The Grapes of Love
Hospitality in the ancient village of Areni
Our taxi driver wound through the tiny village of Areni looking for our guesthouse, asking one or two people of the way. On the southern side of town, past a gravel house, stood a simple stone construction with the words “Liviti” painted on the wall.
“Here we are, our home for the next few days,” I told my three-year-old son Zion.
As we stepped out of the taxi, we were immediately greeted by the mother and oldest daughter of the house. Shortly following them was the rambunctious three-year-old daughter. As is Armenian custom, we felt at home with their warm presence and hospitality. As we walked up the stairs to their home, our first notice was their wall plastered with pictures of all the guests from around the world that has visited them over the past two years. I could tell how they cherish each visitor. Zion couldn’t have been happier as well when they brought a big bag of toys to rummage through.
Where we were just strangers, Armenian hospitality somehow makes you feel immediately as family.
The mother took no time showing off her baking skills which, I would say, she was very proud of.
“Would you like some Armenian coffee and freshly baked gata?”
It was a question that required no thought to answer. Gata has become a staple during our now three-weeks in Armenia. But they are not all created equal. Ideally they are a round and dense bread filled with a blend of eggs, flour, butter and sugar. Fresh out of the oven, it is a satisfying warmth to quench hunger. Our whole family and the mother’s three daughters all enjoyed watching a simple bowl of flour turn into gata. The two toddlers enjoyed nibbling on the leftover mix. Food is such a simple way of bringing people together despite the language barrier.
The father of the household arrived home, now approaching two hours past noon following a long morning working in his vineyard. Every morning and evening mother and father meticulously care for their vineyard high on the slopes above town, with new tasks every week depending on the season. Areni is proud of the fact as the birthplace of wine, with legends stating that Noah planted the first vineyards to recent discoveries of wineries dating back 6,000 years ago found in caves nearby.
“Would you like to see our vineyard?”
With that we journeyed up steep gravel roads to their picturesque vineyard. The simple joy of watching them work in the vines, observing our children full of joy and overlooking the beauty filled our hearts. Rain and shine coexisted for a moment, creating a stunning double rainbow. The rainbow, a symbol of God’s promise to Noah, here, in the land of Noah, under the shadows of Mount Ararat.
We hopped into the 1980’s Soviet-era vehicle and plodded our way out of Areni and into the deep gorge opposite the village to the east. The Gnishik Canyon, home to vertical red-rock cliffs and endless, some unexpected, caves. For eight kilometers, the relic of a car somehow made its way through the canyon to its culmination at the end of the road, home to a stunning monastic complex made from the same red-rock. Norovank is the name, ironically meaning “new monastery” even though it recently celebrated its 800th birthday. I can only imagine the spell it must have out on worshippers in the 13th century, as eight centuries later it still stands as a work of art - one of Armenia’s finest. Momik is credited to the unique design and mesmerizing details. The carvings, the steps leading the the second floor, and how it blends into the environment makes it feel it has always been and belonged at that spot.
- Read more about Norovank here
Back in the vehicle, our second stop was a cave guarding the entrance to the same canyon, 8 kilometers behind us near the turn off to Areni. From the distance, the cave is unassuming, but inside is reminiscent of traveling back in time, thousands of years back in time, to a period nearly forgotten in this corner of the world. We’ve been to other caves dating to similar periods of the world, but they are often devoid of all artifacts as they are placed in museums. Areni-1 cave is different as it feels as though a living archaeological dig, with urns, pottery and vessels still in-situ. Some startling discoveries have rewritten history books, such as the 2008 finding of the oldest shoes in the world and the 2011 uncovering of the oldest evidence for oldest known winery in the world.
- Read more about Areni-1 Cave here
Returning to the guesthouse, which feels more like home now, a good rest greeted us followed by a delicious sequel to last nights dinner which was beef kebabs and fresh salad. This time was chicken rice soup, freshly baked bread and lavash, fried eggplant, homemade cheese and freshly made peach juice awaited.
All homemade with love and organic.
Following dinner we were eager to properly explore Areni village on foot, staring with the ascent to Saint Astvatsin’s church above the river Arpa. We have found summer evenings our favorite time to explore, as light extends to 9 pm, the weather turns cool and the sky turns to an art board.
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