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Yeghegnadzor and Vayots Dzor: the museum under the sky

The city of Yeghegnadzor is located 125 kilometers (77 miles) from Yerevan. It is the capital of the province of Vayots Dzor, the least populated region of the country and it is one of the most virgin areas, too.

There is a popular saying that claims that people are like the air they breathe. Well, the oxygen is pure here. Its landscape is like a mosaic full of gigantic mountains, rushing rivers, crowded valleys, emerald vineyards, and picturesque villages. But it is not just that. They say that Vayots Dzor houses more than 1,500 monuments in the form of fortresses, churches, and primitive monuments. Maybe that’s why its inhabitants call it “the museum under the sky”.

The city is almost 1,200 meters above sea level (3937 feet). As for the surroundings of Yeghegnadzor, they hide great surprises like the Noravank Monastery, Magel and Mozrov Caves, the beautiful Yeghegis valley, and the caravan refuge of the Silk Road of Selim Pass (or Sulema). It is a quiet city, of Soviet-style and with less than 10,000 inhabitants. Although it has no great attractions, it is the perfect place to serve as your base camp for exploring this part of the beautiful country that is Armenia

This city has a small museum of local history, an art gallery, a church of the 12th century, and a bridge of the 13th century called Sour Kamourj (The Sharp Bridge), which crosses the Arpa River. It has its own university, the odd hotel, an acceptable B&B infrastructure, and some restaurants.

A Little Bit of History about Yeguegnadzor

Yeghegnadzor means the Valley of the Reeds. It has been inhabited since ancient times and it was part of the historic province of Syunik. Its ancient churches, its plentiful fortresses, and one of the branches of the old Silk Road (that runs right next to the city) are witnesses of its importance.

Surroundings of Yeghegnadzor

Areni Village and Wine

Surrounded by vineyards and watered by the Arpa River, the small village of Areni is 15 kilometers away (9 miles) from Yeguegnadzor. Its name is synonymous with wine and this area has the best wines in the country. It seems that the love between wine and its inhabitants has been always there.

At least that’s what the remains found in cave Areni 1, on the outskirts of the town, say. There, not only have the oldest 6000-year old shoes in the world been found, but also one of the first wineries of humanity. The cave is at the entrance of the Grishik Canyon, with its vertical walls at 100 meters high (328 feet) and different climbing routes that make it a good place to practice climbing.

The small medieval Surp Astvatsatsin Church rises on a promontory like a jewel. It was built by the legendary architect Momik in the 14th century and it was renovated in the 20th. Not too far away, you can find the miraculous fountain of Kosajur.

They say that their water can cure any type of disease. But what you cannot miss is the visit to some of the best-known wineries in the area and tasting their wines. They usually produce young wines with the local grape variety, Areni. Their sweet pomegranate or apricot wines are famous as well.

Some of these wineries are: Areni, Getnatoun, Old Bridge, Ginetas, although there are others. If you want to arrange a visit, you should contact the NGO Syunik (✆ + 374 281 24 009) or Antoine Terjanian (✆ +374 281 2437 // +374 77 24837), as the producers do not speak English.

Why is Armenia Known for Its Brandy and Not for Its Wine?

With a wine culture so deep-rooted for thousands of years, it is curious that Armenia is known for its excellent cognac and not for its wine. The reason for this is the legacy left behind by the Soviet period. During that time, each region specialized in the production of a certain product. Armenia got the brandy, while Georgia was in charge of the wine.

Noravank

One can better understand the meaning of the word “spirituality” when arriving at Noravank. The monastery blends with the reddish mountains that surround it. And its silence is only broken by the sound of the waters of the Gnishkajour River, a branch of the Harp River.

At dusk, the crimson tone of the sun’s rays further enhances the orange color of the rocks and turns the twilight into a show. It is the best time to visit because the heat is unbearable in the middle of the day during the summer. Another alternative is to visit it in the early hours of the morning.

The religious complex, which rises on a promontory, is a point of reference for Armenians. It is built on the ruins of an ancient Christian temple and it reached its maximum splendor during the reign of the Orbelian princes when Armenia was liberated from the Seljuks.

Most of its buildings were built between the 13th and 14th centuries by the master architect Momik. The enclosure is composed of the Astvatsatsin Church,  which boasts two floors and some curious exterior access stairs without a railing. Saint Stephen is the most important of them all and then there is the Saint Gregory chapel that houses tombs of the members of the Orbelian dynasty. The oldest of the churches in the enclosure is Saint Karapet, which was built in the 9th century.

The complex was restored between 1988 and 1999 to repair the damage caused by the 1840 earthquake. On the day of its reopening, more than 10,000 people crowded into its doors.

There are no Marshrutkas if you want to get here, so if you do not have a car, the only way to visit it is to take a round trip taxi (AMD 5,000) from Yeghegnadzor. There are many companies offering day tours to Noravank from Yerevan. The classic circuit stops at Khor Virap, Noravank, the Areni Wineries, and the Tatev Monastery.

It is the easiest and fastest way to get to know these places, which are usually not very well connected by public transport. However, they take a little intrigue and mystery away from the adventure. We will leave a video clip link of the singer Edgar Gevorgyan, a very famous Armenian artist who wrote a song inspired by this monastery, which appears as a backdrop.

The Legend of Noravank and the Master Artist Momik

Legend has it that the master artist Momik and the daughter of the prince of Syunik fell in love. When the girl’s father found out, he proposed to Momik an impossible challenge. He told him that if he built a large monastery for him in three years, he would grant him his daughter’s hand.

Momik accepted and he went to work. When the feudal lord went past the place and he saw that Momik was going to get the job done, he sent one of his servants to kill him. Tradition has it that they threw him from one of the domes and that without knowing it, the last stone that the master Momik carved was that of his own grave.

Yeghegis Valley 

The distant Yeghegis Valley makes its way between mountains which remain snowy most of the year, tight gorges and charming villages.

In the villages of Shatin, Hermon, Vardahobit, Yeghegis, and Goghtanik, time seems to have stopped and the rhythm of their inhabitants flows to the sounds of nature.

You barely see cars and here you have the feeling of having discovered the real side of Armenia. This ideal place is located less than 12 miles away from Yeghegnadzor, on the first turning on the right on the M10 Road, the old road through which the Silk Road used to pass.

The heart of the valley is the small town of Yeghegis. You cannot help but be skeptical when they tell you that this town of just 500 inhabitants was in the 13th century the capital of one of the most powerful regions of ancient Armenia, ruled by the Orbelians: The Principality of Syunik. But the threatening silhouette of the Smbataberd Fortress leaves no room for doubt.

The Smbataberd Fortress

It is one of the most inaccessible walled enclosures in the region. The fortress was built in the Middle Ages at 2,000 meters high (6561 feet) to protect the valley from the invasions of the Mongols. Although it suffered quite a lot of sieges, its 32-feet tall and 15-feet wide walls never succumbed.

There is a road that connects the town with the old fortress in less than 45 minutes and it offers beautiful views. Throughout the territory, the Orbelians devised a communication system against enemies, based on luminous signs and fire, which connected the defensive enclosures and the monasteries.

There were many churches in the village during the 13th and 14th centuries. Many of them were destroyed, but some of them, like the Zorats Church, still survive. Zorats Church was built in 1320 by Bishop Stepanos Tarsayitch and its style is unique to Armenia. The place for the parishioners has been replaced by an outdoor area. The church is surrounded by a small cemetery with khachkars and tombs.

The Enigmatic Jewish Cemetery of Yeghegis

Recently, an enigmatic Jewish cemetery has been found on the left bank of the Yeghegis River. It has 70 tombs dating from 1266 to 1337 and inscriptions in Hebrew and Aramaic. Some of them are decorated with solar steles.

Nothing is known about this mysterious community, where they came from, or why they disappeared. If you want to get here, you should take a taxi from Yeguegnadzor.

Muradsar Petroglyphs 

The mountainous plain to the east of the southern slope of the Vardenis mountain range is full of hundreds of rocks with mysterious primitive engravings. The field of petroglyphs is located one mile north and northeast of Mount Muradsar at 3214 meters (10544 feet).

They were the canvasses where the ancients chiseled their impressions on nature, their way of life, customs, and ancient cults. The landscape around here is breathtaking. The place is about 9 miles away from the town of Hermon and you can get there by jeep or on foot, although covering the 18-mile round trip in one day seems a quite demanding walk. Therefore, many people choose to spend the night in a tent.

Before venturing into the trails, you should ask the Lucy Tour staff for advice. They will provide you with information about the route and also have equipment for rent. The access steps are only open during the summer, and it has been known to snow in August. So just in case, you should be well prepared. There is a one-hectare field full of dolmens 9 miles east of the petroglyph field. Some claim that they can date from the third or the fourth millennium B.C.

Selim Caravanserai 

The best-preserved Caravanserai (shelter for caravans) is at the gates of the Sulema Mountain Pass, which crosses the impressive Vardenis mountain range in Armenia. It is located on a small esplanade at an altitude of more than 2,000 meters (6561 feet). And it was a major stop for ancient travelers before crossing the port that connected the banks of the Arpa River with Lake Sevan.

Prince Chesar Orbelian ordered its building in 1332 to create an infrastructure network that would help the merchants of the Silk Road. To that end, he used large blocks of basalt. It is easy to close your eyes and imagine the melting pot of languages that the merchants who rested inside must have talked, the noise of the beasts laden with exotic jewels or the crackle of the bonfires that warmed up the atmosphere.

The Caravanserai is 33 kilometers (20 miles) north of Yeghegnadzor, on the M10 Road. The only way to get there is by taxi or your own vehicle. Nowadays, the road continues all the way to the city of Martuni and to Sevan, in the province of Gegharkunik.

Gndevank Monastery (Surroundings of Yeghegnadzor)

“Syunik was a ring without an emerald. By building this monastery, I have already placed the precious stone that was missing,” reads an inscription on one of the walls of the church. And it is true that the history of the sanctuary involves a lot of jewels. Without going any further, Gndevank means earrings.

According to popular belief, Princess Sofia, who was the person who financed its construction, had to sell all her earrings in order to finish the project.

The sanctuary was built in 936 by the architect Eguishe on a slope of the Arpa River Canyon, 21 miles from Yeghegnadzor. It is surrounded by a thick wall to protect it from invaders.

The monastery is located in the middle of nature, on the outskirts of the village of Gndevank. A very peculiar geological phenomenon occurs on the walls of the gorge. It is filled with basalt blocks that are shaped like hexahedrons and known by locals as’ The symphonies of stone’. From afar, they look like the tubes of the organs of the great cathedrals. The only way to get here is by taxi or on your own vehicle.

Useful Contacts in Yeghegnadzor

Antoine Terjanian

Phone: +374 281 2437 (fixed)// +374 77 24837 (cellphone).

E-mail: aterjanian@yahoo.com.

It is the best contact in the city. Antoine is an Armenian-Canadian from the Diaspora who offers all kinds of information to tourists and he finds accommodation for you. He speaks English and French perfectly and Spanish quite fluently too. He usually spends half a year in Canada and summers in Armenia. You should get in touch with him via email and he will help you with everything he can.

Yeghegnadzor network

www.yeghegnadzorbandbnetwork.weebly.com This webpage will be useful for you to prepare your adventure for Yeghegnadzor. It offers information about the entire B&B network in the region. It also offers information on hiking trails, excursions in the area, history of the region and which places to visit.

ONG Syunik

Phone: +374 281 24 009// +374 93 265816.

Opening Hours: working.

It is an NGO based in the Yeghegnadzor State College. E-mail: syunikngo@yahoo.com Amongst other issues, it deals with the revitalization of the tourism sector in the region. They offer all kinds of information and they help visitors. They speak English perfectly.

Lucy Tour Resort

Phone: +374 281 24009// +374 77 861331.

This resort is situated in the Yeghegis Valley, in the village of Hermon. They organize hiking routes, 4x4 tours in the area and they rent bicycles. The staff speaks English and it is a good spot to get more information about the area.

Tatev

Phone: +374 281 24009.

Tatev is a young tourist guide from Yeghegnadzor who will show you the whole region. She is a very calm person who speaks English perfectly. She will help you with everything she can.

Where to sleep?

Cheap Lodging

Antoine Terjanian’s Guesthouse

Address: 11N Kachatryan Poghots Street.

Phone: ✆ +374 281 2437// +374 77 24837.

It is a beautiful house located in the upper part of the city with a spectacular view of the mountains surrounding Yeghegnadzor. Excellent service and a very cozy atmosphere.

The business belongs to Antoine Terjanian and his wife Sheila. Antoine is an Armenian-Canadian from the Diaspora who is trying to boost tourism in Vayots Dzor. He speaks English, Armenian and French, and a bit of tentative Spanish. It is one of the best contacts in the city. If he does not have a place, he will immediately put you in contact with some other family. He will give you advice on everything. If you are planning to visit the province, you should contact him in advance, as he lives on horseback between Armenia and Canada. E-mail:aterjanian@yahoo.com

Gohar´s Guest House

Address: 44 Spandaryan Poghots Street.

Phone: ✆ +374 281 23324// +374 93 826477//

Price: individual (10,000-12,000), double (16,000-18,000), quadruple (25,000). It is the most famous B&B.

The owner is Gohar Gevorgyan. The house is located in the upper part of the city and it has been recently renovated. The guest rooms are on the second floor, and the family lives on the first floor. Everything is quite clean. They have a kitchen for guests, garden area, barbecue, a small pool and a large terrace with stunning views. They offer double and quadruple rooms. They speak English and his daughters also speak French. It cost AMD 8,000-10,000 per person.

Luzig´s Guesthouse

Address: 28 Hachaturyan Poghots Street.

Luzig treats the guests as if they were part of the family and has a very good hand in the kitchen. They do not speak English, but they are able to make himself understood. He offers two double rooms which are quite simple. It costs AMD 8,000-9,000 per person. If you want to make a reservation; you should contact Antoine. Phone: +374 281 2437 (fixed)// +374 77 24837 (mobile phone) or aterjanian@yahoo.com

Crossway Camping

Address: Yerevan Highway.

Phone: +374 94 001 606// +374 94 789 391.

Prices: It is plain camping located at the entrance of Yeguegnadzor, about three miles from the center. It boasts beautiful views. It offers quadruple rooms, a camping area with shade and small wooden platforms which are equipped with mattresses and sleeping bags and they serve as ‘rooms’.

They also have a communal kitchen, barbecue area, swimming pool, dining room, washing machine… If you are interested in this experience but you have not come prepared, do not worry: they provide sleeping bags and tents.

Ruzane Guesthouse

Address: 5 Spandaryan Poghots Street.

Phone: +374 281 22275// +374 94 692 363.

The house has several floors. Ruzane lives with his family on the first floor, and the second floor is for guests. It has three double rooms with an Internet connection and a garage for clients. Ruzane speaks French and she is a really lovely woman. You can also contact Antoine Terjanians to make a reservation. It cost AMD 8,000-9,000 per person.

Medium price Lodging

Arpa Hotel

Address: 8/1 Grigor Narekatsy Poghots Street.

Phone: ✆ +374 281 20601.

E-mail: reservation@hotelarpa.am

In Europe, it would be the typical two or three-star hotel. It offers 40 large rooms with WIFI. It opened in 2010 and it is the best accommodation in the city. It is located right in the center and some of the reception staff speak English. The individual rooms cost AMD 17,000, AMD 26,000 the double and AMD 29,000 the suite (high season). For more information: www.hotelarpa.am

Where to Eat?

Cheap Restaurant

Teyaran Tea Home

Address: 8/4 Mikoyan Poghots Street.

It is the perfect place to have something to eat. Nothing too special, but it’s a place which is well known to locals and a very familiar cafe. They make Armenian pizza and you should try the ponchik and the perashkis. Nune is the owner and she speaks a little English.

Park Cafe

Opening Hours: from 10:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.

It is located in the Ferris wheel park of Yeghegnadzor. It is the typical outdoor cafe which is only open in summer. It is the meeting spot for families and where young people go to flirt with one another. If you’re looking for lively places, we regret having to tell you that this is the only place in the entire town.

Pizza Restaurant

Address: Sevak Poghots Street.  

Phone: +374 95 770977// +374 94 770987.

It is an informal place with food like pizzas, sandwiches… They offer a free delivery service.

Medium Price Lodging

LDJAG Restaurant

Phone: +374 93 998900.

It is located three miles away from Yeghegnadzor, on the M2 motorway in the direction of Yerevan. The location is amazing, on the edge of the Arpa River. It has its own artificial lake with tables scattered around it and private dining rooms in the shape of cabins. Its specialty is fresh grilled fish which has just been fished. Traditional local food.

Sisakan Restaurant

Phone: +374 93 733886// +374 281 2000.

Sisakan is a few miles past the village of Getap. It is the best-known restaurant in the area. You can take a one-way taxi from Yeghegnadzor and it costs AMD 1000. There are fresh fish, yogurt, vegetables, lavash…

Transportation

If you want to get to Yeghegnadzor from Yerevan you can take any marshrutka which goes to the cities of Sissian, Goris, Stepanakert or Meghri (1200 AMD). There is only one road which connects the capital to the south and it passes through Yeghegnadzor. So you just have to indicate the driver your destination and he will stop and drop you off there.

The marshrutkas to Yeghegnadzor leave several times a day from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (when they are full). The stop is next to the Gordsaranayin underground station. The Marshrutkas back to Yerevan from Yeghegnadzor stop on the M2 Highway near the gas station.

There is usually one marshrutka every hour, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (to be honest, they leave when they are full). If you want to go to Gori from Yeguegnadzor you have to stop the Marshrutka from Yerevan and cross your fingers so there are available seats.

If you want to secure your seat, you can also call +374 94 65 02 50 or +374 94 41 55 90 and book one. These are the telephones of the Yerevan station. The issue is that they barely speak English and they will charge you for the entire trip from the capital (2000 AMD).

Otherwise, you always have the option of taking a taxi (16,000 AMD). There is also a marshrutka for the Yeguegnadzor-Jermuk route which leaves at noon and it makes the trip back at 8:00 a.m. from Jermuk. If you want to go to the small towns in the surrounding areas, the minibuses leave from the hospital stop, but you should ask around because they tend to change places and schedules. We recommend you move around by taxi. They have a rate of 100 AMD per mile. A round trip taxi to Noravank is around 5,000 AMD, and 8,000 AMD to the Yeguegis Valley.

Festivals

Yeghegnadzor Harvest Festival

It is celebrated on the first Sunday of October. It is the most anticipated event in the town. The city is transformed and there are concerts on the street, outdoor dances, fruit, wine and cheese stalls…

Areni Wine Festival

Areni is the wine capital of Armenia. They produce the best wines of the country and the local economy concentrates on wine production. It is celebrated on the second Sunday of October. That day, the town turns into a celebration dedicated to winemaking where there are demonstrations of the grape stomping, wine tastings, folkloric groups, traditional dances, concerts or stalls with artisan products.