Saturday 21 September 2019
21.09.2019 - 21.09.2019 20 °C
Although I’d packed the previous evening, I still got up early to have a slow start before the arrival of the apartment’s owner and the driver who would be taking me around the regions. Armed with my Armenian translation - մարմնի լոսյոն - at 9am I walked around the block in a last ditch attempt to get body lotion. There was a pharmacy open close by and the first thing I saw was a range of body butter, and in English, too. Sorted.
The owner of the apartment turned up just before 10am and the driver, a few minutes after that. After a double-check of the apartment, we were on our way. The driver, Karen, speaks good English. Our first stop was Khor Virap, an Armenian monastery close to the Turkish border with great views of Mount Ararat. The road through the Ararat plain to the site is quite new and a dual carriageway, making it a much quicker journey than I remember.
Khor Virap was heaving, with lots of local, as well as international tourists. Probably because it was Independence Day. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned in a ‘pit’ under one of the buildings for 14 years. You can walk down steps to the pit but it was so busy and I’d already done that on a previous visit.
Although It was a bit hazy, there was still a pretty good view of Ararat. If you walk up the small hill behind the monastery there are good views of the valley and the border posts between Turkey and Armenia.
The next stop was Noravank, another Armenian monastery, accessed via a stunningly beautiful and narrow gorge made by the Amaghu River. The nearest town to the monastery is Yeghegnadzor. The red cliffs by the monastery seem to change colour depending on the time of day. We were there in the midday heat and like Khor Virap is was very busy. There is a cave cafe in the gorge that I’ve visited in the past for a coffee and gata - cake. Noravank has narrow steep steps to access the top level of the main church. I haven’t felt brave enough to do it on any of my visits. Plenty of people do though, old and young.
We stopped for a quick lunch at Vayk at a cafeteria type cafe in a food court. This is something new for Armenia, not sure if it’s a particularly good move although the food was Armenian not European fast food. I had a pie and salad which was ok. On previous visits our driver Saro took us to some amazing roadside cafes for brilliant lunches. Karen is first and foremost a driver and not a guide so this is not something we will be doing while we are on the road.
Day’s end at Jermuk
Last stop of the day was Jermuk. My hotel - Grand Resort Jermuk - is the most luxurious in the town. It’s rare that I ever stay in such places. Jermuk is a spa town which was very popular in soviet times. It’s a bit of a one horse town. Once I’d checked in, I had a stroll around and was back in the hotel in a very short space of time. I took advantage of the facilities using the jacuzzi, sauna and pool. They also offer a range of spa treatments. It looked as if the only option for eating was the hotel. It was fine but not that exciting. I don’t think this tour is going to match the culinary experience of my previous visits. After eating, I retired to my room as it had the comfiest sofa ever for relaxing and excellent WiFi. Looking out from my balcony, I was aware how much colder it is in the evenings now that I’m in the mountains. Will need to break out the jacket as the next week will be spent in the mountains.
The clientele of the hotel seems quite mixed. Couples mostly but there was a large group of women, probably in their 50s who I saw at dinner and breakfast. Not sure where they are from as I couldn’t place the language. Apparently, people come and stay for a whole week of spa treatments. Unless there is hiking in the area, I think it would become quite boring. Without tourist information, it’s hard to find out what else is on offer.