Suggested Itineraries around Stepanavan
Suggested itinerary n°1
-Stepan Shahumyan's museum
Essential first step of your stay in Stepanavan: visiting the Museum of Stepan Shahumyan. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the centuries-old history of the city of Stepanavan which was populated between the 3rd and 1st centuries B.C. as is evidenced by tombs, mausoleums, ceramics, and pottery found in the surrounding area and showed in the museum.
In the 5th century, the Saint Astvatsatsin church was built. It was destroyed during Soviet times. It's ruins are located where the Yerevan restaurant currently sits, which is on the edge of the canyon.
In 1604, a settlement called Chechmanis was built. The inhabitants of the settlement were Armenian emigrants who escaped from the persecutions of Shah Abas. The settlement grew and established itself as the town of Jalaloghly, in honor of the Jalalyan princes. In 1923, Jalaloghly was renamed Stepanavan, on behalf of the Bolshevik Armenian, Stepan Shahumyan.
Crafts are also on display, which are from the time of the life of Stepan Shahumyan, the "Caucasian Lenin", whose house is preserved inside the museum! A photo gallery commemorates different events that have marked the history of Stepanavan.
After immersing yourself into the history of the city, you can go to Vardablur, a village located about 17 minutes outside Stepanavan where the mountain Surp Sargis reaches a height of over 1500 meters.
You can reach Vardablur by foot, bicycle, or by taxi (approximate cost ?).
If you go there on a Sunday, you will have the opportunity to attend Mass at the Church of St. Jgrashen. This church dates back to about the fifth or sixth century. It’s here that Komitas, a very famous bishop, ethnomusicologist, composer, and singer wrote the song Lori Horovel.Once there, crossing the small bridge next to it you will find yourself at the mountain base. The start of the clime is just past the cemetery on your left.There are two ways to reach the summit: for athletes, continue going straight forward; for those less athletically inclined, choose the road used by cars; cyclists, use the road for cars. For those who are able to make the hike in May, you'll be rewarded when reaching the sumit by a sea of wild roses. This is where the mountain gets its name, Vardablur, which means the valley of roses.You'll also find here the heart of the fortress ruins of Surp Sarkis. Enjoy the silence ... and the view!Upon entering the church candles are available for purchase. You can take part in lighting candles with the locals. If you're lucky, you can even witness an animal sacrifice, often held on this mountain top.
On the way back, just before reaching Gulagarak, make a stop at the village Hobardzy (indicated by a sign) where you can have lunch at the restaurant Ouren which is conveniently located at the village entrance. You can't miss it, as it's surrounded by weeping willows.
To get back to Stepanavan, take the bus which leaves from the bus stop just outside the village (find exact times). The last bus leaves Hobardzy at 3pm.
---If you are cycling, make a detour through the village of Harmrakitz right off the main road where there is an abandoned Russian church called Kirov.---
There is a sign which points the way to the Communists Caves.
Caves of the Communists ("Mayori Dzor" or "The Gorge Commander") are on the edge of the precipitous gorge Dzoraget, they served as secret location for meetings organized by the revolutionary Chahumyan Stepan (1878-1918) who contributed to the imposition of Bolshevik authority in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The site is easy to find, thanks to what remains of changes dating back to Soviet times. At the edge of the gorge there is a small park with a sculpture of Stepan Chahumyan and a staircase that leads right to the caves, down the canyon. On the way you can see engravings on the rocks. Suggested itinerary n°2
At the dramatic intersection of the Dzoraget and Urut river canyons is located the remains of 10th century Lori Berd Fortress. The site is known to Stepanavan locals as “Ashot Yerkat” or “Ashot the Iron” in memory of the rule of the king known by this nickname.
How to get there?
The site, approximately 4.5 kilometers outside of Stepanavan, can be reached by taxi or by a pleasant walk on foot.
From the center of town, cross the Dzoraget Bridge to the northern bank of the gorge and turn right at the roundabout. Continue east along the road, which parallels the gorge. Continue until you reach the intersection of the main road with that entering into the village of Lori Berd on your right. Turn right at this intersection and continue straight through the village. If you look carefully, you will see stones with distinctive markings built into the walls of some of the village homes. These stones, taken from the original fortifications, bear witness to the fact that the village was relocated from within the walls of the fortress itself to its current site in the 1920s or ‘30s. As you approach the fortress, you’ll find the Lori Berd village cemetery on your right.
At the entrance to the fortress is a picnic area and parking lot which lead to the arched entry gate of the massive walls that once protected the northern side of the settlement. Enter through this gate and follow the concrete walkway, installed during Soviet times, to the bathhouse outside of which are two stone bath tubs, complete with drainage holes. Inside the bathhouse, remains of a complex plumbing system can be found embedded in the interior walls in the form of a double row of clay pipes --presumably for hot and cold water.
Continue along the concrete pathway to find the church which shows proof of the Muslim occupation in its niche carved into the Mecca-facing southern wall. The path leads to the edge of the Dzoraget Gorge and down to a small kitchen or bath structure which once housed a complex system of pipes. From this vantage point, the security that the canyon walls offered is clear, as the cliffs drop off precipitously to the river below.
This is the end of the first part of the walk. But maybe, Stepan Shahumyan inspired you so much that you want to stay here and organize a secret meeting with your friends… It’s up to you.
Double back and follow the pathway as it winds through ruins of homes and other structures to eventually come upon a massive grind-stone, likely used for milling grain or producing oil. Further along, as you return to the entry-gate, you will find a small khachkar to the right.
Exit by the gate and turn right to find the ancient cobbled path switch-backing into the valley to the bridge below. As you descend, you will see a memorial carved into the cliff to your left to a man who fell into the gorge while hunting. The vaulted medieval bridge at the bottom of the gorge crosses the Urut River leading to several carvings of crosses and other designs in the rock face on the other side, as well as to a popular spring to the right. Under the bridge is a perfect picnic spot, complete with barbecue area and fire ring for a teakettle. Perfect to make a good khorovats (barbecue) ! So don’t forget to bring everything you need to eat. Yummy !
After eating, no time for a siesta... just a short walk will bring you to your next destination !
Climb halfway back up and turn left along the path that leads to the intersection of the gorges where the vestiges of a guard tower can be seen to the right. In the river itself can be found the stone pier of what was once an even larger bridge crossing the Dzoraget River. A carved lion is visible on the face of the pier. According to legend, it is only thanks to the strength of the egg-based mortar used in the construction of the bridge that any part of the structure remains.
From the gorge intersection, it is possible to return to the fortress walls up the winding cobblestone path by which you descended or to return on foot along the river valley—a cool, manageable 4.5 kilometer walk which affords a good view of the Communist Caves (See tour n°1).
If you have chosen this way (good choice), continue following the narrow path, sometimes difficult to find in the tall grass, which leads toward the hydroelectric plant (which you may have seen from above). Pass the hydroelectric plant, being mindful of the barking (but not biting!) guard dogs, and continue along the clear trail on the right-hand side of the gorge. Along the way back to the center, you will see the Communist Caves, identifiable by the stairway leading down the side of the gorge, on your left. You will pass under the modern Dzoraget Bridge and find the small bridge it replaced on your left. Cross the river and follow the switchbacks up the gorge. There it is, you are back to the center of Stepanavan ! Suggested itinerary n°3
Located about 20 kilometers from Stepanavan is the village of Kurtan, known throughout the region for the nearby ruins of the Hnevank monastery. This site is a great excuse for a walk into nature, to stretch the legs a little bit and enjoy the fresh air of Lori. But if a walk does not appeal to you, nothing prevents your arrival by bus (for schedule look at the www.stepanavaninfo.am) or by bike, of course.
How to get there?
The route is not complicated; just take the main road out of Stepanavan, pass through the Amrakits village, and veer left when you see the road sign to Gyulagarak, Vardablur, and Kurtan. When you enter Kurtan, turn to your right and continue into the gorge. After 10-15 minutes of walking, you will see the bottom of the gorge and the remains of the Hnevank monastery, a structure built between the seventh and the ninth centuries. Lord Smbat, of the Orbelian dynasty in Georgia, heavily renovated the church in 1144, after his expulsion from his home country, according to an inscription on the stone structure written in Georgian. The monastery was abandoned during the forced Armenian exodus but with Armenian independence in 1989, it was renovated and returned to its former beauty.
The church is a semi-free triconch structure (meaning that it contains three apses, or semi-circular recesses covered by hemispherical domes, arranged off the main room in the direction of the compass points) towards the east. The monastery’s dome is supported by an octagonal drum. To the west, where the fourth apse of a tetraconch structure would be, is the monastery’s gavit, or arched-ceiling entryway. The gavit was added between 1186 and 1206. The monastery is surrounded by several service buildings such as the monk’s residence.
After this long hike into the gorge, you could enjoy a good khorovats (Armenian barbecue) or a picnic near the monastery. If you wish, you can even set up camp there for the night.
On your way back, if you have time, you may be interested in visiting Kurtan’s museum. Artifacts from every-day life in 19th century of this region can be viewed here. The museum also contains pictures and even a recreation of a typical living room, which will shed light on life in Armenia during the period.
The museum does not have regular hours of operation, so in order to access it, simply contact a member of the Information Centre in Stepanavan who will make the necessary arrangements so that the museum will open upon your arrival. Suggested itinerary n°4
Founded in 1933 by the forest engineer Edmon Leonovich, the Dendropark Botanical Garden features a diversity of tree species brought from different regions of the world. It is also a place of rest, green and fresh, even during hottest times of summer.
How to get there?
The Dendropark can be reached by taxi or by a lovely bicycle ride along the shady, tree-lined highway, 12 kilometers from Stepanavan and just outside the village of Gyulagarak.
Heading toward Vanadzor from Stepanavan, continue along the main road, pass through the village Amrakits, and turn left at the Gyulagarak village intersection. On your left about 50m later, you will pass the earthquake-ruined remains of the local church. In Gyulagarak, turn right at the first intersection and follow the road up the hill, past the ruins of the 6th century Tormak church on your right. Further up the hill, on the left, you’ll find the Hekyat Restaurant (“Fairy Tale,” in Armenian) where you can dine at tables nestled around a brook in the forest. Rumor has it that the best khorovats (Armenian barbecue) in the area can be found here !
The road ends at the Dendropark and the neighboring bronchitis health center. Enter the Dendropark through the marked gate and explore the many winding paths through well-labeled tree specimens.
At the end of the path, you will find the arboretum.
A little bit of history :
In the 1930s, during his work for the Forestry Commission in the area, Edmon Leonovich started planting ornamental trees on its own initiative. Gradually, he introduced new trees into natural forest clearings which flourished and left the main forest species to be the Siberian pine. Today, the Botanical Garden occupies 35 hectares of which 17.5 are composed of natural forest and 15 of ornamental trees.
It is thought that the Dendropark is the first place in the Trans Caucasus region where the natural forest had been reorganized into a Forest Park. The Botanical Garden is natural Stepanavan forest augmented with ornamental plants and avenues of linden (Tilia cordata), featuring introduced tree specimens such as Juglans, Malus, Populus and Pyrus.
Most of the new species were introduced from other botanical gardens through exchange programs between the Yerevan Botanical Garden and its counterparts around the world. Species have been imported from Germany, France, Portugal, China and the United States. There are now over 500 non-native species.
The collection is of great scientific interest and provides the opportunity to study changes the plants undergo when introduced into these new environmental conditions.
Of particular interest are the greenhouses where Edmon Leonovich’s, cultivates evergreen seedlings for sale to re-forestation programs; the founder remained the Dendropark’s director until 1984, when his son took over the position. The site was designated as a protected site in 1998.
Late April or early May, if you're lucky enough to find yourself in Stepanavan, you can enjoy this unique time to breathe the air scented by blossoming pine trees. Before the fall of the Soviet Union there was a sanatorium near the
Dendropark which welcomed children with asthma and other respiratory problems. Today this place, called Sochut, has been completely renovated and offers an ideal retreat for anyone wishing to escape the polluted air of big cities.
Remember to get a little honey in the region known as the Doctor’s Syrup (Bjishki meghr)--it is excellent !
Please note that picnicking and eating are forbidden within the boundaries of Dendropark. Locals exit the gate and take advantage of clearings in the nearby forest to picnic.