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Lake Sevan: The Pearl of Armenia

The Sevan Lake (Sevana Lich) is like a sapphire hidden in the mountains. Its sky-blue waters rise above 1,900 meters (6233 feet) and they are surrounded by the Pambak, Shagdah, Vardenis, and Geghama mountain ranges. Lake Sevan is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world and is also known as ‘The Pearl of Armenia’.

Its banks are the destination chosen by many people from Yerevan to have a weekend break in the summer and escape the high temperatures of the capital. Although the lake has a unique environment, there are some recent constructions which, due to their poor aesthetics, disfigure the landscape.

The air is pure in Lake Sevan and during the hottest months, the average temperature of its crystal-clear water is around 18 degrees. It is a good place to practice windsurfing, sailing, wakeboarding, or other water sports. Of course, it is extremely freezing in winter.

It is about 50 miles long and 35 miles wide along with its maximum slack, and it occupies about 5% of the national territory. The capes of Noratus and Artanish divide their waters into two: Lower Sevan, which occupies the northern part, and Greater Sevan, which extends to the south. Most of the hotel infrastructure is located on the northwestern coast, between the small town of Sevan and the town of Tsovagyugh.

Lake Sevan is located in the centre of the province of Gegharkunik and if you have your own car, the best option to explore it freely is to drive on the road which surrounds the lake. Discovering it by bicycle is another option, and free camping is legal on its shores.

Along with the Mount Ararat, it is one of the national icons of Armenia and its waters have served as inspiration for many artists. “It is so beautiful that one wants to be shipwrecked in it,” Avetik Isahakians wrote as he contemplated its vastness.

During the Soviet period, the ecosystem of Sevan Lake was in serious danger, since the authorities drained it until they lowered its level by 20 meters. Fortunately, the Government retracted, and they became aware of the important role played by this exotic place. As a result, they converted it into a national park in 1978.

Nowadays, the waters are returning slowly to their course and their level has increased a couple of meters, which has meant that the ecosystem of the lake has also recovered slightly. By the way, if you’re interested in Armenia’s parks, the Dilijan Natural Park is another destination worth your time.

In addition to the typical visit to the Sevanavank Monastery, you should visit the Noraduz cemetery. It is about 22 miles from Sevan, but it is worth the visit. It is a medieval cemetery with the highest concentration of khachkars in Armenia. Many of the cross-stones are centuries old and you may see an Armenian-style burial, where the closest relatives gather at the foot of the grave to eat, drink, and sing before burying the deceased.

The city of Sevan is a small Soviet-style town without much charm per se, but its surroundings are full of hotels on the edge of the lake and some of the most touristic spots in the area. It is located a couple of miles from its banks and it acts as a transport hub for the region. If you come by bus or marshrutka, it is almost certain that this is the destination for you.

Sevan the city is located at almost 2,000 meters above sea level (6561 feet) and it has a population of 23,000 inhabitants. Nayrian Street is the main street here and there you will find most of the food stores, ATMs, the market (or Shuka), the Town Hall, the cafes, the banks, and the taxi stops and minibuses that connect with the rest of the province.

What to See?

Mount Metsep

At 2,220 meters high (7217 feet) offers a beautiful ascent. If the weather is good, from its summit there is a beautiful panoramic view of the lake. And if the weather is good you can glimpse the Aragats and Ararat in the distance.

The trail begins near the Gomadzor cemetery, one of the neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city. You cannot get there by car, and the round trip on foot takes just over three hours.

Sevanavank Monastery

The sound of the seagull’s blends with a blue and green horizon in one of the most visited monasteries in Armenia.

Sevanavank, or the black monastery, was founded in 874 by the princess Mariam Bagratuni, on top of a small island. Today, the island is a peninsula due to the drainage to which the Soviet authorities subjected the lake, and you can get there on foot. Sevanavank is located about three miles north of the city of Sevan.

The authorities abandoned it during Communist times and it was badly damaged after the earthquake of 1936. In the ’90s, it was rebuilt again. The complex consists of the churches of Arakelots and Astvatsatsin, a gavit in ruins and the cells where the monks used to sleep.

The area was one of the first to convert to Christianity and it is said that Sevanavank was the place where the priests who had sinned went to exile. We must emphasize their khachkars of andesite instead of tufa, which give them a characteristic green colour. Nowadays, the monastery is still active.

Transportation

From the city of Sevan, there are Marshrutkas that stop very close to Sevanavank. They leave from 166 Sayat Nova Street at 10:30 a.m., 12.00 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

However, the schedules may change so it is better to check beforehand. For the return trip, there are usually taxis hunting for tourists. A round trip by taxi from Sevan to the monastery, with an hour of waiting, is around 3000 AMD. If there are more passengers, it will be worth it for you.

Museums

Museum of Natural Sciences of Sevan

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Phone: +374 26 1 20283.

It is in the cultural centre of the city. More than a museum, it is an exhibition hall with a permanent exhibition about the flora and fauna of the lake and its surroundings. When we were there, the entrance was free.

Surroundings of the City of Sevan

Hayravank Monastery is 16 miles from Sevan, halfway to the city of Gavar. It was built in the ninth century. We must emphasize the khachkars and the magnificent views of the lake from there.

Noraduz Cemetery

Nowhere else but in a cemetery can you contemplate the history of a place. Well, the cemetery in the village of Noraduz is completely different from any other. It has the highest concentration of khachkars in the country, around 500, and it was created in the Middle Ages.

It also has ancient stone tombs carved with drawings which represent important passages of the life of the deceased. Legend has it that the fearsome soldiers of Tamerlane confused the stone crosses with shields and when they thought that the warriors hid behind them, they keep walking past. This is how the small town of Noraduz was saved from looting. In the village, there is also the small church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator.

Noraduz is 22 miles from Sevan. To get there, you can take a round trip taxi from Sevan. If you want to save some money, you should travel in marshrutka from Sevan to the city of Gavar, and once there, take a two-way taxi to and from Noraduz.

Gavar is the capital of the province of Gegharkunik, and there are usually minibuses leaving for Sevan relatively often. However, you should check the schedules because they change continuously. Another option is to return by hitchhiking.

Where to Sleep?

Expensive Restaurants

Best Western Bohemian Resort Hotel

Address: Yerevan Road 102 (Sevan).

Phone: +374 261 25885.

It is a luxury hotel with apartments and rooms at different prices. The hotel is located 4 miles from the city, on the edge of the lake, with its own dock if you want to go for a swim.

Best Western has a pool, billiards, tennis court, Jet Ski rental, and a games room for the children. You should book in advance though. Single rooms cost AMD 29,000, doubles AMD39,000, suites AMD 49,000, apartments AMD 75,000 (high season). For more information: www.bohemianresort.am

Tufenkian Avan Marak Tsapatagh Hotel

Phone: +374 60501010/ +374 93947888.

It is one of the four hotels of the prestigious Tufenkian chain. The hotel is on the eastern shore of the lake, near the village of Tsapatagh. This part is extremely underdeveloped for tourists and it is perfect to “disconnect”. Comfortable rooms and outdoor swimming pool. You can check the prices on their website. www.tufenkianheritage.com

Where to Eat?

Medium Price Restaurant

Semoi Mot

Address: Sevan-Dilijan Road Mile 8.

Phone: +374 261 60002.

It is a very welcoming venue in front of the lake. Probably the best restaurant in the area and the prices are quite affordable. This restaurant specializes in grilled freshwater fish. Most of the fish comes from the waters of the lake. It has 14 private dining rooms and when the weather is good, they open the terrace. Located 5 miles from the city of Sevan, a one-way taxi will cost about AMD 1,500 to get there.

Transportation

  • Marshrutka Yerevan-Sevan: they leave every hour from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in high season and from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in low season (from the north station).
  • Marshrutka Sevan-Yerevan: they leave near 156 Nairyan Street from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in high season and from 8:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. in low season.
  • Marshrutka Sevan-Gavar: they leave near 145 Nairyan Street at 11:00 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.
  • Marshrutka Sevan-Sevanavank: they leave near 166 Sayat Nova Street at 10:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
  • Taxi stand: It is located at the end of Nayrian Street. A tour to Sevanavank, Hayravank and the Noratus cemetery costs around 8,000 AMD. To Tsaghkadzor: 3,000 AMD. To Dilijan: 4,500 AMD. If you manage to share the ride with a few other passengers, it will not be expensive.

The Iron Road of the South Caucasus

In summer, you can go from Yerevan to Sevan by train. They leave every day (except Wednesday) at 8:30 a.m. from the Almost station. It is the old train which used to cover the iron route between Yerevan and the village of Shorzha, on the eastern shore of the lake. The railway line is an experience in itself and worth it if you want a memorable Caucasus holiday. Outward and return schedules may vary, so you should ask for more information in the Sevan tourist office: +374 99 19 95 55

Practical Information

Tourist Information Office

Address: 164 Nairyan Poghots Street.

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

Phone: +374 99 19 95 55.

It is located inside the Town Hall of the city of Sevan, on the main street. They speak French.