A view of the Arpa River from the bridge in Areni
About an hour and a half south of Yerevan on the main road is the village of Areni.  You will know that you are approaching the village when the roadside stalls, usually reserved for fresh fruit, become displays of Coke and Fanta bottles that look suspiciously like they have something besides the advertised product inside.  Most of the bottles are, in fact, empty and only painted to look filled, but that little tidbit of information shouldn’t stop you from pulling over to sample what they are selling: wine and spirits made from local fruits. 

In 2007, archaeologists discovered a winery dating back over 6000 years in what is known as the Areni-1 cave.  It is the oldest winery ever discovered, predating any other by 1000 years.  (Also found in the Areni-1 cave is the world’s oldest leather shoe dating back over 5000 years.)  With so many years of practice behind them, it is easy to understand why Areni is the wine-making capital of Armenia. 

As you approach the village, on the left is a large, grey-stone building with a red roof.  This is the Areni wine factory and it is open to tours.  But most people prefer to sample the homemade products at the numerous stands along the side of the road.  Products on offer include grape, cherry and apricot wines as well as “vodka” (much more similar to grappa) made of the same fruits.  Some of these really pack a punch, so make sure you have a designated driver before you start tasting!

According to some, the reason for the Coke bottles is so that Iranian truck-drivers can bring the wine back with them across the border.  I think the explanation is much simpler: recycling.
Areni is a picturesque village complete with river views and a historic church, Surb Astvatsatsin, the stone carvings and architecture of which are attributed to Momik.  The best time to visit is the fall; there are many harvest festivals in early October and, of course, the Areni wine festival in mid-October.  The foliage is spectacular and the weather is still warm, plus there’s plenty of wine and kebab to sample.
If fall is the best time to visit Areni, winter is the best time to check out the village of Khachik.  Take the winding road through Areni up the mountain and hold your breath.  You will be amazed at the views of Ararat, which seems to hover above the snow and clouds.  When you reach the village, you won’t be able to escape the mountain.  It is simply magical.
One of many breathtaking views on the way up to Khachik.  The village school looks out on an equally impressive panorama.  Imagine trying to concentrate on lessons!
After you’ve spent the day wandering around Areni and Khachik, continue south for a nice khorovats.  There are several choices along the main road including one at the turn-off to Noravank and Lchak restaurant, situated on a pond.  If you feel like travelling a bit farther, there’s a great restaurant at Noravank as well.  But the best in the neighborhood is in Getap.  Continue south on the main road until you reach the turn off to Martuni.  Take that road to the second of two restaurants, Sisakanots, where they have excellent pork and fish khorovats.  In season, you can sit outside at a private table overlooking the Yeghegis River.
Private dining in style at Lchak restaurant
Rebecca is an American Peace Corps volunteer who lives and works in Vayots Dzor marz. The views and opinions expressed are hers and do 
not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Peace Corps. 

Read more posts from Rebecca: