Vayots Dzor has one of the most rugged landscapes in Armenia, with vegetation struggling to cling to the towering rock cliffs! Once teeming with forests, the upper slopes of the region are blanketed in alpine meadows, seas of grass and wildflowers in the spring that turn into shades of burnt umber in the summer.
Hiking and camping aficionados will enjoy the unforgiving terrain and relative remoteness of the trails that lead to abandoned villages, ruins of medieval and Bronze Age sites, and far-flung seasonal shepherd outposts set up by friendly local Armenians and Yezidis.
Walking amongst the spectacular rock formations cut like diamonds by the Arpa River, is not just an aboveground experience, as Vayots Dzor also contains some of Armenia’s largest caves. Prime spelunking destinations for adventure tourists, the caves contain primordial stalactites hanging above sacrificial sites from the Paleolithic and Bronze Ages, amidst the hundreds of miles of unmapped shafts. The most popular ones include the Archeri (Bears’), Magel and Mozrov Caves.
There are also plenty of opportunities to rest and recover above ground, with Jermuk being this region’s most popular destination. Armenia’s prime mineral-water spa, Jermuk is blessed with several types of naturally heated mineral water, clean alpine air and forests of cultivated pine and hardwood trees, and is in the throes of upgrading to international standards, with services at a fraction of the cost of their European counterparts.
Refreshed after a day in the geothermal springs? Then it’s prime time to visit some historical monuments! The World Heritage Site nominee, Noravank, is one of Armenia’s architectural masterpieces, with elaborate High Gothic decorations gracefully carved into its amber-colored walls. Reaching the monastery is an experience in itself, travelling through a tight gorge of brick-red cliffs punctured by a myriad of caves. Other sites include Gndevank Monastery, with its exquisitely preserved frescoes; the Selim Caravanserai; the ruined medieval town of Yeghegis with its Jewish cemetery and Zorats Astvatsatsin Church, built high to allow military commanders to enter and receive their blessing on horseback; the towering castles of Smbataberd and Proshaberd; and the medieval architectural complexes at Her-Her and Vernashen. Nearby are also the remains of the thirteenth century University of Gladzor, one of the oldest universities in the western world.