Often referred to as Little Switzerland by locals, the beautiful spa town of Dilijan is a dream for travelers to visit. Located within the picturesque forests of the Tavush Province of northeastern Armenia, Dilijan is the fastest-growing urban settlement in the country. The scenic landscapes of Dilijan National Park, its medieval historical sites, and remarkable food are just some of the reasons to visit Dilijan, Armenia.
The Dilijan area has been inhabited since at least the late Bronze and early Iron Ages, according to excavations that took place in the 1870s. During the 19th century, The town grew under Russian rule and became a well-known mountain resort town.
But one of the biggest draws to visiting Dilijan is its people. Everywhere I went in Dilijan, the friendliness of the people was astounding. It didn’t matter whether they spoke English or not. The locals were warm and inviting and made me feel right at home within seconds. When you travel, it’s the people who almost always make or break a place. As a result, they’re the reason why I can’t wait to visit Armenia again someday. These are the 5 reasons to visit Dilijan, Armenia.
Tour Haghartsin Monastery
One of the top reasons to visit Dilijan, Armenia is the medieval monastery located in the nearby forest. The 10th-century Haghartsin Monastery is only a 15-minute car ride from Dilijan. The gorgeous, scenic road you’ll follow to get there is absolutely breathtaking.
Haghartsin Monastery is known for its iconic Armenian medieval architecture. It served as one of the spiritual and educational centers in the Dilijan area and was completed in the 13th century. It is made up of four churches, a refectory, and the Bagratuni sepulcher.
The Restoration of Haghartsin Monastery
The monastery’s condition has benefited greatly from the generous contributions of Emirati ruler H.H. Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi of Sharjah. The wealthy sovereign ruler admired the site and supported renovation efforts with a donation that helped pay for the paved road leading to the side, its parking lot, gift shop, bakery, and other facilities. A photo of the monastery in its run-down state pre-restoration, can be seen in the complex’s refectory.
The refectory, built in 1248 by the architect Minas, was a dining hall for the monks of Haghartsin Monastery. It features 12 columns, each of which represented one of the 12 apostles. Today, the long wooden tables and seating in the refectory serves as a reception area for guests after weddings and Baptisms that take place at the monastery. The tables are a great example of traditional Armenian craftsmanship.
The complex’s oldest church, St. Gregory the Illuminator Church, dates back to the 10th century. The church is a very small, cross-shaped domed church that is indicative of Armenian architecture in the Middle Ages. Inside are two benches and an altar. There, you can clearly see the huge stones that make up its walls. It’s a beautiful sight!
Also on-site is an 11th-century church that features a secret storage area where treasures of the monastery were hidden away. But another of the top reasons to visit Dilijan, Armenia is the ancient walnut tree that is as old as the monastery itself.
The Walnut Tree
My guide Lusine explained to me that walnut trees were often built next to Armenian churches because they attract lightning. This would keep the churches safe from lightning strikes during storms. The on-site walnut tree is now a charred shell of its former self, as it suffered a lightning strike 1,000 years after it was planted!
Make and Eat Armenian Gata
During my visit to Haghartsin Monastery, I began my tour of the site with a master class on how to make a traditional dish called gata. Gata is an Armenian sweet bread that contains a sweet fruit filling of either blueberries, lemon, or apricot and thyme.
Two amazing older ladies showed me how to roll out my dough, take a 100-gram ball of my preferred filling (I chose blueberries) and add it to the dough, close it up, and roll it out.
After your fruit-filled gata dough is rolled out, the ladies brush it with egg wash, score it with a fork, and bake it for 10 minutes. The gata then comes out brown, crispy, and smelling heavenly. It’s then cut into triangles like a pizza and served with blueberry jam and a minty hosehip tea.
The gata is sweet and tasty. It has a slightly different flavor due to the local variety of blueberries used in it, but it’s still phenomenal. I couldn’t get enough of the blueberry jam, which I used as a dip and an additional filling.
The soft, gooey interior contrasted nicely with the crispy, crunchy exterior. I’m usually not a huge sweets guy, but this gata was out of this world! Learning how to make it is one of the top reasons to visit Dilijan, Armenia.
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Visit the Red Deer Breeding Center
If you’ve followed my adventures for a while, you’ll probably know that I’m a huge history buff and foodie. But you may not know that I’m also a huge animal lover. When I heard about the nearby Red Deer Breeding Center, I knew I had to pay them a visit.
This facility’s goal is to breed Caucasian Red Deer and reintroduce them to Armenia by re-releasing them into Dilijan National Park. In March of 2018, three Caucasian Red Deer were transferred to the facility from Iran with more planned transfers later in the year.
The Deer Enclosures
When guests visit the center, they’re allowed to feed the deer, but only from outside the deer enclosure. However, my guide Lusine and I got exclusive access to feed the deer from inside the pen. On the day I visited, there were two enclosures set up: a large, outer one and a much smaller enclosure in the middle of the larger one.
Younger males were kept inside the smaller enclosure to keep them away from the aggressive dominant male, who was in the larger enclosure with the females. He was easily recognizable by his huge antlers. The dominant male seemed to like patrolling the outside of the smaller pen to intimidate the smaller males. I could see why they wanted to keep them separate!
Feeding the Deer
Feeding the deer was a fun experience. Lusine and I were given tree branches full of leaves, which we held out for the deer to strip with their teeth. They were quite mellow and didn’t seem to be skittish around us at all. If you’re an animal lover, too, visiting the Red Deer Breeding Center is one of the top reasons to visit Dilijan, Armenia!
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Dine at Tava Restaurant
Armenian food is comfort food. I learned that within my first few days in the country. The cuisine is exquisite and eating it always made me feel good. That was certainly the case when I dined at Tava Restaurant in Dilijan. It’s located on the second floor of a funky building that also has a vintage restaurant on the ground floor called Losh.
Both restaurants offer modern Armenian dishes that use local, organic ingredients. Although the dishes are modern, they’re prepared using traditional cooking methods. I loved the atmosphere the moment I stepped inside. It’s bright and colorful and there are lots of wines displayed on the walls!
Our meal began with appetizers, made up of bread, local cheeses, herbs, a cured beef called basturma, and more. We followed that with some incredible bruschetta, which contained basturma and a delicious berry jam. It was an outstanding combination of salty and sweet!
I also could not get enough of the Manchego-like cheese with bits of red pepper in it, as well as the couscous with earthy tree mushrooms. I also enjoyed some pork belly wrapped in a piece of lettuce with a spicy sauce, which reminded me of my time in South Korea.
The spicy sauce also went well with the chicken, which had my taste buds dancing for joy! Another of my favorite dishes was the Armenian noodles, which were interesting and unique, and kind of reminded me of oily Chinese noodles.
The food at Tava was everything I had come to love about Armenian cuisine. It was fresh, organic, completely farm-to-table, and made with love. The quality is unmatched. If you’re a foodie, eating at Tava should be high on your reasons to visit Dilijan, Armenia. The food will blow you away!
Stay at the Daravand Guest House
During my time in Armenia, I worked with Armenia Travel to explore the food, culture, and history of this gorgeous, underrated country. For my 24 hours in Dilijan, they booked me at Daravand Guest House, a cozy and homey bed & breakfast that’s just minutes from Dilijan’s top attractions.
The guest house contains nine rooms and a cottage. There’s a nice terrace with tables and couches where you can chill out and hang out with other guests, as well as a combination bar/lobby and a dining room. It’s quite funky and rustic, as there’s lots of wood everywhere, which gives it a distinct mountain vibe. As you walk through for the first time, you’ll notice that there are hundreds of messages from previous guests scrawled on the guest house’s interior walls.
Of course, it’s the people who really make places like this homey and comfortable. The owner, who lives on the property, was a kindly and older man who was like my Armenian grandfather! He was kind and gracious and made my stay there a breeze!
When you stay at Daravand Guest House, I implore you to have at least one home-cooked meal there. My dinner began with lots of appetizers as usual, including bread, soup, zucchini cutlets, salads, eggplant, lavash, cheese, and much more. One of the standouts to me was the white yogurt soup with greens, which was almost like a hot tzatzkiki.
The carrot salad with walnuts and sour cream was a smooth, crunchy, and refreshing palate cleanser. One of my favorites was the roasted eggplant with red pepper and tomato sauce. Like many Armenian dishes, it’s light on spices, which lets the natural flavors come through.
I also recommend trying the stuffed peppers and the delicious zucchini cutlets. One of my favorite dishes in the world is dolmas, which are traditionally grape leaves stuffed with rice and beef. This dolma was made from cabbage instead of grape leaves, which was a unique twist on a dish I’ve eaten for years. This dolma also had more meat in it than rice, which was another plus!
Be sure to leave room for the tomatoes stuffed with meat and the eggplant stuffed with beef. The vegetables in Armenia are so fresh and vibrant. They blew me away every time I had them. My recommendation: eat eggplant as often as possible in Armenia. I believe some of the best eggplant dishes in the world are made in this country!
Finish off your dinner with some ridiculously strong apricot vodka and Dargett barley wine. Then, go check out your accommodations for the night!
From the first floor, take the wooden stairs going up to the second floor. Along the way, you’ll see some interesting antiques on the right, including some Armenian carpets, an old sewing machine, and a typewriter. Past them, on the second floor, are the nine rooms.
The rooms at Daravand Guest House are nice and cozy. They’re great for solo travelers, couples, and even couples with a child. The room is a nice size and features a queen-sized bed and a twin bed along the opposite wall. In the room, there’s also a table and a heater (it gets chilly up in the mountains). You’ll also have a wooden wardrobe that contains fresh towels and ample space to hang up your clothes.
All in all, the rooms are everything a traveler could want or need. They’re comfortable and the guest house’s location couldn’t be better. Staying here is definitely one of the top reasons to visit Dilijan, Armenia!
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Other Locations to Explore
My jam-packed itinerary in Armenia meant that there are places I wish I could have explored even more in-depth but didn’t get the chance to. Dilijan is one of them. While I didn’t visit these next few sites, I’ve heard from other travelers I trust that they are well worth a visit.
One of these sites is the historic Old Town, located along Sharambeyan Street in the city center. It’s known for its beautiful cobblestone streets and craftsman workshops, as well as an art gallery and museum. Other nearby sites you should check out if you have the time are Dilijan National Park, Parz Lake, and the medieval Goshavank Monastery.
In conclusion, there’s a reason why the charming mountain town of Dilijan is the fastest-growing urban area in Armenia. It boasts a natural beauty like no other and the people are just as wonderful. Add in the fascinating historical sites, the one-of-a-kind cultural opportunities, and the mouthwatering food and you have a destination that’s ripe for exploration. Book a trip to Yerevan today to experience the magic of Dilijan for yourself!
Special thanks to my friends at Armenia Travel for their kindness, hospitality, and for arranging my trip. I couldn’t have done it without them!
Also, if you would like to visit Garni, please contact Lusine.
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