After spending 4 days in Yerevan (see my blog “4 days in Yerevan”) we began our journey across Armenia. It became obvious that the best way to explore this country is by car. So we rented the smallest and the cheapest automatic with free mileage for a week ($344/week and ended up extending it by another 4 days).
Most of “must see sites” in Armenia are either monasteries or old fortresses. But for me after getting oversaturated with monasteries the main attraction was nature: lush green mountains, waterfalls, gorges and canyons.
There are not many roads in Armenia and it was a challenge to plan the itinerary with the least amount of backtracking. So, we did it in the following sequence:
Dvin –we read that it was an ancient capital of Armenia and wasted two hours trying to get there ending up completely disappointed: there is nothing to see there. Do not go to Dvin!! At this point my GPS was going crazy. It was pointing us to exits and roads that didn’t exist. There were no u-turs on the highway and our frustration level went thru the roof. Because of the wasted time we didn’t go to Khor Virap, the closest place to see Mount Ararat; it was getting late and apparently you can’t see Ararat later in the day due to fog. We were also concerned that we won’t find a place to sleep. So we continued south.
Areni – a lovely place, known for wine making. We stayed in a nice guesthouse – Wine Art Hotel and did couple of wine tastings in town. In the guesthouse we met Hayk Melkonyan, an artist, photographer and a wilderness guide. I would recommend contacting him for any guided hikes in Armenia. firstname.lastname@example.org, +374 91717382.
Areni 1 Cave
Cave café – a cute place for tea or lunch between the main road and Noravank
Stopped in Yeghegnadzor to go to the post office, otherwise nothing to see or do there
In Jermuk we hired a Jeep with a driver who took us to an allegedly hot mineral geyser. Well, it was freezing cold and the geyser was barely lukewarm. While in the geyser pool it began to rain and I was so cold that my body was shaking and couldn’t warm up. I wouldn’t recommend the experience unless its summer time. While in the geyser, we met two nice Russian couples and ended up having dinner with lots of vodka with them.
Jermuk is known for its mineral springs and has several Soviet type sanatoriums offering various medical procedures mostly targeted to stomach and digestive problems. Since neither one of us ever was in a Soviet sanatorium we decided to spend a day getting some procedures. We didn’t stay in either one but got a cheap room across from Armenia Sanatorium and went there to see what procedures we can get. First we had to see a doctor to approve the procedures. We ended up getting galvanic bath for our hands and feet, gums water massage, a full body massage and herbal mineral enema. The stuff was cordial but stern in the old Soviet ways. It’s a no frills facility with an austere atmosphere but nevertheless the experience as a whole was kind of entertaining and very cheap (www.jermukarmenia.com).
The next day Roman decided to hike to the mountains all the way up to the snowy pick and got himself a guide to go with. I stayed in town and went for manicure, pedicure and a facial in the Olympia Sanatorium. Both of us had a great time.
Later in the afternoon we left for Sisian.
Hotel Basen – Doesn’t look like much from the outside, but nice hospitable stuff. (16 manat with breakfast). We arrived late very tired. They gave us tea with sweets and homemade preserves and didn’t charge us for it. It’s a family hotel run by Hasmik. She speaks perfect English; went to school in the US. She is also a wilderness guide and can take you up the mountains. www.basenhotel.am; email@example.com; +374-93-434-727
Zorats Karer, also called Karahundj or the Armenian Stonehenge and Shaki waterfall, a pleasant walk, about 2-3 km, and beautiful waterfall
Tatev Monastery by cable car; amazingly beautiful setting up in the mountains
Goris – Hotel Crystal (15 manat with breakfast). There is nothing to do in Goris and we should have just continued to Karabah instead of staying there.
Days 6-9 (Karabah, see my blog 4 days in Karabah)
After returning from Karabah we drove down to south thru the Sevan Pass to and stayed in Lucytour Hotel (20 manat with breakfast) in little village of Hermon located in Yeghegis Valley. Lucytour is more than a hotel; it’s actually a resort, with a pool and bunch of outdoor activities. Unfortunately we didn’t take advantage of any of it, since arrived late and left early the next day.
Yeghegis Village – Ancient Jewish cemetery from the 13th century. Nobody knows how did the Jews get there and what happened to them.
Sevan Lake – drove by, I wasn’t too impressed. They sell smoked fish by the side of the road. I recommend getting some
Sevanavank Monastery on Sevanavank Peninsula. Nice setting but a lowbrow resort area.
Dilijan – little town in the mountains
Vanadzor – relatively large town, had a tea stop at Jazz Café, their main entertainment venue
Drive thru magnificent must see scary drive Debed (we called it De-bed-ass) Canyon to Haghpat and stayed in Hotel Haghpat, owned by Flora (16 manat with breakfast), who is a teacher and a wonderful host. The hotel is conveniently located right at the parking lot of Haghpat Monastery. Haxpat.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Haghpat Monastery – very nice, beautiful view
Sanahin Monastery in Alaverdi, I liked it less than Haghpat.
Gyumri – central market and fish restaurant Cherkesy Dzor. The restaurant is in a nice setting surrounded by ponds and specializes in fish. We wanted to try several dishes and ordered several half portions, but when the food arrived I think the half portion request got lost in translation somewhere and we ended up overeating and overdrinking to the point that all we wanted was to find the closest hotel to collapse in bed. Somehow, in a drunken haze, I found a hotel somewhere in the center and somehow Roman managed to drive there. This was the cheapest hotel so far, 10 manat. The room was basic and there was cigarette smoke coming in from downstairs but we couldn’t care less and fell dead asleep at 5pm.
Ashtarak- Hiking between Hovhannavank and Saghmosavank Monasteries. To be completely honest we didn’t complete the 7 km hike because at some point we got stuck down in the gorge and couldn’t go any further. The trail was blocked by an enormous water pipe and water all around it. According to a local shepherd, there is a pass but there was no way we could have found it without a guide. So after walking most of the way about 5 km we had to go all the way back up. Another frustration was that before we even started the trek, it took us about an hour to find the beginning of the trail. Some people didn’t know where it was, some pointed us in a wrong or vague direction and some were just very surprised why do we want to walk while there is a perfectly good road and suggested we take a taxi.
Yerevan – last night in Armenia, Hotel Nur ($47). In the evening, we went again to Club Mezzo to listen to some live music as a pleasant conclusion of the Armenia trip.