Armenia Explorer

Armenia

Ancient monasteries, traditional cuisine & stunning landscapes

9 days £1,095 pp This is the per person group tour price, based on 2 sharing. The price is subject to change with exchange rate and flight cost fluctuations.
Dates & Prices

Intro

Nestled amongst the mountains of the southern Caucasus, Armenia is often overlooked by travellers, though as the first country in the world to adopt Christianity, there is much to be discovered in its wealth of history and culture. Begin your journey through this fascinating country in the capital Yerevan, tasting Armenia’s famous brandy and learning how to make traditional Armenian cuisine. Marvel at the unique architecture of ancient churches, monasteries and fortresses, from Khor Virap to Noravank, with the stunning backdrop of Mount Ararat’s snowcapped peaks. Discover the ancient cave village of Khndzoresk before taking a ride on the world’s longest cable car to Tatev Monastery. Follow in the footsteps of the Silk Road travellers as you journey through the Selim Pass, and witness the changing colours of Lake Sevan, one of the largest alpine lakes in the world. Visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum, and learn how Armenia has emerged from its tragic past as a country of remembrance and reflection with an optimistic future.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • The 'Pink City' of Yerevan
  • Magnificent views of Mount Ararat
  • Yerevan Brandy Factory tour and tasting
  • Unique architecture of Armenia's churches and monasteries
  • The ancient cave village of Khndzoresk
  • Lake Sevan, the largest lake in the Caucasus
  • 'Symphony of the Stones' at Garni
  • Learn how to make traditional "Lavash" flatbread
  • Pay your respects at the Armenian Genocide Museum

Places Visited

Yerevan - Goris - Khndzoresk - Yeghegnadzor - Sevanavank - Lake Sevan - Selim Pass - Garni

What's Included

Arrival & departure transfers
Ground transport with driver
Accommodation
Meals (refer to itinerary for meal plan)
English-speaking guide
Entrance fees to sites & parks
Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Departure

Depart from your home country on your flight to Yerevan.

Meal plan: n/a

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Day 2 : Yerevan

Arrive at Yerevan International Airport in the early morning where you will be met by a Travel The Unknown representative and transferred to your hotel. After some rest and a late breakfast at the hotel, begin your walking tour of Yerevan, starting at the Republic Square, the masterpiece of the architect Alexander Tamanian. Continue to the Opera House, a stunning architectural piece and the hub of Yerevan. Freedom Square is just behind, surrounded by parks and outdoor cafes, and finally Swan Lake. Next, visit the Cascade complex, an open-air museum of modern art with huge stairways leading up to the Victory Park where there are fantastic views over the entire downtown. Finally, enjoy a visit to the Brandy Factory. Dinner is served in a traditional restaurant with live folk music. Overnight in Yerevan. 

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The capital of Armenia, Yerevan, sits on the Hrazdan river surrounded by picturesque hills and snow-capped mountains. It is often referred to as the 'Pink City' due to the 106 shades of tufa lava stone used on the city's buildings. During the Soviet years, Russian architect Alexander Tamanyan completely reconstructed Yerevan to resemble the neo-classical city styles of Paris and St. Petersburg. 

The Yerevan Brandy Factory has preserved the cultural and historical heritage of its brandy-making traditions since 1887, when the first wine and brandy factory was founded in Yerevan. Authentic Armenian brandy uses only local grape varieties that are grown in the unique Ararat Valley microclimate. During a guided excursion of the factory, you will discover Armenian brandy-making secrets and see the oldest brandies kept in barrels. Afterwards, there will be a degustation of various brandies.

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Day 3 : Yerevan - Khor Virap & Noravank monasteries - Goris

In the morning, drive to the Vayots Dzor region, the agricultural heart of the country inhabited since the Bronze Age. The region also boasts of its old wine-making traditions, with latest excavations discovering the oldest wine production units in one of the caves. En route, visit Khor Virap Monastery, standing before the snowcapped Mount Ararat. Enjoy lunch in a local house with a cheese making presentation by the host. Proceed to Areni Cave where, in 2008, archeologists found “the oldest leather shoe” in the world (older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids!). Continue to the 12th century Noravank Monastery, located in a seemingly inaccessible location amidst impressive red cliffs and stunning mountains. Later, drive south to the town of Goris for your overnight stay.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

The Khor Virap Monastery, located in the Ararat plains, is the closest point to biblical Mt. Ararat. It is a prominent pilgrimage site, as it is where the first Armenian Catholicos resided and where Gregory the Illuminator, Armenia's patron saint, was imprisoned for 14 years. The monastery holds regular services to this day.

Contrary to its name (which translates to "New Monastery"), Noravank Monastery was constructed before the 12th century. Perched on the ledge of the gorge in which the river Amaghu flows and surrounded by steep red rocks, the building is as famous for its magnificent surroundings as it is for its beautiful medieval Armenian architecture. The monastery's main temple, Surb Karapet, is the oldest part of the structure, built between the 9th and 10th centuries.

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Day 4 : Goris - Khndzoresk - Tatev - Qarahunge - Yeghegnadzor

After breakfast, explore Goris before enjoying an excursion to the cave village of Khndzoresk. Continue to explore the 10th century monastic complex of Tatev, reached via ropeway along the world's longest cable car. Later, drive to Yeghegnadzor, stopping at Karahunj (Armenian Stonehenge) en route. Overnight in Yeghegnadzor.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Located in a river valley, Goris is the second largest city in the southern Syunik Province of Armenia. It is surrounded by the Zangezur mountains, famous for their medieval cave-dwellings carved out of the rock. Goris itself is well-known for its variety of homemade fruit "oghee", a traditional Armenian vodka.

Dug into the steep slopes of Khor Dzor gorge, the historic cave village of Khndzoresk was created by the ancient population of Eastern Armenia following the lack of even ground on which to build settlements. Comprised of both natural and manmade caves set at differing heights, much of the community is accessed via a complex series of ropes and ladders. The caves were inhabited up until the 20th century, when it is believed that the villagers were forced to move by Soviet officials who deemed the caves uncivilised. Instead, New Khndzoresk was built in the 1950s, with a 160-metre-long suspension bridge connecting the modern village to the ancient caves. Today, many of the caves have been converted to stables and storage spaces, with local livestock grazing in the area. 

Dating back to the 9th century, Tatev Monastery is one of the oldest monastery complexes in Armenia. During the 14th and 15th centuries it was home to the University of Tatev, one of Armenia's most important medieval universities with contributions to the advancement of science, religion and philosophy. Perched on a basalt plateau on the edge of a steep gorge, the monastery is as famous for its beautiful views overlooking the Voratan River as it is for its magnificent architecture, and can be accessed via the "Wings of Tatev", the longest cable car in the world. 

Located on the banks of Srkghonk River, Yeghegnadzor is the capital and cultural centre of the Vayots Dzor Province. Though originally one of the ancient settlements of Greater Armenia in the 9th century, history books actually reveal it was first mentioned as far back as the 5th century. Surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery, the area is ideal for hiking, and is a convenient rest stop for exploring the surrounding towns and attractions.

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Day 5 : Yeghegnadzor - Selim - Lake Sevan

In the morning, drive to Lake Sevan through Selim Pass, visiting the caravanserai. On the way, visit the small lakeside village of Noratous. The village cemetery has one of the largest collections of "khatchkars" (carved stone slabs bearing crosses and other religious motifs) dating back to between the 7th and 10th centuries. On arrival at Lake Sevan, visit Sevanavank Monastery, sat on the peninsula with stunning views over the lake. Overnight near Sevan.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

The Sevanavank monastic complex sits on a picturesque peninsula off the shore of Lake Sevan. It was founded in 874 AD for monks from Etchmiadzin Cathedral who had sinned against God. 

Lying at 1900 metres above sea level with an area of 940 square kilometres, Lake Sevan is not only the largest lake in the Caucasus, but it's also one of the largest freshwater high-altitude lakes in the world.  It holds a large variety of fish, including crayfish and the endangered 'ishkhan' (prince trout). Considered the "jewel" of Armenia, the lake scenery is beautiful, with the water often changing colour depending on the weather, from deep blue and turquoise to bright azure. 

One of the best preserved medieval caravanserais in Armenia, the Selim Caravanserai lies just before the summit of Selim Pass (2,410 metres above sea level). According to the building's Armenian and Arabic inscriptions, the basalt caravanserai was built in 1332 by Prince Chesar Orbelian as an important trade point in the famous Silk Road, offering a place for travellers to stop and rest. 

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Day 6 : Lake Sevan - Garni - Geghard Monastery - Yerevan

After breakfast, continue to the village of Garni and its pagan temple. Afterwards, accompanied by a local hiking guide, proceed to Garni Gorge and the Symphony of Stones (1.5 hrs easy hike). Northeast of Garni, higher up the gorge of the Azat river, sits the magnificent medieval Geghard Monastery partly carved out of a mountain. At lunch, enjoy an Armenian flatbread "Lavash" baking demonstration in the underground stove ("tonir") of a local restaurant. Later, proceed to the capital city of Yerevan. Overnight in Yerevan.

Meal plan: Breakfast & lunch

Garni Temple is a picturesque monument of the Hellenistic period and an impressive piece of ancient Armenian architecture built in the 1st century A.D. After Christianity was proclaimed as a state religion in 301, the temple was used as a summer residence of the kings. The Garni canyon, which is a one-hour walk away along the Azat River, is particularly interesting. Its walls are formed of hexagonal rock strips, which is a natural formation known as the 'Symphony of Stones'. The gorge is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The Geghard Monastery is a magnificent monument of medieval Armenian architecture that is partially carved out of a mountain. It was founded in the 4th century by  Gregory the Illuminator when a  sacred spring was found inside a nearby cave, but the  main chapel was built only in 1215. The name is translated as 'Monastery of the Spear', named after the spear that pierced Jesus on the crucifix. Apostle Jude supposedly brought this spear into Armenia and it is now displayed in the Echmiadzin treasury. However, churches in Rome, Vienna and Antioch also claim to possess this spear. Geghard has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Day 7 : Yerevan - Amberd - Saghmossavank - Yerevan

In the morning, visit Matenadaran, the institute of Ancient Manuscripts, named after the creator of Armenian alphabet Mesrop Mashtots. Continue to Amberd fortress and church, dating back to the 7th century. Proceed to the Armenian alphabet park, where huge stones represent each letter of the Armenian alphabet. After lunch in either a local house in Ashtarak or a restaurant, visit Saghmossavank Gorge carved by the Kasagh river. Return to Yerevan and stop by “Megeryan Carpets”, the showroom and factory of handmade Armenian rugs. Watch the carpet making process and learn about the colours and classic designs of the rugs before having dinner in the factory. Overnight in Yerevan.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Translating to "fortress in the clouds", Amberd Fortress stands on the slopes of Mount Aragats at 2,300 metres above sea level. Built during the Bronze Age to protect Armenia's rulers during the Roman era, the fortress lasted several centuries as the country's primary military bases until it was attacked and destroyed by Mongals in 1236. The fortress was reconstructed at the end of the 13th century, but invasions of Lenk Timur resulted in its abandonment at the end of the 14th century.

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Day 8 : Yerevan - Etchmiadzin - Genocide Museum - Yerevan

Enjoy a morning tour covering Etchmiadzin, stopping at the ruins of the UNESCO-listed Zvartnots temple en route. A homemade lunch is served in a local Art School where you can observe the children's creative artworks in the art salons. Later, take part in a cooking class and learn how to prepare traditional Armenian dish "dolma". Return to Yerevan and visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial Museum. The rest of the day is free at your leisure. Overnight in Yerevan.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The 4th-century Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the central authority of the worldwide Armenian Apostolic Church. Its name translates as 'where the Only Begotten descended' in reference to Gregory the Illuminator's vision of Christ descending from heaven and striking the ground with a golden hammer. The Cathedral was then built on that exact spot. The complex consists of the Mother Cathedral, the monastery with a residing brotherhood, the Catholicos residence, the Kevorkian Theological Seminary and a museum. 

Constructed in the 7th century, the UNESCO-listed Zvartnots Temple originally stood at a height of 49 metres, making it one of Armenia's tallest structures during that period. It consisted of three stories in a cylindrical shape and was crowned with a dome. While all that remains now are the ruins of the lower walls and individual fragments, details including floor mosaics and intricate stone carvings indicate how the temple was once beautifully decorated from top to bottom. It is still questioned as to what caused the temple's fall in the 10th century, though theories include destruction by a powerful earthquake or the temple's cornerstone being removed during an Arab invasion, causing the building to collapse in on itself. 

Opened in 1995, the Armenian Genocide Museum commemorates the victims of the Armenian massacre  from 1915 to 1922 in the Ottoman Empire, told through photographs, newspaper reports and films. Built into the side of a hill, the museum has a simplistic concrete design so not to distract from the 40-metre-high Genocide Monument nearby, reached via a path from the museum flanked by a 100-metre-long wall engraved with the names of the massacred communities. Visits to the museum are now part of the official State protocol, with many foreign official delegations paying their respects, highlighting the importance of remembering such tragedies so they will never repeat themselves. 

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Day 9 : Departure

Transfer to the airport at the appropriate time for your international flight home. 

Meal plan: Breakfast

Accommodation

Accommodation Title

All accommodation subject to availability. Final accommodation choices will be confirmed after booking.

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Reviews

We had a fantastic time on our Best of the Caucasus tour. We loved eating with the families in Georgia and visiting the Molovan family in Armenia, definitely highlights of the trip. Our Georgian guide in particular was the best you could possibly have, giving a true insight into the country. He should be recommended for an award!

Pam Bowers & John Simpson , Best of the Caucasus

We asked Travel the Unknown to come up with an unusual trip to 6 counties of the Caucasus and the ex-Soviet Union countries. They did so in a tour that flowed seamlessly the whole 38 days. The most impressive part was when Ukrainian Airlines cancelled our connecting flights from Kiev to Minsk, for 2 consecutive days. We contacted Unknown that morning and asked them to arrange an overnight train with a sleeping compartment. When arrived in Kiev, we were met at the airport, driven to the train station where tickets where waiting for us. They arranged for our pickup at the station in Minsk, as we left the train, and we went on our planned tours without losing a minute. That is what I call a great service agency

Irwin Drangel & Linda Schain , Tailor-made Caucasus and Soviet Fringes
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