November 28, 2017 - 19:05 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The Armenian capital has compelling culture, but it is the city's homey hospitality that leaves the most lasting memory, travel writer Andrew Forbes said in his latest article published on SUR, the English-language newspaper for Southern Spain.
Armenia and its neighbours are attracting an ever-growing number of inquisitive visitors looking to discover the fascinating and intricate history of the region that was once part of the former Soviet Union, the author said.
"Yerevan is a surprising destination. I wasn't anticipating such a laid-back and super-friendly culture," he said in the article.
"The cluster of al fresco café bars surrounding me were animated with families enjoying the sunny weekend weather. The smell of strong fresh coffee wafted through the air, whilst from the table beside me I heard a cork being gently popped from a bottle and wine being poured. The atmosphere was quintessentially Mediterranean."
According to Forbes, the local cuisine is excellent; farm fresh, simple, yet beautifully presented. To begin a meal in Yerevan means a series of cold sharing plates spread out across the table, accompanied by baskets of lavash flat-bread. Expect plenty of tasty vegetarian dishes, like slow-cooked, marinated aubergine and stuffed courgette. Pickled vegetables are popular too, together with creamy, soft or pickled cheeses.
"Armenians are proud of their cuisine and, in my experience, will often suggest their interpretation of regional dishes such as 'dolma' (grape vine leaves stuffed with vegetables or meat) or 'zhingalov hats' (lavash flat-bread stuffed with herbs, a speciality from Artsakh, Nagorno Karabakh) are the best in the world," the writer said.
The hot main dishes can be tasty grilled meats, like skewered lamb meat balls, or free-range chicken. Surprisingly the food is prepared without spices, and instead is marinated and cooked with abundant herbs like mint, coriander, basil and oregano.
National wines or beers are also usually served - and expect a decanter of vodka flavoured with seasonal fruits like Mulberry; or a bottle of the country's famous Ararat brandy.
"Be prepared to toast a lot in Armenia. At meals with friends, each person at the table might take part, each toast more poetic than the last: to friends, to the food, to country, and to family. It seems to perfectly encapsulate the warmth, and homey hospitality here," the author suggests.
As a tourist it's fascinating to visit some of the country's ancient Christian monasteries if only to enjoy, from a secular perspective, their architecture and history, the author said, recommending the Monastery of Tatev, in particular.
Also, Forbes details his experience at the History Museum in downtown Yerevan and the Matenadaran, a repository of ancient manuscripts, as well as the Armenian Genocide memorial.
Also, Forbes managed to visit Artsakh which, according to him, didn't feel like a region that was living under the shadow of potential conflict.