Nestled between Europe and Asia sits a jewel of a country, glimmering undetected by hoards of tourists and seasoned travelers alike. Armenia. As one of the earliest Christian civilizations, Armenia’s mountainous Caucasus surroundings hold so much history and age, it could boggle the mind of those who love the ancient world as much as the new. My short journey through this small but might country exposed me to its earliest relics and stunning natural vistas.
Armenia’s Ancient Gems
Perhaps the most sweeping off all the landscapes I witnessed in beautiful Armenia was Garni Gorge‘s stunning and gigantic basalt rock formation. Referred to as “The Symphony Of The Stones,” these tall rock walls flank the skies with their dark and ominous linear formations… and are sure to make you feel very small in comparison.
Nearby, the Garni fortress lies surrounded by a hundred meter high cliffs. I was absolutely swept away imagining the scenes that unfolded here. Learning that this stronghold was created in 2166 B.C. just put everything in perspective! Garni was the home of so much ancient history, from three brutal defeats of the Roman Empire to the decision for the emperor to leave Armenia and so much more.
Next, the most unique and sacred of religious places… the Geghard Monastery. This gathering of churches, tombs and UNESCO World Heritage Site absolutely floored me. Most of the buildings of the monastery are carved into the adjacent mountains, welcoming guests with cave entrances and etched stonework that feels like a slice of ancient lore come to life.
While here, I was also able to lunch at the absolutely excellent Hyelandz Eco Village Resort. Between their warm hospitality at the resort and their attention to ecologically friendly practices, I fell in love.
Vyots Zhor Province houses an absolutely incredible cave where the oldest shoe was found (5,500 years old, folks!). As if Armenian ancient history weren’t absolutely blowing my mind already! Nearby, the province also touts one of the oldest winery too, which is an extra thousand years older than the aforementioned shoe. The winery was discovered in the midst of the complex cave systems of the Areni village by a team of archeologists. Good to know that even in ancient times, people were focused on wining and dining! 😉
Armenia’s capital, Yerevan is the largest city in the country, and also is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities. Walking through the streets of Yerevan, you can’t help but feel the presence of its history, both old and new. Much of the area is marked by the Soviet architecture (from its late 20th century ruling), and yet its museums tout some of the oldest relics and manuscripts in our world. Imagine witnessing the history that unfolded here, the changing of leadership and so much more.
The city is stocked with markets and eateries that kept my hunger at bay and absolutely delighted my senses. The fresh, authentic meals I had here I will never forget. Be sure to stop at Tavern Yerevan for a life-changing dinner filled with snacks and Armenian wine! In between exploring, I crashed at the friendly Hotel Tufenkian Historic, which was the perfect place to rest and relax after a long day of exploring the city.
When feeling the heat of Armenia’s summer days, be sure to take a trip to Lake Svan. This freshwater alpine lake is perfect for swimming, beaching, sailing and watching an absolutely epic sunset. The lake’s colors and shades of blue were dazzling, especially from the ship’s edge. Lake Svan is also flanked by many old outlooks and churches, filled with glorious viewpoints of the water.
Now, are you ready to feel the absolute power of Armenian history? Enter a mountain so steeped in lore that it could blow your mind. Near Khor Virap, a monastery located in the Ararat plain near the border with Turkey, lies Mount Ararart. It’s obvious that Armenia’s landscapes are a beauty all their old – browns and greens and rolling hills, stark mountains, stoned lined towers… but Mount Ararart floored me. Not only is this the highest mountain in the eastern Turkish area, but it also is the peak described in the Bible where Noah landed his Ark. Mind blowing, isn’t it?Finally, eighty miles south of Yerevan sits Noravank, a 13th century Armenian monastery. Cut into a small gorge near Amaghu River amidst a perfectly gorgeous valley, this religious complex is steeped with age and preserved to a t. Hand carved throughout the churches are crosses surrounded circular symbols, a classic symbol used in stonework. Yet another absolute gem here in Eurasia!
Choosing The “Undiscovered”
So often, as travelers, we are shown images of romantic villages and lush landscapes of large metropolises that are populated by many-a-tourist. The over-exposed travel locations are well loved for good reason. However, through my experiences exploring Armenia, I’ve learned the importance of saying “yes” to the unknown. Perhaps the most refreshing of discoveries come from choosing places in this world that remain “untouched” by the travel industry. Exchanging stories with locals in fragmented translations, visiting markets filled with the daily hustle and bustle of families shopping for their groceries, witnessing the beautiful lives that are unfolding without any pretense.
The travel industry is booming in ways that both baffle and excite me deeply, but I’ve found through my experience that breaking away from the peak places of tourism brings deeper connection and sincerely memorable experiences, like those that I’ve had here in Armenia.
Armenia, the gem of Eurasia, is sure to delight any traveler – the historian, the artist, the naturalist, the seeker. Visiting this beautiful country has given me renewed hope in discovering more of this world, and for that I am thankful.
Trip sponsored by Armenia Travel.