NAGORNO KARABAKH REPUBLIC TOUR
4 days in “Mountainous Black Garden”
A few words about the fascinating Republic of Nagorno Karabakh…
Nagorno Karabakh is an enigma wrapped up inside the Caucasus. Having an extremely rugged mountainous surface covered by dense forests, it has the most beautiful landscape in the whole Caucasus. It is a ‘country’ recognised by no-one. Even the name is something of a mystery, being made up from words of three different languages: nagorno means mountainous in Russian, kara means black in Turkish and bakh means garden in Persian. The name “Mountainous Black Garden” was given to it because of too dense forests where it’s almost dark inside. To confuse things further, the locals refer to their region as Artsakh which is the ancient Armenian name of the region with over 5000-year old history. While there exist many questions about Nagorno-Karabakh and its political status, the beauty and cultural richness of this remote mountain landscape are undeniable. Up steep cliffs, wedged into narrow valleys and hidden in remote forests there are hundreds of moss-covered churches and monasteries, and while most of them are abandoned, a few are being renovated and reopened.
During this tour we’ll go hiking through snow-topped mountains and fields of yellow and red flowers feasting on shish kebab and grilled vegetables. Don't be surprised if you're offered homemade mulberry vodka or fruits by the locals even if they don’t know you. The people of Karabakh are extremely hospitable.
Itinerary in brief
Day 1. Departure from Yerevan. Khor Virap Monastery. Areni winery tour. Areni Cave archaelological site where the world’s oldest winery and shoe were found. Noravank Monastery. Old Goris town. Stepanakert (the capital city of Karabakh). Overnight.
Day 2. Stepanakert City Tour: Rebirth Square, Museum of Artsakh (Karabakh) History and Country Study, Central Bazaar, Statue “We and Our Mountains”- national landmark, Amaras Monastery. Walking tour to a huge 2000year old platanus (plane) tree.
Day 3. Gandzasar Monastery known as “the pearl of Armenian architecture”, Kachaghakaberd Fortress view. Khachen river valley. Askeran Fortress, Aghdam city view, ruins of the ancient city of Tigranakert (an important archaeological site) with its citadel. Tigranakert Hellenistic city museum.
Day 4. Shushi city tour: Persian Mosque, St. All-Saviour Church. Hiking in Jldrduz Gorge with stunning views. Departure to Yerevan visiting Karahunj – Armenian Stonehenge (7500years old) and Tatev Monastery riding the world’s longest aerial tramway (5.7km) en route.
Day 1. TO THE CRADLE OF WINEMAKING…
Early morning departure from Yerevan. The first stop of our trip is Khor Virap, the most sacred pilgrimage destination in Armenia not only because it’s the only place in Armenia where you’ll get the best view of the biblical Mount Ararat (the highest mountain in the world from its base, about 17,000feet high) within Armenian borders, but this is where St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years by the King Tiridates III for preaching Christianity. Guided by the remote majesty of biblical mount Ararat, we explore the site, its underground chambers, elegant chapels and are captivated by the ascetic atmosphere of the site. We continue to the south driving through the agricultural heart of Armenia, Ararat Plain offering a fantastic scenery of fruit orchards, endless vinyards at the foothills of Ararat Mountain where the Noah’s ark landed. As soon as the we pass the Ararat Plain we can experience the untamed beauty of Southern Armenia - surreal red rocks providing an eerie echo, honey-coloured villages sandwiched between them. Our next stop is the Monastery of Noravank, an architectural gemstone nestled among brick-red cliffs, just above a deep gorge. It’s only here where you can see a bas-relief with the representation of Father God with almond-shaped eyes which look far ahead. Lunch at Noravank refectory enjoying the view of the huge red canyon. After the hearty lunch at Noravank refectory we’ll drive to Areni village, the cradle of viticulture! This is where world’s ancient winery was discovered recently (6000years old)! Winery tour and wine tasting (about 11 varieties including pomegranate and cherry wines). Visiting Areni 1 Cave where the world’s ancient winery has been excavated. Proceed to Goris. Discover the spirit of the Old town of Goris, one of the most beautiful towns in Armenia. It’s a town in orchards and all the houses have the same unique architecture with red tile roofs, arched windows. It’s famous for its home-made mulberry and cornel vodka. Then we enter the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh! This beautiful Armenian Republic, de facto independent, will surprise you by its incredible landscape, proud mountains which are covered by thick forests. Arrival in Stepanakert. Hotel check in. Overnight.
Day 2. After breakfast we are off to Skhtorashen village in order to hike to a 2,000-year old Platan (plane) tree going high into the air. The platan was awarded a passport of the oldest and highest tree on the territory of the ex USSR. The hollow of a tree trunk is of 44 sq.km. On its area 100 persons can stand freely. The locals tell many legends about this myserious tree. We continue to the miraculous fortress-monastery of Amaras dating back to the 4th century. At the beginning of the 5th c. the creator of the Armenian alphabet Mesrop Mashtots opened here the first school. To this day it’s possible to see the Armenia alphabet letters on the ceiling of Amaras school engraved for the students bored from the classes. Even staring at the ceiling they could see the Armenian script. This amazing monastery has survived many invasions throughout its 1700 year old history. Driving through the endless orchards of mulberry trees we are back to Stepanakert, the beautiful capital city of Artsakh knowns as the “cleanest city” in the Caucasus. Walking in the silent streets of this old city, where some houses are transformed into shops and some trading stuff, tourists may feel colour of the Transcaucasian city of the end of 19th or the beginning of 20th century. Stepanakert, being surrounded from different directions by mountains and woods, is really a fine place for vacation . Though the city s not large, there are many picturesque places, little green squares and cosy court yards in it. We visit the Central Bazaar where you can feel yourself as if you are in a real noisy and colourful eastern market. Here you can see how the women are baking Jingalov Hats — a bread that has 14 herbs baked into it, a local specialty. Get acquainted with the history of this ancient amazing country by visiting “Museum of Artsakh History and Country Study”. Then we’ll have a photo stop at the national landmark of Karabakh, the statue “ We and Our Mountains”, tenderly called by the inhabitants grandfather-grandmother (the Grandfather and the Grandmother), which is built on a high hill at the entrance in the capital. The old man with the old woman, as if they grew on the top of the hill, symbolize the attachment of Karabakhian people to their native ground. Otherwise, this sculptural composition is called the monument to Long-Livers. Lunch at the best restaurant of Stepanakert where you can taste typical Karabakhian dishes. Back to hotel. Rest.
In the evenings we’ll take a stroll at the "Rebirth" square with its unique illumination and laser show serves as the main place of promenade for the local residents and the visitors of the capital. During your walk in the city you can be convinced once again by the fact that the inhabitants of the capital of Karabakh are too friendly, hospitable and opened to dialogue. Overnight in Stepanakert.
Day 3. After a healthy breakfast we are heading to the agrucultural heart of Karabakh, Martakert region. After passing the fields of corns and sunflowers we are in Khachen River Valley. Here we’ll have a hiking through the fields of yellow and red flowers guided by the river Khachen glowing like a silver line under the sunbeams… We are in a real paradise on earth… In a distance on top of a skyscraping mountain we get the view of the white Kachaghakaberd or “Magpie” fortress full of mysteries and legends… Then we get on the car and make our way to the “pearl” or “encyclopedia of Armenian architecture”, the fairy tale monastery of Gandzasar (13th century) meaning a “hilltop treasure” as it’s nestled on a mountains where lots of gold and gems were found. The unknown architect created a miraculous dome with images of Adam and Eve, baby Jesus, St. Mary, angels, birds, bulls, the duke’s family who sponsored the construction of that fabulous miracle of architecture which could impress the onlooker and express the might of the Khachen principality. Lunch on a river bank. Tasting barbecue, grilled vegetables and Karabakh wine! We continue our tour driving to Askeran Fortress built by the people of Karabakh in the 17th century in order to defend themselves from the Persian invaders. Then we drive through the ruins of Aghdam ghost city. Once a thriving city of 50.000 souls with its own airfield it was destroyed during the war in 1993. Here one can see abandoned streets, white semi-destroyed buildings, the remnants of once thriving gardens, fruit trees mostly pomegranates and figs growing wild… The mosque of Aghdam is the only building spared. We reach Tigranakert Hellenistic city archaeological site. It used to be an Armenian city dating back to the Hellenistic period. It is one of several former cities in the Armenian plateau with the same name, named in honor of the Armenian king Tigranes the Great. Archaeologists date the foundation of Tigranakert to a period in the 80s BC, during the reign of King Tigranes the Great. Archaeologists have uncovered two of the main walls of the city, as well as Hellenistic-style towers and an Armenian church dating to fifth to seventh centuries. After visiting the museum dedicated to the study and preservation of artifacts unearthed from Tigranakert's ruins we’ll climb up the hills following the traces of huge city walls built by white blocks of limestone. Back to Stepanakert. Overnight.
Day 4. After breakfast we drive to the most impressive city of Nagorno Karabakh - Shushi mentioned as a fortress in the 9th century by historians. It’s on top of a huge rock reminding a frozen wave. Because of its impregnable location it has received the name “the eagles’ nest”. The fortress had never been taken by force in the course of its history till 1992 May 9 when the Karabakh Armenian soldiers climbed up the huge rock and liberated the historic capital of Artsakh. Here we’ll visit the only surviving churches of St. Ghazanchetsots and “the Green church”. We start hiking to the 19th century mosque and one the most beautiful old districts of the city completely abandoned. We reach an awesome gorge named “Jldrduz”. Accodring to a local lore the bravest horsemen on Karabakhi horses were competing with each other by crossing the gorge. Lunch. Departure to Armenia visiting the miraculous monastery of Tatev riding the world’s longest aerial tramway (5.7km) built by the Swiss in 2010. Tatev is a formidable monastic complex founded in the 9th century. It’s the biggest monastery in Armenia. It's located on a rocky peninsula more than 100 meters above the Vorotan River. According to tradition the relics of the Apostles, Sts. Peter and Paul, were placed under the dome's supporting pillars. It’s a miraculous monastery surrounded by bottomless gorges. Near the town of Sisian visit Karahundj-Armenia’s Stonehenge. This stone circle, now shown to be a prehistoric observatory, long predates Stonehenge in England. Ancient inscriptions found here may mark the birthplace of the Zodiac – and of Western Civilization itself. Possibly it was the world's first astronomical observatory founded 7500 years ago. Its history is really very impressive. Overnight in Yerevan.
*This tour can be extended for one more day in Nagorno Karabakh by a jeep tour.
Optinal: Jeep tour to Dadivank Monastery and Jermajur hot springs gushing in forests to Karabakh.
Day 5. Visit Big Jermajur— warm mineral spring similar by its features to Jermuk (Armenia) and Karlov Var (Czech Republic) springs — located in the ravine of the river Tartar. After taking a bath in those amazing warm waters, we have a picnic lunch. Then we continue to Dadivank Monastery. It dates back to approximately 9–13th centuries and is located in the forest foot of the mountain Mrav, on the left bank of river Tartar. Dadivank was founded by St. Dadi who was the disciple of Thaddeus the Apostle that spread Christianity in Eastern Armenia during the first century A.D. In June, 2007, the grave of St. Dadi was discovered under the holy altar of the main church.