Dusk falls quickly this time of year. After spending the day exploring monasteries, cathedrals, and the rocky mountainside, you’re trying to return your hotel. But between your handwritten directions and the lack of road signs, you’re not quite sure if you’re headed the right way. And now it’s starting to get dark. Fast. Follow the river. You can hear it rushing to your left. Go slow around the turns. Ignore your grumbling stomach. Finally, just as panic is about to set in, you see lights ahead. It looks like a medieval castle along the water, but it’s really your hotel. Your heart rate begins to return to normal.
You’re in Dzoraget, in the quiet, isolated Lori Province of Northern Armenia. You spent the day touring medieval monasteries–Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its religion–that are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Haghpat Monastery overlooks the Debed, one of the country’s longest rivers. It’s largest church, the Cathedral of St. Nishan, was started in 967. Nearby Sanahin Monastery is even older, dating back to 951. It’s huge library is usually locked, but you persuaded the groundskeeper to let you take a peek. And you hiked up the mountain to Kobayr Monastery. It was chilly and muddy, but the frescoes and the view over the valley made it worth it.
Now you’re approaching the Avan Dzoraget Hotel. You were hoping to relax at the pool or sit in the sauna when you returned. But when your stomach grumbles again as you enter the basalt stone building, you realize that may have to wait until the morning. You pass the courtyard sculpture of Taurus, enter the arched doorway, and walk by the Armenian script that decorates the lobby to head to your tower room. The two-level corner room has canyon views, handcrafted furniture, and a wool duvet. You take a quick shower in the red-tiled bathroom before returning downstairs for dinner.
The opulent dining room has stone walls and a roaring fireplace; the windows overlook the river, the Caucasus Mountains, and the nearly full moon. You order chakhokhbili, a Georgian chicken dish, plus a trout fillet, mashed red beans, and a glass–no, make that a bottle–of Aligoté, a dry white wine. The wine is from Southern Armenia, one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Since there’s still wine left when you finish eating, you and the bottle move into the quiet lounge.
Tomorrow you’ll sit in the sauna, go hiking through the beech-and-oak forest, visit Odzun Church–a pink felsite basilica–and maybe visit Vanadzor, the provincial capital. This time though, you’ll bring much better directions.