Recently, The Economist named Armenia country of the year because of its continued political and economic stability. This just bolsters our belief that this is the year to visit Armenia. From wine enthusiasts looking to sample the best of the country’s reviving wine industry to nature lovers looking to explore the breathtaking wilds of the Caucasus…Armenia offers a plethora of activities for every traveller.
When to Visit Armenia?
Autumn is the ideal time to visit, with dry weather and long days. The summers and winters can be harsh. If you want to explore the national parks, go trekking, or engage in any other outdoor activity, summer is a good time as it is cooler up in the mountains.
A Brief History
In the shadows of Mount Ararat, the culture that flourished on the Armenian highlands is a fascinating one. Starting over 3,500 years ago, the past 2,000 years have seen the highlands variously occupied by different powerful kingdoms in the area. The first empire was the powerful Kingdom of Ararat, though it was ruled by non-Armenian kings. Then, under Tigran the Great, Armenia became the most powerful kingdom in Asia Minor. It was the only time when the Armenian Highlands were completely under Armenian power.
In 301 AD, Armenia officially adopted Christianity, making it the first Christian nation in the world. Furthermore, Armenia held onto its religious independence over the rest of the Middle Ages, resisting attempts of conversion to Zoroastrianism or Islam. For the past thousand years, Armenia was remotely ruled partly by the Persians and partly by the Byzantines and Ottomans. Ottoman rule culminated in the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century, the horror of which shaped modern Armenian generations.
Armenia’s Buzzing Diaspora
In 1991, Armenia became a fully independent and autonomous nation. As a result of the Armenian Genocide, more ethnic Armenians live outside the homeland than within it. In the past decade, many Armenian expats have been returning to their homeland, visiting it, or investing in its economic prospects. The most famous of these international Armenians has to be the Kardashian family of course. Other famous Armenian-American celebrities include Cher and heavy-metal band System of a Down.
This increased exchange between the homeland and the diaspora means that the Armenian economy is enjoying a steady year-on-year growth. Yerevan, the capital city, is in particular a delight to visit. It is a magical blend between elegant Western European architecture and Soviet-style blocky buildings. This pink city (so called because of the volcanic rock most buildings are made out of) is the brain-child of architect Alexander Tamanyan. Specifically, he was responsible for the neoclassical elegance of the city centre. Moreover, Yerevan is bursting with colourful market and restaurants, which are a treat to explore.
A Reviving Wine Industry
Ancient records refer to Armenia as a ‘land of vineyards’. Specifically, archaeological studies show this region has been producing wine for the past 8,000 years. Now this historical industry is reviving in its modern iteration. A country known largely for its high-quality brandy, the favoured drink under Soviet rule, Armenia is growing its fledgling wine industry. The Areni grape is the true jewel in the crown of the Armenian wine industry. The Farm-to-Bottle project aims to bring a new wave of enotourism to the country by pioneering ‘Wine Cubes’. Wine Cubes are open-air wine tasting patios placed directly in the vineyards. Depending on the wine farmer you are visiting, the tasting might be accompanied by a snack or an entire meal. Rest assured, Armenian cuisine is equally delicious and well-worth exploring.
Interesting Monasteries and Cathedrals
Armenia has many stunning cathedrals but we’ve narrowed our recommendations down to the most interesting. First, there is Garni temple, dating back to the first century AD. It is the only surviving Hellenistic temple in the country, and is set against the breath-taking backdrop of the Garni gorge. After, Geghard Monastery is just a short drive away. This beautifully intact medieval monastery is where Gregory the Illuminator baptised the Armenian Royal family. As a result, Armenia became the world’s first Christian nation. Both Garni and Geghard are an easy drive out of Yerevan. Lastly, Khor Virap is a must-visit. With the snow-capped Mount Ararat in the background, this is a site of great historical importance but also an excellent photography location. Gregory the Illuminator was a prisoner here for thirteen years. Afterwards, he went on to change the course of the country’s history.
Extreme Sports in Armenia
Armenia offers a wealth of activities for lovers of the great outdoors. For one, it is a world-class trekking destination. You can discover UNESCO-listed cathedrals and monasteries while trekking through some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the world. Trek through picturesque landscapes like those of Dilijan National Park, and discover the architectural beauty of Haghartsin Monastery along the way. It’s not just trekking, Armenia is an excellent location for skiing, rock-climbing, paragliding and more.