As it was already said I loved my time in Yerevan and didn’t really want to leave this amazing city. But one of the reasons that makes the Armenian capital so special is the fact that it can be a perfect base to explore so many great places in Armenia, with incredible old monasteries and breathtaking landscape. I used it to the fullest as even with the small Armenia travel budget you can explore a lot! I managed to see the basics (which is Lake Sevan, Geghard, Garni, Khor Virap and Echmiadzin) during my first visit to Armenia and this time I saw some less popular yet still incredible places. The first trip I took was to a place close to Yerevan, the region of Aragatsotn, with beautiful monasteries, ruins of medieval fortress and quirky monument of Armenian alphabet.
I’ve decided to go for the organized tour – it’s the best option in Armenia. Even if the sights are located fairly close, the public transport doesn’t really go to the remote areas (and that’s usually where beautiful monasteries are located) and the tours’ prices are really good. I chose Hyur Service – probably the most popular company, the one that offers a big variety of tours, also to less popular sights. With three different tours per day I had a really hard time picking where I’d like to go and what I’d like to see. Eventually I’ve decided for three tours: Aragatsoth region, Lori region and south of Armenia – each of them was amazing and made me fall for Armenia even more.
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Monasteries of Aragatsotn: Saghmosavank
The first trip was to Aragatsoth region. It’s one of the ten provinces of Armenia, located not far from Yerevan, on the north-west side from the capital. The name of the province means “a foot of Aragats” (the highest mountain of Armenia) and that is very accurate as the views of the mountain accompanied us all day long. Our first stop was Saghmosavank monastery, located less than one hour driving from Yerevan. This beautiful complex dates back to 13th century and now shines again, after the recent renovation that needed to be done due to the terrible 1988 earthquake. Standing proudly at the edge of steep Kasagh river gorge and dominates the view of the surrounding village it’s a perfect example of the beautiful Armenian sacred architecture. When we arrived to the site there were no people around, only local cows were wandering around and didn’t really mind our presence. The monastery was beautiful, built on the shape of cross, with a scriptorium adjacent to the main part and two copulas on top. The vast landscape, the deep gorge and the perfect silence just added up to the atmosphere of the place.
I visited Aragatsotn as a day trip from Yerevan. If you’re looking for a place to stay in the capital of Armenia I’ve picked the best hotels in Yerevan for you, from budget to luxury! Click here to see them all!
Quirky Aragatsotn: Armenian Alphabet Monument
From Saghmosavank we headed not far away, to my personal highlight of the day – the Armenian Alphabet Monument. Yes, the country has its own alphabet. It was created in the year 405 by Mesrop Mashtoc and contains 39 letters. It’s incredibly beautiful yet you have no idea what’s written around you. The monument presents all the letters carved in the red and grey stones typical for Armenian architecture. It was probably one of the quirkiest monuments I’ve ever seen – I don’t think I know any other nation who made the monument of their alphabet. It was so much fun wandering around the letters and trying to figure out what each of them means. I think Armenian alphabet is one of the most beautiful ones and this monument just showed it right!
Stunning location of Amberd fortress
The next stop was Amberd fortress, dating back to 7th century. The name translates as “fortress in the clouds” and it’s not far from the truth as the site is located at 2300 meters, on the slopes of Mount Aragats, where rivers Arkashen and Amberd meet. When wandering the site the trembling sound of water accompanied me, even if I didn’t see rivers well (they were in the very deep gorge) I surely knew they were there! Besides the ruins of the fortress there were some other interesting buildings on that site, such as the bath house or the beautiful Vahramashen Church. Being in this site, right in the nature and so far away from any form of civilisation, was a pure pleasure!
Ashtarak – the city of hundred churches and the capital of Aragatsotn
From the high mountains we headed to Ashtarak, the capital of Aragatsotn region and the place known as the city of hundred churches. We visited only one, but the best preserved sacred building in the city – Karmaravor Church. It’s a really tiny and simple structure but definitely one of the most charming churches I’ve ever seen. The name – Karmaravor – literally translates as “the red church” which is pretty obvious looking at the colour of the stone it was build from.
The tomb of the greatest Armenian
The final stop of this tour was Oshakan – a small village famous for the tomb of Mesrop Mashtoc, the creator of the Armenian alphabet. The site was full of cute but quirky letters – there were khachkars (traditional Armenian memorial stones) in the shape of letters, the doors to the church were decorated with the alphabet, so was the stained glass window inside. The vault where the tomb was located was a very modest place but the sacred atmosphere was definitely there. Oskakan, even if it looks like another random destination, is one of the most important spots in Armenia and this sublimity can be felt there. I’m really glad I had a chance to visit this small yet significant village.
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Organized tour in Aragatsotn
As for the tour itself – I enjoyed it a lot! It started at 10am in front of Hyur’s office in the center of Yerevan – not too early so people could be on time and the place was easily reachable for everyone. We had a small, international group – there were only 6 of us and we had a modern, air-conditioned bus for ourselves- there was enough space for everyone. At the first stop we were offered complimentary snacks and drinks which was definitely a nice surprise and got use enough energy to explore all the sights in our busy itinerary. The tour was conducted in two languages – English and Russian – but I didn’t feel like it was a problem. When the guide – a really lovely young girl who knew very well what she’s talking about – spoke in one language people who didn’t understand that could wander around the site and see what’s there. We had more than enough time in each location. That’s usually what I’m afraid of at the organized tours. I like to have a lot of time to explore the place, take too many pictures and see everything properly. On this tour (as well as on every other I took with Hyur) time-wise it was perfect! We were given at least half an hour everywhere and that let me see and do everything I wanted without hurrying too much, This way we also didn’t have to wait for anyone in the bus. In the middle of the day there was a lunch stop in the local restaurant serving home cooked meals. In advance we were given menu with 4 different option to choose from so the food could be ready once we come to the place. And here comes the only downside of the tour – there was no vegetarian option among those we had. Of course when I asked there was not a problem to get one but still I didn’t like causing this whole issue. The food however was delicious and really fair priced and the lunch was a perfect opportunity for people to get to know each other.
If someone wants to see amazing yet less touristy sights in Armenia I’d definitely recommend going for this tour!
Would you like to visit Armenia? Do you like quirky sights?
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If you think of visiting Armenia or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
- What you should know about Armenia
- Exploring Armenia: Lori Province
- Exploring south of Armenia
- and more!
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