If you’re looking for somewhere boasting fascinating a culture, landscape and food scene, then I urge you add Armenia to your ‘to do’ travel list.
Another plus is that the place is extremely good value for money, with a trip to the grocery store bagging you a load of goodies for less that £4. Hostels also come in as cheap as £2.
I’d heard a great deal about the place from friends in New York and after putting it off for a while, I finally booked tickets to explore what is considered to be the ‘jewel of the Eurasia’.
The capital of Armenia, Yerevan, isn’t a straight run from London.
We took a connecting flight with LOT Polish Airlines, which took just under 7 hours and changed in Warsaw.
On landing into Yerevan, I exchanged money at the airport as Armenian Dram is the only accepted form of currency.
The pretty notes and coins certainly seem to go a long way.
A trip from the airport to the town centre on the express bus – which runs every 30 to 40 minutes – cost just 300 dram per person. The equivalent of 50p.
My friend Jane and I decided to spend a long weekend exploring a slice of the country on two wheels and after arriving into town, we ventured to the Your Bike rental shop.
It cost 24,000 Armenian dram (£38.50) per person to rent a mountain bike for three days with helmets, locks and a repair kit included.
From the city centre we ventured out into the countryside.
Our aim was to reach Lake Sevan, one of the world’s largest freshwater high-altitude lakes, with the body of water measuring 940sqkm.
It is around 88km from Yerevan, so we stopped half way on our first night at a very quirky Airbnb in Arzakan.
Our very friendly hosts pushed the boat out, giving us a tour of the ancient monastery in the neighbouring town of Bjni and rustling us up home-cooked food. The icing on the cake was vodka shots at dinner and a spot of opera, courtesy of our host’s wife.
The next day we reached our destination and were rewarded with stunning views of Lake Sevan.
One of the must-sees in this area is the ancient monastery complex of Sevanavank which stands proud on a little peninsula. The place of worship dates back to the 9th century, with some intricate pieces of masonry on show.
After checking out some of the things the area had to offer – including the delicious breads, pastries and cheese sticks to dip in beer! – and spending a night at a very bizarre place called Hotel Krunk (there was no hot water and they locked the gates which meant we had to break out the next morning) we wound our way back to Yerevan.
At the 30km our bottoms were a little saddle sore and luckily a very jolly man called Areg pulled up alongside us and offered us a lift as he had a trailer attached to his car.
We kindly accepted his offer and hopped out of his rather ramshackle vehicle around 10km away from town.
DOUBLETREE BY HILTON YEREVAN
We were very relieved to have booked a night at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Yerevan, as it certainly marked a stark contrast to the wacky Airbnbs we’d stayed in the previous nights.
This slick 176-room hotel proves to be futuristic oasis nestled in the heart of the city.
Its interior is sparkling, the staff are extremely helpful and have good English (elsewhere in the country no-one could speak English, only Russian) and there’s a good spread of amenities, with a bar, restaurant, gym and soothing spa to boot.
Another perk is that you’re offered a chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven on arrival – a welcome treat after our cycling antics!
On checking in, we were directed to room 1215.
On walking out of the elevators and along a curved corridor, we located our spot for the night with an easy to use electronic key card gaining us access.
The room was luxuriously spacious, with a large bed, desk area and wardrobe space. There was also a fairly-spaced bathroom, complete with a shower, toilet and bedet.
We immediately dashed for showers and indulged in the Crabtree & Evelyn products, before slipping into the towel robes and slippers.
After a brief nap in the superbly soft bed, we dipped downstairs to sample the bar’s happy hour.
There was a ‘cocktail of the day’ on offer for 3,000 Armenian dram, but we opted for a vodka olive martini and whisky sour.
Both drinks, which were served with a delectable spread of nibbles, were spot on despite taking a while to make.
Feeling in fine spirits, we dipped down to the basement to check out the spa before its 10pm closure.
As with the rest of the hotel, it appeared we had the space to ourselves.
The hotel’s spa is free to access for guests, with treatments costing extra.
I was impressed by the offerings, with hot relaxation beds, a fire-lit chill out zone, sauna, steam room and ice shower to skip between.
We revelled in the zen atmosphere and spent a good while in the chill out zone chatting.
Before heading back yo the room, we made a pot of green tea at the the refreshment station to take with us.
With an early morning flight the next day, we settled into bed and checked out what was playing on the large flat screen TV.
Thanks to the very comfortable bed, it didn’t take long for us to drift off to sleep.
There was also a lovely breeze blowing through the window with the gentle lull of traffic serving as white noise.
A 2:30am we reluctantly woke up to catch our early morning flight.
The chirpy receptionist called us a taxi to the airport, which came in at around 1,500 Armenian dram.
All in all, our long weekend trip to Armenia had been truly memorable and we didn’t witness another English-speaking tourist on our way.
If you’re looking for a comfortable spot to use as a base to explore Yerevan and the surrounding area, then I would highly recommend the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel as a spot to consider.
It has all the amenities you could need, including a fine selection of Armenian cognacs on the room service menu. The only things missing for me, included USB sockets to charge from and in-room sound systems.
And if you’re looking for a more comfortable way of exploring, then four wheels would probably be better than two, with great roads to drive on and an array of car rental options to choose from.
KEY PIECES OF KIT
- Osprey cycling backpack, from £70
- Vivobarefoot Magna Trail shoes, from £160
- Decathlon zip off trousers, from £24
- The North Face Surgent gloves, from £30
The DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Yerevan is located at Grigor Lusavorich Street 4/2, Yerevan 0015, Armenia. To book a stay visit doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/armenia
For more information on Armenia visit armenia.travel