Tours of Vayots Dzor

Vayots Dzor area is one of the most breathtaking areas in Armenia because of its  fascinating, rocky beauty, its nature and wildlife,  a number of old and amazing churches and monasteries, and its small, organic vineyards. Today not many people live in Vayots Dzor, but it  is one of the earliest populated areas in the world !

Join me for a day or more sight-seeing in this glorious part of Armenia and see, drink and taste many amazing things that most tourists miss.

Many tourists on their way from Yerevan to Syunik Marz make a single stop at the famous Noravank monastery complex, where the main church Burtelashen was designed and built in 13th century by Armenia’s talented sculptor and miniaturist Momik. The Monastery, with its steep steps surrounding the entrance, was Momik’s last  work. This church is certainly worth a visit–and lies at the end of a magnificent gorge where botanists and ornithologists from all over the world find things they have never seen before. But there is so much more in Vayots Dzor….

 

 

Картинки по запросу noravank photos AK

Картинки по запросу noravank photos AK

Картинки по запросу noravank photos AK

 

Much less well known than Norovank is the small monastery of St. Astvatsatsin in Areni village. We will stop for a moment or two to see some carved stones from pagan times, and other khachkars from 14-17 cc. This church was also designed and built by Momik in 1321.

Картинки по запросу արենի եկեղեցի photo

 

 

Картинки по запросу արենի եկեղեցի photo

 

Картинки по запросу արենի եկեղեցի photo

 

Nobody surely should skip the cave Areni 1, which has proven to be a treasure trove of Copper Age artifacts including the oldest shoe in the world, an ancient brain, and evidence of one of the oldest wineries in the world ! First investigated by archaeologists in 2007, the ever-giving Areni caves consist of a number of burial sites dating back to 5000 – 4000 BCE .  Among the artifacts the Armenian-Irish excavation team discovered were a series of clay pots, each containing the skull of a child. Remarkably, one of these skulls still held a piece of well-preserved brain tissue, making it the oldest example of the Neolithic brain ever discovered. But the amazing finds didn’t stop there. In 2010, excavators discovered a sewn leather shoe dating back to the Copper Age. While sandals and other primitive footwear have been discovered from era’s farther back, the foot wrap is the oldest example of its kind in existence. Shortly after finding the ancient footwear, the researchers then discovered what seemed to be an ancient wine press–one of the oldest in the world.

We can stop for a wine-tasting and a delicious meal or snack at the Trinity Canyon or Old Bridge winery. These vineyards are now producing award-winning organic wines from the ancient Areni Noir grape– a varietal that nearly died out in the Soviet era, when Armenians were told they should make cognac, not wine.

Картинки по запросу Areni 1 photos

Картинки по запросу Areni 1 photos

Картинки по запросу Areni 1 photos

Картинки по запросу Areni 1 photos

Картинки по запросу Areni 1 photos

Картинки по запросу Areni 1 photos

Late in the afternoon, we can turn off  the beaten track and see Bezoar goats registered in the Red book ! Sometimes it is possible to see bears too.

 

Картинки по запросу armenian bezoar goat photos

Картинки по запросу armenian bezoar goat photos

Картинки по запросу armenian bezoar goat photos

Картинки по запросу armenian bezoar goat photos

On the way to Lake Sevan, we can drive high into the mountains and see Orbelian’s Caravanserai also known as Selim Caravanserai. It was built along the Vardenyats Mountain Pass (also known as the Selim Mountain Pass) in 1332, on the Silck road, by prince Chesar Orbelian to accommodate weary travelers and their animals as they crossed from, or into, the mountainous Vayots Dzor region. Located at the southern side of Vardenyats Mountain Pass at a height of 2410 meters above sea level, Orbelian’s Caravanserai is the best preserved caravanserai in all Armenia, and the views from there are breath-taking.

 

Картинки по запросу selim caravanserai photo

Картинки по запросу selim caravanserai photo

Картинки по запросу selim caravanserai photo

Картинки по запросу selim caravanserai photo

Картинки по запросу selim caravanserai photo

 

Картинки по запросу vardenyats gorge photo

Картинки по запросу selim pass photo

Картинки по запросу selim pass photo

Hikers may like to park the car and trek with me to fortress Smbataberd. It is likely that Smbataberd was founded during the 5th century, but was better established and heavily fortified during the 9th to 10th centuries.

The fortress received water from an underground clay pipe leading from the monastery of Tsakhats Kar. Local legend tells that Smbataberd was captured by the Seljuq Turks in a similar manner to the fortress of Proshaberd. A thirsty horse was used to sniff out the pipeline so that the Turks could cut off the water supply to the fortress.

A good place to eat our packed snacks and relax could be on the way to the village of Sers–beautiful scenery and the sense that you are seeing sights that are hidden from most tourists.

 

Картинки по запросу smbataberd photos

Картинки по запросу smbataberd photos

Картинки по запросу smbataberd photos

Картинки по запросу smbataberd photos

Картинки по запросу smbataberd photos

Картинки по запросу smbataberd photos

Depending on the time of year, perhaps we will stop to pick apricots and admire volcanic rock formations along the way to Jermuk. In Jermuk spa town, we will visit the gallery and drink mineral waters that bubble from the earth at a range of different temperatures. Walk around the lake and pose beside giant busts of Armenia’s great writers and artists. Enjoy an Armenian coffee on the floating cafe–or strip off and take a dip in the famous hot pools. We will visit Jermuk’s Waterfall, Armenia October 2017 2017-10-17 13.22.07and take a ride on the funicular to get great views of this beautiful region. You can pick wildflowers and breathe the clear mountain air. If you would like to have a spa treatment at one of Jermuk’s luxury hotels, let me know–I will make your appointment. The town has great restaurants, but you may like to order a picnic lunch to enjoy by the river. My wife will be happy to pack a picnic for us to enjoy.

To tour Vayots Dzor, I can pick you up from Yerevan, or from Lake Sevan, or we can start our tour from Syunik Marz. Email me at goristours@gmail.com or call 374 94 002322 to arrange the tour that most interests you.

 

 

 

The petroglyphs mountain Ughtasar

I am not afraid to say that the petroglyphs mountain Ughtasar is one of the world’s truly amazing and memorable sites. Only accessible in summer, you will be glad you have made this off-road trip and will wish you could come back again and again to marvel at the petroglyphs and enjoy the supernatural beauty and mysterious silence of the deep and dazzling lakes. Ughtasar – a mountain 3300 meters high above sea level, is snowy even in high summer, even though it is only about 30 km far from Sisian. In 1968, thousands of petroglyphs—ancient rock drawings—were found there, but this magical place still remains unexplored because it is so remote.

 

The people called the place Ughtasar (Camel Mountain), because the mountainous area between Black and Al lakes looks like the hump of a camel.

More than 2000 scattered rock paintings have been found at the base of this mountain, around the small lakes of the volcanic crater, and in the valleys . Most pictograms are engraved on horizontal or vertical surfaces of copper and black cliffs with depths of 2-6 cm, with a width of 2-20 mm.

 

There is Huge variety in the rock paintings. They include hunting, the nature surrounding man, charming family scenes, and cosmic interpretations that suggest sun worshippers once lived there. The oldest rock images show crop and vegetable farming, and are thought to date from the BC. V-IV millenniums. Large images of deer and predators are stamped on the massif cliffs

We will use an off-road vehicle to get to the petroglyphs and, will have an unforgettable lunch there—I’ll bring pork kebabs to barbecue there. It is a great place to eat your first Armenian khorovats. Bring your hiking boots! It will be one full day in total. Because our ability to visit Ughtasar depends on the weather conditions, please plan to visit Camel Mountain in the summer and book your tour well in advance. I will do my best to make it happen.

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Make the most of your journey to or from Yerevan: Khor Virap, Norovank, Areni wine–and also Zvartnots and Etchmiadzin cathedrals

thongs photo
Norovank. Picture credit Thong Do

You can start in Goris or Sisian and end your day-trip in Yerevan or at Zvartnots airport–or do the journey the  other way around. Either way, we will take in the monasteries at Khor Virap and Norovank, and visit Areni, home of Armenia’s finest wines–and the place where the world’s oldest shoe was discovered. (You can see the 5,500 year-old shoe in Yerevan at the History Museum of Armenia, but the site where it was found is also worth exploring). Enjoy stunning views of Mount Ararat (if the day is clear), and gorges and mountains of amazing colours. Take part in a wine-tasting and learn what makes Armenian wine so special. Learn the legends of Gregory the Illuminator, and Momik the Architect, and speculate about the history of  our world-famous shoe. This day-trip combines history, archaeology, opportunities to photograph fabulous landscapes, and great food and wine. Depending on the time of  year, feast on apricots, apples, or walnuts sold by the side of the road–and take home a bottle or two of our beautiful  wine as a momento of your trip.

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Upon request, this trip can be extended to include a visit to Zvarnots Cathedral, an ancient site just outside Yerevan, and to Etchmiadzin, the Holy See of the Armenian Apostolic Church. 

From Goris to Jermuk

This day-trip winds through the mountains of Syunik Marz and the rocky slopes of Vayots-Dzor to the spa town of Jermuk. Depending on the time of year, we will see eagles soar across our path.  We will count numerous wild flowers–and discover the reason why the honey sold by the roadside is so good. Stop to pick apricots and admire volcanic rock formations along the way. In Jermuk, visit the gallery and drink mineral waters that bubble from the earth at a range of different temperatures. Walk around the lake and pose beside giant busts of Armenia’s great writers and artists. Enjoy an Armenian coffee on the floating cafe–or strip off and take a dip in the famous hot pools. We will visit Jermuk’s Waterfall, Armenia October 2017 2017-10-17 13.22.07and take a ride on the funicular to get great views of this beautiful region. You can pick wildflowers and breathe the clear mountain air. If you would like to have a spa treatment at one of Jermuk’s luxury hotels, let me know–I will make your appointment. The town has great restaurants, but you may like to order a picnic lunch to enjoy by the river. My wife will be happy to feed you!

 

 

Karahunj (Armenia’s Stone Henge)–> Vorotnavank Monastery–> Vorotnaberd Fortress–> Melik Tangi Bridge–>Shaki Waterfall

2017-10-19 12.23.49This day-trip explores some of the most beautiful and ancient sites of Armenia, in the area of Sisian. See the 7500-year old sharp stones at the Armenian Stone Henge and see if you can unlock the secret of the perfect round holes in the stones. Visit the monastery complex built by one of Armenia’s ancient Queens, and hear the legend of the snakes of Syunik. See a fortress dating back to at least the 4th century, and marvel at the rock formations beside the Vorotan river. Climb an ancient monument dedicated to two brothers who took on the Persians, and walk amongst khatchars–Armenian cross stones. Finish your day at the Shaki Waterfall, one of the great sights (and sounds) of Syunik Marz. Depending on the time of year, buy honey, mushrooms, cabbage, aveluk or apples from local families.

Depending on the time of year, you  may wish to extend your day-trip to visit the Hamo Sahyan museum in the village of Lor. A picnic lunch can be provided upon  request.

Goris–>Devil’s Bridge–> Halidzor Cable Car–> Tatev Monastery–> Swinging Bridge–> Cave Village Old Khndzoresk

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Picture credit: Karissa Kresge

This day-trip takes in all the most famous sites of the Goris region, allowing you to ride the world’s longest reversible tramway from Halidzor to Tatev, and cross the 160-meter swinging bridge over the gorge to visit the cave village of Khndzoresk where my father was born. Marvel at the beauty and history of Tatev Monastery and walk through the stream at Devil’s Bridge to see the stalactites and stalacmites in the underground caves. Benefit from my local knowledge and contacts to have a truly enjoyable day. For example, I will call Wings of Tatev to book your tickets for the Tramway, so you do not have to wait.

Upon request, a picnic lunch and dinner at my home can be added to this tour. You may also wish to talk to me about hiking Tatev gorge and seeing Mets Anapat, an abandoned monastery from the 17th century.