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Armenia World Heritage Site – Sanahin Monastery

Visiting an Armenian world heritage site, Sanahin Monastery, was all together eerie, fun, and educational.

After our stop in Yerevan, then Geghard and Garni, and just a couple of hours up the road, we were hoping to find a good place for lunch and then make a decision whether or not to continue on to Tbilisi or spend the night.

We drove into the small city of Sevan during our Armenia road trip and it was pretty deserted. Right in the center, we encountered some businessmen and a school full of students, but it didn’t seem like much was going on, and once again we couldn’t find a restaurant or cafe.

Interior of Sanahin.

As we arrived in Lake Sevan, everything was shuttered and debris was collecting against all the walls. I’m sure we missed them cleaning it up and getting ready for the tourists to start pouring in by just a couple of weeks, but we were clearly too early.

Needless to say, we didn’t hang around long and were once again headed north, changing our idea of what we were going to do, and the top Armenia attractions we would visit – heading to the world heritage sites of Sanahin and maybe Haghpat.

Highway Lunch – Levash

Baking Levash- a cultural world heritage activity at Lake Sevan.

Luckily we saw a very crowded road stop, so we screeched in ready to use the facilities and find something to fill our bellies. We could see why the place was so crowded as it was the only place that offered food for miles and miles and miles, well you get the picture. Entering we were blown away with choices.

There was a bakery complete with two hot barrel ovens built into the floor. In one, a lady was making lavash, which is their famous flat-bread. She would take the pulled dough, slap it on her material covered board, and then reach deep down into the oven to stick it on to the hot wall.

The other baker was doing the same with a long, more baguette style of bread. He would put three or four on his board and slap them all on together, but that bread takes much longer to cook, so he would have to practically dive in to maximize the heated wall space. I hope he gets paid a lot of money; I could feel the heat of the oven a few feet away as I took his photo. Ouch. 

We had to eat some famous lavash, and the perfect way to do it was to get a shwarma (and if you are looking to make your own, you’ll need this shawarma spice mix recipe – yum). We happily climbed back into the car to head up, up, and up as the road leaving the lakeside climbs immediately into the mountains.

Armenia's Lake Sevan is popular all year round.

UNESCO World Heritage Site – Sanahin

As we drove, we really wanted to hit a few more sites, but we were burning daylight.  Traveling in early spring doesn’t give you many hours of daylight and we were convinced by now that we would probably head back to Tbilisi.  We did make it to the next site, the Sanahin Monastery.

The entrance to Sanahin.

Climbing out of the car, we noticed the gauntlet of vendors, with a bunch of ladies selling some souvenirs, but nothing really called to us and nothing was edible, so we easily passed them by with a couple of words and big smiles.  As we entered the grounds, we noticed a ticket booth, so we went up to buy a ticket but the lady said we didn’t have to pay.  I don’t know if that means it really is free or if she thought we had arrived too late to do much.

Steles, arches, and crosses are all important details of Sanahin Monastery.

The Sanahin Monastery along with its neighbor, Haghpat were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999.  We only had time to see in the inside of one and we arrived here first, so in we went.  Except for a small van of German tourists, we were alone and really enjoyed looking at the bishop gravestones as well as the carvings on the khachkars.  

Marking on stones in Sanahin.

The entire complex felt serene and peaceful, such a dramatic difference to the feeling you get while you are driving on the road.  We wandered for some time, climbing over the high entry steps to enter various rooms and passageways.  At first glance, it doesn’t seem like there is much there, but on closer inspection you see many carvings and crosses.

The stone walls in Sanahin.

Afterwards, we did drive up the road to Haghpat and got a smoky view of the town and the cathedral on the hill, but by this time we were really pushing it and were determined to get to Tbilisi. The problem is these places are small, and there just isn’t much infrastructure, so since we couldn’t even find a restaurant, we knew we’d have problems finding a hotel as well.

We went to the much larger border crossing at Bagratashen. It was obviously the border of choice with dozens of big trucks and buses waiting to clear customs. Jim headed in with all our car paperwork and actually had to stand in line. It took a little longer to get through, but there were no problems and we were soon on our way with little daylight remaining. We arrived back in Tbilisi at about 8:30 at night, but there we easily found a hotel and some dinner.

Map of our Caucasus Road Trip – Republic of Georgia and Armenia

Armenia Road Trip Map
Click the image to go to our road trip map in Google.

We will be compiling a list of Armenia road trip hints, tips, and all about the border crossing so stay tuned for more in Part 4! If you are only in Armenia for three days, check out this itinerary!

Also, if you love podcasts, we did on on this amazing trip to Armenia which we’d love if you listened to it.

Who wants to do a road trip in Armenia?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Sanahin Monastery - An Armenian world heritage site!

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budget jan

Sunday 22nd of May 2016

The churches look like the Georgian Churches in North-East Turkey. I would like to do this road trip. I see it is not far from Dogubayazit in Eastern Turkey where there is the gorgeous Ishak Pasha Palace. That would make a good side trip from Dogubayazit if you could cross the border there.

Corinne Vail

Sunday 22nd of May 2016

Jan, I just set up a post about Ishak Pasha! You must have read my mind. It won't come out for awhile, but it's scheduled. It's such a beautiful part of the world, isn't it?

Omo and Eulanda

Thursday 12th of May 2016

We love a good road trip and Armenia sounds like an adventure. There's just something about the open road and the sense of expectation about discovering something new around the next corner or in the next town that keep is so exciting! Your explanation about the fresh bread made us hungry!

Corinne Vail

Thursday 12th of May 2016

The bread was amazing! It was the beginning of spring so there was lots to see, new growth, baby animals. It was a great trip!


Wednesday 11th of May 2016

I can't wait to read more about road trip tips. Border crossing, especially with lots of big trucks and waiting, really stress me out.

Also, I'm glad that I don't have that one baker's job!

Corinne Vail

Thursday 12th of May 2016

Ann, All the bakers had a tough job. Those ovens are hot!

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 11th of May 2016

Allison, If you like to explore little-known places, Armenia is for you!

Rob Taylor

Wednesday 11th of May 2016

What a cool place, and it seems so tourist free, even with the bus of German visitors. Armenia does seem like such a back-page gem.

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 11th of May 2016

Rob, There were very few other tourists. Most of the time we were by ourselves, with wide open spaces. It is a little off the track, but well worth it!