Very last minute we decided to fly to Armenia, a country that has been on top of Franklin’s list for a long time already. When we abruptly had to leave Nepal due to the lockdown we spent a few days in Dubai deciding on our next destination. And what an incredible luck that Armenia was open without restrictions, so we could enjoy all the beauty this amazing country has to offer.
“Hello! Chai, coffee, fruits? Come inside!” – friendly man next to the road
“Here some apple pastries for the ride.” – a random car who stopped on the road
“No you cannot camp here, it’s too cold. You can sleep in our home and we will cook dinner for you.” – priest at the Gosh monastery
These are just examples of the beautiful situations we had during our cycling adventure through the most friendly country we have experienced. After three weeks we grew a lot of love Armenia for three reasons: The people, the beautiful nature (perfect for cycling) and the food.
YEREVAN – FOOD LOVER HEAVEN
Ok probably not the best city for cycling, but a fantastic place to get familiar with Armenia and to explore the food culture. We were super surprised by the beauty of this city. It has everything you would look for during a city trip: the best restaurants, coffee, shopping & plenty of museums to get a great insight in the rich and devastating history of Armenia.
We spent 4 days in Yerevan, but easily could have spent 2 weeks only in the capital. The weather was fantastic and the quality food is really affordable.
We will list our favourite restaurants and bars in a separate blog: Yerevan – a must visit if you love food!
SOUTH ARMENIA – WINE PARADISE
Even though we did not want to leave Yerevan, we also looked forward to explore the country by bike. With our little preparation time we figured out an abstract route and decided to explore the South region first. The main highlights we wanted to visit here were: Genocide Memorial Museum (Yerevan), Khor Virap (monastery), Areni (wine town) and Tatev (beautiful monastery in the east) & of course we looked forward to cycle with Mount Ararat in the background.
Before we could start cycling, our bikes needed an urgent check-up. Franklin’s brakes did not work anymore & we wanted to change again to some less wide tires. We had fantastic service at MyBike The owner, Hrach, speaks English fluently and the service is good and super quick. They even pick up the bike in your hotel if needed. On top of that Hrach is an Ironman as well, so we had lots to talk about!
We will give a day to day description of our route and the highlights!
DAY 1: YEREVAN – KHOR VIRAB
We left late, as always during the first day of a longer cycle trip. We could leave our bike travel bags at the Minotel in Yerevan.
Before leaving Yerevan for at least two weeks, we really wanted to visit the Genocide Memorial Museum. We were very happy we did this at the beginning of our trip, because it really gave us a better understanding of the Armenian history. We spent about two hours in the museum and left feeling sick and sad. And also confused, why do the schools in Europe educate us on WWII, but nothing is mentioned about the genocide here? Also the ongoing war with Azerbaijan is underexposed in the news. Anyhow, getting this understanding of the past and the current situation of Armenia made us love the people even more, as they welcomed us “strangers” with open arms. The main feeling we had in this country: we felt very very welcome. And people were very happy that tourists were coming even though the country was very recently in war.
After the museum we silently continued cycling to Khor Virap, one of the most iconic monasteries close to Yerevan. We first had to leave the busy roads of the city. Cars are very considerate of cyclists, you just have to watch out for the parked cars. Doors slam open & cars back up without any warning.
Once we reached the highway we cycled on the hard shoulder with a constant view of beautiful Mount Ararat.
On the way we decided to try and camp close to the monastery. Wild camping is allowed in Armenia, we just needed to find a nice and quiet spot. We brought water and Jingalov Hats (bread filled with herbs) for a picnic. Visiting the monasteries and most other sights is free in Armenia. It is fantastic to visit this sight in the morning because the sky is most clear – and there is a wonderful view of Mount Ararat. But from the top of the hill there is a beautiful view of the sunset in the evening. So probably the way we did it is perfect: arrive in the evening, stay overnight & enjoy the sunrise watching Mount Ararat.
DAY 2: KHOR VIRAB – ARENI
We slept super good in the tent & woke up with the sun rising and lighting up the peak of Mount Ararat. Well to be very honest: Franklin did, I was still sleeping…
During sunset there were about 1000 mosquitos, but they disappeared during the night. It got quite cold, so we were happy with our warm sleeping bags.
Started the morning excited to continue our journey to Areni. Only 76k, so we calculated that it would be around 3 – 4 hours. Well that turned out completely different. Will explain why!
We decided to take the H10 via Vedi, instead of the highway via Yerashk. The highway leads through a small Azerbaijani exclave and we were not sure if we would get any issues here as tourists on a bike. In Vedi we looked for breakfast and found a small bakery where we had bread and coffee. Franklin was buying a local sim card when two men invited me to come and sit with them on a bench in the sun. The conversation did not went much further than: Holandia, bicycle Armenia, I love hats (bread) & lots of smiles. One of the men got up and walked to the other side of the street. He came back with ice creams for all of us! We took some pictures together and when we wanted to leave, a man came walking out of the shop behind us. He had printed the pictures for us they just took. This was so incredibly sweet. When we were back at the bikes, the girl from the phone shop came running outside and gave us home made cake. Where do you experience something like this? Happily we cycled further.
The road got more and more beautiful, and after a while we decided to check how much more we had to cycle uphill. Seventeen kilometers and 800m climbing. Right at the point where we decided to eat some of our dates, we cycled past a large garden. The man working in the garden shouted: “Chai? Coffee?” We did not hesitate, smiled and said YES! We were welcomed with a tour of the beautiful house he had built together with his son. Many cups of chai, home made dried fruits, sweets & face time sessions with the family. We felt so incredibly welcome. When we left we got a big bag with dried fruits from the garden, apples & a pot of cherry marmalade. We did not even care about the extra 2-3kg during the last kms uphill.
We arrived in Areni around 16:00 and stopped at the winery. Here they called a Areni House B&B for us and the owner came to pick us up and showed us the room. We were welcomed with tea, home made wine and bread with home made honey. Armenia is paradise.
DAY 3: ARENI – KHACHIK
Franklin decided to have a chill day and read in the sun. I was feeling restless and in need for some exploring & decided to cycle up to Khachik. From Areni there is a one way street going to this small town. It is about 20km to the town with 1000 meter elevation during the first 10km. It was high in the 30’s and steep from the start. The only cars passing me were army vehicles. I knew that Khachik was the last town before the border with Azerbaijan.
It was a wonderful ride, most of the road was smooth asphalt an it was very quiet and peaceful. At some point I saw an artillery standing next to the road, pointing towards the border. At this point I started to get a bit nervous. I never really prepare my rides and also did not expect anything to happen, but I am also not familiar with army situations at all.
I decided to just look around the corner and then go back. But there was the town already, so I changed my mind and continued. The army truck that passed me earlier was standing next to the road. The guys waved at me and jumped off the truck. I thought they might ask me what the hell I am doing there on my bike, but instead they asked if they could take a picture with me. I also got juice and condense milk, it was so super sweet. Hard to imagine that these boys are standing on the front lines every day.
In the town I bought some cookies and made my way back down to Franklin. I was stopped again by an army vehicle, but this time for a passport check. Which I did not bring… Luckily Franklin could send me a picture of it and I continued my ride.
The rest of the day we relaxed and had a super nice lunch at Areni Wine Cellar in the sun. Areni is a really lovely town and it really felt like being on vacation.
DAY 4: ARENI – YEGHEGNADZOR – YEREVAN
A short ride today, only 18km to the next town Yeghegnadzor. But on the way we cycled up to Noravank Monastery. This one is very close to Areni and there is a beautiful 8km road that leads there. We left our bags at the restaurant at the beginning of the road, just to make the climb a bit easier & sometimes it’s more fun having the feeling of riding a roadbike instead of bikepacking bike. The ride backdown was really nice, we did not have the brake or pedal once – it is all smooth curves downhill.
In the restaurant where we left our bags, we had a very good lunch & skipped the wine this time. Down here is also the largest cave of Armenia (Areni-1 cave) which is also the oldest winery (6100 years old). We wanted to visit, but the electricity did not work & after lunch we decided to keep on cycling. Afterwards we regret that decision because apparently its very beautiful! Next time!
In Yeghegnadzor we found Shushan B&B. The pictures showed a fantastic garden and nice food. Arthur, the son of the owners, welcomed us and his English was super good. His mum Shushan made tea for us & we tried the dried fruits and other sweets from the garden.
The plan was to take the bus to Yerevan so we could go to the Tolma festival the day after. But it turned out that the husband of Shushan was a taxi driver. For a very reasonable price he drove us to Yerevan. Nice music & lots of pointing and single word conversations, because “no English”.
Back in Yerevan we looked for a hotel that was centrally located and with air conditioning. It got hotter and hotter in Yerevan. We had dinner in one of our favorite restaurants Lavash and beers in our favorite café Dargett.
DAY 5: YEREVAN – YEGHEGNADZOR
The day started with a hunt for a good cappuccino. Since we did the barista course it’s even harder to be satisfied with the quality of coffee. But we did find one, at (name restaurant).
Around 13:00 we made our way to the Tolma festival. It was such a pleasure to see people dancing, eating, drinking and having fun without any restrictions.
We tried many types of Tolma and other local food and watched the local dancing. Around 16:00 we took a taxi back to Yeghegnadzor to spend a night at the Shushan B&B where we left our bikes.
Here we got delicious food and lots of wine. Too much wine. Especially knowing that we would have a long and hard ride the next morning. We talked about the Armenian history, the recent war and the ambitions of Arthur – the youngest son. It was a very memorable evening with a very lovely family.
DAY 6: YEGHEGNADZOR – GORIS
Shushan made an incredibly good breakfast for us. Fresh bread, homemade marmalade, fruits, cream, yoghurt, coffee (lots of it), tea, nuts. All fresh and mainly homemade. The table was full, and that only for two people. But ok, we had a long ride ahead of us – so we just went for it.
We left around 08:00 and started our 115km ride to Goris. We both noticed that the wine of the night before kind of left its marks. When we bent our head the world slightly started turning. Luckily cycling is quite easy, move one leg after the other and just continue moving. But half way the first long climb (1300m in total) we needed to take a little break. When we reached the top of the climb there was a man selling all types of delicious fruits. Another man stopped to buy some stuff and before he left again he gave us apples. So kind!
We continued and then we noticed the strong wind on this side of the pass. And of course, headwind! Where we thought we had the hardest part of the ride behind us (the climb), it actually just started. Putting more effort than going up, we slowly moved forward. (70km) with strong headwind and a strong headache. Not recommended.
The last 8km to Goris were downhill, which we felt we deserved! Also, in Goris we found Mira B&B. After dinner we went to bed early, hoping to be all fresh again the next day for our ride to Tatev!
DAY 7: GORIS – TATEV – GORIS
A ride to the Tatev Monastery was on the program. For some reason I thought that it would be a 600m uphill to Tatev and then all downhill on the way back. Which totally did not make sense, as it was a 70km ride with over 2000m elevation. Anyway, we went without the bags, which made the climbing lots of fun. And the idea was to cycle to Tatev and to take a cable car on the way back. Of course, not because we did not want to cycle, but because it’s a famous cable car ride in Armenia. But it was Monday and then it’s an off-day for the cable car people. Lucky us… we could cycle back as well which we loved 😉
At the end of the first 35km there is a beautiful 6km climb with a nice Strava segment. We never check segments but for some reason it popped up on Strava the day before the ride. So I decided to give it a try and take that crown. In 38 degrees heat I put some more power than during the normal rides. Finally the feeling of “training” again, I missed that a lot! Reached the top slightly overheated and dizzy, but it was worth it.
The monastery itself is beautiful. Maybe it is because of the current situation with the war and the so-called pandemic, but there were almost no other people. We had lunch at the Infocafe. Fresh cooked food and home-made apricot vodka. One of the best vodkas we have tried in Armenia – we highly recommend this place!
On the long way back, we made a stop at the Harsnadzor Eco Lodge. This place looked very peaceful in the mountains and next time we will try to stay here instead.
When we passed the town Halidzor, people spontaneously invited us for beers, which we had to decline because super dark clouds were heading our way. A few minutes after a car stopped in the middle of the road. The guys opened the window and gave us apple pastries. Some friendly smiles and words in English and Armenian were exchanged and they drove off again. The kindness to strangers. We still don’t know how to describe it, but it made us feel so happy. A strong good feeling we had during our three weeks in Armenia. It felt as if the world is meant to be this way. The feeling of being surrounded by one big loving family.
Minutes after we arrived back in Goris it started raining really hard. For 2.5 euro we got bread, vegetables and cheese from the supermarket and we made our own dinner in the B&B.
DAY 8: GORIS – YEGHEGNADZOR
It’s almost getting boring, but actually really not – again a wonderful breakfast, this time in the garden. The downside of traveling by bike is that we sometimes do not have time or energy to do other things. The environment around Goris is beautiful and there is an opportunity for beautiful hikes. We had planned to do this, but we also wanted to enjoy the beautiful garden and a relaxing morning. We ended up having a very long breakfast, we read a bit in the garden and went for a short walk to the church on a hill.
The husband of Shushan, from the B&B in Yeghegnadzor came to pick us up, and when we arrived Shushan was waiting for us with homemade cake. By this time, we already let go of our attempts to not eat too much sugar etc. It was just impossible and impolite to decline all the nice things we got offered every single day.
The reason we decided not to cycle was the race we would have on Friday. 212km all around lake Sevan. A rest day would be good for the legs. Also, no wine or vodka this time and we went to bed early.
LAKE SEVAN – PARADISE AT ALTITUDE (1900m)
DAY 9: YEGHEGNADZOR – LAKE SEVAN
Early morning because we had a long ride ahead of us and the weather forecast said it would rain in the afternoon. Around 07:15 we left for our 139km ride. After a very short downhill, the first 30km was uphill again. At the beginning of the climb we had a nice welcome by two big dogs. Barking dogs don’t bite, we know… but these ones did not like our company at all. Soon after the dog incident it started raining hard. We put on rain jackets and rain shorts and continued our way up the pass. Five minutes later it was dry again and five minutes later it rained again. This continued till we reached the top of the pass. From there it was flat and downhill to Lake Sevan!
We wanted to make a stop in the town Gavar. At the Tolma festival we were told that this is the town of “Baklava”, and we needed some more sugar. We took a wrong turn so ended up with a 6km detour and when we reached the town nobody could tell us where to get the desired sweets. So instead, we ate a whole bread and continued our way. The weather started changing and the wind was picking up again. And guess what? Of course – headwind again. On top of that Franklin got two punctures within 10kms.
We found a nice B&B in Sevan and followed Google maps to the location. We ended up in the middle of a field, with no B&B. We continued to another hotel closer to the Lake where we had medium service but very good dinner!
DAY 10: LAKE SEVAN – BLUE SEVAN HOTEL
Another rest day, because tomorrow would be race day! Franklin already decided to just ride an easy 212km and enjoy the ride with other cyclists. Of course, I wanted to go full gas and see what I was capable of at the moment.
After breakfast close to the lake, we visited the Sevanavank Monastery. While walking up the stairs we got a text from Arno, the organizer of the Savage of Sevan race. He informed us that the race was cancelled. Six young boys from the army were taken by the Azerbaijani army on Armenian land. The place where this happened was relatively close to the road where the race would take place. Because of political reasons the race was cancelled. Probably it would have been ok to cycle the main road, but of course as an official race you cannot take any risks.
Of course, we were disappointing, but we mainly felt bad that the situation in Armenia is still not good. It is so painful for all the mothers who have their kids in the army.
We enjoyed our day close to the lake and still made our way to the Blue Sevan, the hotel where the race start would be. We were the only guests in this massive complex. The short ride of 13km was still hard, damn it can be windy here! That probably makes the 212km ride quite intense.
Arno still came to visit us in the evening, and he brought pastries! We talked about triathlon, Armenia & our route for the next days. So kind of Arno to come all the way from Yerevan to meet us.
DAY 11: BLUE SEVAN HOTEL – APAGA RESORT
A downhill ride to Dilijan was on the plan. First a very short climb and then flying down. The road was so cool, windy curves in between the forest – it is so green on this side of the country.
In Dilijan we decided to continue more North and make our way to Apaga Resort, because they have horses and I really wanted to go riding in Armenia. Everywhere along the road there are horses walking freely and they look so stunning and strong.
Just another 40km ride with a 650m climb at the end. And you can already guess – headwind. It seriously does not matter in which direction we cycle we always have headwind. Even downhill we would not go faster than 28kmh. The last 3km of the ride were on a gravel road. Online we saw that the Green Home had a super nice “dome tent” with a see-through roof. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we realized that it was already taken. We would definitely recommend staying here, the place looks lovely.
We called the Apaga resort and a room there just go cancelled, so we decided to stay there instead. Apaga is beautiful. The rooms are large and have a fireplace, which makes it very cozy when you visit in autumn. They have many horses and a very good restaurant. We had a fantastic dinner and lots of wine.
DAY 12: APAGA RESORT – GOSH MONASTERY
After a coffee in the sun, overlooking the newborn horses (born that night), we had breakfast and I went horse riding. First, we made our way up the mountain until we reached a plateau which was semi-flat. Here we galloped through the fields. Incredible experience. There were three large groups of wild horses and small group with young stallions. They galloped around us for a while. Something I had never experienced before. Here, high in the mountains, were several small farmer villages. Next time we want to cycle and camp here, there are good gravel roads, and it feels like being alone on the planet. Well together with the wild horses.
Back at Apaga the owner gave us a tour of the property and all the new facilities they are building. They also offer zip-lining and (climbing). We decided to zip a bit before we headed back to Dilijan.
Also this downhill back to the main road was lots of fun, the asphalt was very good! We decided to cycle to the Goshavank Monastery and find a place to camp. The next day we wanted to bike/hike a mountain trail towards Dilijan.
When we arrived we were quite surprised. It was super busy! This must be one of the most famous monasteries in Armenia. The priest came to talk to us and we looked inside the church. Behind the monastery is a beautiful flat grass field and we asked the priest if we could camp there. He responded: “No you cannot, it is way too cold! But we have a house we are building, and you can sleep there.” Then Gor came to us, he owns a café next to the monastery and he is the one building the house. He took us there and showed us a room where we could sleep. To our surprise he told us that in one hour the rest of the family and friends would come and we would have a barbecue all together. We had actually planned to get up early for our ride, but of course we enjoyed this unique experience instead and drank apricot vodka till midnight.
DAY 13: GOSH MONASTERY – DILIJAN – HAGHPAT
92km taxi ride
The next morning we attended part of the Sunday service of the priest (name) and had coffee at Café Or. We talked with Gor and Arthur who both went to war end of last year. Impressive and impactful stories.
Seven hours later than initially planned we made our way back to Dilijan. Not through the mountain path, but on the main road. I was feeling tired and could not really enjoy the ride. My gears were not shifting properly, it was uphill again and of course headwind.
When we arrived in Dilijan we decided to find a taxi to bring us to Haghpat. Here is a monastery which is also a world heritage site. We really wanted to camp, we carry the tent all the time and it is nice to sleep surrounded by the sounds of nature.
Close to the monastery is a fantastic campsite – Kanchaqar. It is on the edge of the cliff. The owners are friendly, the view is stunning, the bathrooms are clean and it is very well set-up with lovely small details. And as cherry on the cake they also have a lovely dog and they had three kittens.
We picked up bread and cheese for dinner. The owner gave us vegetables and homemade wine as well. The Armenian hospitality.
DAY 14: RELAXING IN HAGHPAT
We slept so good! So good that we decided to stay another night. The plan was to cycle to (name monastery). The son of the owner came in the morning. He speaks super good English. We drank coffee and he picked strawberries for us from the garden.
We tried to fix my gears which were not shifting properly. But in the end nothing worked anymore and the bike turned into a fixie. The climbs up to the monasteries are incredibly steep, so we agreed it would not be a good idea to cycle. We could have tried, but it probably would have ended with me being extremely grumpy and destroying the mood.
So instead we hiked up to an old monastery up a hill & relaxed the rest of the day.
We would have loved to cycle all the way to Gyumri, but with a broken bike it was also a good excuse to take a taxi. Martin organized taxi for us in Alaverdi. We cycled 8km down to the town. When we arrived at our meeting point with the driver, there were a couple other taxi drivers as well, drinking coffee. They waved us to come over & gave us coffee and offered us breakfast. We were still not used to this, but would love to get used to this!
Our driver helped us to get the bikes in the car and we headed off to Gyumri. After about 30 minutes he stopped the car and pointed to a monastery up a hill. He gestured that we should get out of the car and walk up. Slightly surprised we got out of the car and started walking. After having seen so many monasteries, it was still very nice. All the places are so calm, old and beautiful.
We walked back down and got back in the car. Then after another hour he stopped the car again and we though that he wanted to have a cigarette. But he walked into a small shop and came back with ice creams and bread. Where else do you experience a taxi driver who gets a fixed amount for a ride, who stops for a hike and buys you food? It was so super kind. Unfortunately, we do not speak Armenian or Russian, but again we exchanged lots of smiles.
The heartwarming this is that he did not expect anything in return. Of course we gave tip, but he did not even count the money we gave to him.
In Dilijan we found a nice apartment for 1 night & we went into the center to explore the second largest city of Armenia. The city has a beautiful old center and many building are rebuilt back to the original state after the earthquake of 1988 destroyed them.
We visited the architecture museum and had lunch and drinks in the center. Gyumri is a nice town and especially the old center is beautiful. But to us Yerevan remains our favorite.
At 07:45 we took the train back to Yerevan. We paid 1000 DRAM per person (2 dollar) and we could take the bikes for free. The train is quite old with wooden benches. It was a nice three our ride.
Back in Yerevan we rode back to the hotel where we left our bike bags. Hrach from MyBike picked up my bike in the evening to try and fix it before we left for Uzbekistan.
In the evening we met with Gayane who we met in the plane. Or actually already at the airport in Dubai. She is the sweetest person, and we had a very fun night. Of course, we had to go to Dargett again to drink beers. Afterwards we went to Daboo cocktail bar, where we ended up trying many different drinks till 3:30. High quality cocktails and one of the best cappuccinos also I have had in Armenia. It was really fun talking with the bartenders and sharing about our trip in Armenia.
I decided I needed a haircut, so I went to Sergey Zverev. At the hairdresser they agreed that it was about time. The woman who cut my hair studied in Germany and it was fun talking in German for a while. People everywhere in Armenia are so friendly.
We had lunch at Collective and picked up the bike again. The cables were damaged in the front, probably from the bag that is hanging on them all the time. But they fixed it again and we have two working bikes again!
For dinner we met again with Arna. He is such a kind and interesting person. He brought books about Armenia for us & we had a fantastic dinner at Sherep.
We will 100% sure come back to participate in some of the race of Savage of Sevan. Not only to race, but also to go on vacation again to our favorite country.
If you are interested in triathlon, running, cycling or swimming? Here is an overview of all the races that are held in Armenia. If you decide to race here, be ready for beautiful landscapes but also for the warmest and kindest treatment you have experienced in your life. We are convinced that you will leave this country with a heart full of good memories and a smile from ear to ear.