Where Asia and Europe meet in a symphony of mountains, history and tradition
Armenia is a mountainous nation in West Asia, a former Soviet Republic, and was one of the first Christian nations, embracing Christianity in the fourth century. This rich cultural and natural environment makes it an exciting destination for a wide range of adventure, activity and walking holidays.
There are many pagan sites to visit as well as UNESCO World Heritage-listed churches, which are – almost without exception – built in stunning locations. Surrounded by forests, perched on the top of dramatic gorges or silhouetted before snow-capped mountains, they draw us to magnificent open spaces filled with a huge variety of trees and wild flowers. On Armenia tours we see wonderful mountains, lakes and waterfalls in the countryside – and relish cooling breezes – while the cafés and restaurants of the country’s capital, Yerevan, are proof of an emerging economy. Mount Ararat towers majestically over the city, and beautiful scenery is plentiful.
Activities in Armenia
Highlights of Armenia tours
1. Yerevan: Armenia’s capital is sometimes known as the ‘pink city’ because of the colour of the stone used to build it. Begining on Republic Square, there’s the Opera and Ballet Theatre, Cascade Park, Matenadaran, Armenia’s ancient manuscripts library, and the Genocide Memorial. There’s a thriving café culture here, and lots of opportunity to try the local drink.
2. Religious sites and pagan temples: Garni was built in the first century and is the only pagan temple remaining in the region. Outside, friendly locals sell homemade honey and sweets. And there’s Armenian’s answer to Stonehenge, Karahunj, dating back to the middle of the Bronze Age. Plus numerous churches and monasteries too, some linked dramatically to the natural world around them: Geghard Monastery, dating to the 13th century, where on the hillside you can still see caves that housed monastic cells; Khor Virap, one of the holiest sites in the country, with stunning views of Mount Ararat; and Noravank Monastery, a masterpiece of the 13th-century architect Momik, located in the twisting canyon. Sevanavank has commanding views of Lake Sevan.
3. Wine production: Wine has been produced here for 10,000 years; we visit Areni village, home to the finest Armenian wine, for a tasting.
4. Echmiadzin: The capital of Armenia from 180 to 340 AD, when Christianity was first adopted by the Armenian people, is simply stunning. The main cathedral nestles among hedges and lawns, where bearded clergy in dark robes sit in theological debate. In the gardens there are many fine khachkars (carved cross-stones) and bell towers.
5. The Silk Road: Snaking through Europe, Central Asia and all the way to China, travellers have been passing this way for millenia. There’s the well-preserved, 14th-century Selim caravanserai, and we continue to the top of the pass where the landscape changes, before descending to the blue waters of Lake Sevan. We make a stop at Noraduz to see the ‘forest’ of cross-stones that incorporate both pagan and Christian symbols, before continuing to the shores of the lake, the largest in the Caucasus and landlocked Armenia’s ‘seaside’.
7. Lori: The lush alpine region of northern Armenia. We visit Dilijan, a small town known for its arts and crafts, and the 12th-century Haghartsin Monastery, which is set in a forested valley.
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