VAYOTS DZOR Province (MARZ) – Sima Tours
VAYOTS DZOR Province (MARZ)

Vayots Dzor is located in south-eastern Armenia. It’s the smallest Marz (Province) in Armenia, covering 2.308 square kilometers, with a population of about 55 thousand people.
Vayots Dzor borders by marzes (provinces) are southeast Syunik Marz, northeast Ararat Marz and north Gegharkunik.
With vast mountainous expanses, lush river valleys, breathtaking gorges, and mysterious caves, Vayots Dzor has a wide variety of exceptional natural beauty.  The pristine natural environment is home to a dazzling array of animal and plant species.
The central town of Vayots Dzor is Yeghegnadzor. The other two main towns are Vayk and Jermuk.

YEGHEGNADZOR
Yeghegnadzor is located 120 kilometers from Yerevan; it is the capital of Vayots Dzor. It is the largest settlement of the province with a population of about 8000.
The Armenia-Iran interstate highway passes through Yeghegnadzor.
Yeghegnadzor is famous for its wine, cheese and canned fruits.

HISTORY
The name literally means “Valley of Woes” because the area was devastated by several earthquakes during its history.
Archeological excavations have shown that Vayots Dzor has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. In the 8th century BC, Vayots Dzor was a part of the Urartian Kingdom, which later became the Kingdom of Mets Hayk. Under the rule of Mets Hayk, Vayots Dzor was part of Syunik.

CLIMATE 
The climate of Vayots Dzor is known for its dryness and continental characteristics. The Marz enjoys an exceptional amount of good weather, with only 30 to 40 sunless days each year. Vayots Dzor enjoys more sunny days than any other province in Armenia.
The amount of average annual precipitation varies from 390 to 780 millimeters.
The summer temperatures are typically around 26°C (depending on altitude), and winter temperatures average about -8°C.
The annual snow fall in lowland areas from 10 to 76 centimeters and in mountainous areas can reach up to 2 meters.

FAUNA
The diverse natural environment is home to many different species of fauna. Out of the 460 animal species in Armenia, 225 live in Vayots Dzor. Many of these species are registered as endangered, and many can only be seen in Armenia.
Notable species one can find in Vayots Dzor include the Bezoaryan goat, Armenian wild sheep (Mufflon), mountain partridge, quail, wild turkey, and many types of sparrows, eagles and other wild birds, trout, catfish, crucial carp, rare snakes and lizard, wild pig, grey bear, fox, wolf, rabbit, jaguar, and leopard. This is only a small fraction of the spectacular wildlife that can be seen in Vayots Dzor.
Vayots Dzor has a particularly healthy environment, due to the lack of major industrial facilities and the pollution they create.

FLORA

Vayots Dzor has a unique mix of local plant life. Over 1650 types of plants (half of the plant types growing in Armenia) can be found within the province. There are a number of culinary herbs that grow naturally around the region.
Favorable natural climate conditions and geology provide an excellent environment for a wild variety of plant species.
Given the highly varied landscape, many specialized plant species can be found in arid, steppe, forest, alpine, and water ecosystems.
The junipers of Vayk are especially prized. In general, the province has a few forests. However, over 150 types of trees and many varieties of bushes which are endemic and rare.
Many plant species in Vayots Dzor are registered as endangered, and are in strong need of protection.

RIVER AND LAKES
The rivers, streams, valleys, and endless mountain ranges of Vayots Dzor make this territory unbelievably beautiful and diverse. The largest water source is the Arpa River, which stretches for 92 kilometers across the province, and has a 2080 square meter reservoir basin.
The Arpa River is one of the largest and fastest rivers in Armenia. It starts 3200 meters above sea level in the Artsakh highland and joins the Arax River on the borders of Nakhichevan and Turkey.
There are also 20-30 small natural lakes in the territory, many of which are considered monuments of nature for their unique locations and beauty.
The Arpa River basin contains many cold springs. Several of the adjoining territories have become a destination for Ecological and Adventure tourists.
A signification part of the highway from Yerevan to Artsakh and Iran passes through Arpa River gorge. The Arpa River passes many famous locations, including the Church of Areni, the Ruins of Moz, Gndevank, Agharakadzor Bridge, vast caves, and other monuments of nature.

MINERAL WATERS AND SPRINGS

More than hot and cold mineral springs originate in the small territory of Vayots Dzor, each village has its own famous springs, which locals believe contain special powers of restoration and rejuvenation. Many of the springs have their own lore and special history. The most famous and healing among them is mineral water of Jermuk. Jermuk’s springs are not only prize of Vayots Dzor, but also all of Armenia. With its special chemical composition, Jermuk is similar to well known mineral waters of the famous spring in the Czech Republic, Karlovy Vary. The origin of the word Jermuk comes from the word jerm, which means warm. This underground water is used for drinking, bathing, and many other healing purposes. Its therapeutic qualities can ease the stress caused by many different diseases.
Water from the source of the spring is + 63°C.
There are 47 springs in and around Jermuk.

NATURAL MONUMENTS
The province of Vayots Dzor is home to many fantastic natural monuments. There are the giant Karst caves, Noravank gorge, the “Arch o Fortune rock” in Jermuk gorge, Sparapet Vardan Mamikonyan bust, the Devil’s Tower in the Arpa gorge, the Jermuk and Herher waterfalls, several small mountainous lakes, and number of natural mineral springs.

HISTORICAL MONUMENTS CULTURAL HERITAGE
Vayots Dzor province has historically been an important spiritual and cultural center for Armenia. There are more than 1000 magnificent monuments scattered throughout the province, including castles, fortresses, churches and monastic complexes, memorials and cross-stones, inns, bridges, and water powered mills.

CHURCHES AND MONASTIC COMPLEXES
The abundance of churches and monastic complexes is a testament to the region’s strong spiritual influence. Noravank, Gndevank, Shatinavank, Khachik Karkop monastery, Zorats monastery of Yeghegis, Arates,  Tsakhatsqar, St. Sion monastery of Herher, St. Mother of God church of Areni, Martiros church and the Gomk cross-stones can be found around the churches and monasteries, and complement the exquisite architecture and fine detail of the structures. Gnishik, Herher and Gomk are renowned for their large selections of cross-stones. The cross-stones in Noravank anf Gladzor will catch any travelers eye, with their amazing detail and beauty, and the Tsakhatskar cross-stones will impress with their immense size and masterful engraving.
The historic monuments of Vayots Dzor were predominately built during the 8th and 14th centuries.
Compared with other countries, the churches and monasteries in Armenia are built far from residential areas, where much of the surrounding natural beauty has been preserved. The historical monuments of Vayots Dzor were constructed to be in harmony with the surrounding environment, and offer some of the most amazing sights in all of Armenia.

CASTLES AND FORTRESSES
Castles and fortresses played a significant historical role in Vayots Dzor. Among the most famous castles and fortresses are Smbataberd, Hrashkaberd, Proshaberd, Sulemaberd and Vayots Berd. Among them, Smbataberd is the best preserved. Some castles and fortresses, like Azateck or Khachik, date back to the first millennium BC, and many of them were built during the reign of the Proshyan and Orbelyan Princedoms between the 12th and 15th centuries.
The castles and fortresses are relics of the tempestuous and history of Vayots Dzor.

CAVES

The Karts caves of Vayots Dzor were discovered accidentally during construction activities in 1980’s. They were formed over the course of millions of years by underground streams. Three huge caves, Magil, Mozrov and Bear, are located in between the village Areni, Khachik, Gnishik and Agarakadzor. The Bear cave is particularly impressive and is the longest and most ornate, with walls etched from ancient water flows, hallways and cavities with flowing curtains, stalagmites, stalactites and sculptures of different forms, sizes and colors.
Bear Cave ends with a small, crystal clear lake.

OLD LEATHER SHOE

In 2008, an international archeological expedition found a 5500 year old leather shoe in the Birds Cave near Areni. This shoe is older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. It is one of the oldest artifacts that has ever been found in the region. The ancient shoe is now in the Museum of History of Armenia.
A number of organic material found in the same cave also have great historical value: textile fabrics, dried plums, almonds, slings, wooden columns, and remains of human skulls.
Evidence of wine making was found in the cave, including the remnants of squeezed grapes and multiple wine jars. This discovery is thought to be one of the oldest wine production facilities on Earth. This discovery will also enrich the history of wine production.
The caves of Vayots Dzor offer exquisite beauty, as well as a wealth of fascinating history.

Armenia – Old shoe on CNN.com

ECO-TOURISM

Eco-tourism offers the best way to experience the natural beauty of the region. Vayots Dzor has a spectacular natural heritage well suited for the development of Eco-tourism. Four of the specially preserved territories of Armenia are located in Vayots Dzor. These regions are home to many species of animals and plants. These are the territories of Yeghegnadzor (Yeghegis Basin), Herher Forest, Jermuk forest and Jermuk Marsh areas. In these natural preserves one can find rare animals, such as Armenian moufflon, Bezoryan goat, jaguar, wild pig and bear. There are also many species of uncommon plants. Many mineral water springs can also be found in these protected areas. The territories of Jermuk and Noravank are important ornithological areas, where many rare birds can be seen living and nesting.
Vayots Dzor has something to offer in any season. From early spring to mid-summer travelers will see vast fields of wild flowers, including snowdrops, violets, primroses, carnations, orchids, irises and roses. In late summer and autumn tourists can taste fresh wild berries such as honeysuckle, blackberry, service tree, hawthorn, wayfaring-tree and wild pear. With the help of local Armenians, travelers can pick mushrooms, wild edible greens, spices and tea herbs all of which are part of the local cuisine.
Travelers will constantly see the many native species of birds and butterflies and will be hard pressed to miss the natural beauty that Vayots Dzor province has to offer.
Recently, an observational rest area has been built near the Yegheghis Gorge in Vayots Dzor, where tourists can see Bezoaryan goats, wild pig and sheep heading down the canyon with their lambs to drink.
There are many good opportunities for bird watchers. Noravank Gorge is considered to be a premier ornithological area. Visitors can spot Black vulture, Bread and Eurasian rollers Falcons and the Eurasian eagle owl.
Eco-tourism activities in Vayots Dzor province

  • Observing many unique species of plants, birds and animals
  • Collecting fresh plants and berries
  • Relaxation and entertainment at Eco-camps in breathtaking location
  • Hiking and mountain climbing
  • Bicycle and motorcycle tours
  • Horse riding

SPIRITUAL TOURISM
The monasteries and churches are always open to visitors, many who seek out these holy places to experience a spiritual connection. Pilgrimages to such historic religious monuments have become tradition. The most popular trips are in April to Noravank Church, in June to Spitakavor and in September to St. Cross of Arkaz.
In accordance with the Armenian Apostolic Church, church services are conducted for holidays, ritual and other events in all of Armenia’s currently operating churches.
These churches still play an important part in the lives of the Armenian people. The Armenian Apostolic Church holds regular services and ceremonies for spiritual holidays in many of these famous historical churches.

AGRITOURISM
All but three of the communities in Vayots Dzor province are rural and about 60% of the population live in these picturesque villages. The villagers here actively pursue many different types of agriculture: horticulture, viticulture (the study and cultivation of grapes) and wintery, animal husbandry, beekeeping and poultry breeding.
Participating in the annual fruit harvests starting in June and ending in late fall, is a great way for tourists to get a feel for a more simple way of life and is a good way to meet the wonderful people of Armenia.
Vayots Dzor is famous for its marvelous wines and incredible types of cheeses, such as Chanakh, Yeghegnadzor and Lori. In recent years the goat cheese prepared in Vayots Dzor province has become especially popular. The cheeses are sold in signature clay jars, as well as canned in olive oil. These cheeses and wines are an excellent way to bring the fresh tastes of Vayots Dzor province home!
The scenes of sheep coming down from the mountains and meeting their lambs and the joyous, frolicking jumps of goats will give lasting memories to tourists who have forgotten the beauty of nature.
Donkey and horse trip are a great way to see the region and have fun.
The tourists can observed how locals milk sheep and cows and see how milk, matsoon (Armenian yogurt), sour cream and local cheeses are prepared. Goat cheese is traditionally stored in clay jugs and buried to help the cheese age and stay fresh. Tourists are welcome to participate in this interesting process.
Vayots Dzor province is also famous for its honey. From early spring until late autumn, hundreds of types of flowers are blossom. The sun colored honey of Vayots Dzor preservers the tastes and aromas of the flowers from whence they came. For centuries, Armenians have used honey not only for food but also for its medicinal qualities. In some villages there are traditional singing and dancing performances, which show tourists the customs and art of Armenia and engage travelers to take parts in the experience.
Agritourism activates in the province

  • Harvest tours
  • Horse and donkey tours
  • Winemaking tours

WINE TOURISM
Today Wine Tourism has become one of the most popular forms of tourism in the world. Vayots Dzor offers a wonderful selection of local wines that embody the rich character of the Armenian people.
Vayots Dzor is the most prolific wine making region of Armenia and has been throughout history.
A native species of grape, Areni is particularly well known for producing excellent wine. It is a black grape with singular taste, from which astounding and colorful sweet, semi-sweet and dry wines are made.
Areni grapes have an amazing quality. The grape grows in the other parts of Armenia, but lacks the special taste and aroma that one can find in Vayots Dzor. The resulting wine has made Vayots Dzor the wine capital of Armenia.
There are nine wineries in the region. Most wine villages have sampling rooms where the tourists can taste many different varieties of wine.
Thousands of years of refining viticulture and wine production have culminated in the exceptional and famous wine produced in the village of Areni. As a result, Vayots Dzor province has been becomes the center of wine tourism in Armenia and an essential stop for any wine fan traveling through the region.
Tourists can participate in the entire process of wine making which includes the harvesting of grapes, squeezing the grapes by foot to traditional music, pouring the wine into jugs and finally, enjoying the taste of immortal Areni wine.

Oldest winery on CNN.com

HOLIDAYS
Holidays are a big part of life for the people of Vayots Dzor. New Year, Christmas, Presentations to the Lord, Vardavar (Transfiguration or Watering Day) and many others are some of the biggest events of the year.
The annual Harvest Festival is one of the most beloved holidays in Vayots Dzor. It takes place every year usually on the second Sunday of October, in the capital town of Yeghegnadzor. People from all over the region come to take part in the celebration.  A large parade is organized and every village participates with a car decorated with the produce, berries and plants from that village. The villagers also recreate traditional scenes of village life and demonstrate the preparation of local foods. Cultural groups from different communities hold a concert in the town’s amphitheater. Finally, representatives from each village present the best foods that their village has to offer for sampling.
The Areni Wine Festival has also become a traditional event in Vayots Dzor. It is usually celebrated in October in the village Areni. Areni is one of the oldest villages in Armenia. Scientists have found viticulture, the study and production of grapes dates back over 1000 years in this village. The village is situated directly on the main highway from Yerevan and is only 100 kilometers away from Armenia’s capital city. Areni is well known for Areni Wine which is made from the nationally famous Areni grape and distributed throughout Armenia.
The Wine Festival starts at the entrance of the village where visitors are welcomed with salt and bread. The winemaker’s pavilions are in the ring-shaped town center where many types of wine are available for sampling. The variety of wine is staggering and visitors of the festival have a chance to taste all of them for free. Along the village’s road there are tables filled with traditional Armenian foods such as fruits, juice and sweetbreads. Travelers can participate in the baking of lavash and gata in local homes.
Areni still practices the traditional wine making process where the grapes are squeezed by foot. In this event people (typically girls) wash their feet and press the grapes in a wood barrel. Visitors are welcome to participate in this event.
Customarily all holidays include the singing of national songs and dancing. There are also games, competitions and cultural events. Toasting is an important Armenian tradition. During feasts participants make toast after toast late into the night and the best toast makers are often awarded prizes.

TOURISM CALENDAR IN VAYOTS DZOR

Type of event

Period

Place

Hiking (Plant & Bird Observation)

March-July

Different rural communities of Province

Horse Riding

May-October

Different rural communities of Province

Grape Harvest & Wine Making

September-October

Areni, Aghavnadzor, Yelpin, Getap

Wildlife viewing

All Year

v. Shatin, animal observatory

Cheese making

August

Different rural communities of Province

Preparing  vodka from apricot, black plum, pear and apple

September-October

Different rural communities of Province

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