Fall in Love with the Country
The Basic Tour, featuring Yerevan museums, parks and the old quarter; the 1st century Greco-Roman temple of Garni; the monastery of Geghard, carved from solid rock; the birthplace of bronze and a 2800 BC astral observatory; Gyumri’s belle Époque historic center; the forests of Lori with its World Heritage Sites; Dilijan, Armenia’s “Little Switzerland”; Lake Sevan and the ancient kingdom of Vayots Dzor.
Day 1: Yerevan
Start with a walking tour of the Old Abovian Quarter, stopping at the State History Museum with the largest collection of prehistoric artifacts in the Near East and the National Geological Museum with its life-size Wooly Mammoth. Visit the Matenadaran, a world treasure with over 24,000 miniatures, manuscripts and fragments dating back to the pre-Christian era. Visit Erebuni, the 782 BC founding site for the city. Evening includes visiting the amazing new singing fountains in Republic Square, with computerized hi-tech water jets and holograms projected in the water’s mists; strolling up Northern Avenue to Opera/Cascade to watch the sun set, dinner in the Hrazdan Gorge, and late coffee in Ring Park.
Overnight in Yerevan.
Day 2: Yerevan – Garni/Geghard – Yerevan
Spend the morning visiting Garni/Geghard. Garni has one of the finest Greco-Roman temples in the Near East, overlooking the dramatic Garni Gorge, a natural wonder with spectacular rock formations; and the Khosrov Nature Preserve, the largest protected forest in Armenia. Geghard is part of a breathtaking landscape of mountain forests and jutting precipices, its 4th-12th century churches carved from solid rock. Home to a powerful ascetic community, the monastery once held the Geghard (Holy Lance) believed to have pierced Christ’s flesh.
Lunch at a garden restaurant in Garni or return to Yerevan. Afternoon sites include a walking tour, shopping, visiting more of Yerevan museums or home museums (Sergei Parajanov, Martiros Saryan or Yervand Kochar); or just sipping coffee in an outdoor café, enjoying the street life.
Dinner, theatre or concert round out the day, with a night cap of coffee at a city club, bar or disco. Overnight in Yerevan.
Day 3: Echmiadzin/Metsamor – Oshakan – Agarak – Amberd – Saghmosavank/Hovhanavank – Ashtarak – Yerevan
Echmiadzin is Armenia’s most revered religious site; home of the head of the Armenian Apostolic church and the 303 cathedral. Visit the church treasury with priceless reliquaries, 4th - 7th century St. Guyaneh and St. Hripsimeh churches and the mid 7th century Zvartnots Cathedral, the tallest church on earth when it was built. Nearby is the mausoleum for Mesrop Mashtots, author of the Armenian Alphabet.Just 15 km away is the birthplace of bronze, the 7000 year old excavation at Metsamor. Part of a powerful civilization based on the forging and trade of metal, Metsamorians left behind thousands of petroglyphs that some say are the prototype to later Armenian scripts; an ancient map of the Ararat Valley, and a ca. 2800 BC stone platform carved into an observatory that still points to phenomenon in the night sky.
Lunch at Echmiadzin then continue to the base of Mt. Aragats and Agarak, a 5000 year old temple complex that stretches for 2 km along the Amberd River, with the largest Bronze Age sculpture in the Caucasus, of the zodiac sign Aries. Uphill is the modern observatory at Biurakan with the second largest optical telescope in Eurasia. The mountain road twists and turns through the canyons and gullies of Aragats, leading to the ancient castle of Amberd, founded in the Bronze Age and a summer retreat for Armenia’s kings.Continue with a visit to the “Sister monasteries” of Hovhanavank and Saghmosavank, both built in the early 13th century by members of the same royal family, richly decorated with family crests and florid sculptural details. Continue to Ashtarak, one of the oldest towns in Armenia, with an old center of winding cobblestone alleys and wooden balconies, and churches dating to the 4th century.
Dinner in Ashtarak, in an outdoor restaurant in the cool recesses of the river canyon forest. Overnight in Yerevan.
Day 4: Yerevan – Agarak – Aruch/Talin – Mastara – Yereruik/Harichavank – Gyumri
Start the day with a visit to Agarak, a 5000 year old temple complex and burial site that stretches for 2 km along the Amberd River, with the largest Bronze Age sculpture in the Caucasus, of the zodiac sign Aries. Continue to the 5th-7th century great cathedral and Mamikonian palace at Aruch, and the 8th century Kamsarakan cathedral at Talin, then to the interesting octagonal fortress-church of Mastara, built during the reign of the fire-worshipping Sassanids. Take a western spur to the Turkish border and the World Heritage Site nominee, the 4th century grand basilica of Yereruik, once a proud temple for pagan believers. As time allows, visit Karmir Vank, the Grigor Lusavorich cave spring in Sarnaghbiur, and the well-preserved monastery of Harichavank, summer home to Catholicos in the 18th-19th centuries
Next is Armenia’s second city, Gyumri. Its historic district has over one thousand 19th century buildings, hallmarks of a time when Gyumri was Armenia’s capital and a center for crafts and arts. The center is alive with “Giumretsi” who value hospitality as much as they do their humour. Visit the old center using the walking tour of Old Gyumri. As time allows, visit nearby sites: the dramatic 10th-13th century monastery at Marmashen overlooking the Akhurian Valley and the 5000 year old Shishak and Mishak tombs at Tsoghamark.
Dinner in Gyumri and overnight in a Gyumri guest house or hotel in the old center; dinner in a traditional tavern.
Day 5: Gyumri – Spitak – Vanadzor – Odzun - Sanahin/Haghpat – Akhtala – Vanadzor
From Gyumri, head east to Lori and the village of Spitak, epicenter of the 1988 earthquake that devastated the northern regions. A memorial church stands over the cemetery with hundreds of gravestones engraved with a clock frozen at 11:41, the time the first earth tremors struck.
Vanadzor is the gateway to the northern forests and a number of stunning medieval sites, including the 5th century basilica and stelae at Odzun; two of Armenia’s World Heritage Sites, the monasteries of Sanahin and Haghpat; and the gorgeous Chalcedonian church of Akhtala, with its 13th century frescoes. The town has a graceful, progressive atmosphere, with museums, theatres, parks, churches, restaurants and outdoor cafes.
Dinner and overnight in Vanadzor hotel, Odzun Tea House, or luxury hotel at Dzoraget.
Day 6: Vanadzor – Lermontovo/Fioletevo – Dilijan – Haghartsin – Lake Sevan – Sevanavank
Begin the day traveling past the Molokan (old Believer) villages of Lermontovo and Fioletevo, with their emerald green valley and old world customs to the forest resort of Dilijan, Armenia’s “Little Switzerland”; an idyllic village of 18th and 19th century homes with wooden balustrades and balconies overlooking the surrounding Dilijan National Forest. For those deciding to stay a while, there are hotels and pensionats and dozens of guest houses and B&Bs to choose from, each with its own unique design. Hosts serve folk recipes based on locally picked herbs and mushrooms. Visit the forest monasteries of Haghartsin, set in deep fold in the tree-laden mountains.
Lunch in Dilijan, then off to Lake Sevan, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world. The lake is a placid sheen of turquoise or sky blue, or a churning cauldron of jet black depending on the lake’s mood, which changes several times a day.There are over 200 beaches on the North Shoreline, most with cottages or hotels and day rates/picnic areas. There is also a Water World Amusement park with swimming pools, wading pools and water-fed rides. Activities include sailing (yacht or catamaran), water skiing, and jet skiing, windsurfing, swimming and motor boat paragliding.Hang out on the beach and visit Sevanavank, the 9th century monastery on a peninsula that was once an island for royal exiles.Spend time on the beach and dinner and overnight in a beach side cottage or resort on the shore of the lake.
Day 7: Sevan - Hairavank – Noradus – Nerkin Getashen – Selim Pass – Yeghegis – Yeghegnadzor – Noravank – Areni – Khor Virap/Artashat – Dvin – Yerevan
Explore the western shoreline; with a number of nature areas, secluded beaches and camp sites, and several impressive sites; including the vast remains of the abandoned Iron Age city of L’chashen, one of he most important archeological discoveries of the 20th century; the field of over one thousand khachkars at Noradus, the exquisite cliff side 9th century Hairavank; and the cemetery at Nerkin Getashen, with 4th century Greek Cross stones and khachkars carved from Pagan Vishaps (dragon stones) and standing stones. Many still bear the antsk (eye-hole) used to survey the night sky in their original use as parts of large Bronze Age observatories and sacrificial sites.
Mount the Vardenis Mountains via the Selim Pass passing a field of petroglyphs and stunning alpine meadows on the way to the pass and its 12th century caravanserai, a medieval “motel” for treasure-laden caravans that plied the Silk Road. Descend into Vayots Dzor and the medieval city at Yeghegis, abandoned after an earthquake that destroyed much of the Vayots Dzor kingdom (the name is believed to have come from this calamity, when survivors cried out in anguish, “Vay! Vay!” thus the name meaning “valley of pain”). Substantial ruins remain, including a 12th century Jewish cemetery and a church built so that armies of horsemen could receive the blessing of the priest without dismounting.
Lunch in Yeghegnadzor, then wind through the Arpi River canyon, a stunning landscape of jutting rocks and ribbons of greenery. Wind through the Noravank Canyon, a nature preserve for endangered eagles to the spectacular Noravank monastery, a World Heritage Site nominee. Visit the wineries of Areni, producers of award winning vintages.
Climb the mountains above Areni to the Tukh Manuk Pass with dramatic glimpses of Mt. Ararat and the Ararat valley. Descend into the fertile valley floor and Khor Virap, the site of an ancient pit believed to have held St. Gregory the Illuminator for 13 years before he began the conversion of the country in 301. Khor Virap was part of a dungeon keep in the 2nd century BC city of Artashat, the “Carthage of the East”, and envy of Rome. If time allows, detour to the excavation of Dvin, the capital after Artashat, built in 428. Dvin was the seat of the Catholicos in the medieval period and an important city on the Silk Road, famous for its wealth and porcelain, examples of which are on display at the site and in the State History Museum in Yerevan.
Return to Yerevan for dinner and overnight.
Day 8: Yerevan
Take time to shop; take a walking tour; visit a museum or home museum, such as the National Gallery with its superb collection of frescoes, Russian and Armenian classical art; the Contemporary Art Museum and the soon to open world-class Cafesjian Museum of Modern Art. Visit Tsitsernakaberd, the genocide memorial and museum, and the delightful Folk Art Museum.
Dinner and night out, taking in a play, opera, ballet or concert at one of Yerevan’s many theatres and concert halls; attending a folk music and dance performance; or joining in the revelry at one of the city’s many festivals. Visit one of the growing numbers of music clubs, bars and discos; or just stroll through a park, sip coffee in an outdoor café; or stand at the top of Cascade and enjoy one of the best views in Armenia.