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Bucovina – the land of painted monasteries, warm people and delicious food
Bucovina can be called as well “the land beyond the forest” like it neighbouring region, Transylvania. If one starts a tour in Bucovina from the west, has to cross mountain passes and drive on winding roads. Even the name of the region suggests a forested land, as Bucovina can be translated as “the beech grove”. In many ways, Bucovina is sharing the same features as Maramures: mostly a mountainous region, a bucolic landscape, a strong rural culture with unaltered traditions, original architecture and remarkable religious monuments.
Bucovina used to be part of the medieval state of Moldova from the Middle Ages, and then, from 1774 to 1918, it was annexed by the Austrian Hungarian Empire. After World War I, Bucovina returned to Romanian region of Moldova, only to be divided into 2 halves starting 1940, when the Soviet Union took the north part from Romania. Nowadays, the northern part of Bucovina belongs to Ukraine, and we will refer on this page only to the Romanian part of Bucovina, which is almost identical with Suceava county.
The painted monsteries: Every tour in Bucovina includes the painted monasteries in the program. Built in the 15th and 16th century, the painted monasteries are an extraordinary blend of gothic and Byzantine elements, whose mixture lead to an original style: the Moldovian architecture style. From the gothic style, it took the buttress and the window decoration, from the byzantine it took the art and the structural division of space. The local element consists of the elegant shape of the roofs and the harmony of proportions.
The vibrant murals, billboards from the late medieval world, are fundamentally Byzantine but influenced by the spirit of the local folk art and mythology. The skill of the anonymous artists is outstanding, as the paintings are still preserved after 500 years of exposure in the rough Bucovinean climate.
The visitor should take time to decrypt the biblical and cultural message from the murals. Ask the monastery guide about the meaning of every patch of inside and outside painting to have a thorough understanding of religious art.
Natural scenery: If you are a nature lover, you would really like Bucovina, a region with more than 20 natural reservations and one national park. Mountains are dominating Bucovina’s landscape, but as we go from west to east, the heights are decreasing and slowly fading into the Moldavian plateau. The mountain tops are soft, covered by lush forests, intertwined with wildflower meadows, which are dominating the landscape as we move to lower altitudes.
Some of the mountain villages in Bucovina are at least as picturesque as the ones from the Alps, but what is making them special is the lag in modern development. Higher up on the pastures, wooden huts are dotting the slopes, offering temporary shelter for farmers working the hay. The fences delimiting the proprieties are sometimes covered by freshly mowed grass, stacked over for faster drying.
The rural architecture in Bucovina has its own specificity in Romania. The porches, doors and window frames, fences and gates are a fine example of the builders’ craftsmanship. Wood is the main construction element, but some of the traditional houses are having a white painting around the windows or they can be coated entirely in lime plaster. In addition to this, the white plasters are enriched with geometrical or floral motives, taken from the traditional costume, found mostly in the villages along the Golden Bistrita valley, like Ciocanesti. Shingles are covering the roofs the houses and in some villages, it is used to entirely cover and decorate the walls.
Painted eggs Nowadays associated with Easter, the painted eggs are actually a pre-Christian tradition, related to the spring equinox, which coincided with the celebration of the new year in some old pagan traditions. Romania is a country where the tradition of dyeing the eggs is an essential element of the Easter celebrations. Bucovina especially is a region where Easter egg dyeing has become a folk art. This is the reason probably in Bucovina we can find 2 museums dedicated to the painted eggs.
The process of dyeing the eggs requires special tools and techniques that need time to master. The motifs and symbols are religious, geometrical or vegetal, similar to the ones seen on the traditional Bucovinean costume. The background colour is usually red, but in some villages, we can find green or black.
If you want to arrive in Bucovina by plane, Suceava is the closest airport. It has a daily connection with Bucharest and a few flights per week to the UK, Italy, Austria and Germany. Iasi airport is also an option, being just 2 hours away, and the flights offer is way bigger than the one from Suceava.
The second options will be driving to Bucovina, and in this case, there are 3 main entryways: one from Maramures, crossing Prislop pass, one from Transylvania, crossing Borgo Pass, or coming from Moldova, either Iasi or the south of the region.
Like in Maramures, for night stays in Bucovina we recommend a rural guesthouse in a quaint village. For a more authentic experience, you can book a room in old wooden houses which were transformed to accommodate tourists. Or chic modern ones, but inspired by the traditional architecture.
It can be in Valea Putnei, Fundul Moldovei, Sadova, Vama, just to name a few. If one is looking for more upscale hotels, they can be found in Suceava or Gura Humorului.
Besides the rich cultural heritage, Bucovina has diverse culinary tradition, due to the multiple influences from Polish, Russian, Turkish, German and Austrian cuisine. Although all these people have left their mark on the local gastronomy, its specificity is given by the natural conditions. For example, the sour cream, the trout and the porcini mushrooms are customary ingredients in the local cuisine. Trout was abundant in the rushing mountain rivers, the porcini mushrooms is a fine dining delicacy easy accessible to the Bucovinean peasant foraging the forests, and milk is an abundant resource, considering the vast mountain pastures.
Below we propose our top 3 dishes that every visitor should try while having a tour in Bucovina.
Romania is the country of sour soups called “ciorba”. One of the soups is having the origins in Radauti, a small city in Bucovina, and for this reason, is called “radauteana soup”. This soup supposedly was invented by a women chef from Radauti, around 50 years ago, at her husband demand to cook him the tripe soup, but without the tripe. So, she replaced it with chicken, and the end result was a delicious soup, having almost the same taste and using the same ingredients: vegetables, wheat flour, eggs, vinegar, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, pepper and salt. From Radauti, the soup has spread all over the country, and it can be often seen in the menus of the traditional restaurants.
The trout in lute is a smoked trout gently prepared using smoke from resinous wood. After is prepared, the smoked trout from Bucovina is packed in small bags made of fir tree branches, which is giving it an extra flavour. The bags look like a lute, or “cobza” as we call it in Romania, and it was used for easier transportation of the product. The smoked trout in lute was invented more than 50 years ago by a forest ranger in Bucovina, and since then it became a brand in the regional gastronomy.
Smoked trout in cobza
Porcini with sour cream. In the Romanian cuisine, porcini mushrooms can be used in different recipes, from sour soups to side dishes or as the main ingredient in different stews. In Bucovina, a popular dish is the porcini stew with sour cream. Freshly picked from the forests, the porcini are mixed with sour cream, butter, onion, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, to form a delicious stew, which can be served as a speciality on its own, or a side dish for meat.
Porcini with sour cream
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