Suceava: 439km (272 miles) NE of Bucharest and 150km (93 miles) NW of Iasi

Achieving independence in the 14th century, Moldavia reached its apogee during the anti-Ottoman crusades with great defensive battles fought and won by Stephen the Great (who ruled 1457-1504) and his successor, Petrus Rares. Military success ensured a cultural renaissance, evidenced in Moldavia's beautiful painted monasteries that have earned great artistic acclaim, and attract visitors from around the world. The most precious of these churches are all within a 60km (37-mile) radius of the city of Suceava; once the princely seat of the Moldavian rulers, but thoroughly ruined during Ceausescu's reign, this is still a useful base from which to explore the churches. Mostly situated in remote rural villages in lush landscapes, the churches of these monastic complexes have almost all been painted -- inside and out -- with such brilliant and vivid frescoes that they have been accorded UNESCO World Heritage status and are amongst the world's great artistic treasures.