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Forget France

It turns out, that the real birthplace of wine may be in a cave in Armenia (by CNN)
Since ancient days Armenia has been famous for the wine makers where original traditions were kept until this day. It is possible to learn about this even from works of such philosophers, as Herodotus and Strabo. In 401-400 BC, when the Greek armies led by Xenophon "were passing" by the country Nairi (one of the most ancient names of Armenia), in the Armenian houses they were treated with wine and beer which was reserved in deep dugouts in special "karases". Armenia was developed as a wine-making state. Archaeologists have found out in fortress Teyshebaini wine storehouse with 480 karases, in which there could be space for 37 thousand decalitres of wine. During excavation in Karmir Blur (one of the most ancient settlements of Armenia where first attributes of life are found out a little thousand years ago) and Erebuni (city-fortress on the territory of present Yerevan, build 2800 years ago and in 2700 became the capital of Armenia) were found 10 wine storehouses in which there were 200 karases. Even the ancestors of Armenians - inhabitants of one of the most ancient states of the world - Urartu, were engaged in wine growing. According to historical written evidences, in many ancient states of the world special attention was paid to the development of wine growing. In 2011 archaeologists of Armenia announced the discovery of the world's oldest-known wine production facility. Located in the Areni cave complex, it consisted of a shallow basin to press grapes, a vat for storage, and fermentation jars. They also found grape seeds, remains of pressed grapes, and dozens of dried wines. The cave remains date to about 6000 BC - 900 years before the earliest comparable wine remains, found in Egyptian tombs.
Armenia’s vineyards are located on the altitudes of between 400 – 17000 meters above sea level with average temperatures high enough to ripen grapes fully every year. The climate varies vertically; it is dry and continental to dry sub-tropical with annual precipitation of less than 500mm.
Forty-eight grape varieties are recognized officially including: Voskeat, Garandmak, Mskhali, Black Areni, Kakhet, Anahit, etc. European grape varieties can be found only on research stations and Armenian growers display little interest in foreign varieties. They are convinced that indigenous grapes yield the best possible fruit due to their long acclimatization.
DAY 1ARRIVAL (-/-/-)

Detailed itinerary
Leaving for Armenia.
Breakfast at the hotel.
Drive to SAGHMOSAVANK. It is located in the valley of the picturesque Kasakh Gorge. On the walls of 13th century gorgeous church you can see the God Vahagn’s temple footprints built in the pagan times.
Magnificent AMBERD FORTRESS on the southern slope of Aragats. This spectacular high mountainous castle of Armenia still has not lost its attractiveness. In AMBERD there was a castle back in the old days and the present Castle was built in the 7th century. And today it with its impregnable appearance and attraction causes chills…
Here we will stop at the PROSHYAN WINW FACTORY. Interesting introduction to winemaking in Armenia and tasting of several types of Armenian wine.
Overnight - Yerevan.
Breakfast at the hotel. Drive to St.Echmiadzin (Holy See).
St. ECHMIADZIN Cathedral- the oldest Christian temple was founded in 301 and is one of the first churches in the Christian World. Holy Mass takes place on Sundays in the Cathedral. It is an architectural monument of early Christianity. It houses a unique museum of religious artifacts. There is a small altar in the centreof the Cathedral where, according to legend, Christ descended from Heaven and with a golden hammer pointed to the site upon which the Cathedral was to be built. The remnants of a pagan temple have been discovered during excavations made inside the Cathedral.
St. HRIPSIME Church (UNESCO World Heritage)is a masterpiece of architecture and a marvelous example of cross-cupola architecture of the 7th century. Remnants of very old constructions were discovered under the temple in 1959 while the temple was being restored. Virgin's tomb lies here in the crypt of the church.
ZVARTNOTS Temple (UNESCO World Heritage) built as Armenia's main cathedral in 641-661, was to suppress Echmiadzin Cathedral by its grandeur and extraordinary artistic splendour. This determined by the size of the temple, its layout and spatial arrangement, its structural features and its decoration which emphasizes the central axis of the building and its upward sweep. The building consisted of three polyhedrons with rich ornamentation of outer walls and capitals.
Zvartnots collapsed as the result of an earthquake in 930 and was never restored. A few years ago the columns of the first floor were restored. The international airport Zvartnots is only a few kilometres from the area where the "angels have fallen down."
After sightseeing tours, we will visit Art school in Ejmaitsin for lunch prepared by talented children- the students of the Art school.
On the way back to Yerevan, we will stop at Maran winery, for tasting of several types of Armenian wine.
Overnight - Yerevan.
Breakfast at the hotel. Tour to South Armenia: KHOR-VIRAP Monastery. Closer view of Biblical Ararat mountain.
KHOR-VIRAP is a place of pilgrimage for Armenians all over the world. According to history annals, Armenian pagan king Trdat imprisoned Saint Gregory the Illuminator in a cave which became known as KhorVirap. He was the first Patriarch of all Armenians. From here one can enjoy the majestic view of Mount Ararat (where Noah’s ark landed according to the Bible), not too far from the Arax river. KhorVirap is the closest point to Mount Ararat from the territory of Armenia, the most convenient place for observing and taking pictures of the biblical mountain.
NORAVANK Monastery Complex:
NORAVANK monastery is considered to be the pulpit of Syunik bishops. The main church of St. Karapet was built in 1227. The reliefs on the entrance tympanum and the windows on the western facade are very interesting from an architectural point of view. To the south of the complex one can see a two-storied sepulcher church built in 1339. To the right of the entrance of the tympanum, one can find recently discovered stalactite caves. The monastery had been completely reconstructed and reopened in 1999. The magnificent landscape of mountains, surrounding the monastery display a beautiful array of colors from the sun's reflection.
In the Areni village we will visit wine factory. Here we will meet local people and drinkhomemade wine.
Here we will have chance to visit the oldest winery in the world.
Wine lovers' quest for the perfect, full-bodied red is apparently older than anyone realized.
In a cave complex in Armenia, archaeologists from the University of California have unearthed what they believe is the world's oldest winery, from 6,100 years ago.(Reported by AOLNEWS)
Overnight - Yeghegnadzor.
Our morning will be filled by the stories about traditions of winemaking in Armenia and the types of Armenian grape during the seminar, where the invited winemakers will share with us some secrets of Armenian wine.
After lunch we will continue exploring Vayotsdzor region and then drive to Gegharqunik region with following stops and visit:
While driving through Selim Pass to Sevan, we will stop at SelimCaravamseray-an important trading post on the Great Silk Road where little has changed since the fourteenth century. Visit NORADUZ -medieval cemetery with a large number of early khachkars located in the village of Noratus. The cemetery has the largest cluster of khachkars in the republic of Armenia. It is currently the largest surviving cemetery with khachkars.
Visit HAYRAVANK dating to the 9th century.
Visit Lake SEVAN- the emerald of Armenia. Peninsula and churches of Sevan.This wonder of nature, is 60 km from Yerevan on a highway which cuts northward through mountains and rocks. Sevan is so austere and majestic that the gentle turquoise waters are astonishing. They fill the gigantic depression situated at the height of almost 2000 m above sea level. Sevan, with its pure air and sandy beaches, is a popular holiday resort. Sevan has always been famous for its fish "Ishkhan" which means "prince-fish" in Armenian. The fish has graced many Lords' tables in old times. One of the most interesting sites in Sevan is the monastery on the rocky peninsula founded in 874 AD by King Ashot I and his daughter Mariam. Other monuments include Sevan Monastery (874) and Astvatsatsin Church.
Overnight - Sevan.
Today we explore Tavoush region with visits to:
Old District of Dilijan.Dilijan is a famous spa rich in curative mineral springs, some of which are comparable to those at Vichy in France and Davos in Switzerland. The surrounding mountains are covered by forests and Alpine meadows. The climate is rather mild with cool summers and warm sunny winters. Armenians believe that if there are woods, mountains and mineral springs in paradise, then paradise has to look like Dilijan. Its picturesque locality, healthy climate, mineral springs and rich flora attract many tourists.
Makaravank monastery. The main church was constructed in 1205 of pink andesite. The oldest church of the complex was constructed in the 10th-11th centuries of large pieces of rough-hewn red volcanic tuff (a common Armenian building material). The construction material for the gavit is of red andesite. On the eastern side of the complex of Makaravankis St .Astvatsatsin (Mother of God) church in white stone.
Our main target here is the visit to the most important "IJEVAN WINE FACTORY", which is located at the entrance of the town with its massive tower marked with the word "IJEVAN" on top. The wine factory is processing since 1976, and is famous for its pomegranate wine as well as White, Red and Rose Ijevan.
The factory has different facilities for receiving, sorting and cracking grapes, and facilities for wine production, aging, and storage. The winery is located close to white and red grape vineyards.
Overnight - Dilijan.
Today we explore Lori Region for the history of northern Armenia with following visits: AKHTALA- a 10thcentury fortified Armenian Apostolic Churchmonastery located in the town of Akhtala in the marz of Lori, 185 kilometers north of Yerevan. The monastery is currently inactive. The fortress played a major role in protecting the north-western regions of Armenia (Gugark) and is among the most well preserved of all in modern Armenia. The main church at the compound is famous for its highly artistic frescoes, which cover the inside walls, the partitions, and the bearings of the building. The modern name of Akhtala was first recorded in a royal decree of 1438.
Our next visit will be to the ruins of one of feudal Armenia’s main fortresses, LORI BERD situated on a naturally fortified plateau between two river gorges. Explore the site and take in the beauty of dramatic mountain scenery.
After that we have time to walk and relax in Stepanavan DENDROPARK, a huge botanical garden founded in 1931, on site explanations by the team at the park.
Drive to Yerevan and check in the hotel.
Overnight - Yerevan.
Half-day trip to Garni Pagan Temple and Geghard Monastery.
This pagan temple of Garni was built in 78 AC and was devoted to one of the Armenian Pagan Gods - Mitra. After Armenia converted to Christianity in the 4th c., the rulers of the country used the temple as their summer residence. King Khosrov stayed there often as the area was his favourite hunting ground. Garni was destroyed when the Arabs conquered Armenia but was rebuilt in the beginning of the 10th c. Its final destruction came in 1638 during the Turkish invasion. A violent earthquake buried what remained from it in 1679. The complete restoration of the temple began in 1970 and was over in 1978. The temple consists of dwellings and bath quarters built in the 3rd century in the Roman style. The fantastic landscape of Garni canyon shakes the human imagination.
Proceed to Geghard Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage):
Geghard was initially known simply as Ayrivank (Cave Monastery). The present buildings comprising it date back to 10-13th cc., at which time it was renamed as Geghard meaning "lance" (spear) in Armenian. The name refers to the biblical lance used by a Roman soldier to pierce Christ's body to find out if he was alive or not. The lance was kept in Geghard for a long time before being moved to the museum of Echmiadzin Cathedral. Geghard is carved right into the solid rock and is an incomparable work of art. It leads to a rectangular portico and then to another church deeper in the rock. Along the southern and eastern walls of the monastery, high above the valley, medieval dwellings appear. The monastery has withstood many assaults during a period of seven hundred years. Its walls have sheltered many scholars and it was revered throughout Armenia as one of the greatest spiritual and cultural centres in the country. Hundreds of khachkars (cross-stones) and caves are built in the rocks surrounding the Monastery.
The lunch here will be served in private house, to enjoy the home made dishes and take part in the baking process of Armenian traditional bread- Lavash.
After arriving back to Yerevan we will visit Yerevan Ararat Brandy, Wine and Vodka factory, which is located near Hrazdan gorge, on the place of The Great Erivan fortress, about which the famous Russian and Soviet author Maxim Gorki said: It is easier to climb up Mount Ararat than to go out from the wine cellars of Ararat Factory.
Overnight - Yerevan.
Transfer to the airport for the flight back.

Special events, festivals and national holidays connected with the grape or wine in Armenia, which can be ideally combined with the above program:
The blessing of grape:
In the Armenian Church grapes are given preference over other fruits to be blessed as the first fruit of the harvest. This is conditioned by a number of historical and religious circumstances. After the devastating flood, our ancestor Noah planted a vineyard in the valley on the slopes of Mt. Ararat and grew grapes. 9:20 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. (Genesis 9:20) The Grape Blessing ceremony is conducted on the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God (on the nearest Sunday to August 15th) after the celebration of Divine Liturgy. Led by the presiding clergyman, the procession ascends to the Holy Altar.
Areni Wine Festival:
In the south-eastern region of Armenia, in VayotsDzor, 1800m above sea level grows one of the world’s oldest sorts of grape –Areni. And when the grapes crack from sugar in the valleys, a century old garden’s harvest pierced into the heaven start to ripen little by little.The Areni Wine Fetival is being held annually on the first Sunday of October, and opens with the bright and colorful and spectacular parade of the best wine-makers, combined with the song and dance combination.
1. Hotel accommodation;
2. Breakfast, lunch and dinner;
3. Land transportation with AC and WC buses;
4. Tours and transfers (meet and greet at airports);
5. Guide-interpreter;
6. Entrance fee to all sightseeing destinations.
1. Visa for entry;
2. Insurance premiums (optional);
3. Expenses of personal nature;
4. Alcoholic drinks.
1. A deposit is required upon reservation.
2. Balance due 60 days prior to departure.
3. Penalty applicable for cancellations prior to departure.
4. No refund after departure date.
5. Insurance available upon request.