Armenian monasteries and Areni Wine

Yerevan Travel Blog

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Stone tablet, Saint Hripsime Church

Armenia is not an especially easy country to travel around in.  Unless you book day trips, you need to rent a car.  And if you do that, you may need to be able to read the Armenian alphabet.  Not feeling quite that intrepid, I booked a couple of day trips in Yerevan to economize my time in the country.  Luckily, the hostel I was staying at, Envoy, was a well-established tour company as well.  I learned much later that the neighboring Georgians have a stereotype about the Armenians, that they are well-organized and good with their money.  I was happy to capitalize on this and enjoy some of what Armenia had to offer, so I booked the Enlightened Armenia tour, which would take me seemingly all over the small country to visit notable monasteries, finishing with wine tasting in one of the world's oldest wine making regions.

Lighting candles, Saint Hripsime Church
 There were a lot of stops on the tour, so I'll try to keep things concise.

Stop 1: Saint Hripsime Church: One of the oldest surviving churches in Armenia, this church is dedicated to the saint who brough Christianity to Armenia, Hripsime.  Located in the town of Echmiadzin, the story behind this church turned out to be identical to the story of how Christianity was brough to neighbouring Georgia.  They have a playful rivalry, and it's interesting to watch.  A nice church, in a quiet area, with well-manicured ground.  Also contains the remains of its namesake, Hripsime.

Stop 2: Saint Gayane: Another church in Echmiadzin, and with a similar backstory of refusal to marry the then-pagan king, it has a lot in common with aforementioned Saint Hripsime Church, and seems to be of equal importance.

Entrance to Echmiadzin

Stop 3: Echmiadzin: The most holy place in all of the Armenian church.  This site houses the Echmiadzin Cathedral, museums, religious university, and allegedly the resting place of the spear that pierced Jesus, giving him the last of the stigmata.  I wasn't able to see this spear because it is housed in a private location and you have to request special permission to see it.

Stop 4: Khor Virap: Now things were getting interesting.  The history of this church I wasn't especially interested in (shoot me...) but the view was fantastic.  Just a stone's throw away from the Turkish border, from this church you have the best, unobstructed view of Mount Ararat, and if you back away from the church about half a kilometer, you'll have a fantastic view of the church and the mountain in the background.

Khor Virap, Mount Ararat backdrop
 Probably the most beautiful site that I saw in Armenia.

After our visit to Khor Virap, we stopped in the local village to have lunch with a family that the tour group arranged the meal with.  The tour group does this to bring in more money to the small villages, and also to give tourists a better view of everyday Armenian life outside of Yerevan.  The food was simple, but simple food that's treated well doesn't need to be anything more.  Lots of vegetables, potatoes, rice, dips, bread (Armenians appreciate good bread!), and of course some hearty meats.  At the end of the meal, we were served coffee and tea, and we had about thirty minutes to digest our food before heading off to our next stop.

Stop 5: Noravank: Definitely one of the more dramatic monasteries in Armenia, this one is made of eye-catching red stone that's easily visible in the surrounding canyon.

Beautiful Noravank
 It was a beautiful day, and the red stone contrasted beautifully with the bright blue sky and green grass.  It was getting a bit late in the day, and it had been a long drive from Khor Virap, so we were all bleary-eyed by that point, but the stunning view woke us up!

Stop 6: Areni Winery: Maybe there was a good logistical reason to do a wine tour at the end of a long tour that had lasted all day.  It's possible.  But we were all really tired by then and not sure how much wine we could taste with that energy level.  Areni, by some claims, is the oldest winery in the world.  Certainly the oldest in Armenia, though I'm sure there are other locations that make that same claim.  As far as the actual wines?  Very good, certainly rivals in flavor the wines of my native home of the Pacific Northwest.

Wines at Areni
 We tasted dries and sweets of red and white, of different years.  We sampled some fruit wines, made of plum, pomegranate, peach and apricot, which weren't as sweet as you would expect.  It suited me perfectly.  I don't enjoy the sweet wines.  There were also brandies on offer, but I was sure I would pass out if I bothered trying any of those.

Food?  Great.  Wine?  Awesome.  Scenery?  Jaw-dropping. Successful day tour!  I loved Armenia so far.  What else would I find?

cynthiasmiller says:
@vances Actually no, but coincidentally it's on my to-read list! Thanks for reminding me that I need to get to it.
Posted on: Oct 08, 2017
HORSCHECK says:
Another fantastic and detailed blog about your adventures in Armenia. As I have been on a similar tour, I know what you are writing about here.
Posted on: Oct 08, 2017
vances says:
Have you read "From the Holy Mountain" by William Dalrymple? A marvelous book which sounds like it would have made for a good prelude to this adventure.
Posted on: Oct 08, 2017
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Stone tablet, Saint Hripsime Church
Stone tablet, Saint Hripsime Church
Lighting candles, Saint Hripsime C…
Lighting candles, Saint Hripsime …
Entrance to Echmiadzin
Entrance to Echmiadzin
Khor Virap, Mount Ararat backdrop
Khor Virap, Mount Ararat backdrop
Beautiful Noravank
Beautiful Noravank
Wines at Areni
Wines at Areni
Inside Saint Hripsime Church
Inside Saint Hripsime Church
Saint Hripsime Church
Saint Hripsime Church
Inside Saint Gayane Church
Inside Saint Gayane Church
Inside Echmiadzin Church
Inside Echmiadzin Church
Lighting candles at Echmiadzin Chu…
Lighting candles at Echmiadzin Ch…
Church at Khor Virap
Church at Khor Virap
Noravank
Noravank
Details, Noravank
Details, Noravank
The colors at Noravank
The colors at Noravank
Those stairs were actually a bit s…
Those stairs were actually a bit …
Inside Noravank
Inside Noravank
Areni wine tasting
Areni wine tasting
Wines at Areni
Wines at Areni
Yerevan
photo by: jose28