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Smbataberd fortress hike & gata baking

Smbataberd fortress hike & gata baking image

In the distance, visitors stand a top the thick walls of the fortress overlooking the stunning canyon. (Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program)

Located high on a hill and surrounded by deep gorges, the Smbataberd Fortress is one of Armenia’s most impressive fortifications. The fortress’s visual prominence and fascinating history make it the center of this experience, which includes not only a guided hike up to the fortress, but also the opportunity to prepare and bake Armenia’s iconic gata in a tonir oven.

You’ll embark from the village of Yeghegis, where you will meet your guide Vardan Karamyan. Because he has developed several local trails, Vardan is intimately familiar with the region’s flora and fauna, as well as its folklore and local history. Explore the history of the village, which was a prince’s residence in the Middle Ages and features a medieval church and historic Jewish cemetery.

After hiking up the hill, you will be rewarded with not only the spectacular Smbataberd Fortress itself, but also breathtaking views of the surrounding valley and jagged mountains. The hike is well worth the effort to get there. With basalt walls up to three meters thick, semi-circular towers, and inner citadels, you’ll be impressed by the ancient architects’ perseverance to build something of this magnitude along the ridge. If you have time to walk a bit further—after all, you’ve climbed all this way—don’t miss the Tsakhats Kar Monastery Complex, including St. Karapet Church, which was built nearly 1,000 years ago in 1041. Especially impressive are the sculptures on the altar, decorated window frames, and distinctive khachkars in front. Take in this historic Armenian landmark perched on the mountainside with a stunning vista of Smbataberd and Vayots Dzor stretching out below.

Finish your hike at Legend Guesthouse, built by Vardan’s grandfather in the shadow of Smbataberd and overlooking their hometown of Artabuynk. After your journey, you can relax with Vardan’s mother Tamara and his brother Karen, as Tamara demonstrates one of Armenia’s best-known culinary traditions: baking gata in an authentic tonir, which is a round, deep clay oven typically dug into the ground. Gata is Armenia’s most famous traditional dessert, and after making it with Tamara, you will see why. Made from flour, eggs, sour cream, milk, and stuffed with khoriz (a combination of ghee, flour, and sugar), gata is a recipe that you will want to take home to impress your family and friends.

Meet your hosts

Meet Karen and Vardan, the owners of Legend guesthouse, which is located on the road to Tsakhats Qar Monastery Complex and the famous medieval Smbataberd Fortress. When Karen saw how many tourists visited the castle and monastery but couldn’t stay to appreciate the local culture, he had an idea to invite tourists to stay overnight and show them the beauty of rural life. However, the most important reason to build the guesthouse was Karen’s promise to his grandfather not to abandon the house. This encouraged Karen to follow through on his dream by renovating the guesthouse in 2017. Warm, human hospitality is the secret to their success. The whole family is involved in the business: Karen is responsible for the guest relations, while his brother Vardan organizes tours to nearby monuments, and his mother makes their flagship gata.

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

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