ARMENIA & KARABAKH TOUR
ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE FROM YEREVAN
10 DAYS | 9 NIGHTS
Centuries of Armenian heritage can be traced on this 10 days/9 nights unforgetable journey through the valleys, mountains and vineyards of the Armenia to the incredible vistas and the breathtaking landscapes of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (Artsakh). This all-embracing exploration covers the principal sights, historic landmarks and local character of the region: spend time in classic favorites like Yerevan and Stepanakert, discover ancient monasteries such as Geghard and Gandzasar, browse the local fruit & souvenir markets, and embrace the traditional culture and warm hospitality of the Armenian people.
Take a walking tour of Cascade Complex, with its Sculpture Park and Cafesjian Center for the Arts. See Fernando Botero’s sculpture of “The Black Cat” and other renowned artist’s works decorating the Park. The Cascade is an Art Deco version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a massive white stairway up a hillside of central Yerevan, decorated with green stretches, fountains and waterfalls, that run uphill and crowned with the obelisk of the Revived Armenia.
Visit the magnificent building of the Opera House, the postmodern Northern Avenue and the city’s main Republic Square, the centerpiece of the architect Alexander Tamanian’s master plan for Yerevan. The Republic Square is ringed by the National Gallery, National History Museum and several government buildings. Be sure to return to Republic Square after dark to see the “Dancing Fountains”, a choreographed water show synched with lights and music.
Continue to the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex on the hills of Tsitsernakaberd. The Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex houses both the Armenian Genocide Museum, and the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial. The museum offers an account of the 1915 genocide in which as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished while Armenia was part of the Ottoman Empire. Overnight in Yerevan.
Drive to Echmiadzin, the spiritual and administrative center of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Visit the churches of St. Hripsime and St. Gayane (UNESCO World Heritage Sites). The St. Hripsime Church is one of the famous ecclesiastical buildings in the city of Echmiadzin. The church is notable with its architectural simplicity and loftiness, and the tomb of the Christian martyr Virgin Hripsime is located in the sacristy of the church. The church of St. Gayane is not far from the Echmiadzin Cathedral, and according to the legend, this church was constructed over the tomb of Virgin Gayane, who was martyred for preaching Christianity in Armenia.
Visit the Main Cathedral of Echmiadzin, the oldest state-built church in the world, having been built by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 303 AD (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Attend the colorful service of the Holy Liturgy on Sundays, which attracts a numerous visitors and pilgrims from around the world. Visit the Cathedral Museum, where amongst other relics, you can see the Holy Lance, with which Jesus Christ was pierced on the cross.
Drive back to Yerevan. En route to Yerevan visit ruins of the 7th century Zvartnots Temple (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Zvartnots Cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake in 930 AD, and was lost to history until its discovery in the early 20th century. The Armenian and Arab historians alike marveled at the beauty of Zvartnots, calling it one of the most beautiful buildings ever built. Originally built to be the tallest church of the world at the time, and to last for 1,000 years (a projected date for the second coming of Christ), the Zvartnots Cathedral has been only partially reconstructed.
Return to Yerevan. Take a tour of an open air “Vernissage” market, where you can buy some gifts, souvenirs, jewelry and other handicrafts made of wood, semi-precious stones, silver and other materials. It is open year round, though only on the weekends, except for a rump vernissage held daily at the end of the usual “Vernissage” venue where it meets Khanjian Street. The “Paintings Vernissage” is located at Martiros Saryan Park, near the Opera House.
Stop at the popular fruit market “Shouka” to buy traditional sweets and dry fruits. You will be greeted by vendors of all types asking you to sample their goods – from delicious homemade dried fruits stuffed with nuts, paper thin fruit lavash and grape sujukh (local walnuts threaded on string and dipped in grape molasses) – right through to fresh lavash bread, an organic fruit and vegetables. Overnight in Yerevan.
Continue to the oldest surviving building on the territory of Armenia, the 1st century Garni Pagan Temple. The Garni Temple was built by the Armenian King Tiridates with the money he received after visiting Emperor Nero in Rome, and was dedicated to Sun God Mithra. After adopting Christianity in 301 AD, the pagan temple lost its significance and the fortress of Garni became the summer residence of the Armenian kings. The temple was destroyed in 1679 in an earthquake, but was reconstructed in Soviet times.
Take a trip down to Garni Gorge. The Goght River in Armenia carves through this beautiful, eye-catching gorge, referred to as Garni Gorge and located next to a village with the same name. To get to the bottom of the gorge breathtaking vertical cliffs, visitors must walk or take a 4×4 car, as the local buses in the area do not make trips down there. The cliffs themselves are extremely beautiful, consisting mainly of well preserved basalt columns. Those orderly octagonal columns look almost like an organ, that is why they are called “Symphony of the Stones”.
Return to Yerevan. Take a tour of the “Ararat” Brandy Factory, featuring degustation of the two types of Armenian brandy. While Georgia has gained its fame for its wine, in Armenia it’s the brandy that has a solid international reputation. Even Winston Churchill himself was turned into Armenian brandy after Stalin introduced it to him at the Yalta Conference, after which the former British Prime Minister continued to have cases shipped to him until he died. Overnight in Yerevan.
Continue across the Pamb Pass. The lovely views continue along the route through the upland grasslands, home of the Yezidi shepherds and mountain vistas. Arrive in Alaverdi, the largest city in the Debed Canyon, an area rich with historical monuments and natural beauty.
Visit the Sanahin Monastery. The moss-covered 10th century Sanahin is a fascinatingly detailed monastery complex, packed with ancient graves, darkened chapels and medieval gallery schools. During the period from the 10th-13th centuries, the monastery was an important and reputable center of learning, where humanitarian sciences and medicine were taught. Scientific treatises were written, paintings and miniatures were created here. The complex of Sanahin is also rich in Armenian khachkars (cross-stones). The most distinguished are Grigor Tudevordi (1184) and the Sarkis (1215) khachkars. The both khachkars are considered to be the finest examples of Armenian medieval sculpture.
Stop by the 9th century Bridge of Sanahin (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Next to the Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries, a part of the heritage is the Bridge of Sanahin, built over the heavy waves of the river Debed. Owing to its firmness and the harmonic construction of all the parts, the Bridge of Sanahin has its unique place among the numerous bridges of medieval Armenia and an outstanding one in the whole Transcaucasia. There are high-reliefs of lions, which seem to have preserved the bridge and guarded the road from the bridge to the monastery for ages.
Visit the 10th century Haghpat Monastery. This pearl of a monastery, perched on the lip of the Debed Canyon, has a UNESCO World Heritage Site status, along with Sanahin Monastery. These two magnificent monastic complexes are among the most outstanding examples of Armenian religious architecture. There is also a number of splendid khachkars (cross-stones) of the 11th-13th centuries standing on the territory of the monastery, the best known among them is the “Amenaprkich” (All-Savior) khachkar, which has been standing there since 1273. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Alaverdi.
Visit the splendid 12th century Haghartsin Monastery, which was constructed by two brothers, princes of the Bagratuni dynasty. Hidden in the forest of hornbeams, this beautiful monastery is situated in the picturesque gorge of the upper reaches of Haghartsin River. The monastery is famed for housing an image of the Virgin and Child, which has distinct Mongolian features – added to convince the next wave of Mongol invaders not to destroy the church.
Continue to Lake Sevan. Lake Sevan is one of the highlights of a visit to Armenia. The lakeshore is lined with sandy beaches, some teeming with activity and resorts, offering water sports such as sailing, jet skiing and windsurfing, and some quiet and secluded. Lake Sevan’s proximity to Yerevan, coupled with its cooler summer temperatures, outstretched blue waters and historic sights make it one of Armenia’s key places to visit.
Walk up to the 8th century monastery of Sevanavank on Sevan Peninsula, one of Armenia’s iconic landmarks. Sevanavank is perhaps the most photographed part of the lake. The conical towers of the monastery set against the backdrop of the turquoise lake and blue sky may look idyllic, but it was once a place of penance, a place of exile for monks from the religious capital of Echmiadzin who were guilty of sinful acts. Check into a hotel. Overnight in Sevan.
Drive to Nagorno-Karabakh Republic via Karvachar Road and start the Karabakh part of the tour. The land of Artsakh, the central and largest part of which is better known throughout the 20th century as “Nagorno-Karabakh” or “Mountainous Karabakh,” is one of three ancient provinces of Armenia located in the eastern end of the Armenian Plateau. Beyond the mystical beauty of the place, Karabakh is one of the cradles of Armenian statehood and contains a large number of the key landmarks of Armenian history. The region is an open sky treasure house of Christian art and architecture, hosting hundreds of medieval churches, monasteries and khachkars.
Stop at Jermajur, located at 2,400m above sea level. These natural warm water springs that flow from the underground are considered to be one of the most visited travel destinations in Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The mineral water springs of Jermajur are known for their healing properties, for which people have always visited this small town since the ancient times, to have a bath in its warm water basins.
Visit the 9th century Dadivank Monastery. The Monastery of St. Dadi, otherwise called Dadivank, is the largest monastic complex in Karabakh, and one of the true masterpieces of Armenian medieval architecture. According to the legend, one of the churches of the monastery was built at the burial site of Apostle Jude’s disciple, St. Dadi, who martyred preaching Christianity in the Eastern Armenia.
Continue to the Vank Village. Traveling to Nagorno-Karabakh will seem like a unique experience to any tourist, but Vank is definitely one of the surprising places you’ll see in Karabakh. Located in the vicinity of the Gandzasar Monastery, this village is known for its mix of kitschy architecture and historical buildings. Think boat-shaped hotels, buildings in vibrant colors, a giant tiger carved into the mountain nearby, a wall made out of number plates – and you’ll get a vague idea of what Vank is like. Check into a hotel. Overnight in Vank Village.
Drive to Amaras. En route to Amaras stop by the Tnjri – possibly the world’s largest plane-tree in the Skhtorashen Village. This tree (Platanus orientalis L.) reportedly, is more than 2,030 years old, and its trunk has a circumference of 27 meters. The Tnjri is considered to be sacred, and according to the locals, it has been visited by many legends of the past – such as the inventor of Armenian alphabet Mesrop Mashtots, first Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi and the musician and poet Sayat-Nova.
Visit the 4th century Amaras Monastery. The Amaras Monastery is one of the most treasured historical and religious sites of the South Caucasus, and one of the world’s oldest Christian monuments. It is associated with the spread of Christianity in the eastern lands of Armenia in the 4th century AD, through the mission of Armenia’s foremost Christian preacher, St. Gregory the Illuminator. Amaras hosts the resting place of St. Grigoris, the St. Gregory’s grandson, who preached the Holy Gospel to the pagan tribes in what is modern day Dagestan in the Northern Caucasus, and martyred in 348 AD.
Continue to Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Stop by the popular “We Are Our Mountains” monument in the outskirts of Stepanakert. “We Are Our Mountains”, also known as “Grandma and Grandpa ” (“Tatik u Papik” in Armenian), is a large monument by Sargis Baghdasaryan, that is widely regarded as a symbol of Karabakh’s identity. The monument is made of volcanic tufa, and depicts an old man and woman hewn from rock, representing the mountain people of Karabakh. Check into a hotel. Overnight in Stepanakert.
Drive to the small town of Shushi, the heart and the cultural and economic center of Artsakh for many centuries. Visit the Shushi Fortress, built in 1752 by Khan Panah Ali Bey to defend northern part of the plateau, a geographically the most vulnerable part of a city. The fortress walls are about 2,5 km long, and there is a secret exit from the fortress leading to the nearby gorge.
Continue to St. Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, the main cathedral in the center of Shushi. It was built between 1868 and 1887 and is supposed to be one of the architectural-ecclesiastical masterpieces ever built in the Nagorno-Karabakh. The impressive beauty of the white limestone church is underlined with the sculptural works from outside and the full-length images of the apostles from inside. Be ready for the most spectacular acoustic experience after you enter one of the mystical basement rooms of the church. When in the room, stand in the center of this hemispherical area, under the hole made in the ceiling and speak to hear your voice.
Continue to Hunot Canyon, one of the most beautiful sites in Karabakh. As some visitors say, “If somewhere on the Earth exists paradise, then it should be in Nagorno-Karabakh.” And truly so, one of these heavenly spots is considered to be the upper part of Hunot Canyon, which is called Jdrduz by the locals, and it is located on the southwest edge of Shushi. You can view in awe the sheer 250 meters deep (820 ft) canyon walls soaring above the Karkar River. This beauty is one of the most photographed sites by visitors to Artsakh.
Start your journey back to Armenia and drive to Khndzoresk. Khndzoresk is widely renowned for its canyon with picturesque rock formations and ancient cave settlement. The cave dwellings were inhabited until as late as the 1950’s at which point it is said that Soviet officials deemed the caves unfit and uncivilized, forcing the remaining villagers to leave. Visitors are welcome to explore the cave system, but a trip across the gorge is not for the faint of heart. However, making the trip a bit easier if no less harrowing, is a 160 meter long suspension ‘Tibetan Bridge’, that shakes with every footstep.
Continue to Goris. The endlessly winding roads that leap through the gorges over the mountains of Syunik come to a major junction at Goris, making this an inevitable stop between Yerevan, Stepanakert and the Iranian border. Boasting fine stone houses with arched windows and balconies on tree-lined avenues, a couple of museums and a busy little shouka – Goris is a great place for strolling around. It’s worth making a trip to the cave city on the other bank of the river and equally majestic sets of volcanic pillars, that spear through the steep grassy slopes above town. Goris is also known for its variety of homemade fruit vodkas, including the deliciously potent mulberry and Cornelian cherry vodkas. Check into a hotel. Overnight in Goris.
Built on a fairy tale natural fortress of rock on the edge of the Vorotan Canyon, Tatev is one of the jaw-dropping sights in Armenia. According to tradition, Tatev Monastery is named after Eustateus, a disciple of St. Thaddeus the Apostle, who preached and was martyred in this region. His name has evolved to Tatev. In the 14th and 15th centuries Tatev Monastery hosted one of the most important Armenian medieval universities, the University of Tatev, whose scholars contributed to the preservation of Armenian culture and creed during one of its most turbulent periods in its history.
Continue to Zorats Karer, one of the best known and most interesting archaeological landmark in Armenia. Zorats Karer is a prehistoric monument consisting of hundreds of vertically set large stones with holes in the top. Zorats Karer is often called Karahunj and frequently referred to in international tourist lore as “Armenian Stonehenge.” In 2010, the University of Oxford and the Royal Geographical Society of Great Britain explored Zorats Karer and concluded that this megalithic complex is probably one of the oldest observatories in the world, placing Karahunj in one row with Stonehenge in England and Carnac in France. Whether is an observatory, or just a mythical necropolis, while wandering around the standing stones, you will feel powerful vibes and some strong energy all around the site.
Continue to the masterpiece of medieval Armenian architecture, the 14th century Noravank Monastery. Set in a spectacular valley of red rocks, the monastery built out of the local stone, blends into the background of the molten red gorge, that contrasts with the stark blue sky. In the 13th–14th centuries the monastery became a residence of Syunik’s bishops and, consequently a major religious and cultural center of Armenia, closely connected with many of the local seats of learning.
Continue in the Vayots Dzor Province, which is Armenia’s most storied wine growing region. Armenia is considered one of the most ancient cradles of grape growing and wine making, as the Bible states: “Noah descended from Mt. Ararat and he planted the first vine, and made wine from it.” Stopover for wine tasting at the local winery in Areni Village, which is famous for its rather delicious dry red wine. Areni is marked by spectacular cliffs and caves, where archaeologists found evidence in one of the caves of the very first winery in the world, along with the world’s first shoe. Return to Yerevan. Check into a hotel. Overnight in Yerevan.
THE FEATURED TIER PRICE OF 925 USD PER PERSON IS BASED ON GROUP SIZE OF 4 PERSONS IN 3 STAR HOTELS
all transfers according to a program by car or minibus with A/C; accommodation in a DBL room in 3 star hotels (9 nights with an early check-in on arrival day: 4 nights in Yerevan, 1 night in Alaverdi, 1 night in Sevan, 2 nights in Karabakh, 1 night in Goris); meals (breakfasts & 1 dinner); foreign language speaking guide services; 1 country map per person; 1 bottle of water per person per day; entrance fees to museums and temples; local transfer to Garni Gorge; “Ararat” brandy degustation; “Wings of Tatev” cable ride; wine tasting in Areni.
PRICE DOESN’T INCLUDE
airfare; entry visas; insurance; alcohol during the meals; all additional tours not mentioned in the program; tips.