Armenia is a fascinating and culturally rich country. Outside the classic itineraries proposed by tour operators there are splendid places of indescribable beauty. I traveled on a 4×4 Lada Niva which allowed me to reach all the stops that I had set for myself.
Lada Niva Legend
LADA 4х4 is a legendary vehicle which live with strong emotions. It stormed the North Pole and Everest, participated in rally Paris-Dakar, domesticated the Antarctic. It is known and loved by everyone who drive it. Its vocation is off-road conditions,and Armenia is its perfect landscape setting to enhance its nature.
In Armenia they say “You have a Lada Niva, you can go anywhere!”
It’s certainly original to undertake a journey through the Armenian roads, as a tourist, deciding to drive this type of car which, especially if engaged in the chaotic city traffic of the capital Yerevan, certainly does not turn out to be the most comfortable car: no air conditioning, no power steering, manual gearbox not even that simple to insert, spartan seats and instruments. All this, however, is amply rewarded by its indescribable off-road performance, its strongness and the feeling to be able to go everywhere.
To understand what it means to travel through Armenia on a Lada Niva imagine this: an extremely bumpy steep mountain road, with holes, stones, cobbles, slopes and the Niva that climbs that path without showing fatigue. In Armenia they say “You have a Lada Niva, you can go anywhere!”
My Armenian 4 wheel drive trip
The flights to Yerevan from Europe arrive very early in the morning. We landed and, after completing the formalities and collecting the car, we headed towards the city center where we had booked the hotel. Although it was now almost 3 in the morning it was hot and the Lada Niva snorted heat from the engine that invaded the cabin.
The traffic in Yerevan is, at times, exhausting and the heat in the central hours of the day, in August, becomes unbearable. Cars overtake from every direction, intrude on your lane without warning, don’t care in the least about your presence. The chaotic concrete jungle, with the imposing constructions that recall the once dominant Russian architecture, slowly gives way to the suburbs and to much less busy, but also quite bumpy, streets and in some places unpaved roads. We have to get used to it, this is the road system in Armenia. You find yourself stuck in traffic and to travel 1 km it takes up to half an hour and, shortly after, you are arguing with the holes and stones in a peripheral road bouncing on the seat continuously.
Yerevan is definitely the perfect base for visiting the northern part of Armenia and its most popular and touristic attractions. We stayed there 5 nights, allowing ourselves the luxury of the splendid Alexander Hotel which is part of the renowned Luxury Hotels of the World chain.
Khor Virap monastery and the Ararat Mountain
Khor Virap is easily reached in 1 hour drive from Yerevan and it’s the Armenia’s most sacred monastery and with the breathtaking Mount Ararat backdrop is the most spiritual place in the country. You can only imagine my excitement when I rounded the corner and, then, this energetic landscape finally came into focus cuddled by the sunset light.
The Azat Reservoir
I suggest you to spend some time at the Azat Reservoir, a fantastic place where the unique and surreal formations of the mountains and hills are reflected in the water with pastel shades. There
you will live the beauty of being outdoors enjoying every moment of the day until the last when the light of the day, gently, gives way to the low darkness of the night, illuminated by the rising moon and, then, the mirror of the lake becomes more like alabaster.
The Azhdahak Mountain
After visiting the canyon of Garni, its Greco-Roman temple and the nearby monastery of Geghard, if you are intrepid enough, the Gegham mountains region offers scenery of indescribable beauty. The Azhdahak mountain, the “dragon’s volcano”, is the symbol of the region. You can go on a multi-day trek or you can reach it in a day trip from Yerevan driving along the first part of the path with a Jeep or, as in our case, with the Lada Niva. The road that leads to the base of the Azhdahak volcano is really impervious and quite difficult and dangerous to travel, therefore recommended only for an experienced off-road driver. From there the climb to the summit of the volcano is 5 km one way, with 600 meters of gain and will take about 1h and half. From the summit the landscape is unbelivable.
Going to the South – The Mount Khustup
We have planned to climb Mount Khustup which lies to the south on the border with Nagorno Karabakh. To get there, from Yerevan, it takes at least 6 hours because, the route is mostly an ups and downs in the mountains. We arrived at 9 pm in Kapan, the city that stay at the base of the mountain. On the road we had a stop at the Tatev monastery, a must to see along the way. There, we took some photos at sunset before continuing to Kapan. To climb the Mount Khustup you need to plan at least 2 days because the trek is quite long, almost 30 kilometers with a gain of 2200 meters. We slept in a tent halfway under a sky full of stars in Navcha Base Camp and then set off for the summit the following morning at 4. Mount Khustup is a pilgrimage site and is considered sacred. If the day is clear, at the top, you can see 5 states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Nagorno Karabakh and Turkey