Armenia and Georgia
Armenia and Georgia, not perhaps the first couple of destinations people think for for a holiday, however it is without doubt a part of the world you will hear more about over the coming years. This area is fast on the rise and looking to capitalize on its stunning natural beauty.
My trip started in Yerevan, Armenia. We arrived mid afternoon and just 4 hours after taking off from the UAE saw us checking into our central hotel.
After a quick shower and change we headed off to explore the old town. Thankfully for a quick trip anything and everything you would want to see in the city is all close on hand. In the city the main thing to do seems to be to join the locals in the many many many cafes, restaurants and bars from mid afternoon they were full of families, young couples and groups of friends. With temperatures above 35 degrees we were more than happy to settle down in front of the cooling fans and order some local food and drinks sit back and enjoy an afternoon of people watching. Our afternoon soon became the early evening, which soon became the late evening but with the great hospitality on offer the time just flew by as we moved from place to place taking in the atmosphere.
Yerevan Republic Square (Armenia)
Yerevan Opera Park (Armenia)
The next day we picked up our hire car and with a little trepidation headed off to Khor Virap about a 40 minute drive south east of the city centre. With just one wrong turning we found ourselves there with no problems at all, well with the exception of being pulled over by the police, there are plentiful police on the roads in Armenia. However, they just wanted to check we knew where we were going. Most helpful!
Khor Virap (Armenia)
Khor Virap is a beautifully located church along the Turkish boarder with the amazing backdrop of Mount Ararat in Turkey. Despite its name and setting the history is a little darker, King Tiridates III (who reportedly had gone mad) imprisoned and banished Grigor Lusavorich for 13 years in a deep well. Visitors can climb down into the well today and that is where the name comes from Khor (Deep) Virap (Pit).
In the modern day it is a very popular spot for wedding photographs and if you find yourself there on a Saturday afternoon, you will see an endless stream of newly married couples headed there for their photographs.
The next day we were up early and with a long drive ahead, as we set out for the very north of Georgia, We expected a long drive and sure enough that's what we got. In total the drive lasted about 11 hours and I must admit I am not the best prepared traveler and when you realize that you don't have a map you should know you’re in trouble. This may well sound horrendous to many however with just one wrong turn and a little trouble navigating through Tbilisi the trip was managed with relative ease. We broke the journey with a couple of sightseeing stops and lunch on the way and were accompanied with the most spectacular scenery which somehow gets better and better as you go so the drive was far from arduous and really very enjoyable.
Haghpat Monastery (Armenia)
Ananuri Fortress (Georgia)
Having arrived late the night before we had taken ourselves to bed to recover form the long drive. However, when we woke the next day and opened the curtains of the hotel room, the view was spectacular. I promise no amount of photos or Google research will do this place justice.
We had checked into the Rooms Hotel, which is the first of a kind in Georgia, a top class hotel in tremendous surroundings with great hiking, horse riding, quad biking and skiing (seasonal) all on the doorstep. It is also an incredibly welcoming hotel. I would challenge anyone in the world to not find this place breathtaking, and certainly that 11 hour drive was well worth it.
After spending two nights in a countryside paradise. We headed off again in the trusty Lada 4x4 hire car passing more stunning scenery and churches, this time on the Russian boarder. This is also the wine district of Georgia. The Georgians claim to have invented wine with approx 50% of the grapes in use around the world today originating in Georgia. When we arrived at our chateaux we were given a wine tour of the vineyard where the grapes are fermented in underground in clay pots and of course it would be rude not to try a few of the varieties that evening.
We were up the next day on the final leg of the trip, heading back to Tbilisi, but this time not to just drive through. There were a couple of stops on the way. The first stop was a town perched on the top of a hill called Sighnaghi. On more than one occasion we thought we had run out of roads as tarmac became gravel, which then became dirt track. We found the journey worth it as we arrived into Sighnaghi, a simply beautiful town, that has been incredibly well cared for over the years and is just a lovely place to spend some time, be it for lunch or overnight if you had the time. After a bite to eat we were off again and this time to visit arguable Georgia's most famous sight the David Gareja Monastery. Built in the 6th Century and 40 kms of the main road the drive alone is somewhat strange and breathtaking, there is nothing around for miles and the landscape changes drastically sometimes looking almost lunar, it is rather strange yet exciting. . The Monastery is famed as apart from being in the middle of nowhere, it is all carved into the rocks . After some time exploring the monastery we embarked on the final legof our journey. We had drove our faithful Lada (having cover over 1000kms) and checked into our final hotel in the centre of Tbilisi. A wonderful city, a little larger than Yerevan with a little more to see but not forgoing the cafe culture you won't go far before seeing a cafe or ice cream shop. As ever there are churches everywhere, quirky markets selling ex Soviet Memorabilia plus a great cable car ride, and a city fortress to explore.
Book Market (Georgia)
In Tbilisi you can just feel the city has a real buzz to it which makes anytime you spend here fun and as I first started with, this city optimizes the growth of this part of the world.
The trip was fantastic and although perhaps not for everyone, there are no beaches, it offers so much so close to the UAE. Mountain scenery that will rival New Zealand's, a cafe culture to match that of Italy, a wine region to trouble the South African vineyards plus a book market that felt like I was walking down the River Seine in Paris. So maybe in the future if you only have a short break, or the budget can not stretch to that of a long haul trip then the Caucasus Region of Armenia and Georgia may well be a place to consider.