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Visit Goris: a trip through the Cappadocia of Armenia

From the heights of the mountains which surround it, the metal roofs of the city of Goris look like hundreds of precious crystals reflecting the sun’s rays. The city is at a crossroads, between the roads that connect the North Caucasus with Iran and the Upper Karabakh.

But Goris is more than a transient city or somewhere to set up a base camp to explore the surroundings. Its charm makes it a real destination in itself.

The city is a well-planned urban community, with elegant houses and neighbourhoods that climb the hills. In addition, it has a moderate climate with relatively mild winters and cool summers. The icing on the cake is the fantastic landscape created by the dozens of fairy chimneys that tower up like crags pointing up to the sky. There is also the cave houses of Old Goris on the other side of the river worth checking out.

Travellers would be glad to know that the city has a large variety of accommodation, restaurants, museums and other attractions to occupy you for a few days.

A Little Bit of History about Goris

We know that the caves near the city have been inhabited since ancient times, thanks to the Greek historian Xenophon and his work ‘Anabasis’. However, it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that the urban plan of the modern Goris was projected.

It is said that its layout is due to the skill of the brother-in-law of the governor of that time. He was an architecture student and took the extension of the city as a model for his final career project during a visit.

The dissertation was implemented and the town grew exponentially. During the war of Upper Karabakh, Goris suffered several attacks at the hands of the Azeri army due to its proximity to the separatist region.

What to Do in the City of Goris?

Visit the Old Goris

Walking through the old Goris is quite an experience. The rocks hide caves which the inhabitants of the area claim to have been inhabited for thousands of years. Some have been converted into stables, others into tool storage, and only a few remain inhabited. Its inhabitants moulded the mountain for years and they created shelters that housed hundreds of generations.

If we add to this the fairy-tale landscape that the dozens of fairy chimneys stretching across its hills create, the result is a memorable walk. These structures are the product of the erosion caused by wind and water for thousands of years. The picture reminds us a little of the one situated in the region of Cappadocia in Turkey.

Best Museums in Goris

Municipal Gallery of Goris

Address: 3 Ankakhutyan Poghots Street

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

It was founded in 2001. The gallery shows some works by local artists, from other provinces, and also from the diaspora.

The Museum of Regional Studies

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

It exhibits objects found in the archaeological excavations carried out in the region. You can find here pagan idols, instruments of daily life, belts or bronze statues, and ceramic vessels.

Aksel Bakunts House-Museum

Address: 41 Mashtotsi Poghots Street

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

This is the house-museum of the writer Aksel Bakunts, who spent his childhood and early years of youth in this building. Through the exhibition, you can delve into the life of this prolific writer, into his works, and his way of conceiving life.

Surroundings of Goris

The Cave City of Khndzoresk

Believe it or not, this huge cave city was inhabited until 1958 when the Soviet authorities moved their population to the new Khndzoresk. What is not known is from when the caves started being used as houses. An ancient pagan temple has been found in its surroundings, indicating that there could have been settlements since before the arrival of Christianity in the area.

Historians certify that the new religion took a long time to penetrate among its people because the first Saint Hripsime Church was not finished until the 17th century.

According to the legend, the city was founded by two Armenian brothers who were chasing a deer when they discovered the place. The isolation of the site and the characteristics of the land seemed perfect for them to move to, and in the process avoid paying taxes.

Khndzoresk is located about 9 miles north-east of Goris. If you are curious, the visit can take you two hours exploring the nooks and crannies of this unique place.

Nowadays, no one lives there but some of the cavities are still used as stables. In general, the houses consisted of two well-differentiated zones. On one side the animals were kept, while on the other side is where the family used to live.

The river which flows at the bottom made sure the residents have access to water. Recently, a suspension bridge, 160 meters long and 63 meters wide, has been built in order to cross the river. This part is not suitable for people with vertigo though.

The best way to get to the cave city is by taxi or booking one of the tours in the area, which are organized by Khachik B&B or the Goris Hostel.

Sev Lich Lake

Unfortunately, we could not visit this lake due to the climatic conditions that occurred during our information collection. But the visit was strongly recommended by several local guides. 

Sev Lich literally means the Black Lake. It is an alpine lake almost 3,000 meters high (9842 feet) surrounded by mountains. It is in the middle of a protected natural area of great ecological and landscape value. You can visit it from Goris or Sisian. The only way to get there is by SUV and you should hire the services of a guide, as the roads are not well marked.

The zone remains snowed under during most of the year and the best period to get to explore around it is the months of June, July, August, and September.

Tips for Visiting Nagorno-Karabakh

Goris is the last city before entering Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that in the eyes of the international community still belongs to Azerbaijan. Although this area de facto acts as an independent entity thanks to the military and economic aid of Armenia.

After the war which ravaged this part of the world in the early nineties and after facing the separatist militias and the Armenian army against the Azeri troops, the Upper Karabakh recovered from its wounds.

More and more tourists are now curious about the territory and have decided to visit it. The road that starts from Goris is the only way of entry. Sightseeing is relatively easy in Upper Karabakh, but first, you have to be aware of several things. Therefore, we leave you a number of recommendations.

The first thing you should know is that if you decide to visit the Nagorno- Karabakh and the Azeri authorities find out, it is more than likely that they will systematically deny you the visa to travel to Azerbaijan in the future. For their Government, you have entered their national territory without their consent since they consider it part of Azerbaijan.

The same thing happened to the soprano Montserrat Caballé, who was declared persona non grata in 2013 after visiting Nagorno-Karabakh as a goodwill ambassador for UNESCO. In order to avoid any problems, you should ask the Karabajis officials to print your visa on a separate sheet of your passport.

You can get this entry pass before the trip at the Embassy of Nagorno-Karabakh in Yerevan (17th Nairi Zaryan Street) or just arrive at your destination in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Karabakh in Stepanakert (28 Azatamartikneri Avenue).

Citizen security in Nagorno-Karabakh is good, similar to Armenia. However, shots in the border areas between snipers on both sides are a common thing. Therefore, do not go near the border areas. As soon as you set foot in this area, you will realize that you are in a militarized territory. In addition, you should know that there are still land mines under the ground.

In many places, work is being done to clear the ground and there are warning signs. Above all, you should watch out for signs if you are going to do some trekking or wanting to deviate from known routes.

Although the conflict remains frozen and there is a “no peace but no war” situation, you should not forget that an escalation of violence may break out again at any moment. You should always carry your passport with you. You must not give it to anyone or leave it as a deposit anywhere.

There are certain areas to which access is prohibited, such as the ruins of the city of Aghdam. If you get caught visiting them, you can have a really bad time. You might undergo interrogations at the police station and that may result in expulsion from the territory.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, a rapid improvement process is being carried out in terms of infrastructures. Especially on a tourist level. Many of them are being financed by the Armenians from the Diaspora. There are accommodations of all kinds, from luxurious five-star hotels to B&B. In fact, its cities seem more modern than those of Armenia.

There are tourist offices in the main attraction spots: Stepanakert, Sushi, Tigranakert, and Tsaghkashat. The best tool to prepare your trip is the official tourism website: karabakh.travel. Here you will find a powerful database with all types of accommodation, restaurants, general information about their culture, and specific information to each place.

Despite the efforts of the authorities to try to deal with the scars of war, they are still visible in the thousands of demolished houses dotted along the landscape. When you go by road, keep an eye out for the abandoned or destroyed houses that you see in the distance and you will get an idea of ​​what the armed conflict was like.

Practical Information

Goris Tourist Office

Address: 3 Ankakhutyan Poghots Street.

Phone: ✆+374 284 22 690 | +374 77 318801 | +374 9874 7605 | +374 284 22690

Opening Hours: every day from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

They close during the winter. The tourist offers all kinds of information about transportation, restaurants, and hotels. They speak English and French.

Goris Medical Centre

Address: 31 Grigor Tatevatsi Street.

Phone: ✆+374 284 22152.

The hospital has recently been renovated with French funding.

Where to Sleep?

Cheap Lodging 

Khachik’s B&B

Address: 13 Davit Bek Poghots Street

Phone: +374 91 204012

Reservations: mirakyanbb@hotmail.com .

This is one of the favourite B&Bs for backpackers. It is a little expensive compared to others but there is a good atmosphere. It is pleasant and it is clean. Besides, it is the best alternative if you travel alone.

Khachik’s B&B occupies a historic 120-year old building that has been recently renovated and they offer 7 rooms with individual bathrooms. The building has its own cellar where guests can have a couple of drinks. The bed and breakfast also organise tours around the province and Upper Karabakh.

Single room: AMD 13,000. Double: 18,000. Triple: 24,000. Quadruple: 32,000 AMD.  For more information: www.khachikbb.com

Silva & Harach Guest House

Address. 25 Orbelyan Poghots

Phone: +374 284 21861.

It is situated in the heart of the city, 100 meters (328 feet) from the Town Hall. The guesthouse is run by Silva and her husband Harach. They are a nice couple who, although they do not speak English, are always very attentive so that their guests do not lack anything. This accommodation has Internet, a double room, and a triple room. AMD 7,000- 8,000.

Goris Hostel

Address: 55 Movses Khorenatsi Street

Phone: +374 284 21886// +374 93 287902.

The house belongs to Jyrair, an art lover. It has a nice view, a free kitchen, and it offers free coffee and tea. This guesthouse is twinned with the Penthouse Hostel of Yerevan and it offers tours of the surrounding areas.

Eden Hostel

Address: 4 Orbelianner Street.

It is a small hostel opened fairly recently. Eden is well located – a spitting distance from the main square of Goris. It has a nice garden, private, and shared rooms. They also organize tours for guests to get to know the area. Definitely a good option to consider for value for money.

Lodging Medium 

Christy Hotel

Address: 9 Mesrop Mashtots Street.

Phone: +374 284 26637// +374 77 00 0047.

It is a family hotel with 13 rooms and has been newly renovated. The bathrooms have showers with radios and water jets at different heights. The owner has a daughter who speaks Spanish and if needed, she will help via phone by answering any questions. Price of the standard double room: 20,000 AMD in high season.

Mirhav Hotel

Address: 100 Mesrop Mashtots Street.

Phone: +374 284 24612//:+374 10 284402.

This is the most welcoming hotel in the city and the place chosen by most travel agencies for their international tourists. Mirhav has beautiful views of the upper city neighbourhoods. The rooms are large and comfortable. They offer single, double, and triple rooms. Standard double room: 27,000 AMD.

Where to Eat?

Cheap Restaurant

KS Restaurant

Address. 2A Narekatsi Poghots Street.

Phone: +374 284 23278.

They serve pizzas, sandwiches, chips, and salads. This is a typical place visited by young people.

Tur-baza Cafe

Address: Grigor Tatevatsi Poghots Street.

It is the perfect place to have a couple of beers and dinner. Enjoy the nice view of the old Goris while dining here because the cafe is located in the city centre.

Medium Price Restaurant

Syunik Restaurant

Address: 1 Artsakhyan Highway 1.

Phone: +374 284 3 0043. // +374 55 13 00 43.

It is a huge restaurant with private dining rooms. They have an extensive menu of traditional Armenian and international dishes. Note that the staff do not speak English and the restaurant is located a bit far from the centre of the city.

Expensive Restaurant

Mirhav Restaurant

Address: 100 Mesrop Mashtots Street.

Phone: +374 284 24612// Phone: +374 10 284402.

This is the restaurant of the Mirhav Hotel and, indeed, they offer the best cuisine in the city. Expect beautiful views and exquisite and excellent service with class. Their specialties are in Khachlama, Dolma and Lake Sevan trout. I

f you are a vegetarian, you cannot miss the Pilaf. And if you like meat a lot, you should ask for the Khachlama. The staff speaks English, French, and German.

Transportation

Goris-Sisian: they leave at 1:00 pm (stop next to the theatre). Schedules are subject to change.

Goris-Kapan: they leave at 12:00 p.m., and at 3:00 p.m. (stop at Syunik Street, near the Vienna Park). Schedules are subject to change.

Goris-Tatev: they leave at 3:00 p.m. (stop at 19 Ankakhutyan Poghots Street, near the post office building). A taxi costs around 6,000-10,000 AMD. It will really depend on your negotiation skills. Between several passengers, it is worth it.

Tatev-Goris: they leave at 9:00 a.m. Another option is to take a taxi.

Goris-Stepanakert: they leave at 10.00 a.m. (they leave from the petrol station where the Kapan and Stepanakert roads converge.) People know it as the Goris Station. If you miss it, you should wait there for the marshrutkas to pass from Yerevan heading towards Stepanakert and if there is a seat, just get in. Schedules are subject to change

Goris-Meghri: first you have to take the 12:00 p.m. marshrutka to Kapan and then take the marshrutka in Kapan that leaves at 2:30 p.m. Schedules are subject to change.