Armenia: Winter Travel Diary Part 3 l 10 Places in 2 Days

Seeing this view from my airplane window seat as we approach Armenia made my heart skip with excitement. I knew right away that Ferald and I were in for an awesome adventure.

Half of the fun we had in Armenia is narrated here and here. For the most fun part, allow me to share with you our first snow experience when we explored, for two days, this beautiful Caucasus country last January.

On our second day in Armenia, we joined a day tour north of Yerevan to Kotayk and Gegharkunik provinces. The day tour cost AMD 7000 / AED 53 per person exclusive of entrance fees. The only place with a tourism fee is the Garni Temple. It's AMD 1500 per person. The rest is for free.

Beautiful Tourist Spots in Armenia

Kotayk, a province in central Armenia is forty-five minutes away from the city. It is where Garni Temple is standing tall at the edge of a cliff overlooking the ravine of the Azat River and the Gegham mountains.

Garni Temple (1) is the last pagan temple (also believed to be a tomb) in all of Armenia built in the 1st Century AD. It is distinctly Greco-Roman with Ionic-style architecture, mainly seen in the design of its pillars.

Outside of Garni gates, you will find stalls of Armenian snickers, homemade wine, and Gata. Gata is a round pastry bread filled with sweetened almonds paste. If you want to try it, make sure to get it from Garni because it is not easily available in Yerevan.

Geghard Monastery (2)

Gheghard Monastery

A visit to Garni Temple is often coupled with a trip to Geghard Monastery, also located in Kotayk province. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular tourist spots in Armenia.

Geghard means spear, and Ghegardavank means Monastery of the Spear, named after the Holy Lance - the spear that wounded Jesus during the crucifixion. It was believed to have been brought here by Jesus' apostle Thaddeus and kept here for approximately 500 years.

There were several churches inside this monastic complex; some have been elaborately carved out of the cliff rocks while others were just caves.

Another wonderful fact about Gheghard other than it was carved out directly from the stone mountain is the miraculous spring water flowing in it making it one of the places for pilgrimage among Armenians. Ferald and I had the privilege to drink from it. The water is clean and very refreshing.

We came out of the monastery feeling blessed,

ready to tackle the cold world outside.

Tsaghkadzor Ski Resort (3)

Tsaghkadzor is an hour away from Geghard, 56.8 km to be exact but still part of Kotayk province.

We piled up back in the car and headed down to Tsaghkadzor Ski Resort where we found a hot pot of tea and Armenian coffee and huge rolls of delicious shawarma for late lunch.

Tsagkadzor in winter is a wonderland for skiers and sports enthusiasts while in summer; it is a haven for spa and health retreat lovers.

Lake Sevan (4)

The last leg of our day tour is Sevan in Gegharkunik province where Sevan Lake and Sevanavank Monastery are both located.

Sevan Lake is known as the jewel of Armenia. It is the largest freshwater lake in the country and the Caucasus region. It is the main source of irrigation water, it provides low-cost electricity, wealthy in marine resources with trout and crawfish as the main catch, not to mention the recreation and tourism it provides in summer.

Sevanavank Monastery (5)

It is a monastic complex found at the banks of Lake Sevan. The hardest part of this trip was the climb to Sevanavank Monastery, about a hundred steps up top. My lungs almost gave up on me during this visit, I swear. It was cold and it was windy hence the freezing temperature. It was the coldest place I've ever been in Armenia, even colder than Jermuk where the snow was so thick.

After offering our prayers here, we headed down and bought souvenirs from the local sellers which we found way cheaper than those you can get from the city.

The following day, we were up early again because the pickup time was at 8 am, earlier than the day before because we were heading down south of Yerevan this time.

Heavy breakfast was necessary.

The tour is AMD 12,000/person or AED 90, it was almost double the price of the previous day's tour but it was totally worth it.

Our third monastery in this two-day tour is Khor Virap Monastery (6) in Ararat province. It is near to Turkey border and is the closest viewing point of Mt. Ararat. On a clear day, Mt. Ararat believed to be the resting place of Noah's ark is almost within reach here.

We were with a bigger group this time with Aljon, who works for Tabeer Tourism, as our tour guide.

He explained that Khor Virap is where St. Gregory the Illuminator was initially imprisoned by King Tiridates III of Armenia before becoming a religious mentor of the king himself.

The climb down to the pit/prison cell where St. Gregory was kept for 14 years is 60 meters deep without access at that time. Now a metal ladder is there for entry, it requires sturdy shoes and a solid grip to descend smoothly.

Areni Winery (7)

After a quick stop at a grocery store for some snacks and refreshments, we headed to Areni Winery in the Areni province for wine tasting. This is something you must never skip when in Armenia.

Here's a fact: In 2011 archaeologists in Armenia announced the discovery of the world's oldest-known wine production facility, located in the Areni cave complex. The cave remains date to about 4000 BC – 900 years before the earliest comparable wine remains, found in Egyptian tombs.-Wikipedia

Tourists are allowed to carry up to five bottles but we only bought two bottles of wine to take home. I got one fruity wine and one semi-sweet wine.

Opposite Areni Winery and its surrounding areas are plantations of grapes, peaches, and apricot among other fruits. It is something I want to revisit in Armenia given a chance in the future. It was winter hence all of the trees were in their dormant state.

Noravank Monastery (8)

To reach Noravank, we drove for two hours on cliff roads passing by rolling mountains dotted with small villages all covered in snow which we found very entertaining.

Noravank was built in the 13th Century in a narrow gorge known for its tall, sheer, brick-red cliffs, directly across from the monastery.

It has three surviving churches, each decorated with intricate patterns sculpted by Momik whose remains are buried on the monastery grounds.

Surb Astvatsatsin Church

Mongols spared Noravank during their Armenian invasion in the 13th century, thanks to God's sculpture in one of its churches. Probably, the only reason it is standing there today.

That was our fourth and last monastery on this two-day tour. They are all beautiful and each one is unique from the others. Utterly charming in its own way. Plays a major role in the culture and history of Armenia now and in the next generations to come.

We left Noravank and drove to our next stop, I wasn't sure this time for how long. The next thing I know, we were standing on a winding road with knee-deep snow and we were about to begin trekking.

We arrived in Jermuk. A spa town in Southern Armenia, where much of the country's mineral water comes from and it is buried in deep deep deep snow (in Anna's voice).

This was totally unexpected, really.

It was snowing heavily when we got off the van but it stopped momentarily.

With fresh snow sticking to the ground, Jermuk is unrecognizable, far away from how it looks in spring and summer.

It was so beautiful.

It was surreal.

It was our first snow experience and definitely unforgettable.

We trekked by the banks of River Arpa for another hour to reach Jermuk waterfall, also known as the mermaid's hair, according to legends.

Just enough time for us to marvel at the beauty of this otherworldly place.

and do silly stuff as if we're teenagers again. Snowball fights, tossing snow in the air and pulling some fir tree branches for a snow shower. We forgot to make snow angels here though but did it in Noravank which was so funny because the snow there was so thin. It would've been nicer here.

We didn't get to see the symphony of stones in Kotayk (when we visited Garni and Geghard) but there's a tiny rock formation similar to it in Jermuk that can make do for it.

We continue walking until we finally reached Jermuk Waterfall (9). It was amazing.
It is 72 m high and flows into the River Arpa.

Rested for a while before we started walking again.

At this point, even if I know someone is walking ahead of me although I couldn't see them anymore and some more people behind me, the fangs of fear suddenly started biting. I had thoughts about being left in the cold here. Blame it on the Frozen movie. No, not that Elsa Frozen. It's the other Frozen movie which was shown in 2010 about three young skiers who were left on a chairlift in a ski resort. Do you ever have thoughts like that when traveling or it's just me?

I know it will never happen so I shrugged it off my head, continued walking, and enjoyed the moment and the view.

I didn't know until writing this post that we were trekking the Jermuk Canyon. I saw the photo of it in summer and it was beautiful too.

We kept on walking and

walking hoping to see the end of the trail now.

I was fine until I realized we still have to go through this. 272 steps of metal stairs to reach the ski resort.

Huffing and puffing, stopping every 5-10 steps, I've reached the top. I shouted at the top of my lungs ''I did it!" to declare that victorious moment.

We reached our last and final destination. Jermuk Ski Resort (10). It was about 4 pm and there were only a few skiers, some were leaving the restaurant when we arrived. Cold and hungry, we searched for lunch. Thankfully, our driver part-time lawyer (lol) (he is actually a lawyer part-time driver) already ordered food for us.

And so rewards are given to those who never gave up. Khorovats it is!!!

We had khorovats (grilled meat and chicken with potatoes), rice, tomato-cucumber salad, lavash, and some Armenian coffee.

Armed with food, I went out to explore the place a little. Met a local who selfied with me

while some of our group buddies tried the chairlift. Ferald didn't want to go anymore, guess he's had enough for the day.

It was a tiring yet fulfilling day for us all and I am so grateful for the experience. Will I come back? I definitely would but in the summertime.

I thought we missed the Symphony of Stones (11) but we actually didn't. I saw it in one of the photos we took while in Garni Temple. We only saw it from afar though. I didn't know it was it until I was sorting out the photos from our trip. That's the one at the bottom of this photo, the symphony of stones. I'm sure it looks better if you are closer to it. Not bad for a bonus.

Have you been to these places in Armenia? How was your experience?

More of our Armenia Trip here & here

This map was made with Wanderlog, a road trip planner app on iOS and Android

My Yellow Bells

Carla is a lifestyle blogger based in Dubai who's thankful to call this ever-evolving city her second home. The pages of this blog are filled with stories about her expat life in the sandpit. It features dining and travel adventures in and around the city and beyond. It also features food recipes, parenting tips, and fashion style.

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