Ararat Marz (region in Armenian), named after the biblical mountain towering over its plains, is an important agricultural region of Armenia. Its wide, flat expanse is one of the sunniest places on earth, with an average of 2,700 hours of sunshine per year, which, combined with the mineral-rich earth and the ideal topography, translates into an abundant harvest, with summer and fall sprouting kaleidoscopic roadside stands along the main highway south, overflowing with the fruits of the season.
Home to two of Armenia’s ancient capitals, Dvin and Artashat (not to be confused with the modern town nearby with the same name), Ararat is also home to one of Armenia’s holiest sites, Khor Virap. Perched on a small knoll near the Arax River and the border of Turkey, this fortified monastery was the prison where Gregory the Illuminator was held for thirteen years prior to the nation’s adoption of Christianity, and it provides one of the best close-up views of the majestic Mt. Ararat, an icon for Armenians around the world.
To the east, the plains give way to the rising Geghama Mountain Chain, which stretches all the way to Lake Sevan, and contains within it the Khosrov Forest State Reserve. Named after King Khosrov III, who had a massive forest planted there in which to hunt, it is now ironically a refuge for many wild animals, including the endangered bezoar goat and the Caucasian spotted leopard. With government permission obtained, it is also a great place to explore, containing such historic sites as the Havuts Tar Monastery, the Aghjots S. Stepanos Monastery, the Kakavaberd Fortress and the prehistoric inhabited Azat Caves, as well as a number of waterfalls and natural monuments.