The short marshrutka ride from Chişinău out to the village of Butuceni feels like traveling back in time, as drivers overtake locals in donkey carts on steep, frequently unpaved mountain roads. But the clock turns back even further in the impressive Orthodox cave monastery of Orheiul Vechi, which was dug into these rocky cliffs by local monks in the 13th century. The medieval icons below are illuminated only by candlelight and by jagged windows chiseled out of the cliff face, giving the impression that not much has changed since then.
Behind the monastery, a small passage opens up onto a narrow ledge within the cliffs, providing an impressive view over the valley.
The cave monastery is part of a larger archeological park in and around Butuceni, but it is by far its most impressive site. Medieval church ruins and even small museums can also be found around the village and are marked with clear signs. Other man-made cave complexes can also be spotted in the surrounding cliffs, but are generally only accessible to climbers.
Know Before You Go
Accessible via marshrutka from Chişinău's main bus station (the ones labeled 'Butuceni' or 'Orheiul Vechi', but NOT the ones labeled just 'Orheiul', which is a different village!). Get off at Butuceni. The marschrutka schedule can be awkward, so plan the timing of your return trip in advance. Parking is also available for those with personal transportation.
As an orthodox holy site, modest dress (i.e. no shorts or tank tops for either sex) is expected. Female visitors are asked to cover their heads when entering the monastery, and this policy is enforced.
Food and drinks are available from nearby guesthouses in the village of Butuceni.