Extraordinary Attractions in Armenia

Extraordinary Attractions in Armenia

by Guest Contributor Vic Gerami

‘The Cradle of Civilization,’ Eight-Thousand-Year History, First Christian Nation, Noah’s Ark, World’s Oldest Winery, And More…

Armenia is one of the most fascinating places in the world. It was an underrated nation for decades until recently when European tourists learned about its rich millennia-old history, ancient monuments, majestic countryside, lush highlands, and much more. I just came back from Armenia. It was my third time there and the most memorable.

One of the oldest nations in the world, Armenia is a destination for all kinds of travelers. The small country in the farthest part of Eastern Europe has incredible natural beauty, cultural wealth, and artistic tradition.

Armenia hosts the oldest churches, cathedrals, and monasteries in the world. Most are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Mount Ararat and Ararat Valley, where Noah’s Ark landed. Pagan Temples such as Garni, 1st century, the world’s oldest winery, 6,100 years old, Yerevan: 2,802 years old, capital of Armenia, vibrant & full of life. Jermuk: World-renowned natural hot springs. Music: Armenia has a rich musical tradition, from symphonies to opera, jazz, and hip-hop. Tavush: World’s longest zipline, 2,680 meters, World-class casinos and ski resorts, Wine & Cognac: Armenia is known for its wine & cognac on the world stage, Ancient Astronomical Sites, Petroglyphs, Hiking, Caving, Paragliding, Rock Climbing, Hot Air Ballooning, Canyoning, Rafting, Lake Sevan: High altitude lake and a resort town with beautiful monasteries & nightlife, Annual Festivals, Museums, galleries, and of course incredible food for foodies with discriminating taste.

Armenia is one of the safest nations to travel, now in 2021, just as it has been for decades. Despite last year’s attack by Azerbaijan on the autonomous region of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), which is over three hours by car from the capital of Armenia, the nation has never been in any danger. The forty-four-day assault ended on November 9, 2020, and it never affected Armenia’s national security or safety.

In addition, crime in Armenia is very low, much lower than in Western European nations. Natural disasters are uncommon, and health considerations are like those in Europe- there aren’t many. You will feel safe immediately traveling to Armenia and will be encouraged by local people’s friendliness, hospitality, generosity, and willingness to help strangers. There are tourists from around the world, as are international students studying at various universities, including the American University of Armenia.

Most people in Armenia speak English to various degrees. Many ex-pats from the US live there, so language is not an issue. Below are my 10 favorite places to visit in Armenia and my favorite hotel and dining options.

LAKE SEVAN

Lake Sevan, in the heart of Armenia, is the country’s largest lake and a beautiful place to visit during a break. The lake is surrounded by some stunning monasteries – the most impressive of them being arguably the Sevanavank Monastery – providing a glorious scenic backdrop to a relaxing trip. Windsurfing is among the recreation activities available at the lake, which also has a wide choice of excellent seafood restaurants along its shore. Lake Sevan has several famous beaches. As the country has no coastline, this is the best place in Armenia to sunbathe, with Sevan Bay and its surrounding mountains providing spectacular scenery.

GYUMRI

The second-largest city in Armenia, Gyumri is well worth visiting for anyone heading to the country for the first time. Perhaps the best place to enjoy the sights of Gyumri is from the Black Fortress on the hill that overlooks the city, while the massive Mother Armenia statue can also be found nearby. Many of the most important cultural institutions of Armenia are in Gyumri, such as the Dzitoghtsyan Museum of Social Life and National Architecture of Gyumri and the Aslamazyan Sisters House-Museum and the Sergey Merkurov House-Museum. The Kumayri Historic District is Gyumri’s oldest area, with a thousand ancient buildings found here.

AMBERD FORTRESS 

Dating back to the seventh century, Amberd Fortress is one of Armenia’s most stunning places to visit. Formerly among the Armenian Kingdom’s primary military-defensive points, the fortress can be reached about an hour from the capital, Yerevan. However, snowfall can make the fortress inaccessible during winter, with the weather usually improving by late May. The view from the top of the fortress is breathtaking, while the building is also stunning. Amberd Fortress is a short trip from the village of Byurakan, home of the Byurakan Observatory.

KARAHUNJ OBSERVATORY 

Often referred to internationally as Armenia’s version of Britain’s Stonehenge, Karahunj is one of the most fascinating places to visit during a break in Armenia. Located close to Sisian in the Syunik province, Karahunj has over 200 massive stone tombs. At the same time, the central area sees 40 stones standing in a circular formation, supposedly built in honor of the Armenian primary God, Ari, named after the Sun. A small museum in Sisian is dedicated to findings made at Karahunj, which is claimed to be the oldest observatory of its kind in the world.

GARNI

Located just a short distance from Yerevan at the foot of the Khosrov Forest State Reserve, Garni is an enjoyable place to spend some time. Most visitors primarily visit to see its magnificent first-century AD pagan temple and delightful monastery. Perched atop a cliff edge overlooking breathtaking hills and mountains, the Temple of Garni displays some beautiful Hellenic architecture.

GEGHARD MONASTERY 

Lying on the outskirts of the picturesque town of Garni, Geghard Monastery is a very popular day-trip destination from the capital. It is certainly worth visiting if you have the chance. Carved out of the mountainside, with majestic peaks overlooking it, the famous monastery has a beautiful church to wander around.

Several gorgeous chapels showcase elaborate and intricate carvings, with some parts of the complex dating back to the fourth century.

The monastery’s scenic setting is stunning. It’s no surprise that it has long been a place of pilgrimage, with people having visited the site long before Christianity first found its way to Armenia. A must-see when in Armenia, Geghard Monastery certainly won’t disappoint with its incredible rock-hewn churches and chapels and beautiful setting in the Azat River gorge.

TATEV MONASTERY 

Yet another one of the Armenian monasteries with a spectacular location in Southern Armenia, the fortified Tatev Monastery, was built in the early 9th century at the edge of the deep gorge in the southern part of the country. It has always played an essential role in the country’s spiritual, cultural, and educational life.

Tatev Monastery used to be the seat of a bishop. At the end of the 14th century, the most prominent university in the Southern Caucasus was established, teaching students numerous sciences. You can visit three churches (Saints Paul and Peter, Saint Gregory the Illuminator, and Holy Mother of God), a library, a refectory, a bell tower, and a mausoleum.

ECHMIZDZIN CATHEDRAL 

Echmiadzin is the equivalent of the Vatican for the Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenia is proud to be the first nation to adopt Christianity as the state religion. Today, over 90% of the residents are of the Christian faith. Echmiadzin, also called Vagharshapat, is the center of the religion. The priests come to study here. It’s also a UNESCO site.

 

The main church contains the Treasury, which holds the most valuable relics owned by the Armenian church. Amongst the items on display is the ‘Holy Lance,’ the spear that pierced Jesus’ side, a bit of Noah’s Ark, illuminated bibles, and two wall hangings with tiny bits of the cross.

Several other churches make up the Echmiadzin compound, including two churches named for women and the ruined Zvartnots Cathedral.

It’s effortless to visit Echmiadzin from Yerevan. There are inexpensive and very regular marshrutkas (minibuses) that leave from the Western bus station.

MUSUM COMPLEX OF THE MATENADARAN

Matenadaran: The Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts is a scarce and exclusive treasure due to its manuscripts collection and the activity it now exercises. It holds the history of Armenian and foreign nations’ written cultures.

‘Matenadaran’ means ‘holder of manuscripts’ or “manuscript collector.’ Today, however, the Armenian public associates the word “Matenadaran” with our nation’s spiritual and cultural richness and pride, embodied in the structure of the manuscript repository.

The Matenadaran has consolidated about 23,000 manuscripts, including almost all ancient and medieval Armenian cultural and sciences – history, geography, grammar, philosophy, law, medicine, mathematics, cosmology, chronology, divination literature, translated and national literature, miniature painting, music, and theater. The Matenadaran also holds manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Greek, Ethiopian, Syrian, Latin, Tamil, and other languages. Many originals, lost in their mother languages and known only by their Armenian translations, have been saved from medieval translations.

The Matenadaran Museum complex is in the institute’s old, original building. What was formerly a single exhibition hall now consists of fifteen halls with thousands of temporary, changeable, and exclusive exhibits on display. Manuscripts, fragments of manuscripts, documents, old, printed books, precious bindings, individual miniatures, and more are shown from Matenadaran’s database of roughly 23,000 manuscripts.

EREBUNI FORTRESS & MUSEUM 

Erebuni is one of the oldest existing fortresses, built-in 782 BCE., and is the precursor to Yerevan. 2018 was thus the 2,800th anniversary of Erebuni-Yerevan.

Erebuni Fortress was founded by the King of Urartu, Argishti the First, who left written testimony upon building the castle. The fortress has not yet been fully explored and undoubtedly has the city’s history secrets. Some significant parts of the 2,800-year-old fortress do not endure to this day and are impossible to restore.

Erebuni Museum displays the findings of excavations conducted on the remnants of the fortress. The permanent exhibitions of the museum showcase artifacts from the Urartu era, including but not limited to cuneiforms, weapons, belts, bracelets, and other pieces of jewelry made of gold and silver, statues, bronze ware, tableware, etc.

Diggings and archaeological excavations discovered areas where grain processing and wine practices occurred. The jars and other pottery pieces had wine traces on them, affirming the high level of culture and traditions of the Urartian dynasty.

EAT

I’ve visited Armenia many times and have eaten at some of the best restaurants. But none stand out, like AVA Restaurant, about a block from Republic Square. They offer a great mix of traditional Armenian and Western European dishes that are incomparable in Yerevan. You can eat inside and enjoy piano music or on the patio where you can people-watch on Amiryan Street. But the best part of the place is its staff. I can honestly say that I haven’t experienced this exceptional and efficient service at any other restaurant in Yerevan. The level of service is that of a Michelin three-star restaurant, unmatched anywhere else. So, if you’re in the Pink City, grab a bite there.

STAY

When choosing a hotel in Yerevan, I won’t confuse you with other places but rather tell you about the perfect choice: the Republica Hotel Yerevan. I’ve stayed at multiple top-tier hotels in Yerevan, but Republica stands out as the best. Even though the property is on every top-ten hotel list, it’s still Yerevan’s best-kept secret gem of a hotel.

Republica Hotel Yerevan is a boutique hotel with a perfect balance of modern chic and traditional feel. It is ideally located in the city center, slightly set back from the main street, and a three-minute walk from Republic Square. You will admire the architectural beauty of the buildings and the breathtaking composition of the History Museum and the National Gallery. The closest metro station is right next to Republic Square, at the beginning of a newly opened park, at the rear of which you can find Vernissage, the open-air souvenir exhibition market. The smoke-free rooms of the hotel with comfortable beds will make your experience even more enjoyable. The delicious buffet breakfast in the mornings is served in great varieties and will start your day right.

The star of the hotel is its staff. With distinctive superior service, their staff anticipates guests’ needs, exceeds expectations, creates cherished memories, and makes everything seamless. So, don’t forget to tip them, as they are truly outstanding.

You don’t have to go far if you’re hungry and want exceptional food, as Anoush Restaurant in the hotel lobby satisfies the most sophisticated pallets. Enjoy authentic Armenian cuisine with exciting flavor combinations, vintage wine, Armenian brandy, and cocktails. If you are a vegetarian like me, you’ll be glad that Anoush has a diverse menu with a mix of vegetarian and carnivore meals. My favorite item on the menu is the Rice Dolma.

If you plan your trip to Yerevan, look at the Republic Hotel for lodging. They will surpass your expectations.

RepublicaHotel.am

Vic Gerami is an award-winning journalist and the editor + publisher of The Blunt Post. Gerami is also the host and co-producer of the national headline news + politics program, THE BLUNT POST with VIC on KPFK 90.7 FM (Pacifica Network).  Today, reaching national and international audiences, Gerami first built a foundation of knowledge and skills by learning the media industry during his years at Frontiers Magazine, followed by positions at LA Weekly and Voice Media Group.  Gerami is also a contributor to some of the most prominent publications in the nation, including Windy City Times, Bay Area Reporter, Armenian Mirror-Spectator, The Advocate, The Immigrant Magazine, GoWeHo, Destination Luxury, OUT Traveler, The Fight, among others.

Featured Image by Makalu from Pixabay

 

Nicole Muj
Nicole Muj
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