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Vanadzor's Soviet heritage on two wheels

Vanadzor's Soviet heritage on two wheels image

The group bikes through Vanadzor's popular sites. (Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program)

Touring Vanadzor by bicycle is an excellent way to explore the history and culture of this city that was once an industrial center of Soviet Armenia, and that now seeks a new identity amid its post-industrial decline. The juxtaposition of Vanadzor’s natural green parks and nearby forests with the abandoned, rusted metal of its former factories is especially striking when seen by bicycle. Stops along the tour route include a former chemical factory and adjacent park, the city’s main boulevard and central square, the transportation hub and city market, and finally a once-prestigious health resort.

The tour’s first stop is the former chemical factory, which opened in 1929 as the largest enterprise in Vanadzor and the first such factory throughout the Caucasus region. Damaged by the 1988 earthquake, the factory never fully recovered and operated only partially until its permanent closing in the early 2000s. Adjacent to the factory is a newly restored beautiful park—now named for the Armenian-French singer Charles Aznavour. Inside the park is a monument dedicated to the chemists who died while serving in World War II and a neoclassical Palace of Culture, which features one of the loveliest chandeliers in Armenia.

Meander along Vanadzor’s main boulevard, which connects the park with the city center. Formerly known as Lenin’s Prospect—a street name found in many cities of the former Soviet Union—the street is now named for Tigranes the Great who ruled Armenia in the first century BCE. Bicycling east on “The Prospect” brings you to the city’s main square.

From the main square, the tour continues to the bus and railway stations and then to the town market, where you’ll have a chance to shop and experience Vanadzor’s commercial culture. Before returning to the starting point, take a final rest in the garden of the Hayastan resort, which has become a forested oasis along the Vanadzor River. The resort shares a garden with the summer residence of Tairov, one of the founders of Armenia’s world-renowned brandy industry. It’s now the seat of the Gougark Diocese and simply a beautiful backdrop for photos to culminate the tour.

Bike to Soviet youth camps through mountains

To fully discover Vanadzor, you’ll need to leave the city and venture into the natural surroundings that are truly part of its charm. Nestled amid Lori’s lush green nature, Vanadzor was famous for its health resorts and youth camps where Armenians spent their vacations and summer holidays. Today, you can enjoy the beauty of Lori on two wheels and discover distinctive sites with knowledgeable local guides.

Vanadzor was known as a “camp town,” hosting at least five youth camps in the Soviet era. With the team at Discover Vanadzor on Two Wheels, explore these former camps via mountain bikes. Along a 3 km (1.8 mile) route, traverse a mountain-slope trail and travel uphill through the charming, forested landscape that is distinctive to the Lori region. In the distance, you’ll spot a still-functioning youth camp called Tsitsernak and have ample opportunities to stop along the path to appreciate the splendid views of Vanadzor from above.

Just before the path’s terminus is a 12-acre botanical garden, which features a rich collection of flowers, bushes, and trees and is the perfect place to relax and soak in some nature. Finally, you will reach your destination—the famous Artek Pioneer Camp, modelled after a prestigious facility of the same name in Crimea, which catered to members of the Soviet elite. Imagine hundreds of youthful “pioneers” waking up to the sound of trumpets for another day of adventures. Sadly, Artek’s magnificent buildings are now in disrepair—their future yet unknown—but they still offer opportunities to explore and contemplate a relatively recent bygone era. Sip some coffee or tea while you learn from your guide about this fascinating part of Vanadzor’s history. On your return trip, don’t miss the panoramic viewpoint of Vanadzor that offers a perfect chance to reflect upon your memorable journey. In the end, you'll see why your guides believe bicycling is the best way to experience Vanadzor—both its absorbing history and its enchanting natural landscapes.

Meet your hosts

Meet Emma and Vaghinak, the youthful cycling enthusiasts who founded the Boo Mountain Bike Park Project in 2016. Attracted by Vanadzor’s combination of city life and adjacent mountainous landscapes, and encouraged by their experiences abroad, they left behind Yerevan’s cosmopolitanism to develop mountain biking trails in and out of town. Their love for their new home is clear: “clean air, low traffic, and marvelous nature were the main factors to create just the right level of comfort.” Emma and Vaghinak have become examples for local youth to stay and to help develop their hometown.

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

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