A small and shy country, Armenia might be one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Despite not yet being ready for mass tourism, Armenia holds within its borders secrets that date back to 3,500 years ago, a rich history and spectacular scenery. The mountainous landscapes dominate the country while its traditions and customs remind visitors that Armenia was the first country in the world to declare Christianity as its national religion in 301 A.D. Armenia might be small and modest, but it’s also ancient and fascinating. Guarded by the peak of Mount Ararat believed to be the spot where Noah’s Ark landed, Armenia is a Christian settlement sandwiched between Muslim Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan, a land situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, courageous and independent.
Breathe in the history of Yerevan
Yerevan, the country’s capital, is the largest city in Armenia, an open-air museum dedicated to Armenia’s history. According to the cuneiform inscription of Urartian King Argishti, Yerevan dates back to 782 BC, the city being older than Rome itself. The city is home to the Armenian Genocide Memorial, the grand Republic Square, and the Blue Mosque, the only mosque in Armenia. Climb the Cascade to see the monument raised following the Soviet victory in the Second World War. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Armenia has returned to its traditions but is looking forward into the future.
Armenia is changing and all the changes start in Yerevan, now the cultural hub of the country and the scene of modern arts and developments. The city center is dominated by original architecture masterpieces and abounds in cafes, restaurants, and parks. Also known as the City of Cafes, Yerevan impresses visitors with its extravaganza of hip cafes and welcoming locals. Even though English doesn’t go a long away around here, you’ll certainly have no problem ordering a flavorful coffee accompanied by their renowned Ararat cognac.
Discover the soothing scenery
Armenia’s landscape is dominated by mountains, otherwise, it wouldn’t be an authentic Caucasus country. When summer comes, the scenery gets wrapped in surprisingly soothing yellow tones that invite to long hikes and mountain adventures. Don’t expect high peaks or frowning cliffs similar to those you’ll find in neighboring Georgia, but you’ll discover an eclectic mountainous scenery, a beautiful dance of peaks, gorges, and valleys. Hike through Armenia’s countryside to take the real pulse of the country and you’ll encounter timeless villages, raw country roads, steep mountain passes, and some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets you’ve ever seen.
All roads eventually lead to the superb Lake Sevan, situated at an altitude of 1,900 m and “the pearl of Armenian nature”. The lake awaits only 66 km away from Yerevan and is a popular summer destination for both locals and tourists. Due to its spectacular azure waters and beautiful surrounding scenery, Lake Sevan is one of the most beautiful attractions in Armenia. Moreover, this is a great destination to try the local “ishxan” (Armenian trout).
Curious travelers eager to admire out-of-this-world paintings flock to the Syunik region, about 200 km from Yerevan, for a chance to admire the Karahunj, also known as the “army of stones”, one of the oldest megalithic sites in the country, as well as the fascinating village of Khndzoresk untouched by time.
Understand Armenia’s passion for religion
A pilgrimage to the dramatic Geghard Monastery is a journey into Armenia’s religious past. The site of the monastery dates back to the 4th century AD but the existent churches have been spectacularly carved in stone in the 13th century. The site is breathtaking and has the power to draw you into Armenia’s religious fervor. Add to this experience a tour of the Garni Temple. Even though the original structure was destroyed by earthquakes, the temple’s position 300 m above the Azat River makes for an unforgettable sight.
A journey to the steep Debed Canyon will take you face to face with the beautiful monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin, currently protected by UNESCO, while a four-hour drive from Yerevan will give you the opportunity to admire the Tatev monastery, a majestic medieval structure that dates back to the 9th century that can be reached only by cable car.
Embrace the stories of Echmiadzin, the capital of Armenia from 180 to 340 AD, and visit its Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator, home to what Armenians believe to be the spearhead used to pierce the crucified Christ. Add to your religious itinerary of Armenia a stop at the Yerevan library of ancient manuscripts (Materadaran), home to over 13,000 texts meant to unveil the unbreakable bond between Armenia and its religion.