Bike Armenia Tour Route
Although biking has not caught on yet among Armenians, it is a perfect way to see Armenia. This route was designed to transverse as much of Armenia's scenery as possible, without repeating any stretch of the route, but does not include the stretch from Gyumri to Hoktemberyan or the Ararat Valley, and, allows you to choose whether to take the optional legs to southern Syunik and the Shamshadin region of Tavush. The two areas not covered are easy, relatively flat rides which can start in Yerevan, and are covered seperately below. The names of the major towns are in bold below, and en route attractions you may choose to stop at before the next town are listed. A road/mountain bike hybrid is preferable, and a copy of Rediscovering Armenia Guidebook, a tent and camping gear will give you total flexibility. To see how each attraction rates compared to another, and for GPS coordinates, see the Armenian Attraction Ratings page. If you can't do the entire tour, try sections of it, especially the first section beginning in Dilijan and ending in either Tumanyan or Stepanavan.
Dilijan - Jukhtak Vank, Matosavank, Parz Lij, Haghardzin, Goshavank
The Dilijan-Ijevan section is on new highway, with a gentle downwards slope, making it a very easy ride along the river. Sites to visit along the way include: Jukhtak Vank and Matosavank, on the fringes of Dilijan will probably require short hikes. Parz Lij (clear lake) involves a steep narrow road up a hill to reach the small lake. Haghartsin, one of Armenia's most loved and visited monasteries is a steep ride through the forest along a one lane road. Goshavank, with it's fine reliefs, is an easy detour relative to the last two, with a more gradual grade, with the monastery at the end of the road in the village of Gosh.
Ijevan - Makaravank, Kirants, Deghdznuti, Arakelots
(Optional sidetrip from Ijevan to Berd in Shamshadin)
The Ijevan-Noyemberian stretch continues on the new highway. You could include exploring the caves and nature around Yenokavan Village. The worthy sidetrip is the tough ride up through and past Achajur village, up to Makaravank Monastery. A serious sidetrip which I highly recommend would involve a multi-day detour to Berd in the beautiful Shamshadin region, which will require a seperate write-up. Next comes one of the best forest sidetrips, on dirt logger roads. Starting from the Kirants/Acharkut villages, you head straight up the river valley to reach the Arakelots, Kirants and Deghdznuti monasteries, all very beautiful and with great scenery around them. To see a lot more beautiful scenery you could bike from the bridge you access Deghdznuti from straight to Samsoni Vank, which is not much to look at.
Noyemberyan - Mshkavank, Berdavan, Akhtala
This stretch of the trip, also on new highway, skirts the border with Azerbaijan, and takes you past the Georgian border area as well, where the brand new highway ends, and older, narrower highway begins. In the forests above Noyemberyan, more easily accessible from Koghb, is the small, restored but forgotten monastery of Mshkavank. Just past Koghb is the village of Berdavan with a castle on the outer edges, quite close to Azerbaijan. Past the Georgian border, the highway ends it's easy descent and begins to rise up and down through some villages before once again settling along the Debed River which it gently ascends with towards Vanadzor. It is near the beginning of this gentle ascent that a side road heads up through Akhtala Village past which you will find the fortified Akhtala Monastery. Make sure you have the door unlocked so you can view some of Armenia's best preserved frescoes.
Alaverdi - Haghpat, Sanahin, Odzun, Horomayri, Kobayr, S. Grigori
From Alaverdi to Tumanyan you will see some of Armenia's greatest monasteries, two of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Haghpat, which is actually a bit before Alaverdi, but visible from the upper parts, and Sanahin, up above Alaverdi are the first two monasteries, and both are UNESCO WHS. When taking the Haghpat turnoff to the steep ascent to Haghpat village and monastery, you'll notice a little fortress on your right on it's own little hill, with a church in it. Sanahin, which you can ride your bike up to on another steep road, or take a cable car up to from the Alaverdi Post Office, is near the top of the village of Sanahin, a 15 minute walk from the top of the cable car. Heading up the Debed River past the outskirts of Alaverdi, you come to the sharp switchback road heading up to Odzun village, and Odzun Cathedral. A finely preserved, interesting and ancient basilica. Back down on the highway, heading further up the highway, you will come upon the hard to spot Horomayri Monastery, which is very well camoflauged against the cliffs of the gorge. A steep 40 minute hike will get you to the site. A few kilometers further up the road will get you to the tiny village of Kober, a 15 minute hike above which are the fantastic ruins of Kobayr Monastery. With beautiful open air frescoes, and a lush setting with great views, this is a great spot to relax and enjoy. Just past Tumanyan, which is adjacent to Kober, at the confluence of rivers, you are very close to the ruins of S. Grigori Monastery. Well worth the hike, the monastery is a beautiful ruin in a forest setting.
(Option of either going direct to Vanadzor, or from Tumanyan to Stepanavan to Spitak to Vanadzor)
The stretch from Tumanyan to Vanadzor does not offer any specific monuments along the way, and is an ascent, however there is nice scenery along much of the way, as you continue along the forested Debed river gorge.
Vanadzor - Kasagh Basilica, Saghmosavank, Hovhannavank, Mughni
From Vanadzor the road heads across to Spitak, and then up to a mountain pass - involving a very steep, difficult ascent. If there is any stretch where cabbing to the top with your bike might be worth it, this is it. At the top of the pass you will see a wide alpine valley, and Mt. Aragats. From this point all the way until Ashtarak you will be heading pleasantly downhill. First you pass through a couple of Yezidi villages such as Ria Taza, note the difference in their cemetaries, both old and new. When you reach Aparan, stop at the Kasagh Basilica which is in town. When you reach Artashavan, head through the village towards the canyon edge to see Saghmosavank perched near the edge of the canyon. Go back to the main highway and continue to Ohanavan Village with it's Hovhannavank Monastery. Then continue to Mughni with it's nice church before reaching the town of Ashtarak.
Ashtarak - Karmravor, Ashtaraki Dzor Restaurant complex
The town of Ashtarak has the little church of Karmravor, a cute ancient little red tile roof church, photos of which usually look like a watercolor painting. With an old bridge and other old churches, it is a very pleasant town to explore. Upriver, just outside of town is the famous Ashtaraki Dzor Restaurant and Entertainment Complex. A very Armenian experience, the food is not at all expensive, it is the typical khorovats fare, but the singing and dancing performances on the big gold stage, the lake, the caged animals, the tonir lavash and the entire canyon setting all make for quite an experience. From Ashtarak there is a direct road to the town of Ejmiatsin (whose proper name is Vagharshapat).
Ejmiatsin - Ejmiatsin Cathedral and Museums, Hripsime, Gayane
Ejmiatsin monastic complex is in the center of Ejmiatsin town, with S. Hripsime and S. Gayane Churches in the town. On the road towards Yerevan you will pass the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral, Zvartnots airport and the new settlement of Musa Dagh.
(Optional sidetrip to Garni and Geghard)
Hrazdan Canyon - Arzakan Springs, Bjhni, Makravank
The Hrazdan Canyon road is a very interesting stretch, gently ascending through ancient villages, with nice nature along the way. With the hot springs in Arzakan, the beautiful church in Bjhni, as well as the ruins of a fortress, and the interesting and virtually unknown monastery in Makravan village just next to Hrazdan town.
Tsaghkadzor - Kecharis, Ddmashen Church
Tsaghkadzor, with the ski lift and Kecharis Monastery is quite well known and has a multitude of accomodations, the very ancient and well preserved village church of Ddmashen, with an unusually well preserved altar is an interesting site as well. This entire section of the road is in poor condition. The last section involved a steeper ascent until reaching Lake Sevan.
Sevan - Sevananavank, Hayravank, Noratus Khachkar Cemetery
The well known Sevanavank Monastery on the peninsula is on a great spot to view upper Sevan. The peninsula has a lot of accomodations and the beaches here - closest to Yerevan - are the most popular in Armenia. Heading south along the lake you will reach Hayravank Monastery, which is actually much nicer than the much better known Sevanavank. Near Gavar, but towards the lake is the village of Noratus. With a very nice tiny chapel, and the biggest khachkar cemetary in Armenia it is well worth a visit.
Martuni - Selim Caravanserai, Smbataberd, Tsakhats Kar, Zorats Church
From Martuni, you pass a large alpine valley, with wildflowers well into the late summer when the grass is harvested for winter feed. This is a good flat road, and just at the end of the valley, there is a small ascent before dropping down almost immediately onto Selim Caravanserai - Armenia's most impressive. Dropping down the newly paved switchbacks with sweeping views, the road flattens out when you are approaching the turnoffs towards Tsakhats Kar, Smbataberd, and Yeghegis village. The villages in this area tend to be nicer than average, with Yeghegis being to exception. With a few churches, including the very unique open-air Zorats Cathedral, there is an ancient Jewish cemetary below the village, just across a footpath over the river.
Yeghegnadzor - Noravank church and canyon, as well as Areni wine country are in the wrong direction, but quite worthwhile
Yeghegnadzor has a few monuments in the surrounding area, but some are harder to access. Boloraberd, Spitakavor, Mozrov Caves, and such are not so easily accessible. A bit outside of Yeghegnadzor however are the ruins of Glazdor Univeristy and the adjoining monastery. The Arpa river valley continues south until a number of switchbacks marks the steep ascent to the "Gates of Zangezur" monument, marking the highest point of the road, and beginning the descent towards Sisian.
Sisian - Sisavan, Zorakarer, Shaki Falls, Ughtasar, possible to reach Goris via Tatev
Sisian has the Sisavan Church in the middle of town, which is very similiar to S. Hripsime in Ejmiatsin. In this church there are some exquisite microscopic works of art by a local artist. Just outside of town are Zorakarer, the "Stonehenge" of Armenia, and Shaki waterfall. From the main highway towards Goris, you can take a detour to Tatev on the way. It is very long and difficult, but just fantastic. If you do head towards Tatev, from there head east, then north to Goris, otherwise, if you skip Tatev you will drop down into Goris from the north.
Goris - Khndzoresk, Tsitsernavank
(Optional sidetrip from Goris goes to Kapan then Meghri)
A very picturesque town, Goris is the gateway to both Kapan/Meghri and to Karabakh itself. The road towards Lachin en route to Karabakh will take you past Khndzoresk, an old cave village, then eventually drop you down into a river vally where you can head north just before the border checkpoint, to visit the very ancient Tsitsernavank basilica. From the checkpoint, the road soon begins a steep climb up to the town of Lachin (now Berdzor) with a brand new church in the old style. The road from Lachin to Shushi winds through the mountains and forests. Watch the traffic carefully (as usual) along all the bends.
Shushi - Ghazanchetsots, Mosques, Ganach Jham, City Walls
Shushi is a very historic town, with old city walls, churches and even mosques, from the pre-war mixed population. Now semi-abandoned, it still has a lot of natural and architectural beauty to offer visitor. The cliffs at the edge of the large cemetary, the dominating steeple of Ghzanchetsots, the minarets, the ruined buildings, and the views towards Stepanakert are all impressive. The road down to Stepanakert is a significant drop in elevation, but is a short distance.
Stepanakert - Mamik and Babik, Gandzasar, Aghdam ruins
If visiting an unrecognized country is interesting, then the capital is the focal point of this. With a parliament and stadium and foreign ministry, it is still a small town. Roosters may wake you in the center of the city. On the edge of town is the Mamik and Babik monument, which sybolizes the rugged people of Artsakh. The official name of the monument being "We Are Our Mountains". Due to the topography and the road situation, your options from Stepanakert are varied. You can take a day trip to Gandzasar and back before heading towards the Aghdam-Martakert-Dadivank loop (currently the best road). Or you can take a day trip to Aghdam, then do Gandzasar, and take back roads up to the Sarsang resorvoir and Dadivank, skipping Martakert (nothing to see) completely. Aghdam, a modern day ghost town is a place that will make an indelible mark on any visitor, especially from the minarets in the center of town. From Aghdam you head north towards Martakert, and will notice a nice white church on the mountain to your left. Martakert is where you head west towards Dadivank
Sarsang Resorvoir - Dadivank, Handaberd
(Optional long sidetrips to Dzovdar hotspring or the deserted Istisu hotsprings resort)
Regardless of the route you took, you will reach the Sarsang Resorvoir, and head west. Just after the road and river get very picturesque you have exited Karabakh and entered the Kelbajar (now Karvajar) region, and Dadivank is above the first village on your right. From Dadivank you continue west towards Vardenis. On your left, on a steep rise, the ruins of Handaberd fortress will be visible. The road in these areas is poor, and the ascent to Vardenis will be especially so. Getting up to Armenia proper, you drop down to Vardenis, with views of Lake Sevan as you descend.
From Vardenis a bus, minivan or possibly a train will get you back to Yerevan.
Aruj - Cathedral
Talin - Talin Cathedral, Mastara, Dashtadem Fortress
Artik - Lmbatavank, Harijavank, Horom Citadel
Gyumri - Marmashen, Ani Overlook
Ani Pemza - Yereruyk
Sardarapat - museum
Metsamor - museum
Yerevan preferably go via the Azat Reservoir in the Nubarashen/Lanjazat direction
Garni - temple, church, gorge, Havuts Tar
Khosrov Reserve - Kakavaberd, Surp Stepanos, Cave
A really fun afternoon trip is from Jermuk resort, down the OLD canyon road, to the main highway. Going along a streambed in a canyon, you pass great cliffs, picnic/camping spots, and Gndevank, which is a lot of fun to explore. It is all downhill if you can get a lift up to Jermuk to begin with.