Cher, Andre Agassi and Kim Kardashian have one thing in common. They’re all Armenians. We had your attention at Kim Kardashian, didn’t we?
Armenia was once a vast empire in Europe stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian, but now it’s a slice of land not much bigger than Belgium, hemmed in by Turkey, Georgia – and Azerbaijan, its sworn enemy. Under the yoke of Soviet Union control for seventy years, Armenia stumbled through one crisis after another during the 90s, but finally the country is starting to look confidently to the future with genuine economic growth and a developing tourist industry.
Yerevan – Capital City
Yerevan is a relaxed and friendly capital, with a strong European café culture and lively nightlife scene. A mainly Soviet-era city, its architecture is not always photogenic, unlike that of Austria, but does provide a sense of grandeur, whilst the central core possesses some lovely 19th-century edifices. Engaging, friendly and very hospitable, Armenians, like their Georgian neighbours, have a reputation for enjoying life – and especially their most famous export, cognac.
Where to go in Yerevan
Matenadaran – a repository of ancient manuscripts, Tsitsernakaberd, Victory Park, St. Gregory – The Illuminator church, Erebouni museum.
Eating– Miminos, Kavatsjaya Plennitsa, Dolmama, Pandok Caucus, Akumb/the club. Try some Ararat Brandy or any-type of oghi (Armenian vodka, usually mulberry flavored).
Dessert- Ponchikanots (get a ponchik) at grand candy
Places near the city– Zvartnots ruins, Khor Virap, Etchmiadsin
Transport- Take a cab everywhere as they are very cheap. Also, you can rent a cab for the day to take you to the various tourist destinations. Use a yellow sticker cab to avoid problems.
Travelling to Armenia
It’s not very easy to travel to Armenia – this small country neighbors with Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran. However, due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict the borders with the first two are closed. You should also keep in mind that if you visit Nagorno-Karabakh and have their visa in the passport you will not be able to visit Azerbaijan. This territory is supported by Armenia and reachable only from there but officially is a part of Azeri country.
What to Visit
There are a lot of churches in Armenia and even if you’re not a fan, each one is located in such an original setting that you’ll love the scenery around it. Khor Virap is located in front of the great Ararat Mountains, Noravank is in a large canyon, Echmiadzin in Yerevan (oldest cathedral in the world), Geghard is built into the mountains, Datev overlooks a valley where you can also ride the world’s longest cable car.
Also of note is Zvarnots ruins, Garni temple, Zoratz Karer (thought to be the original Stonehenge)
As for Nagorno-karabagh, the region hasn’t really been dangerous since the ceasefire – unless you go right up to the border where shots between both sides are sometimes exchanged. If you want to see what a culture recovering from a war-torn setting would feel like, it is definitely worth it. Obligatory caution: “ceasefire can be violated at any moment”
On your way in to Armenia, stop in the Lori region for a couple of days at least. Hike around and explore the ton of monasteries in the Debed Canyon, including a couple of UNESCO World Heritage monasteries (Haghpat and Sanahin). Other great ones to explore are Akhtala, Odzun (this one is a church, not a monastery), Horomayri, Kobayr and S. Grigori Bardzrakash.
Then from Lori, head to Dilijan and the stuff around it for a night, head up to huge Lake Sevan (maybe visit Noraduz cemetery with the biggest khachkar, an Armenian cross-stone, collection in the world), and only then head to Yerevan.
Then check out central Armenia and Tatev Monastery on your way to Karabakh, which you must see! Karabakh has beautiful nature, historic sites, and you can still see the vast ruins of towns and cities like Shushi and Aghdam. You should definitely hike down from Shushi to the Zontik waterfall, and keep going if you want to hike the Janapar Trail.
It’s not an easy place to explore – roads are rough, transport is often hard to navigate and those who don’t speak Armenian or Russian may find communication difficult – but travelling here is as rewarding as it is revelatory.