Armenia and Georgia

By Judy Mattlin
This item appears on page 31 of the February 2015 issue.

I have long been an admirer of James Tufenkian via articles published in design magazines. He has partially restored Armenia’s rug industry and is now building hotels in his homeland. In September ’13, my daughter, Amanda, and I vacationed in Armenia.

Amanda ordered our visas online ($10 each). We stayed first at the Yerevan Tufenkian Hotel (48 Hanrapetutyan Str., Yerevan 0001, Armenia; phone +374 60 50 10 30,, which cost $120 a night through The hotel was extremely nice, and the included buffet breakfast was phenomenal.

The hotel is close to Republic Square, where they have a fountain that would rival the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas. The fountain runs between 9 and 11 every night except Monday. The fact that the hotel was across from the weekend flea market didn’t hurt, either.

For the usual tourist things, we used Hyur Service (96, Nalbandyan Str., Yerevan, Armenia; phone [374 10] 54 60 40, fax 56 58 29,, which was within walking distance of our hotel. The prices of their tours began at $15 for five hours. 

With Hyur, we visited Echmiadzin, the Mother Church of Armenia. The spear that pierced Christ’s side is said to be there along with a piece of Noah’s ark. The museum containing these artifacts was closed on the day we visited (Sunday), however. We complained to Hyur and were told that we should have asked specifically about these items.

The following day, Hyur took us to Garni (site of a first-century Hellenic temple) and the monastery of Geghard (partially carved out of a mountain).

Midweek, we hired a driver from Sati Tour (21 Mashtots Ave., Yerevan 0010, Armenia; phone +374 10 53 10 22, 

The tourism manager suggested sites we might be interested in seeing on our way to Tbilisi, Georgia. The cost was $790, which included the driver and two nights in a hotel. We later talked to an American in the Peace Corps who told us the buses from Yerevan to Tbilisi were very nice and cost about $20 — a cheaper alternative.

Crossing the border into Georgia was a breeze. On the return trip, we each had to buy another Armenian visa ($10 at the border). 

The Caucasus Mountains were beautiful but included many hairpin curves. We couldn’t find much travel information about this area online. We spent only 2½ days in Georgia and six in Armenia. If we were to do this trip again, we would spend four days in Georgia and five in Armenia.

Our driver dropped us off at Hotel Irmeni (1 Martkopi St., Tbilisi, Georgia; phone +995 32 277 04 66, fax 277 14 66, This was a typical Russian hotel but serviceable. The driver gave us walking directions to the river, cafés and shopping.

That evening, reading the guidebook, we decided to visit the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, Georgia. What a great decision! This is the place where, supposedly, Christ’s cloak is buried. I have been to 110 countries, and this is one of my favorite churches. I would describe it as “rustic elegance.”

We drove to Lake Sevan, back in Armenia, that afternoon. Naturally, I wanted to stay at a second Tufenkian hotel, this time the Avan Marak Tsapatagh (21/1 Tumanian St., 375001 Sevan, Armenia; phone +374 [10] 655877, fax 652877, Our 2-night stay there cost $140, including breakfast. 

The hotel is two blocks inland (not on the water) and charmingly primitive. In the morning, we looked out our window to see a sheepherder with his crook and flock. It looked Biblical, except he was wearing a baseball cap.

Heading back to Yerevan from Lake Sevan, we stopped at Sevanavank Monastery. It had many steps but a spectacular view. 

We then returned to the Yerevan Tufenkian, finishing our trip with a visit to the Cascade (a massive staircase connecting central Yerevan to Victory Park). At the base of the Cascade is the Cafesjian Center for the Arts (10 Tamanyan St., Yerevan;, where, among the exhibits, we saw beautiful glass-blown artwork by American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly.

We also stopped at the Yerevan Brandy Company (2 Admiral Isakov Ave.; phone +374 10 510 100, To visit this, we made reservations through Hyur Service. Who wouldn’t want to taste the drink Stalin served to Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta?

We found Armenia to be safe and extremely friendly, with people always willing to give directions if we needed them (although Amanda’s Google Earth app on her Android phone was invaluable).


Lancaster, OH