For lovers of antiquities as well as beautiful landscapes, Armenia is an unexpected delight, a land of soul-stirring contradictions and discoveries. With medieval monasteries and petroglyph-lined caves, and a diverse geography tailor made for outdoor adventure, the country lavishes guests with more than enough to do and explore. Where history, rich culture and a warm people come together, intrepid travelers find a deeply revelatory and rewarding travel experience. Here, we’ll uncover Armenia’s greatest attractions, for every travel style and taste.
What Not to Miss in Armenia
Speaking of contradictions, Yerevan is full of them. Spend one evening diving into a plate of koravata (barbecued meats) at a traditional pandok (tavern), the next savoring fine cuisine at a haute cuisine restaurant or wine bar. Join the locals with a glass of fruit vodka at one of the many sidewalk cafes or around the Republic Square’s famous musical fountain. There are modern structures, Soviet-era buildings and 19th-century balconies and churches, all harmonizing to give the city the element of surprise around every corner.
If you can only see one of Armenia’s many magnificent monasteries, make it Noravank or Geghard - see below. The Noravank monastery, in the southern part of the country, was founded in 1205 and renovated with an eye to authenticity in the 1990s. If you can, visit around sunset, when the cliffs surrounding the monastery take on a magical reddish hue, accentuating the reddish-gold stone of the churches. Within the Noravank complex, you’ll also find the 13th-century Surp Karapet Church and the much-photographed 14th-century Surp Astvatsatsin Church, which is representative of the tower-like burial sites in the early years of Christianity.
This World Heritage-listed monastery is named for the lance that pierced Christ’s side at the time of his crucifixion. The structure itself is carved dramatically out of a cliff lining the Azat River Gorge. The monastery dates back to the 4th century, while its oldest chapel dates to the 12th century. Check out the intricate carvings of the Surp Astvatsatsin cathedral. Look, too, for the coat of arms of the family of the Zakarian prince who built the church - it’s above the south door.
Venture into Debed Canyon, which stretches from Vanadzor along the River Debed to the Armenian-Georgian border. Outdoor enthusiasts find adventure of all kinds here throughout the year, including some impressive hiking and cycling opportunities. The well-marked and -maintained Kobayr-Horomayr-Odzun trail is one of the most popular treks. The four- to five-hour hike takes you from the 12th-century Kobayr monastery through the medieval monastic complex at Horomayr and into the village of Odzun, with staggering canyon views the entire way. There are hikes between the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Sanahin and Haghpat monasteries, stopping at the Kayan fortress along the way. Or, if you’re visiting in July or August, take the “Blackberry Road” trail through a forest of blackberry bushes from Haghpat to Tsaghkashat village.
Dilijan National Park
For more gorgeous nature, head to northern Armenia’s Dilijan National Park, where your hikes might include bear and eagle sightings. While you’re here, you can also visit the 10th-century Haghartsin Monastery, known for its distinctive Armenian architecture.
Immerse yourself in the authentic culture and lifestyle of this small region in southern Armenia. Here in the Arpa River valley, beneath towering mountains and across lush hillside and vineyards - not to mention a stunning waterfall and hot springs at Jermuk - travelers can truly get to know Armenia. Visit with traditional artisans, from carpet weavers to stonemasons. Dine of local dishes of sorrel soup and river fish prepared in a clay pot at one of the village restaurants or guesthouses. Visit cave dwellings from thousands of years ago and stop by the world’s oldest winery. This is where you’ll find the Noravank Monastery (see above), as well as the medieval Smbataberd Fortress.
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