At Last: Armenia
The 2024 Trans-Caucasus cycling adventure will include TDA’s first ever visit to Armenia, and after having scouted the route in Armenia recently, it has surpassed all expectations. Armenia is truly an incredible destination, not only for cycling, but for its history, culture, culinary richness and geography.
Those joining us in 2024 should plan to arrive to Yerevan, the capital, at least a few days before the tour begins. The cosmopolitan city’s centre is a great feat of early 20th century city planning by the Armenian architect Alexandre Tamanyan. Lush, tree lined streets with their red hued “tuff” stone buildings offer many incredible restaurants and cafes to explore. The local tastes include Lahmacun, “Armenian pizza”, as well as dishes influenced by the empires which are part of Armenia’s history, such as Persian, Russian and Ottoman. Along the streets sit vendors selling an abundant array of local produce from the small villages surrounding Yerevan. No one should leave Armenia without trying the brandy, a favourite of Stalin, who famously served it to Winston Churchill at the Yalta conference at the end of World War II, the “Cognac of the Caucasus”.
Many first-time visitors are struck by the mountainous terrain of the country, and how incredibly green the slopes of those mountains are. In May the mountain flowers are beginning to bloom adding blasts of colour along the way. Trans-Caucasus riders will start cycling from Khor Virap, a monastery just to the south of Yerevan. It is where Gregory the Illuminator, an early Christian, spent over a decade in a dungeon prison, before convincing King Trdat III to have Armenia adopt Christianity. With Mt. Ararat as its backdrop, the setting is a special way to begin our cycling journey.
The Trans-Caucasus first day will pass through Armenia’s wine centre, Areni, named for the local grape variety, and for those who will be on the tour, it’s already in the plans to bring some of these bottles for all to try at our first camp location further along the road. Wine has been made in current day Armenia for at least 5000 years, including in the location of Areni itself. Wine is a deeply rooted part of the local culture, and despite the Soviet’s attempt to focus their empires wine production in Georgia and for Armenia’s grapes to go towards brandy, wine production in Armenia has flourished once again since the late 1990’s.
The first mountain pass to cross on our ride in Armenia will be the Selim pass on our 2nd day. The gradients are gradual overall, and the pavement is mostly quite good, but a strong effort will be required climbing the switchbacks nearing the top at approximately 2400m. Just before the summit lies one of the best-preserved caravanserais in the Caucasus, where from 700 years ago and onwards Persian and Armenian traders would stay with their animals while traversing the pass. In the present day the caravanserai is the perfect spot to take a rest and enjoy the amazing vistas before descending to Martuni and the shores of Lake Sevan.
The tour will have a couple days of riding to enjoy the views of Lake Sevan, a high-altitude fresh water lake at the heart of Armenia geographically and referred to as the “Jewel of Armenia”. Armenians come from Yerevan for summer vacations to the western side of the lake, but on the eastern side, where the tour cycles, tucked up against the mountains and near the Azerbaijan border the area is unpopulated and not often visited. A perfect place to camp for the night and enjoy the dark sky rich with stars.
Dilijan is where the tour will spend its rest day in Armenia. The “Switzerland of Armenia”, it is nestled in the densely forested mountains, at a slightly lower elevation than Lake Sevan. A famed spa resort and sanatorium town during Soviet times. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the number of visitors greatly reduced, and while there are still spas to enjoy in the small city, the nearby Dilijan national park has become the main attraction, along with multiple monasteries in the forests which can be visited on a day trip.
The Pushkin pass, named after the famous Russian writer who traveled the road in the 19th century, is the last great challenge our tour will face before departing Armenia into Georgia. With its rough road and incredible switchbacks and even more incredible vistas it will be a rewarding as well as punishing feat to cycle over it. After descending from the heights of the pass the famous Pine Forests of Lori region await.
Armenia is truly an amazing country to explore by bicycle. It took a very long time for TDA to bring a tour through Armenia, and we are very happy that the time has now arrived. We believe you’ll be amazed at all this country has to offer.