ARTSAKH (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.
You can 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 Artsakh are extremely hospitable.
Itinerary in brief
Day 1. Departure from Yerevan. Khor Virap Monastery. Areni village: winery tour and wine tasting. Noravank Monastery. Old Goris town. Overnight in Stepanakert (the capital of NKR).
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. 2035-year old platanus (plane) tree. Overnight in Stepanakert.
Day 3. Gandzasar Monastery known as “the pearl of Armenian architecture”, Askeran Fortress known as "Mayraberd". Tigranakert archaeological site with its citadel (en route: Aghdam city view). Tigranakert Hellenistic city museum. Overnight in Stepanakert.
Day 4. Shushi city tour: Persian Mosque, All-Saviour Church. Hiking in Hunot Gorge famous for its cave-spring known as "mossy umbrella". Departure to Yerevan visiting Karahunj (Armenian Stonehenge) and Tatev Monastery riding the world’s longest aerial tramway (5.7km) en route.
Day 1. Early morning departure from Yerevan. The first stop of our trip is Khor Virap, the most sacred pilgrimage destination in Armenia for a number of reasons, primarily because this is where St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years before curing King Trdat III of a disease. This caused the conversion of the king and Armenia into the first officially Christian nation in the world in the year 301A.D. To this day you can visit the underground chamber he was imprisoned. Its location, near the closest point to Mount Ararat within Armenian borders, offers a spectacular view of the mountain, the national symbol of Armenia.Guided by the remote majesty of the snow-capped 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 vineyards at the foothills of the Mount Ararat 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-colored villages sandwiched between them. Our next stop is Noravank Monastery, an architectural gemstone nestled among brick-red cliffs, just above a deep gorge. Afterwards we'll taste wine in Areni village, the cradle of wine-making, where the world’s oldest winery has been found (6100years old)! Proceed to the lovely town of Goris, a town in orchards with houses having the same unique architecture - red tile roofs, arched windows... It’s famous for its home-made mulberry and cornel vodka. Afterwards we continue to Stepanakert, the capital of Mountainous Artsakh Republic. Hotel check in. Overnight in Stepanakert.
Day 2. After breakfast we are off to Skhtorashen village where we visit the famous Tnjri, a 2,035-year old (as of 2015) plane tree going high into the air. The platan was awarded a passport of the oldest and highest tree in 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. We continue to Amaras, a 4th century monastery founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator.At the beginning of the fifth century the creator of the Armenian alphabet, Mesrop Mashtots,established in Amaras the first-ever school that used his script. To this day it’s possible to see the Armenian alphabet letters on the ceiling of Amaras school engraved for the students bored during 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 and vineyards, we are back to Stepanakert. Walking in the silent streets of this old city, where some houses are transformed into shops and some trading stuff, tourists may feel color of the Trans-Caucasian 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 is not large, there are many picturesque places, little green squares and cozy courtyards in it. We visit the Bazaar where you can feel yourself as if you are in a real noisy and colorful eastern market. Here you can see how the making process of 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 the 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). 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. Back to hotel. Rest.
In the evening we’ll take a stroll at Rebirth Square
with its unique illumination and laser show serving as the main place of promenade for the local residents. 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 agricultural heart of Karabakh, Martakert region. After passing the sunflower and corn fields we are in Khachen River Valley. We are guided by the river Khachen glowing like a silver snake under the sunbeams… We are in a real paradise on earth…We visit the “pearl” or the “encyclopedia of Armenian architecture”, the fairy tale monastery of Gandzasar (13th century) meaning a “hilltop treasure” as it’s nestled on a mountain 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 power of the Khachen principality. Later we visit Askeran Fortress. On our way to Tigranakert Hellenistic city and archaeological site from the distance we see 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. Tour of Tigranakert. Archaeologists date the foundation of Tigranakert to a period in the 80s BC, during the reign of King Tigranes the Great, the most powerful king in the history of Armenia. 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. Back to Stepanakert. Overnight.
Day 4. After breakfast we drive to the most impressive city of Nagorno Karabakh - Shushi nestled on a frozen wave of rock. Because of its impregnable location it 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 Green Church. Wealso visit 19th the Persian Mosque and one the most beautiful old districts of the city completely abandoned.
Optional activity: hiking in "Hunot Canyon".
Those hiking down into the canyon will be rewarded with the discovery of waterfalls, lush forests, caves inhabited since the stone ages, the ruins of Hunot village, old stone bridges, and all of this framed by massive canyon walls with a river rushing through. But the icing on the cake if the waterfall "Mossy Rock" and the cave spring "Mossy Umbrella" of almost surreal beauty. A deep water source comes out of the stone of the canyon to form a perpetually dripping waterfall in the shape of a huge mossy umbrella. Drive to Armenia en route visiting the miraculous Tatev Monastery by 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 located on a rocky peninsula more than 100 meters above the Vorotan River. Near the town of Sisian visit Zorats Karer (Karahunj) - the Armenian Stonehenge. This stone circle, now shown to be a prehistoric observatory, long predates the 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. Drive to Yerevan.
*This tour can be extended for one more day in Nagorno Karabakh.
Optinal: Jeep tour to Dadivank Monastery and Jermajur hot springs
Day 5. Visit Big Jermajur— warm mineral spring similar by its features to Jermuk (Armenia) and Karlovy Vary (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 at the foothills of the Mount Mrav, on the left bank of river Tartar. Dadivank was founded by St. Dadi who was the disciple of Thaddeus the Apostle who spread Christianity in Eastern Armenia during the 1st century A.D. In June, 2007, the grave of St. Dadi was discovered under the holy altar of the main church.
The rates include:
Accommodation 3* hotel ( 4* & 5* hotels are available on request)
Multi-lingual professional tourist guide
1 bottle of water per person per day
Breakfast at the hotel