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Armenian wine festival

5th October, sunny, even hot. In the Vayots Dzor village of Areni, there was a massive wine festival this weekendIMG-20191006-WA0004. It is an annual event, featuring all kinds of food, the fruit of Armenia –and of course wine! Dry, semi-dry, sweet, red and white, from wine producers, small and big from all over Armenia. Pay only 3000 AMD for an empty glass,  and you taste as much wine as you want, visiting the stalls of all our wine producers. As the day goes on, people become increasingly merry– dancing, singing, eating,  and just enjoying their time together in the beautiful outdoors. Don’t worry. No-one gets aggressive or out of control–I was quite surprised by this myself., All the food and fruits for sale were very cheap. I bought a great bunch of grapes for just 200 AMD. Everything is very well organized !

Hire me as your driver for next year’s festival. We can start the day by visiting Noravank monastery and exploring the ancient cave Areni 1 where evidence of wine-making from 6000 years ago has been excavated. This is also where the ancient shoe you can see at the Armenian history museum in Yerevan was found. At the festival, I will stay completely sober and drive you safely home.

Not able to visit Armenia in October? Don’t worry. At any time of year I can arrange visits to the Old Bridge and Trinity Canyon wineries in Vayots Dzor. Learn the history of our Areni noir grapes, drink some excellent wine, and enjoy some great food and hospitality in the company of our wine-makers. I will arrange the whole thing.

Travel with  Goris Tours to explore the best of Armenia,  its people and traditions. Thanks to Alex and his family from Alaska for having me as their designated driver this weekend!

Check out this video about the wine festival. See you next year. 😉

The Secrets of the Stones

There are 64 Graves –some of them inscribed in Hebrew. They are the only evidence of a small community of Jewish people who lived in South Armenia in the 12th and 13th centuries. Today, Armenia is 98% homogenous.

Apart from the ethnic Armenians, there are small communities of Yazidis–often working as shepherds and herders– and of Malakhans –often red-haired, and unfailingly peaceable and modest– who are ethnically Russian, and who are usually found in the North of Armenia. Since the 1400s there have been no Jews.

All that remains of the Vayots Dzor Jewish community is this small graveyard. There is no history of where these people came from, or what happened to them. It probably wasn’t good.

The graveyard was excavated only a few years ago. Then, some of the stones were are used to form the base of a bridge. Luckily, someone quickly recognized the rarity of what they had found. The graves were not looted or further tampered with. Jewish communities from other parts of the world were told of the discovery. Some clubbed together to build steps from the river up to the graveyard, near the village of Yeghegis. There is now a wall and a gate with a blue Star of David.

Previous visitors, almost certainly Jewish, had placed stones in neat lines on top of many of the graves. I am not sure why. Perhaps you know?

The Jewish cemetery of Yeghegis is only one of the mysteries of Armenia. Around every corner there are more rocks and stones and carvings with secrets they will not tell. On the way to Vayots Dzor we stopped to visit Armenia’s Stonehenge. I love it there and try to visit everytime I am driving nearby. The situation is glorious, and I am hooked on the ancient intrigue. The settlement is believed to be at least 7000 years old, meaning it predates the standing stones in the south of England by a millennium or two. Many of the stones have perfect circles somehow cut in an age before Precision tools. No one knows how or why. Clearly, there are graves and the remains of ancient dwellings. Locals and international experts bicker about whether the surrounding stones are evidence of an observatory, or were placed to make a wall for defense. It’s impossible to say.

As more and more tourists come to visit Armenia, the mysteries and ongoing discoveries only add to the fun.

Half-Day Hiking Tour in Old Goris

Goris is special among Armenian cities. In addition to its unique history and architecture, and its famous mulberry vodka, it is also worth visiting to explore the craggy rocks and stone pinnacles that surround the city.
Join me for a half-day hike past St. Hripsime church and the graveyard in old Goris. Take photos of our volcano rocks, stretching like needles towards the sky. Then climb the large hill or small mountain instantly recognizable in any panoramic view of Goris. At the top of “Lasti Khut” we can enjoy a great view of the city, and can watch many huge birds soar. I’ll bring high quality binoculars, which you are welcome to use.
Thanks to UK visitor Fiona Chesterton for sharing her photos from our walk.
Interesting in other walking tours in Goris? Check out my city walk and learn more about the city’s writers, buildings and famous lavash. We can also hike from the abandoned monastery Great Hermitage of Tatev / Tatevi Mets Anapat / up to the monastery at Tatev, enjoy the fascinating view of old Khot and old Khndzoresk.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Popular Tours

Check out some of my most popular tours:

Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh)

Khndoresk Cave City and Swinging Bridge

Tatev Monastery, Tatev Ropeway and Devil’s Bridge

Armenia’s Stone Henge and Shaki Waterfall

The Petroglyphs at Ughtasar

Of course, I have lots of other options. Maybe you are interested in a walking tour? In Bird Life? In Wild Flowers? Remember: I can drive you all over Armenia showing you historical and natural sites, and introducing you to the best of Armenian food, drink and culture.

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Picture credit: Karissa Kresge

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Walking Tour of Goris

2017-04-18 07.56.19Short of time in Goris? Visiting on a Monday when the Tatev ropeway is closed? Why not join me for a one-hour walking tour of Goris?

2017-06-06 17.01.15

 

 

We will start at a lavash bakery, learning how Armenia’s famous flatbread is made and learning a little about our traditional oven–the tonir. We will stop by the Axsel Bakhunts museum–a great way to learn about home life in Armenia in the 1930s, as the house showcases much of its original furniture and contents. Bakhunts was a writer whose own story has a sad ending. He was killed on Stalin’s orders in 1937. But the beautiful garden he planted has been preserved and is worth a visit. (Note: the museum does charge to enter).

2017-12-25 16.51.28Walking towards the center of town, we will see the stone buildings built in a style unique to Goris and featuring the arched windows and doors that are typical of this area. We will also learn about the large porches or balconies that are features of many houses here.

In the center of the city, we will drink from the water fountains in the park, and stop to admire the large square with its statue of 14th century philosopher and Apostolic priest Grigor Tatevatsi.goris1

Depending on your interests, we might visit the theater, a small, local museum, an art gallery, the chess club, or the church of St Gregory the Illuminator. Perhaps you will want to buy a jingalov hats–the flatbread stuffed with herbs which is a popular local snack, or stop to watch the old men of the  town play nardi–our word for backgammon.

The tour will finish at the Tur Baza cafe which serves traditional Armenian food and offers a great view of our famous needle rocks.

This tour can be extended to include the church of St. Hripsime and an exploration of the needle rocks. Alternatively, you can choose to do this short tour by car if that would be more comfortable for you. 

 

Birdwatching in Armenia

https://www.armenia.travel/en/tourism/bird-watching-in-armenia

I love to spend time outdoors and am always eager to learn more about the natural world. Although I am not an ornithologist, I would be pleased to take you bird-watching. Check out the information below (from armenia.travel) and let’s pack our binoculars and go. I am patient, quiet and curious and can pack a picnic for us to enjoy in the outdoors. Of course, birdwatching can also be combined with some of  my other cultural, historical and food and drink tours

A Rewarding Destination for Every Keen Birder

Armenia is located between the Black and Caspian Seas, an ideal bio-geographic bridge between Europe and Asia, and, therefore, home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Worldwide, there are approximately 9,700 species of birds, 350 of which have been reliably recorded within Armenia, 245 of which have been proven to breed here, and around 170 have been found in winter. This may not seem like a lot, but by comparison, the whole of Europe has 550 species and the entire landmass of the former Soviet Union has only 750!

red fronted serin
Red -fronted Serin

The richness in birds and other wildlife in addition to the famous hospitality of the locals, the delicious cuisine, numerous ancient historical and cultural sites and some of the most impressive landscapes in the Western Asia, makes Armenia an amazing and rewarding destination for every ambitious birdwatcher.

​​The country lies on the main migration route between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Following a major flight path, more than 180 species pass through Armenia on the way to and from their wintering grounds that spread from the Middle East to South Africa. With its diverse terrain and vegetation zones overlapping in such a compact area, Armenia attracts diverse bird species that would otherwise not be found so close together. Thus, it is possible to observe desert and forest birds, waterfowl, high plains and alpine species living in the same area – sometimes even within the same square mile.

A Variety of Bird Species

caspian snowcock
Caspian Snowcock

You can find the world’s largest breeding colonies of Armenian Gull near lakes Sevan and Arpi. Arpi lake is also famous for holding a small population of the well known Dalmatian Pelican species. Glossy Ibis, Pygmy Cormorant, Marbled Ferruginous and White-headed Ducks found their home in the Ararat plane due to the location of fish farms there.

Ménétries, Moustached, Paddyfield and Savi Warblers can be found throughout the reeds and the scrub in this area. White-tailed Lapwing breed is mostly found in the nearby salt planes. White-winged, Whiskered Terns and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters all inhabit the banks and canals of this area.

The forests of the mountainous areas are full of big variety of birds. Among this huge variety of species you’ll be able to spot the Lesser-spotted Eagle, Black, Green and Middle-spotted Woodpeckers, Samamisicus Redstart, Greenish Warbler, Mountain Chiffchaff, Red-breasted and Semi-collared Flycatchers.Caucasian Grouse, Magna Bluethroat and Radde’s Accentor all found their home in the slopes that are covered with scrub from above the treeline. Meanwhile, the mountain springs in the alpine meadows are inhabited by the Horned Lark, Caucasian Twite and Red-fronted Serin. Crags and scree adjoining the alpine meadows are home to Caspian Snowcock, Crimson-winged Finch and Wallcreeper.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Armenia for bird watching falls between the months of May-July as well as September-October. In order to get the full experience by getting most of the country’s species you should plan your trip for at least 8 days, 12 ideally. An important thing to note is that you must consider the weather conditions of the mountains even during the hot months of summer. While looking at high montane species you must consider bringing warm clothes with you.

If you’re still hesitant about visiting Armenia for bird watching purposes, you must know that certain parts of Armenia still remain underwatched. You as a birdwatcher have the exclusive chance to make new discoveries and share with the world. Once done with your expeditions you can enjoy all of the other things Armenia has to offer to you, from the mesmerizing landscapes of the countryside all the way to the active urban life of the capital. You won’t have to limit yourself to just one activity.​