My favorite actor is Armenian, his name is Frunzik Mkrtchyan, and perhaps I watched all his movies whichever were translated from Armenian. My favorite meal is dolma – the grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice. And I already managed to experience the warmest, hottest, Armenian hospitality. But guess what? I’ve never been to Armenia and hope to fix this gap in October. However, taking into account the difficulty of reaching Yerevan from my current location (Bucharest – now, who knows what will it be in autumn:-), lack of direct flights and therefore larger time dedication, I prefer to plan it very carefully now, asap!
Join me and Haveneverbeenthere in my, so far, virtual tour in Armenia and let’s hope I’ll manage to do even more than expected! Let’s agree on 5 days itinerary in Armenia and try to fill it in with the most authentic activities and sights.
I like starting from regions around the capital city, for them being more ethical, traditional places. On the first day, I head to Ashtarak – it’s a bit more than 20 km from Yerevan and a taxi ride will take 30 min and around 6 $ - when the time is precious and public transport is unclear, it makes sense commuting on taxis.
What is Ashtarak good for? I might call it the most delicious city in Armenia (but actually you won’t get gastronomically disappointed anywhere in the country!). I’ll definitely go to the local market – where they bake their amazing bread ‘lavash’ just in front of you, free to take photos.
After lavash tasting, chewing some fresh and black as darkest night bazil, having a pomegranate juice and I’d head for some sightseeing:
- Tsiranavor church
- Karmravor church
- Hovhannavank monastery
As you might know, Armenia is a very religious country and was the first to adopt Christianity as a state religion, so you can expect to see incredibly ancient and impressive churches and monasteries.
But I’m more of an activity person, than viewer ;) So I’ll meet the sunset on a horseback booking a ride in the famous "Ayrudzi" horse riding club! I love horses, love sunsets, and spacious hills which you can discover so differently than on foot while being accompanied by a beautiful horse!
Can’t avoid dinner in Ashtarak – didn’t I call it a very foodie place? So I’ll definitely stay for a feast at a local restaurant – either Old Ashtarak or Tonratun Ashtarak. The day will end typically – taxi back to Yerevan and a short night sleep before the next day’s adventures!
I have tried the best wine in France but I’m not very well acquainted with wine-making in countries other than France & Italy, and it’s definitely time to change it! The plan for the 2nd day is visiting Areni town and the Wine festival which takes places this year on the 6th of October.
Areni is the heart of wines in Armenia – the oldest winemaking instrument of the area is found here during excavations. The climate makes the grapes super sweet, which is one of the most important factors for high-quality wine. But these kind of festivals are not only about drinking, are they? For me it’s much more of a socializing with locals, understanding their culture and, of course, amazing (so full of calories!) food…
However Areni I’ll keep for dinner and night dances. The morning will start at Jermuk – the famous wellness center of Armenia!
Jermuk is a 3h ride away from Yerevan! It’s not the first time I’m taking this kind of taxi rides during trips, so it only means that wake up is around 4-5 am. But Jermuk is worth sacrificing my night sleep.
One of the most famous Armenian mineral water comes from Jermuk, the area (covered by hills and mountains) is full of mineral water springs and bathing places. So I’ll spend the first part of the day on health and recovery, whilst the second on a feast in Areni, which is halfway to Yerevan from Jermuk.
Dilijan National Park – again almost 2h on the road but the possibility to see and hike in one of the most breathtaking parks of Armenia is tempting. The national park, which was a nature reserve until very recent times, is actually very well prepared for visitors and tourists. I wouldn’t bother about booking any tours with 3rd parties, just directly go to their own web page with 12 ecotourism routes – whether you hike, or bike!
In fact, if you are not tight on time, you can even rent a tent, bike, backpack and spend a night or more in the greenery. Here is the link with their price-list, and the price for using the ecotourism routes is 500 AMD (approx. 1 $)
The most visited attraction in Armenia is Lake Sevan which locals sometimes tenderly call ‘the sea’. It lies almost 2000 m above sea level, is the largest freshwater lake in the Caucasus, impresses not only by sizes but by its dense flora and fauna as well. For cultural heritage seekers: once at Sevan lake, you’ll find yourself surrounded by ancient monasteries and historical sites with petroglyphs.
Sevan is actually a summer resort for locals, with pleasantly cool waters and sandy beaches, and cabins all along its coast. Generally, it’s a well-developed place for visitors – jet skis, wind-surfing, swimming and boat rides to explore other parts of this enormous lake. I’d definitely go for the boat tour ☺
The lake is famous for its trout, so a real Armenian dinner at Sevan lake should be based on the lake fish. Coming back to cultural heritage, the must-visit spots around the lake are:
- Sevanavank Monastery
- Noratus Cemetery
- Hayravank Monastery
The last day as always is dedicated to take off spots, so finally exploring Yerevan!
First of all, when the time comes, closer to the trip, I’ll find a local guide to show me around. After the tour with a local, I’ll dedicate the rest of my time to walking around, shooting and absorbing the city. And because shopping is my travel disease I won’t miss the opportunity of visiting the Vernissage Flea Market – selling locally made jewelry, souvenirs, handicrafts etc. Tip: here you should practice hard your bargaining skills!
Local dances in Yerevan
You can join something completely authentic and local in case you come at the end of a month. Karin folk dance group organizes dancing ‘parties’ every end of the month for people to gather and dance to the traditional Armenian music. They are open air in summer and indoor in autumn-winter period. Check their events on Facebook (although it’s in Armenian, the date and place will be clearly visible.
A very important place to visit! The worldwide famous brandy factory where you can experience the distilling, production, bottling processes and join a brandy tasting session. I’ll definitely book a visit to their facilities ;)
Talking about the planned sights to visit during my day, walk-in Yerevan:
- Morning picnic at either Lovers’ park or English park
- Grand Candy Ponchikanots – it’s a ‘ponchik’ meaning donut factory, very famous amongst locals!
- Cascade Stairway & Museum – outdoor steps, transformed into terraces with sculptures, a place with arty ambience, small cafes and restaurants – perhaps here, with a view of Mt. Ararat, I’d meet the sunset and have my last dinner in Armenia during this trip.
- That’s it! My day will most probably finish in the airport, still trying to digest a trip like this – full of natural and cultural diversity, commuting and impressions!
Published April 3, 2018
Article by Henrietta Straton (Have Never Been)