In mere three hours plus, awaits snow-clad mountains (even trees and roads), hot cups of tea, traditional and authentic meals, garnished with nuggets of history
I’m always thrilled with the idea of visiting a destination during winters, of course it truly helps when the place is a mere three hours plus away. Yes, a short flight to be surrounded by snow-clad mountains (or even roads and trees!) is enough for me. Another reason that works best for me is that I prefer my boots to stilettos, and whilst I enjoy glamming up, my most favourite voguish choice on a holiday is bundling up in a coat, a pair of gloves and yes, a woolen beret cap. And that’s exactly how I explored the tiny town of Dilijan, northern Armenia, this winter. The locals aptly call this up-and-coming center for growth as Little Switzerland, and I was happy to hike (it’s not arduous, just wear the right footwear) to the Haghartsin Monastery, one of the country's most popular monasteries. It’s nestled in forested mountains, which were dressed in snow in December, and other than a handful of tourists and of course local, friendly dogs there was no one in sight. Make your way to it, slowly, minding the slippery road, and be ready to be greeted by a postcard worthy of sight of the monastery built between the 10th and 13th centuries; under the patronage of the Bagratuni Dynasty. Having soaked in the peace and burned a few calories, is a good idea to make your way to the aesthetically done up rooms at Toon Armenia, a little village in Dilijan. The blue-hued roofs and windowsills stood out in the white snow cover, as did the simple meal that formed dinner — yes, bring on more meat and chechil (cheese) and of course gata. The fireplace in the no-frills restaurant, and the fact that it is a co-working space means I am booking a return flight with laptop in tow.
Now, if, like me, you can’t get enough of the snow and your adrenaline-rush kind of feeling only gets a boost as the temperature goes down then it would be a lovely idea to ride atop the ski-lift at Tsaghkadzor Ski Resort. Of course, if you’re into skiing or snowboarding, you might as well stay back for more than a day or two here. This one too is just an hour’ drive from the capital, Yerevan, a place where I strongly recommend strolling away - especially at the Republic Square. Dropping by at the Cafesjian Center for the Arts is a good idea, as is having a glass of fresh pomegranate juice on the streets. Do remember that entry to the Gallery One, Museum Store, Khanjyan Gallery, Sasuntsi Davit Gallery and Swarovski Crystal Palace exhibition here is free of charge. The Center is located at the central Kentron District, in and around the Yerevan Cascade, a complex of massive staircase with fountains, ascending up from the Tamanyan Street gardens and pedestrian zone. Art lovers get ready to shriek in joy for the park is dotted with Fernando Botero’s (one of the most acclaimed living sculptors in the whole world) works. As you explore the capital on foot, it would be interesting to stop every now and then to admire the statues, sculptures and murals on the roads and brush up on your history.
I was fortunate to witness the opening ceremony of the 20th edition of the annual Junior Eurovision Song Contest during my stay, and also the Christmas Tree lighting; hence saw the capital in full swing embracing the festive vibes. Or if glamour and brands is your thing, then head to the Northern Avenue, another pedestrian avenue, which opened in 2007. You’ll be in awe of how tradition and modernity share space in this country, and how the destination truly lives up to the words, there’s something for everyone. I spent two nights at the Best Western Plus Congress Hotel in the capital, which was walking distance from most places, and was easy on the pocket as well. Will I return? Yes, in the spring, this time for hiking and admiring the beauty of the various national parks. Until then, I’m happily going to chomp on lavash (bread) with cheese, which I’m told will stay good for eight weeks in the refrigerator and six months in the frozen state! And you could plan your trip via Arta Tour.
You can’t leave without trying out these traditional treats
Gata: An Armenian sweet bread, containing a fruit filling of either blueberries, lemon, or apricot and thyme. Crisp on the outside, flaky inside; it’s their coffee/tea cake.
Lavash: The country’s national bread, it’s made of flour, water and salt — and best had warm (fresh out of a tandoor oven) as a wrap or even with cheese.
Adjika: Not your regular dip, this one’s made with hot pepper, spicy herbs, more spices with tomatoes as a base.
Aveluk: Healthy, traditional and comforting, this soup made with dry sorrel as the base is best prepared by following the traditional recipe.
Sea buckthorn tea: If it’s comfort and flavour you like in the cuppa, then savour the many teas of the land, including the one made of this shrub.
Make time for Armenian gastronomy
Tsaghkunk Restaurant, Gegharkunik, Armenia is your place for delectable goodness, under the guidance of chef Martirosyan Arevik. Sample the Trout dolma (from Lake Sevan), Smoked trout salad, and more. Once a lunch stop for local growers and cattle farmers, the building sat abandoned for four decades, before being restored to its modern, minimalistic spacious dining space.
Sherep Restaurant, Yerevan, opened in 2017, and other than enjoying the live music here, and of course, releasing into dishes like the Voloran (rolls prepared with eggplant, bell peppers, carrots ,etc.), you can go ‘Gram crazy clicking pictures of the ladle aka sherep, one of the most important kitchen tools for a chef and a symbol of his/her skills. Yes, even their chandelier is ‘sherep-shaped’!
Nature meets history
Garni Temple, village Garni, is a must stop for history, architecture, and nature enthusiasts. Dating back to the first century AD and an ode to the god of the sun, Mihr — it is said to be the only standing Greco-Roman colonnaded building in Armenia and overlooks the ravine of the Azat River and the Gegham mountains. Built on an elevated podium, with a stairway, the columns, et al. is a place to sit by for a bit and admire the typical classical Ancient Greek architecture style. Just a few minutes by car from the Temple, stands another natural marvel, aptly called Symphony of Stones in the Kotayk region. It’s made up of almost 50-meters high symmetrical hexagonal and pentagonal basalt columns, which give an impression of having been handcrafted due to extraordinary symmetry; but actually were formed under high pressure conditions due to the cooling and crystallization of volcanic lava. This spot in itself guarantees a return trip to the country.
Traditional jewels, please. Pick yours from Pregomesh, founded in 2012, by Sirusho, a brand that aims to share the beautiful tradition of Armenian jewelry-making with the world.
How to reach: Carriers including flydubai run regular flights from the UAE to Armenia