Tag Archives: Church

Kutaisi, Georgia

Kutaisi is the second largest city in Georgia though much smaller than the capital Tbilisi. It has a relaxed, friendly vibe and we really liked the central area with its bustling park, elaborate fountain and excellent market. There are plenty of interesting sites within day trip distance too, so in order to do them justice as well as reach a few other places in central Georgia we hired a car for our final week.

Colchis fountain, Kutaisi

The Colchis Fountain stands in front of the Drama Theatre in the centre of Kutaisi. The Bagrati Cathedral is on the hilltop in the background

The Colchis Fountain forms a roundabout in the city centre and is decorated with large scale replicas of 2000 year old gold jewellery excavated from a tomb in nearby Vani. The Colchis civilization which was responsible for the jewellery has been linked to the Ancient Greek legends of Jason and the Argonauts and their search for the Golden Fleece. (Note to Kutaisi City Council: please make a pedestrian crossing to the fountain so that tourists can get a closer look at the sculptures without getting run over…)

The market was just as friendly as the one we visited in Tbilisi with sellers eager to chat, offer samples and let us photograph their wares

The Georgian Parliament was moved from Tbilisi to Kutaisi by the government of Mikheil Saakashvili to decentralise power from the capital and boost economically deprived Kutaisi. The futuristic building was opened in 2012. Tours inside need to be booked in advance so we just parked up and had a look around outside.

The new Georgian Parliament building in Kutaisi

On a hill overlooking the city centre stands Bagrati Cathedral, one of two UNESCO listed sites close to Kutaisi. The pale stone walls and green roof have been pretty much completely rebuilt after lying in ruins since 1692 when it was destroyed by the Ottomans. The grounds around it and the view over the city to the Lesser Caucasus mountains are beautiful but we found it rather staid inside.

Bagrati Cathedral has been almost completely rebuilt from its ruined state

Under the same UNESCO World Heritage listing as the Bagrati Cathedral is Gelati Monastery, just a 20 minute drive into the hills to the north-east of Kutaisi. We found this much more interesting, from the old monk poking about in the engine of his equally aged car just inside the entrance to the stunning frescoed interior of the main church. The monastery was founded in 1106 by King David the Builder (guess what he was famous for!) as a centre of culture and learning and it retained that reputation until the communists arrived in the 1920s.

Gelati monastery (clockwise from top): restoration works were being carried out during our visit with rather natty green roof tiles being added to the buildings; Andrew and Jo taking photographs beside the grave of King David the Builder; the small Church of St Nicholas stands on an unusual arcaded base

King David the Builder wanted to be buried in one of the monastery gates so that visitors would have to step on him to enter the complex. The gate is now permanently closed for passing through and today’s visitors take care to not step on the gravestone!

Frescoes dating from the 12th to 18th centuries cover the whole interior of the Cathedral of the Virgin at Gelati monastery

Just down the hill from Gelati is the tiny Motsameta Monastery. Even by Georgian standards its location is spectacular. The church is home to the tomb of two brothers who were killed during an 8th century massacre by the Arabs and who were miraculously carried up to the monastery site by lions. The faithful believe that their tomb grants wishes.

Motsameta monastery has a stunning location on the edge of a gorge above the River Tskaltsitela

As a break from the churches and monasteries we headed out to see the natural beauty of the area north of Kutaisi. Our first destination was the walkway along Okatse Canyon. Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about it as our GPS directed us onto a rough unsurfaced road which was bad enough, but by the time we reached the bridge at the bottom of the valley that it expected us to cross we decided to give it up and head on to our next stop instead.

Rough road detour north of Kutaisi: (top) with hindsight we should have turned around here instead of driving for half an hour to the river where we were forced to retrace our steps rather than crossing this very rickety looking bridge (bottom)

The Prometheus Cave is 1.4km long and the concrete walkway passes through six large chambers full of impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Entry is by guided tour only and we ended up with a Russian group rather than waiting over an hour for an English-speaking one. In the end that was probably better as we didn’t feel obliged to keep up to hear what the guide was saying and just hung back taking photos! Our Lonely Planet describes the lighting in the cave as ‘discreet’, the word I would use is lurid, but I suppose it creates some interesting effects on the rock formations. I found the Vivaldi background music less offensive as it served to dampen the echoes from the large group.

Prometheus Cave (clockwise from left): Andrew admiring some stalactites; the ‘discreet’ lighting on the rock formations; cross-section through a broken stalactite

Our final stop of the day was at the Sataplia Nature Reserve, an area of sub-tropical Colchic forest, home to birds, wildlife, and fossilised dinosaur footprints! Spring flowers were beginning to bloom on the forest floor and with the sun shining it was a very pleasant walk along the trail to the Sataplia Cave, which honestly was not particularly impressive after the Prometheus Cave.

Sataplia Nature Reserve: one minute you’re walking along a woodland path…the next, dinosaurs!

The word Sataplia means ‘place of honey’ and is so called because of the tradition of collecting honey from the bees found in this area. There are a couple of great viewpoints along the trail including a glass floored walkway which reminded us of the glass path that we walked on at Zhangjiajie in China. The one here was closed when we visited but we could get close enough to see the view.

Gorgeous view over Kutaisi and the Lesser Caucasus from Sataplia

The highlight of the Sataplia trail was the well-presented pavilion containing fossilised dinosaur footprints

70km east of Kutaisi is the small mining town of Chiatura. It’s very much off the standard tourist radar but we’d read that there are several still-functioning Soviet era cable cars linking the town centre with the mines and residential areas in the hills above so we stopped off for a brief visit to frighten ourselves with the rickety contraptions.

On the way to Chiatura we visited the Katskhi Pillar, a monastery atop a rocky outcrop. Apparently one monk still lives up there!

The first cable car we rode had a lady operator who was in charge of locking the door and stopping and starting the system. At the top we seemed to have reached a residential area though we didn’t venture far from the station. That car ran at 15 minute intervals and there was no charge or ticket. On the way down we were sharing with (among others) a chatty old lady who wasn’t going to let her lack of English or our lack of either Georgian or Russian stop her from finding out all about us!

Chiatura cable cars (clockwise from left): cable car arriving at the bottom station; inside the cable car, the lady in the leather jacket (centre left) is the operator; the stations must once have been grand but are now in the same level of disrepair as the cable cars

The second cable car we rode was on a particularly steep line. At the top we found a mine entrance and a spectacular view down to the town

Final mention should go to our rental apartment in Kutaisi. We didn’t quite believe the pictures on the booking website but it really was as grand as it looked!

Our rental apartment felt like a stately home!

Sighnaghi and Davit Gareja, Georgia

After our day trip to Mtskheta, we ventured a little further afield to the south eastern region of Kakheti which, as well as the following sites, is also famed for its wine. Enroute to our destination of Sighnaghi and straddling the border with Azerbaijan is the 6th century cave monastery of Davit Gareja. Using public transport to get out this way would have doubled the time we needed, so we took the easy option and hired a guide-taxi through our Tbilisi guesthouse.

Davit Gareja

Davit Gareja, Georgia

Looking down into Lavra monastery on the Georgian side of the Davit Gareja complex. The surrounding stripy red hills reminded us of the colourful landscape of Tsagaan Suvraga in Mongolia

After a long 2 hour drive through increasingly bleak and sparsely populated land we arrived at the remote monastery of Davit Gareja, a relative oasis compared to the dry and treeless surroundings. Our guide Giorgi explained that as well as carving out their single-cell shelters, the monks used diagonal channels in the rock faces to collect the little rainwater the area gets.

Davit's Cave, Davit Gareja

Davit’s cave, most likely dug by himself ~1,500 years ago

We were surprised to find much of this part of the complex is in use; the larger caves looked inhabited, some areas were cordoned off requesting visitors to kindly respect monk’s privacy, and there were about a half-dozen monks saying prayers in the small chapel which made it feel almost bustling.

From the upper courtyard we took an energetic trail up through the monastery, past a few more basic caves and a couple of armed Georgian border guards to the top of the ridge before dropping a little way down the other side. I wasn’t entirely sure why we’d left the monastery and were following a path that is essentially the border with Azerbaijan until we’d gone about 100 meters..

Davit Gareja, Georgia

Oh! That’s why! Obviously we knew it was a cave monastery but I had no idea how big it had been and that a lot of the caves had been covered in frescoes painted in the 10th to 13th centuries

Frescoes, frescoes everywhere!

Davit Gareja collage

Exploring the frescoes, including the dinner hall (top right) with a depiction of the last supper

We spent a good hour or so working our way along the remains of the frescoed caves, many of which were just open to the elements. It was amazing how well they’d held up to the weather given a lot of walls had fallen away, but it was bittersweet that some Soviet visitors had scratched their names into the plaster.

Davit Gareja, Georgia - Close up of the Soviet graffiti

Soviet era graffiti – it’s a shame but it’s also a reminder of that period in the monastery’s history

Bodbe Convent

Bodbe Convent, Georgia

The church (right) and bell tower of Bodbe Convent. The grave of St. Nino is inside

From Davit Gareja we drove another 2 hours to reach the outskirts of Sighnaghi. We’d planned to visit Bodbe Convent the following day, but as Giorgi and our fellow tourist Daniel were due to head back to Tbilisi the same day it made sense to include this small but important site in the itinerary. Set amongst tall cypress trees and lush, immaculately kept grounds, the peaceful Bodbe Convent is the final resting place of St. Nino, who converted the King and ultimately Georgia to Christianity.

New church, Bodbe Convent, Georgia

They’d nearly finished a new cathedral-sized church in the grounds of the convent. It looks almost complete from the outside with a lovely mix of texture and materials but it was still a building site inside

Sighnaghi

Sighnaghi, Georgia
Our base for a couple of nights was Signhaghi, a laid-back, quiet, picturesque hill-top town ringed by a turret studded wall. Given that we’d already done our day’s sightseeing activity before we’d arrived, we took a leisurely wander around the town’s walls which afford spectacular views of the wine growing Alazani valley and Caucasus mountains beyond (when there aren’t clouds in the way!).

Sighnaghi walls collage

One of the few staircases onto the walls around Sighnaghi that aren’t in the round turrets

Sighnaghi Museum, Georgia

Just off the main town square is the small but excellent Signhaghi Museum which finishes with a collection of works by the famous pauper painter Pirosmani who was born in Kakheti

After a lazy day of wandering around in the morning and catching up with photos and diary writing in the afternoon we spent the evening indulging in great food and very good, very local wine!

Pheasant's Tears, Sighnaghi, Georgia

We opted for the wine tasting menu to accompany the food at the renowned Pheasant’s Tears which consisted of 6 wines from vineyards across Georgia

Pheasant's Tears, Sighnaghi, Georgia

The food we had in Sighnaghi deserves a mention too – we unconsciously ordered fish and chips with our wine tasting – how does the saying go? you can take the British out of Britain..

The Kakheti region makes up about 60% of Georgia’s vineyards and has been a wine producing area for over 8,000 years. To this day the Georgians take enormous pride in their traditional method of natural fermentation in large clay pots called qvevri sunken into the ground. They also use the whole grape – skin and pips – which turns their white wines a rich sunset amber colour, though they’re still light and refreshing. Delicious!

Mtskheta, Georgia

On our final day in Tbilisi we took the short marshrutka (minibus) trip north to Mtskheta, spiritual home of Georgian Christianity and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  First stop was the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral which dominates the small town’s centre.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta. We noticed that a lot of Georgian churches have little model churches on their roof ridges and this one is no exception

Svetitskhoveli means ‘Life-Giving Column’, a reference to the legend surrounding the building of the first cathedral on this site in the 4th century. Long before, the robe from Christ’s crucifixion was brought to Mtskheta by a local Jew and ended up buried nearby although the site had been forgotten by the time King Mirian, Georgia’s first Christian king, had been converted and decided to build a cathedral here.  When they tried to raise the cathedral’s central pillar it could not be lifted from the ground, but after much praying by St Nino (more about her presently) the pillar moved of its own accord to stand over the spot where Christ’s robe was buried.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral Interior

There are some beautiful frescoes inside the cathedral

We loved the cathedral’s decoration, with the Christ fresco in the apse reminding us of churches we’d seen in Sicily, notably Cefalù and Monreale, and the icons with hanging lamps in front. The gravestones in the floor give hints as to the history of the area and the different rulers who have had influence here at various times, we spotted several Cyrillic (Russian) and Arabic, as well as ancient and modern Georgian scripts. In one of the side aisles there’s a copy of the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem erected to mark Svetitskhoveli as the second most holy place in the world (after the original chapel) and today visited by many Georgians who are not able to travel to Jerusalem.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (clockwise from top left): Jo and I had to don headscarves and apron-like ‘skirts’ before we could enter (Andrew just had to take off his hat); the original ‘Life-Giving Column’ was on the site of this monument; as you might expect St George is a common subject for icons all around Georgia

After visiting the cathedral we were starting to get hungry. The Lonely Planet told us that lobio, casseroled kidney beans with herbs and spices, are a specialty in Mtskheta so that was what we sought out. They’re served in individual clay pots and were even tastier than we expected. With some bread and salad they made for a nutritious and cheap lunch!

Lobio

Lobio for lunch in a Mtskheta cafe

After lunch we made our way to the Jvari Church, sitting on a ridge over the town.  As the crow flies it’s not far, but to get there by road it’s 11km each way and, as it’s not served by public transport, most visitors take a taxi.  But that’s not our style, it was a glorious day and a bit of exercise would do us good, so we checked with the helpful lady in the Tourist Information Office who informed us that it was possible to walk there in about an hour.  The only hitch was crossing the dual carriageway that separates the town from the hill where the church is.  Fortunately the road wasn’t too busy, the visibility was good and there was a nice high central reservation to wait on in the middle, still it wasn’t the nicest road crossing we’ve ever done – though less stressful than navigating the hundreds of teeming scooters in Vietnam!

View of Mtskheta from Jvari church

From the Jvari church there’s a spectacular view of Mtskheta and the confluence of the Aragvi (blue) and Mtkvari (grey) rivers

The Jvari Church itself is small and simply constructed but very holy for Georgians as it stands on the site where King Mirian erected a wooden cross soon after his conversion by St Nino in around 327AD. St Nino was a missionary from a Greek-speaking Roman family. Reputedly related to St George, she travelled to Georgia from Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and became one of the most important saints in the Georgian Orthodox church. Her grapevine cross is a symbol of Georgian Christianity, and Nino is a very popular girls name too – it sometimes seemed like every other local woman we met was called Nino!

Jvari church

The small and symmetrical Jvari church

It was extremely windy on the ridge outside the church though the view was worth being blown about for. The inside is a big contrast to the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, with bare stone walls rather than frescoes, the small circular space is dominated by a large wooden cross, and there’s a rather sombre atmosphere with a black-clad old lady shushing anyone who speaks too loudly.

Jvari church

Jvari church (clockwise from top): the church stands on a ridge across the river from Mtskheta town; a representation of the cross of St Nino; inside the church is dominated by a large wooden cross

Tbilisi, Georgia

Compared to Yerevan, Tbilisi feels more affluent and cosmopolitan, by that I mean there are more coffee shops, more restaurants (and chain restaurants), and a few more tourists, though that might have been because spring was on its way and it was getting warmer! Our great friend and travelling companion Jo flew in on the same day we crossed the border from Armenia to explore the capital and the country with us :o)

Rustaveli Avenue

The Georgian National Academy of Sciences, Tbilisi, Georgia

This wonderfully imposing building is home to the Georgian National Academy of Sciences, and sits at the top of Rustaveli Avenue

The wide, grandness of Rustaveli Avenue (named after Shota Rustaveli, a 12th-13th century Georgian poet) is the main thoroughfare through Tbilisi. In a straight line it links Liberty or Freedom Square at the edge of the Old Town to Rustaveli Square and is lined with elegant and imposing buildings. It was of little surprise to us that it was laid out by the Soviets in the 19th century as it reminded us a lot of of Nevsky Prospect in St Petersburg.
Georgian National Opera Theatre, Tbilisi, Georgia

At the other end of Rustaveli Avenue is the Georgian National Opera Theatre, a striking stand alone building in the Moorish Revival style


Rustaveli Avenue collage, Tbilisi, Georgia

As well as the former parliament building, Rustaveli is lined with art such as these adorable little bonze figures made by different artists in the image of internationally famous people, can you guess any of them?

Old Town

Old Town, Tbilisi, Georgia

A district of dilapidation awaits the ambler in Tbilisi’s Old Town

There are plenty of accommodation options in Tbilisi but not wanting to stay in a hotel and fancying a change from the old Soviet-style apartment blocks we found plenty of choice in the city’s Old Town – a maze of 2 storey buildings in conditions that range from neglected shells to rebuilt splendour. The very well renowned Skadaveli Guest House is somewhere in the middle of that scale, its entrance staircase looks like it was built on afterwards, has since had a disagreement and is slowly distancing itself!

Old Town, Tbilisi, Georgia collage

Encompassing the south-eastern part of the city, we loved just semi-aimlessly wandering through the organic street layout, admiring the picturesque dilapidation and stumbling on pretty little secluded public squares like this one with a romantic water fountain

Mtatsminda-Narikala Tourist Path – Funicular, Mother Georgia and Narikala Fortress

Funicular collage, Tbilisi, Georgia

The Tbilisi Funicular railway started our half-day hike – we couldn’t stop ourselves taking panoramic photos of the city!

One of our favourite days in Tbilisi was joining the funicular from Old Town up to Mount Mtatsminda with a hike to the giant statue of Mother Georgia and on to the Narikala Fortress. The Mtatsminda-Narikala Tourist Path afforded some fantastic panoramas of the city which we just couldn’t stop ourselves from photographing, especially as it was the first clear day we’d had!
Mtatsminda-Narikala Tourist Path collage, Tbilisi, Georgia

The Mtatsminda-Narikala Tourist Path. What a lovely day!


Mother Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

The giant Mother Georgia as vigilant and poised for defence as Armenia’s


Tbilisi, Georgia

Oh look.. another panoramic view of the city!


Narikala Fortress, Tbilisi, Georgia

Not much remains of the Narikala Fortress but some of the outer walls have been restored and are good to climb up for yet more panoramic views of the city. We were surprised just how big the fortress is

Deserters’ Bazaar

Tbilisi Market, Georgia

Giant barrels of pickled vegetables, Julie’s favourite!

Desertirebis Bazari or Deserters’ Bazaar gets its name from deserting soldiers who sold their weapons here in the early 1920’s. Today the main building is mainly a fruit market and sadly it has nothing to do with puddings (that’d be “desserters’ bazaar” – Julie). This is a huge market that sprawls out through streets in all directions from the railway station and even includes an old platform!

Tbilisi Market Stallholders collage, Georgia

As we found in Armenia, the people are keen to know where we’re from and invite us to try their produce or take their photo

Tbilisi Market, Georgia

As well as stand after stand of fresh fruit and vegetables, and herbs and spices, we spotted laminated Christian icons and the odd sweet stall. Most of the locals sell their own “chacha” a homemade grappa-like spirit which we were encouraged to chase with pickled tomato

Chronicle of Georgia

Chronicle of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

The Chronicle of Georgia. A bit different to a church I suppose

This one makes it onto our list for the sheer why?-ness of it.. a pagan-esque arrangement of columns faced with cast metal panels depicting scenes from the bible, the history of Georgia’s conversion to Christianity and is so very nearly complete.

Chronicle of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia

Julie, Jo and I exploring the wackiness!

Sitting on the top of a hill near the city’s reservoir at the northern end of the metro line, it looks a lot like Stonehenge from a distance. We’d read that it’s by Georgian-Russian artist and sculptor Zurab Tsereteli whose works are often controversial, and that we’d seen one of his first public works – the giant Peter the Great Statue in the Moskva river in Moscow near the start of our adventures!

Open-Air Ethnographic Museum

Open-Air Museum of Ethnography, Vake, Tbilisi, Georgia

Another lovely day to be outside exploring

A short bus ride north to the outskirts of the city followed by a short uphill walk through Vake Park brought us to the excellent Open-Air Ethnographic Museum, a collection of relocated period dwellings from every region of Georgia. Our favourites were the the traditional farmhouses with their separate kitchen buildings out the back, the bakery which was lovely and warm, and the winery.

Open-Air Ethnographic Museum, Tbilisi, Georgia

The museum has a lovely mix of dwellings and tradesmans buildings spread out over a wooded hillside

Open-Air Ethnographic Museum, Tbilisi, Georgia

Clockwise from left: a fireplace in a single room dwelling; a guide gives us an explanation of the grape press and the various cleaning and ladling tools; a distinctive tower house from the northern Svaneti region; and an example of the traditional “Georgian Pampers” for girls!

One invention I have to mention is a smoking pipe like wooden apparatus sticking up in the middle of a baby’s cot. The attendant dressed in period costume explained that the parents would hang a hollowed out gourd underneath the cot and “arrange” the child in such a way that they wouldn’t have to put them in nappies, they’d just strap them into the cot so they couldn’t move. With a slightly different design for boys and girls she finished her description by calling them “Georgian Pampers!”

Tsminda Sameba Cathedral

Tsminda Sameba Cathedral, Tbilisi, Georgia

The gold-topped Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi in the golden evening light

It was our last night in the capital, and as we’d seen the Catherldral from afar we weren’t that keen to pay it a visit but we mustered up the enthusiasm and we’re so glad we did – not only was our timing perfect for the evening sunlight, but we caught an impromptu a cappella from an unlikely looking group of men who could have just parked their works van outside after a day’s graft on a building site! Beautiful! Inside it’s as airy and spacious as the grounds it sits in. A fitting farewell to our time in Tbilisi.

Southern Armenia – Goris and around

The southern-most destination of our Armenian road trip was the once prosperous industrial town of Goris, still quite bustling but very much past its heyday. The long main streets with their two-storey houses with large wooden balconies stretching out over the pavement contrast with the functional concrete Soviet-era municipal buildings and residential apartment blocks. Everything has a partially abandoned shabbiness to it that’s quite endearing.

Goris, Armenia

Goris’ central town square is quite grand. It’d be nice in the summer with all the fountains working

The main highway from Yerevan skirts the top of the town on its way to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Iran further south (two more places to visit that we’ve added to our ever-expanding list!), but our reason for stopping in Goris was the nearby sights of Tatev Monastery and the cave settlement of Khndzoresk.

Tatev Monastery

Tatev Monastery, Armenia

Another monastery? We weren’t kidding when we said we thought every other site might be a monastery or church!

The journey to Tatev is a little more exciting than most as it involves a cable car. Somewhat ostentatiously called ‘The Wings of Tatev Aerial Tramway’, it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest non-stop double-track cable car – which makes it sound a lot more impressive that it actually is! However, all is forgiven for the views over the small village of Halidzor, the remains of a warning bell tower and the spectacular view of the monastery itself, perched on the edge of the plateau.

Church of St Paul and St Peter, Tatev, Armenia

The church of St Paul and St Peter looks impressive and commands an enviable view down the valley

Although there was a small church on the site from the 4th century, Tatev grew into a thriving academic monastery after the main Surp Poghos-Petros (St Paul and St Peter) church was built in the 9th century to house important relics, and at its peak was home to some 1,000 clergy and students.

Former monk cells, Tatev, Armenia

I enjoyed exploring the old monk cells more than Julie did!

When we visited in March 2017 the restoration works were well underway and we read that the intention is to restore Tatev to a working monastic university which will include an interactive museum. I hope it’ll still be possible to visit some of the monk’s cells in the outer walls that look down the valley as we enjoyed exploring the rabbit-warren of interconnected rooms.

View from the monk cells, Tatev, Armenia

The view from the monk cells down the valley. Apparently there’s a tunnel carved into the hillside to the valley below!

The other highlight of Tatev for us was the huge communal oil press sited just outside the monastery so the nearby villagers could use it without disturbing the monks. At first glance we thought the giant screw end did the pressing but a video showed us that we had it the wrong way round – the sacks of seeds sit under the other end of the long wooden beams, and the screw end is used to control the compression.

Oil pressing house, Tatev, Armenia

Oil presses were common in monasteries all around Armenia, but Tatev’s has been reconstructed to show how they worked

Having taken the cable car to Tatev we decided to hike the 9 miles (15km) back which meant we could visit Tatevi Mets Anapat (Tatev Hermitage) and the Devil’s Bridge both located in the valley below. After a spot of lunch on the outskirts of Tatev village, we were adopted by our requisite tour guide dog whom we named Grigor and set off on the well trodden trail down the hillside.

Andrew and Grigor, Tatev, Armenia

Have pooch, will hike. It’s worth mentioning that the offline maps.me app was very helpful hiking down from Tatev Monastery as there are a few forks in the track and very few markers

Tatevi Mets Anapat

Tatevi Mets Anapat, Tatev, Armenia

The Tatev Hermitage viewed from the cable car

Concerned that we were running a little short of time to make it back to the car park before it closed at 6pm, we gave ourselves 20 minutes to poke around the ruined hermitage of Tatev and that was plenty of time, though I still couldn’t find the tunnel that apparently links it with the monastery we’d hiked from!

Tatevi Mets Anapat, Tatev, Armenia

Inside the Tatev Hermitage, complete with a hermit! We offered him a biscuit but he politely declined

Devil’s Bridge

Devil's Bridge, Tatev, Armenia

The Devil’s Bridge, also known as Satan’s Bridge, is a naturally created, 50m wide bridge spanning the river at the bottom of the valley

Filling up our water bottles from the natural spring at the Devil’s Bridge gave us two surprises: firstly, the tepid sulphuric taste was a bit of a shock to our hiker’s thirst and we were re-united with Grigor! He’d gone walkabout as we’d left him outside while we were in the hermitage and he was delighted as only dogs can be when they see you again!

Grigor reunited! Tatev, Armenia

Reunited! Grigor finds us at Devil’s Bridge

By now it was getting on for 4pm and we were both getting a little anxious about making it back in time to retrieve the hire car. We had 2 hours to hike 6 miles (9km) up the switchback valley road which was doable, but it would be close! After about 3 quarters of an hour we spotted some cars going our way and we were able to flag one of them down. As we set off with the 2 reserved Armenians in the front of their luxurious 4×4 we realised how far 6 miles is and were very thankful they had stopped for us!

Old Khndzoresk cave settlement

Khndzoresk, Armenia

The old cave settlement of Khndzoresk, all of those black dots are dwellings or storehouses

Old Khndzoresk is a large abandoned village of cave dwellings cut into the steep valley walls. The information board at the entrance said that at its peak in the early 20th century it comprised 9 districts, 1800 homes, 7 schools, shops, and workshops. We reckoned that meant the population would have been over 7,000!

Khndzoresk suspension bridge, Khndzoresk, Armenia

The caves are reached by a 160 metre suspension bridge that was hand-made by the locals to encourage tourism. They’re very proud that no heavy machinery was used!

Khndzoresk cave, Armenia

A lot of the caves were simple one-room dug outs, but some had corridors and doorways to larger rooms deeper into the rock we assumed would have been for storage

Church, Khndzoresk, Armenia

There are a few churches dotted throughout the settlement and they’re a more typical building construction which makes for a nice contrast against the caves

Khndzoresk cave, Armenia

While the higher caves were used for storage and reached by rope ladders, the lower caves were often extended with porches that doubled as yards or gardens for the caves directly above them

Us in Khndzoresk, Armenia

We took a little picnic with us and really enjoyed spending the day exploring the caves.