We only had three days and two nights in Armenia, and we only just scratched the surface of this little country! Even with our short time frame, we managed to squeeze in a quick day trip out into the Armenian countryside.
The easiest way to get out of Yerevan for a day trip is by hiring a driver or joining a tour. If we had a been a bit more organised, we could have joined a preorganised tour, however this limits where you can go. We stayed at Yerevan Hostel and they were able to organise a driver for us to a number of destinations we chose of a list. The price was per car, so this can be a relatively affordable option if you are in a group of 3-4 people. The most popular day trip out of Yerevan is to visit Garni and Geghard monasteries. However, we opted to check out a few destinations to the South of Yerevan.
Our first stop was Khor Virap Monastery, located in a small village about 30km from Yerevan. One of the best features of this monastery was the stunning views of Mt Ararat in the distance, over the border in Turkey. We were treated to a wonderfully clear day, so had great views of the peak.
The monastery itself is a relatively large complex with a variety of buildings to explore. The above is the main church, which dates back to the 17th century.
Whilst exploring one of the smaller chapels, we heard voices coming from below us. After a bit of searching, we discovered there was small entrance in the side of the building (see above), with a ladder leading down to a tiny… dungeon?
After some hesitation on my behalf, we made the terrifying descent into the dungeon. It was a very eerie experience – according to Armenian legend a saint was imprisoned in this dungeon for twelve years by the king of the time.
After exploring the monastery complex, we followed a path up a nearby hill for some further views of the surrounding countryside.
Oh, and more views of Mt Ararat – how could you ever get sick of looking at it?!
A man at the top of the hill attempted to sell Chris and I a pigeon to release for good luck. We declined.
Driving through the Armenian countryside was an experience in itself. Everyone apparently drives like a rally race car driver in the Caucasus, which can make journeys on the road a nail biting experience! The passing landscapes were also beautiful, from dry fields to snow capped peaks. We were in the region in mid-March, which was the end of winter, so the land was quite brown and bare.
Our second stop took us down a narrow road through looming cliffs to Novarank Monastery.
The buildings at the Noravank complex date back to the 13th century, though they were recently renovated. The sun continued to shine for us, so the entire experience of the visiting this complex with the surrounding wild landscape was surreal.
The Armenian alphabet is unique, and incredibly old – dating back to 405 AD and still used today.
Okay, so obviously I went a bit overboard in taking photos at Novarank. But how could I not with these views?!
Our final stop for the day was Areni Winery, located just up the road from Novarank in a small road side village. We were ushered into a tasting room and promptly tasted about twenty wines and a variety of fruit brandy!
The winery we visited is located near the site of Areni-1 Winery, a 6000 year old cave where the remains of wine have been found.
Whilst driving through Armenia, we noticed many road side stalls selling vegetables and reused plastic bottles filled with wine. Chris read that locals often sell their wine in old Coke bottles so Iranian truckers driving through Armenia can take wine across the border. When we were tasting wine at Areni, a group a truckers dropped in and bought a number of such bottles for what we can only imagine was a very cheap price!
The drive back to Yerevan was just as picturesque, and we spent our evening indulging in even more delicious Armenian food (again, no photographic evidence – I was too focused on eating!).