From stunning landscapes to sites of historical and cultural importance, monasteries provide a wealth of interest for the avid traveller. Here is our selection of six of the best monasteries in Europe.Read more...
Armenia - Calendar
Celebrate New Year and Christmas – in that order
In the Armenian church, as in all eastern churches, Christmas (6th January) is celebrated after New Year. It is at New Year that presents are exchanged and Kaghand Papi (Grandfather New Year) brings gifts for the children. Christmas remains more of a religious festival when the church marks the baptism of Jesus as well as his birth. Food is an important element in both celebrations; in fact, the two weeks from 31 December is a more or less continuous feast.
Winter sports and fire-jumping
Try skiing, snowboarding and skating at Tsaghkadzor, Armenia’s principal ski resort which was used for Olympic training in Soviet days. On Trndaz day (13 February) recently married couples jump over a fire kindled by candles lit from a fire which the priest has blessed after a church service. Jumping over the fire gets rid of the small devils hanging from the edge of their clothes.
Experience winter in Armenia – but go warmly clad!
For the adventurous, visiting in winter is an option. You will need to know how to cope with snow and ice but you will have most of the sites to yourself amidst the frozen stillness and beauty.
Snow-capped Mount Ararat rises above the Khor Virap Monastery © Alexander Ishchenko, Shutterstock
Join the Armenians as they mark Genocide Memorial Day
This moving ceremony on 24 April sees most of Yerevan visit the Genocide Memorial to lay flowers around the eternal flame at the centre of monument. People of all ages add their flowers to the growing bank of floral tributes.
Spring has sprung!
Exuberant swathes of brilliantly coloured wild flowers clothe the countryside and will continue to do so through June before the heat of summer comes in July. It is the season for Armenians to gather herbs from the hillsides for cooking and herb teas – try the excellent thyme tea. Late May is also one of the best times of year to catch good views of Mount Ararat.
(Photo: May is a great time to see the incredibly colourful wildflowers throughout the countryside © Deirdre Holding)
Sample the outdoor café culture
Relax over an Armenian coffee or beer (perhaps with one of Armenia’s delicious pastries) and watch the world go by. In the evenings, (re)discover the art of strolling and linger beside the dancing fountains in Yerevan’s elegant Republic Square. The fountains dance to classical music while changes to the lighting enhance the effect – an unusual spectacle invented by a professor in the electronics department of Yerevan University.
Be prepared for the festival of Vardevar
Vardevar is a water-throwing festival held on a Sunday in summer. The date varies but being 14 weeks after Easter it usually falls in July. The festival has pre-Christian origins although now it officially commemorates the Transfiguration of Christ. Children accumulate buckets of water to throw over passers-by; adults can and do retaliate. In the heat of July it can actually be very refreshing to be soaked; you will soon dry off so enter into the spirit of the festival with good will – but don't wear your best clothes.
Take a summer break at Lake Sevan
While not quite the seaside, there are beaches and swimming at Lake Sevan, Armenia’s high altitude lake. Sample the local trout barbecued at a lakeside restaurant. For culture, visit Lake Sevan’s monasteries and the wonderful intricately carved khachkars (some 900 of them) at Noratus.
For those of us brought up on packets of walnuts from supermarket shelves, fresh walnuts are a revelation! The markets have huge piles of them but even better are those picked and eaten straight from the tree. Walnut trees were often planted at monasteries; some still have a venerable tree dating from the founding of the monastery. Having removed the shell, it is easy (even if somewhat fiddly) to peel off the inner membrane covering the nut and one is left with a delicious creamy white kernal to savour.
Enjoy the Areni wine festival
Centre of one of Armenia’s wine-producing areas, Areni holds its annual wine festival on the first Saturday of October. Part trade fair, part local celebration, there is wine-tasting, food, dancing and an opportunity for young girls to tread grapes in the traditional barefoot manner. Areni red wines, made from an indigenous grape variety, are among Armenia’s most popular wines.
Time to start thinking of going indoors
As the long, pleasantly mild autumn becomes winter, Yerevan’s many impressive museums, art galleries, theatres and concert halls provide food for the mind and the soul. You may be lucky enough to catch a performance of Tigranian’s opera Anush, a work which aims at a fusion of classical western music with distinctive Armenian melody and harmony.
Be adventurous – try khash!
Making and eating this dish for a khash party is usually a ritual among friends but some restaurants do serve this winter ‘delicacy’. The khash (perhaps best translated as cowheel soup) is cooked overnight then eaten for breakfast with lavash (Armenia’s flatbread), pickles, greens and radishes, all washed down with considerable quantities of vodka, ideally mulberry vodka, in a series of toasts.