Cultural heritage and nature – Armenia

In our first blog post about Armenia we wrote about our experience in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan and the surroundings (you can read it here). This time we will go through some sights we have chosen to visit in the rest of the country (route marked with yellow line over the blue one).

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Kobayr Monastery Complex

While entering Armenia via Sadakhlo it felt like we travelled several years back in time. Due to the massive population migration and poor economy situation, some areas look like ghost towns, some main roads like after bombing. One example is the valley of the Debed river, where the Kobayr monastery complex was built. As a tourist you would expect at least a whatsoever sign telling you that you’ve arrived or that the complex is in “that direction”, but the place is wild and not prepared to welcome tourists. You are on your own with your offline map and GPS signal.

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This wilderness brings to the place a magical feeling: somehow I would compare it with finding some Mayan ruins in the jungle. Built in 1171, the monastery is heavily damaged, some parts of the wall and roof are scattered around the building.

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The valley of Debed river from the monastery complex.

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Right next to the main monastery there is an amazing place where water is dripping down from these basalt columns.

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Sevan lake

Sevan is an alpine lake at 1900m altitude, the biggest in the whole Caucasus region. The lake was massively drained in the Soviet era for irrigation purposes, nowadays having its water level decreased by 20m and volume by 40%. As Armenia doesn’t have any ocean or sea opening, Sevan became their sea (also known as Sea of Gegham) with several beaches and points of interest.

The road to Sevan peninsula in the left:

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Sevan Writers House was an unplanned, but special accommodation for us with lake panorama. The hostel was built in 1969 right above the water level (at that time) and belongs to the “Soviet Modernism” architecture style. Now is way above the water level and neglected in some ways but still offers an experience we didn’t have at any other place.

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At a nice restaurant right next to the lake. You can find it here.

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The waves of Sevan:

Noratus cemetery

Noratus is a medieval cemetery near Sevan lake, well known for its largest amount of well preserved khachkars. The khachkars are carved Armenian cross-stones with dozens of traditional motifs, listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

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On the left: the tombstone of a baby.

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The central motif of the khachkar is the cross, surrounded by rosettes and other botanical motifs.

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Mount Aragats

Since Ararat (5137m), the Armenians’ sacred mountain, isn’t located in present Armenia anymore, the country’s highest peak became another volcano: Mount Aragats (4090m) – very similar name for us, foreigners 🙂

Base point for hiking Mount Aragats is the Aragats Cosmic Ray Research Station, at 3200m altitude, which can be reached by car on a pretty curvy single-lane road.

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Here you have camping possibilities, nice views from the upper part of K’ari lake and also a restaurant with, unfortunately, grumpy waiters.

In the back: on the left the restaurant, on the right the Aragats Cosmic Ray Research Station.

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Ararat from Aragats in the morning:

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Climbing the peak (in dry season) doesn’t involve any technical abilities, but it does require a sustained and long, all-day effort. We started the hike somewhere around 4AM on a barely visible trek, especially during night-time, so the use of an offline map with GPS is highly recommended.

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Aragats is a four-peaked volcano massif with a visible crater, the north peak being the tallest and the farthest one. The trek passes between the West and South peak, descents in the crater and then up again on the North peak.

The North peak from the pass:

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On the offline maps we used (maps.me) there are two different treks crossing the crater; we recommend the one which goes down completely, as the one on the level curve looks like this:

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The crater viewed from the top.

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Greetings from 4090m!

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In the back you can see the South and the West peaks.

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Areni

We are in the South of the country now, where the roadside is dominated by grape yards and locals selling all kind of fruits.

The archaeologists announced in 2007 the discovery of the earliest known winery in the world: Areni-1, part of Areni-1 cave complex. Its 6100 year old and it consists of fermentation vats, a wine press, storage jars and pottery sherds.

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Another great discovery in the Areni-1 cave was the Areni-1 shoe which is a 5,500-year-old leather shoe that was found in 2008 in excellent condition. When found, the shoe was filled with grass – this is the reason why archaeologists believe its shape and the shoelaces were preserved .

Now you can see the shoe at the History Museum of Armenia, Yerevan.

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Now, after thousand of years, the culture of wine making is still the main attraction of the village.

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Besides the grape wine, Armenia, and more specific Areni is well known for the fruit wine varieties. In the wineries and by the roadside you can find plenty of wine variant like pomegranate, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, peach and so on. If you are not sure which one to buy, of course, taste them all; our favourite one was the dry pomegranate 🙂

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While we were searching for accommodation on internet for the following day, in a small village, far from the cities, we wouldn’t expect to find a tree house. I think it was the fastest reserving tap on our phone. Additionally, we didn’t expect to overcome our still low expectations. Besides the awesome sleeping experience, we had authentic breakfast and dinner with a lot of home-made products.

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The weather was just perfect for sleeping up there, but I imagine they don’t list it when the minimum goes below 15 Celsius at night.

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For breakfast: fried eggplant with fresh parsley 🙂

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Noravank Monastery

Just a few km away from Areni, the Noravank 13th-century monastery is worth visiting if you are already in the region, but otherwise it would be just another nice monastery in Armenia.

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Orbelian Caravanserai

I don’t even remember how we found this place on our way back to Georgia. I think we stopped just because we saw a few tourist buses on the roadside, but the place and the valleys around worth the break 🙂

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The caravanserai, the best preserved in the country, was built in 1332 to offer accommodation for the travellers and their animals.

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It is divided in three rooms, two narrow ones (not visible in the picture) for the animals and a bigger one, for the travellers.

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We hope you liked it,
Iulia and Bancsi

bancsi

Usually when I'm in the mood I write 'Biographical Info' about me. Maybe next week.
Of course, with a backpack.

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