend. So glad we made the effort. Kx
It’s really a magical discovery ! I had heard that visiting Romania would be like traveling back in time, where I could expect to see plenty of quaint villages sprinkled with haystacks and horses pulling carts along dirt roads. It’s good to learn that among the most picturesque treasures of Romania there are also beautiful and glorious medieval Monasteries 🙂
Hi Celine, thanks for your comment. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Romania has been a real transportation to a land of tradition and rustic authenticity. It has been such an education and a joy to share it over the last three weeks and still two weeks left to go. Kx