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Armenia has wrongly been overlooked as a go-to destination for tourists, but if you visit, you will find a rich cultural heritage where ancient sights and delicious food abound. Throw in the friendly atmosphere (and copious opportunities for extreme sports) and it’s clear that Armenia’s reputation is due for a change. Here are the top 10 reasons to visit Armenia.
Did you know that Armenia was the first country in the world that adopted Christianity as a state religion? It happened in 301 AD with the assistance of Gregory the Illuminator and Armenian king Trdat III. The country began the destruction of pagan temples and the construction of Christian churches. The very first was the Echmiadzin Cathedral, which became the first Christian cathedral in the world. You can see this magnificent creation in the town of Echmiadzin, the religious centre of all Armenians. Today, religious monuments of Christianity can be seen everywhere throughout Armenia. Look out for their majestic medieval architecture, which, juxtaposed against the striking surrounding landscapes, create a spectacular sight. We also recommend paying a visit to the mysterious Monastery of Geghard, half-carved in the rock and over 800 years old. Alternatively, fly over the deep gorge to the Monastery of Tatev, a pearl of medieval Armenian architecture, or visit the prison where Gregory The Illuminator suffered at the Monastery of Khor Virap.
It’s impossible to visit the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, without noticing its magnificent natural landmark, Mount Ararat. This emotive and awe-inspiring mountain is beautiful in any season. Traditionally, Mount Ararat was the symbol of the motherland for all Armenians, and it remains so today. Ararat is known as a Biblical mount, as it was mentioned in the Bible during the story of the Great Flood. According to the tale, Noah’s ark stopped exactly on the mount and after a while, he settled in the Ararat Valley with his family. Despite the fact that Ararat is visible from many parts of Yerevan, for the most beautiful view it is best to climb to the top of the Cascade, or go to the observation area in Victory Park . For a truly breathtaking view, drive out of Yerevan to the monastery of Khor Virap, where you will feel like you can almost touch the mountain.
You can get to the one of the most magnificent creations of medieval Armenian architecture, Tatev monastery, by a ropeway, which happens to be the longest in the world (5.8 kilometres, or 3.6 miles). Not one for those with a fear of heights, as you’ll find yourself walking at 320 meters (1050 feet) above the picturesque gorge of the River Vorotan for 12 minutes. At the end of the journey, you’ll arrive at a unique monastery, built in the 9th-13th centuries.
Lake Sevan is located so high up in the mountains, that when you sit on the bank it seems that the water surface is about to touch the sky. This amazing lake is the largest and possibly the most beautiful in the Caucasus. The clean fresh water only gets warm in the middle of the summer, which means it is the perfect place to cool down on a hot day. The lake, which locals call ‘the Armenian Sea,’ is surrounded by mountains. Spend an afternoon here and notice how every hour the water changes its colour, from azure to turquoise to navy blue. You can also explore the monastic complex of Sevanavank, built in 874, located nearby.
Armenian cuisine is one of the oldest in Europe and the oldest in the South Caucasus. The dishes here are diverse and delicious thanks to the use of lots of spices, herbs, and wild flowers. In Armenia, and especially in Yerevan, there are many traditional restaurants offering a great choice of local dishes. To start with you can order spas, a creamy and low-calorie soup, prepared from fermented Armenian yogurt (matsun). For the second, try Armenian kyufta (meatballs) or tolma (grape leaves stuffed with minced meat). Also make sure to try juicy barbecue or khorovats, as locals say. Its preparation is a real ritual in which, according to traditions, only men take part. As a snack, sample the white Armenian cheese and basturma (dried meat with spices). You can wrap this in lavash, Armenian national pita bread included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. For dessert, the best choice is the Armenian gata, a puff pastry that melts in your mouth.
Due to the favourable climate and the warm rays of the sun, the Armenian land provides a huge amount of juicy fruits and healthy vegetables for its residents. Every year in the summer and autumn the shop shelves are crammed with a variety of fruits, berries, and vegetables. When you visit, make sure to try the famous golden Armenian apricot, which absorbs the bright rays of Armenian sun every year and is guaranteed to please due to its gentle taste and aroma. Only in Armenia can you enjoy this delicious prunus armeniaca.
Many historians consider the Armenian Highlands as the birthplace of the eastern carpet. It is unknown whether it’s true or not, but from ancient times, the Armenian tradition of carpet weaving has been famous for its high and unique quality not only in the country, but also abroad. If you want to get acquainted with Armenian carpet weaving, we advise visiting the gallery and factory Mgeryan Karpet. In their gallery, you can see old works from the 16th-19th centuries, and buy the works you like the most. For a good buy, you can also visit Vernissage, an open-air souvenir fair located not far from the Republic Square. The fair offers a wide variety of things, antiques, old carpets, silver ceramics, pottery, national musical instruments, vases of onyx and much more.
Did you know that the water in Armenia is considered one of the safest and most delicious in the world. The secret is that it comes from pure natural sources. Another unique feature of Yerevan is that at almost any corner you can find small fountains with drinking water. In honour of its 2,750th anniversary, the city received 2,750 small fountains for every year. The anniversary has long passed but the fountains remain, and everyone can drink clean cold water free of charge.
Due to the mountainous terrain and favourable climate, Armenia is a great place for extreme sports. In recent years, it has become especially popular for paragliding.The places to fly in Armenia are diverse and picturesque with predictable macrometeorology. In summer, you can also enjoy widespread trekking and hiking. Tourists often choose to go climbing in Mount Aragats, the highest point of Armenia (4,090 meters or 13,420 feet). In winter, the country has excellent conditions for ski and snowboard lovers. The most popular ski resort is Tsaghkadzor, which has a four-speed chairlift, equipped with modern and safe technology and more than a dozen well-equipped ski slopes. In comparison to other European destinations, Armenia is a great alternative place to ski, with equipment available at affordable prices.
There is an old Armenian saying, ‘a guest is a gift from God’. On any occasion of joy or happiness, Armenians are quick to set the table for relatives and friends. Armenians also warmly welcome foreigners and want to do everything to make them feel comfortable in their homeland. Many tourists point out that nowhere else have they seen such hospitality as in Armenia. Do not be surprised if during your trip complete strangers invite you to their home and treat you to a variety of different goodies. And it is very likely that at the end of your journey you will make good Armenian friends who will be waiting for your return to their beloved homeland.