One of the most uplifting and beautiful experiences during my trip to Armenia was an all day drive into the Aragatsotn region, which took in a number of notable sights. It started with the 13th century monastery of Saghmosavank and then a detour to the birthplace of St Mesrob Mashdots at Oshagan, before taking a long drive to Pahlavuni fortress at Amberd. After lunch, we left the heat of the foothills behind to travel up the alpine slopes of Mt Aragats to the crystal lake just below its snow-covered summit. After dipping our feet into its painfully icy waters, we descended the mountain in the early evening, taking the little visited monastery at Tegher on the way home. Our day concluded with a well earned khorovadz (barbecue) at a riverside restaurant in Yerevan’s Hrazdan River gorge.
Along the way we took in breathtaking vistas decorated with the an artist’s palette of colour – a riot of wild flowers and grasses, sweeping meadows, vast fields of rock, magnificent river gorges, bubbling mountain streams and a veritable menagerie of wildlife. The journey was enriched by the sight of nesting storks, curious cows, elegant hawks and shy sheep.
I felt privileged to able to see the natural world in an almost unspoiled state. Signs of human habitation were few and far between, with a few yurts and trailers the only evidence of the Armenian cattle drivers and Yezidi goat herders who pasture their herds in the expansive foothills. Occasionally, the pristine landscape was scarred by abandoned cars and rusting electricity pylons, but these were relatively minor irritations.
This is a part of Armenia where patience and effort are richly rewarded. The winter snows play havoc with the roads, and its relatively common for cars to disgorge their passengers to lighten the load when negotiating frighteningly large potholes and craters. This makes getting anywhere on the upper reaches of Mt Aragats a time-consuming exercise, but the outstanding views and glacially fresh air are well worth it. The best time to visit this region is between late May and early July, when most of the flowers are in bloom, carpeting the mountainsides with sweeps of glorious colour.
As you can imagine, beekeepers do a brisk trade in this part of the world, producing divine wild mountain honey. That said, "new" honey is usually collected and sold in the autumn, so in early summer you will be sampling last year’s harvest. In the valleys, the orchards are heavy with fruit, with in-season mulberries, cherries and apricots decoratively arranged and sold at roadside fruit stalls. In short, Armenia’s bounty is not limited to its many churches, monasteries and ancient relics – it has a vast natural bounty that will delight the observant tourist.