The country of unforgettable emotions: Armenia
With over 25000 historical monuments throughout the country, Armenia is often referred to as an open-air museum. Read on to know about the country's heritage, food, wildlife and traditions.
Armenia is a land of mysticism that will at once capture your imagination, evoking past centuries while awakening your senses to the present. It has a rich and colorful history, interwoven with legends and lore such as the landing of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat and Marco Polo’s voyages along the Silk Road. Armenians are an ancient people with a strong sense of cultural identity. As the nation who first adopted Christianity, we have preserved our unique culture throughout the centuries, keeping Old World traditions alive by integrating them into a modern way of life, so that the two complement and enrich each other. With over 25000 historical monuments throughout the country dating from prehistoric to Hellenistic and early Christian eras – three of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Armenia is often referred to as an open air museum. Yerevan alone hosts 40 art museums and galleries. Armenia can kick up your adrenaline with steep routes and off-road rides along its valleys.
Armenia is about mouth-watering flavors. Whether in gourmet restaurants or authentic rural homes, Armenian hospitality, its rich cuisine and bountiful harvest will always welcome you to the table. Lavash, freshly baked in a fiery tonir will satisfy your stomach. The country will also embrace you in the vine of Areni Noir – a local grape variety first planted by Noah after the Biblical Flood. The spirit culture flows through Armenia from cozy wineries in Yerevan to the most ancient “wine factory” in a terroir cave of Vayots Dzor over 6100 years old. Let us not forget the cellars of the Yerevan Brandy Factory. Parting with its fragrant walls is more difficult than climbing Mount Ararat. Armenia is about fashion boutiques by local designers and jewelers. It is about high quality shoemaking that continues the traditions of the most ancient cobblers, with one such shoe, made millennia ago, now exhibited at the Museum of History. Armenia is all about interesting people and witty local humor. It is a country of unforgettable experiences that will always have you coming back for more.
Geghard (Armenian: Գեղարդ, meaning “spear”) is a medieval monastery in the Kotayk province of Armenia, being partially carved out of the adjacent mountain, surrounded by cliffs. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin, listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites as an outstanding universal value, created by humanity. The name Sanahin is interpreted as "This one is older than that", which emphasizes the supremacy of age this monastery has over its counterpart in Haghpat, the oldest temple of which was built in 976-991. In the XVIII century, a prominent bard or ashugh at the court of the Georgian king, spent part of his life as a recluse in Haghpat. As the legend goes, this famous Armenian composer underwent tonsure after falling in love with a beautiful princess.
Duduk (Armenian oboe), or tsiranapogh (“the soul of the apricot tree”), as the Armenians call this musical instrument. The soft wood of the apricot tree is the ideal material for the body of the instrument. It is brilliantly performed in the soundtracks of Hollywood blockbusters. In Armenia, it is played everywhere: in highlands and restaurants, in nightclubs and by street musicians.
There are thousands of khachkars in Armenia, stones with elaborate crosses engraved on them. They are ubiquitous: in the masonry of spiritual buildings, in forests, on rocks and mountain peaks...
Lavash (traditional Armenian thin bread) is considered a herald of welfare and prosperity; it binds marriages and is sacrificed before a new beginning. Dried lavash can easily be stored for 7 months. Today, tourists are offered a master class in baking lavash: how to roll out the dough thinly, swirl it over their heads and send it into a tonir – a fiery oven in the ground.
There are places in Armenia that capture your imagination. Magnificent Sevan – the largest lake in the Caucasus. Tucked away high in the mountains of Tavush is the marvelous Lastiver cave. During the middle Ages, caravan robbers particularly took a liking to Lastiver. Today, it is a favorite destination for tourists. The path to the cave is flanked by several quaint treehouses and goes past a picturesque waterfall – the legendary “Ottoman of Seven Cyclops", under the Celtic cross khachkar and past the church hidden in the tall grass.
In Armenia, it is a must-see to visit the Symphony of Stones in the valley of Garni, the terracotta cliffs of Vayots Dzor, the cave town of Old Goris and the meteors of Khndzoresk. Plunge into the "Mermaid Hair", waterfall in Jermuk, climb to Lake Kari – the stone lake atop Mount Aragats, dive under the famous Umbrellas – the waterfall of Mamrot Kar with overgrown moss, located in the gorge of Unot in Artsakh, and snap a photo of a trout by the Trchkan waterfall. They swim upstream for spawning, and can jump up to 23 meters in one swing. Witness their flight and marvel at the sacred Skhtorashen plane trees listed as one of the oldest trees of the planet.
If you are ready to consider high-mountain diving or paragliding, this is the perfect place to be baptized. A flight in an air balloon over endless mountain ranges is guaranteed to be a thrill and will end with nothing less than champagne and an aeronautics certificate. The popular rock climbing walls (5a-7 difficulty grade) nestled in the “Valley of Sorrows” stand ready to challenge you. Keep going, and you will reach monastery of Noravank. In the very same valley you can also discover Archeri – meaning bear cave, which is a special treat for speleologists.
Armenia has over 300 days of sun, an amazing advantage in the world of paragliding. Feel the wind as you take off on a cross-country flight around Armenia!
Heading north through the country, into the high mountains of Tavush, explorers are encouraged to visit the local extreme park and go on horse treks that span the mountains of Dilijan and Yenokavan – vistas that rival the Swiss Alps. Armenia is undoubtedly an ideal place for hiking and cycling. Mount Aragats, Azhdahak and Spitakasar in the Geghama mountain range, as well as mount Khustup are the most interesting sites for trekking. The extremely diverse terrains all brought together in a limited space give avid trekkers an overwhelming sensation. Trekkers can also avoid being overloaded by too much luggage, travel light and stay overnight at the houses of locals.
CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS: PRESERVED HERITAGE WITH A MODERN TWIST
Armenians have preserved their family traditions and the lifestyle of their ancestors. Just as before, the elderly are treated with a great degree of respect and attention. Hospitality is also deeply rooted in Armenian traditions. Despite hardships and the fact that not everybody enjoys a carefree life, people are remarkably welcoming, hospitable, and honest.
However, just like in ancient times, young men and women eat a salty cracker on the day of St. Sargis (Armenian Valentine day) to dream of their betrothed. Newlyweds build a fire on the streets and jump over it on Trndez (traditional holiday) to have a long lasting and happy marriage. Clergymen consecrate grapes, and on Vardavar, the celebration of water and fertility (Transfiguration in Christianity) people splash each other all day in the belief that water cures and purifies.
If you’ve been splashed with water on Vardavar, be ready for a successful and happy year. On Vardavar young women decorate the water springs with rose petals as a tribute to Astghik, the pagan goddess of beauty who wove roses into her hair.
YEREVAN: A CITY THAT SHATTERS STEREOTYPES
Your trip to Armenia will probably start with Yerevan. The capital city is one of the most ancient cities in the world with a rich history and incredible atmosphere. The city that is 29 years older than Rome is known today for breaking all kinds of stereotypes: the past is in absolute harmony with the present, and the traditional East goes hand in hand with the modern West. Despite how old the city is, Yerevan still looks very young. Concrete jungles of multi-story houses are mixed with the warmth of old masonry featuring the shade of the tuff stone, granting Yerevan the title of the Pink City. There is no rush in Yerevan: employees of city cafes slowly trim the lawns and serve visitors coffee as the latter leisurely leaf through magazines or their gadgets. Morning yoga classes turn into evening folk dances at the Cascade.
In the streets, you will find works of the best sculptors of the modern world; in museums – mysterious artifacts; in galleries – paintings of Armenian and world classics; at the flea markets – brilliant creations of contemporary painters, ceramists and jewelers.
Nightlife in Yerevan beckons with classic music concerts, sounds of folk music, jam sessions by jazz musicians, night club music, performances of musicians of all types, and wine bars along Saryan Street. Do not miss out on the opportunity to see the show of singing fountains; enjoy delicious food in fashionable restaurants or fast-food places.
DESTINATION FOR FOOD CONNOISSEURS
Guests visiting Armenia are very fortunate: Armenian cuisine has stood the test of time for two millennia and offers bountiful tables of mouthwatering dishes that are accompanied with copious drinks and intimate toasts. Here, you will enjoy an inexpensive full dinner at a respectable restaurant, aromatic coffee at a cafe and local fruits and berries at the markets, fresh from the orchard. Armenia is a place where recipes are passed on from generation to generation and signature specialties become a treasured family secret. It is a place where chefs conjure in the kitchen while keeping to traditional recipes, offering a modern interpretation or even boldly experimenting with the past. You will learn how to bake lavash, make khorovats (barbeque), tolma (meat wrapped in grape leaves) and learn to distinguish authentic Armenian brandy. You will be offered a taste of crawfish with fresh beer. A seemingly casual drink, yet in the V century B.C. Xenophon, an ancient Greek historian, mentioned in “Anabasis” that the beer he tried in Armenia had excellent taste. National Geographic included Yerevan in the list of “Six Unexpected Cities for the Food Lovers” mentioning the capital city as one of the best places in Asia with a rich cuisine: the magazine advises food lovers to try gastro tours to Armenia. Armenia is a country of century-old traditions of winemaking, the founder of which is considered to be a biblical patriarch who planted the first vine at the foot of Mountain Ararat. The traditions of ancient winemakers are properly preserved by modern winemakers. Thus, it is no surprise that the terroir of Vayots Dzor produces wine that is included in top ten best wines in the world according to Bloomberg Business weekly.
The manufacturing of ARARAT brandy was founded in Armenia 130 years ago, quickly gained international recognition, and was even supplied to the court of the Russian Emperor. It was starred in almost all Soviet movies, traveled to space; often times rescued drifting polar explorers and was preferred by Winston Churchill. ARARAT brandy is one of the symbols of Armenia, an indispensable attribute of a generous traditional feast. It bears witness to the most vivid and joyful moments of people’s lives – at weddings, birthdays, and gatherings of friends. ARARAT brandy is the most famous souvenir from Armenia without which no guest leaves the country.
WINTER IN ARMENIA
Drive through snowy roads, master snow scooters, stay at skiing resorts. Free riders prefer the slopes of Mount Aragats, while downhill skiers, snowboard skiers, cross-country skiers come to the ski resort in Tsakhkadzor, which translates to “gorge of flowers”. There is every opportunity to exercise your favorite winter sport since the slopes do not crust and the undisturbed snow supports the boards perfectly.
The ski resort in Tsakhkadzor on the hills of Mount Teghenis is 40 minutes away from Zvartnots airport. Trails of all levels of difficulty start from the peak of the mountain, which you can reach via Leitner ropeway with heated seats. You will not have to wait in line for the ropeway in Tsakhkadzor. The highest point of skiing is 2819 m which is just 10m lower than the highest one in Courchevel.
Tsakhkadzor ropeway has three levels: the regular ski lift takes skiers to 2400 m. The total time to reach the third level is about 40 minutes. There is a height difference of 1200 m.
Khash is a dish that used to be for the impoverished in pagan times; it consisted of cooked of veal knuckles and giblets. Today it is considered a delicacy and is usually served during the months that contain the letter ‘r’, from April to September inclusive. The only place that serves khash regardless of the month is located at Mount Aragats.
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