People back home and here have asked us what our favorite place to visit, or to eat, or what is the most beautiful monastery, etc has been in our first 7 weeks in Armenia. These are impossible questions to answer. Armenia although small in area is the confluence of so many cultures, foods, and ecosystems. History and natural beauty lie across the whole countryside. Although nothing can be named out favorite, the Birthright Armenia excursion to Ohanavank and Saghmosavank Monasteries serves as a perfect example of how Armenia is beautiful in so many ways.
Hovhannavank Monastery, completed in 1216, lies on the very edge of the Kasagh Gorge and by itself would be worthy of a days visit; however, we followed up the visit to Hovhannavank by hiking down into and through the Kasagh Gorge to Saghmosavank. We slowly hiked through the gorge following the river, climbing over rocks, and passing through beautiful meadows of wildflowers and dill. Upon our arrival at the top of the gorge, we had one of our many "is this real life" moments in Armenia.
In one single location we could see an amazing white horse backed by snow capped mountains, turn to see an cemetery with some ancient khachkars, and look back behind us to see blossoming fruit trees. The foreground was dominated by a flowery meadow with grazing cows in front of Saghmosavank (vank means monastery in Armenian) built in 1221. Exploring the area around the monastery revealed more beautiful gorge views, a monastery lit by an amazing beam of light entering from the ceiling of the church, and then a perfect picnic set up by Birthright staff. Birthright, as is typical, hired a local family to provide us with an exquisite lunch experience. The chicken khoravats (barbeque), lavash, hummus, tabouleh, and rice topped off an already unforgettable afternoon. It is not too often one gets to get an amazing picnic lunch inside of a national geographic article but for us in Armenia it seems to happen once a week and again all we can think and say is that we are so fortunate for the experience.