You might well wonder what to expect of Armenia, a South Caucasus country pretty much off the usual tourist trail, hard to reach and not easy to travel within, hidden for years under Soviet rule. Well, if you’re culturally curious, fascinated by history and artistry, a lover of remote beauty and engaging people, Armenia ticks all the boxes.
Said to have its head in the West and its heart in the East, Armenia has had a turbulent history, particularly in the 20th century, but throughout, its resilient people have maintained a fierce pride in their homeland, its history and culture and its traditions. It’s also a spectacularly beautiful land of mountains and lakes.
It was the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion, converting en masse in AD301, and religion plays a fundamental role in its culture and architecture. You’ll see medieval monasteries, many adorned with intricate frescos, in the most stunning mountain settings, such as the magnificent Noravank (New Monastery), carefully restored in the 1990s and surrounded by dramatic cliffs that are best viewed at sunset. Geghard Monastery is a World Heritage site, originally founded in the 4th century, and carved out of the rock of the Azat River Gorge.
This is an ancient land – visit a 14th century caravanserai on the Silk Road, where Marco Polo may have trod. Perhaps he also sampled the wine from what is allegedly the world’s oldest vineyard. You’ll sample simple foods from traditional recipes, good wines and excellent ‘konjak’ – say ‘Genats!’ (Cheers!) And prepare to be surprised by the capital, Yerevan, a fun city of weird and wonderful contradicting styles, where life is lived outdoors in the lively streets – well, at least in the summer!
A visit to Armenia will thrill and inspire you and is sure to win you bragging rights among your friends. What stories will you entertain them with?