Khor Virap monastery, Armenia / Photo: Sunrise Odyssey
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Armenia is usually not the first country that will come into your mind when you’re deciding on your next travel destination but we are going to change that. Here are 9 very interesting things to do in Armenia and hopefully you’ll be convinced to explore Armenia next!
Originally posted on Sunrise Odyssey
1. Be awed by the beautiful ancient churches & ruins
Sevanavank monastery, Armenia / Photo: Sunrise Odyssey
Armenia was said to be the first country to have adopted Christianity as its state religion back in the 301 AD (more than 1,700 years ago!). A lot of these churches built back then have been restored and today, you’ll be able to visit the sites of these awe-inspiring millennium old monasteries. You can imagine the immense amount of rich history of these churches that dates way back into the past, it was certainly an eye-opener for us!
Some of these beautiful ancient churches include the impressive Geghard Monastery (Gina’s personal favourite), an ancient cave monastery where the entire church was carved inside a rock mountain, Khor Virap Monastery where St. Gregory the Illuminator was kept imprisoned in a deep pit for 13 years, Tatev Monastery (Daniel’s favourite), the fairytale like setting against the magnificent Mt. Ararat, just to name a few.
2. Indulge in the delicious local cuisine
Super delicious kyufta / Photo: Sunrise Odyssey
We had a great opportunity to dine at Cross of Unity in Echimiazin, which was a social enterprise cafe where children get to attend art classes for free and people with disabilities get to work there to earn a living. They also own a restaurant that offers excellent local food such as Morash (shredded chicken mixed with green peas) and Kyufta (handmade sausage beef, grains and sauteed mushrooms). Armenians love to eat bread (Lavash), which is a thin layer of flat chewy bread that’s made from flour, salt and water and baked in an underground Tonir (earth oven). The Lavash can be kept for 1 year without turning bad. So usually the local women will bake the Lavash in bulk and then store them to eat slowly for the next few months. Armenians cannot imagine having their meals without bread! (Even if they’re eating rice, they’ll need to have bread with it too!)
Fun fact: The difference between Armenian way of baking their bread lies in the Tonir that’s situated underground instead of on the ground like how Central Asia or Iran does it.
3. Drink the famous Armenian coffee
Armenian coffee / Photo: Sunrise Odyssey
The difference between Armenian coffee and others lies in its preparation method. For Armenians, they’ll usually crush the coffee beans, add water to it, and then heat it in a special Armenian coffee pot where it’s narrower at the top. Once the coffee mixture start to rise and foam, it’s ready for drinking! Thick Armenian coffee without sugar and a thick layer of residue at the base of the cup, just the way they like it. You have to try it!
Fun fact: Our guide shared with us that some ladies could even tell their future by looking at the stains left behind on the inner side of the cup by the thick coffee mixture!
4. Explore Yerevan, the ‘pink city’ of Armenia
Republic Square of Yerevan at night / Photo: Sunrise Odyssey
Once you step into Yerevan, you’ll be in awe of its beautiful architecture where its buildings were made up of volcanic rocks of various shades of pink! That’s how Yerevan got its nickname ‘Pink City” or sometimes also known as the city of stones. Yerevan is a very developed city with modern architecture, cultural centres (Opera House), museums and monuments. Some of these highlights include the Republic Square, Genocide Memorial, Mother Armenia Monument, Vernissage Art Market, just to name a few. You definitely have to dedicate at least 1 full day or more to explore the main sights of this beautiful city!
5. Visit the one and only remaining Pagan Temple – Garni Temple
Garni Pagan Temple, Armenia / Photo: Sunrise Odyssey
The only remaining Pagan temple left in the whole of Armenia. Back then when Christianity was being introduced to Armenia, all the Pagan temples were destroyed and replaced with Churches, except for this particular Garni Temple which was apparently too beautiful to be destroyed. Hence they decided to make an exception for this temple and instead of destroying it, they built their church right next to it and made sure that it was taller and bigger than the Garni Temple. We were very lucky to be able to witness a ritual going on when we were there as our guide told us that it was very rare! In the photo below, there’s a Pagan priest wearing a cape with a sun like symbol at the back, which symbolizes eternity.
6. Delight your taste buds with delicious fruit flavoured wines
Armenian wines / Photo: Sunrise Odyssey
Armenia is one of the oldest country that has produced wine in the world. It’s attributed to its blessed location of being on the fertile valleys of Mt Ararat where high quality grapes could be grown. The interesting thing about this wine tasting session at Areni Wine is that not only you get to taste the traditional red wine, but also wines of different interesting fruit flavours such as apricot, pomegranate and more! The apricot wine was particularly sweet, almost tasted like dessert wine. Though we won’t huge fans of wine, we really liked the fruit flavoured wines! You will also get to watch a short video on the production of wine here in Armenia.
7. Enjoy the majestic view of Lake Sevan and its surrounding
Lake Sevan, Armenia / Photo: Sunrise Odyssey
The word “se” means black in Armenian (referring to the black minerals) and “van” means lake. Hence, “Sevan” actually means black lake. This enormous lake covers 5% of the entire Armenia and it’s the most important lake for the Armenians. It’s also the second largest freshwater high-altitude lakes in the world where it’s situated 2,000m above sea level. The lake actually used to be even larger where its depth was at least 20 metres higher! The land that you see on the right hand side of the photo used to be entirely covered with water. Sadly during the USS period, the Russians decided to lower the lake’s surface by around 20m to increase the use of the water for irrigation and hydroelectricity. To save the lake from suffering the same fate as the fast disappearing Aral sea, the Armenian government created a tunnel in 2004 to channel back the water into Lake Sevan and since then, the water level has stabilized at 20m below its original level.
8. Be amazed by the beautiful Khachkars at Noratus Cemetery
Noratus cemetery, Armenia / Photo: Sunrise Odyssey
The Noratus Cemetery is famous for its collection of more than 1,000 beautifully preserved Khachkars (cross stones) where some had very interesting and unique carvings on it. There was a Khachkar that had a celebratory scene of a wedding being carved on it, because they believed that you can overcome death with happiness.
Fun legend: The shards of glass pieces lying on the tomb in the photo below has an interesting legend behind it which dates back to the 19th-century. There was a monk named Ter Karapet Hovhanesi-Hovakimyan who was from a monastery near the village. He was in charged of conducting burial services at Noratus and to do that, he had to travel for 2 hours to the cemetery from the monastery. To save him the trouble, he built himself a small cell in Noratus and actually lived in the cemetery all the way till he was 90 years old. When he was 90 years old, he asked his fellow monks to bury him alive. His last words were: “I do not fear death. I would like you to not be afraid also. Never fear anything, but God alone. Let anyone who has fear come to me. Pour water at the burial stone, drink the water, wash your face, chest, arms and legs. Then break the vessel that contained the water. Fear will then abandon you.” To this day, people still come to the monk’s grave to perform this ritual, leaving broken pieces of glass scattered all about the tomb stone. Interesting, huh?
9. Relax or ski at the beautiful winter wonderland Tsaghkadzor
Tsakhkadzor, Armenia / Photo: Sunrise Odyssey
You could rent skis or snowboard here at Tsaghkadzor where a ski lift will take you up to different stations. It was quite cheap actually, it only cost around 5,000 drum ($12) per person to rent the ski equipment for the whole day. The ski lift pass was a separate charge. Unfortunately due to time constraint, we did not get to ski here, so we can’t advise much about skiing here. Also, because of the foggy weather, we decided to give the ropeway a miss as we won’t be able to have a nice view at the top.