Every time I return to Armenia, which, it would seem, I have already traveled far and wide, I know that whenever I come, the country will surely present me with new gifts. And I’m never wrong. This visit of mine is short, so I proceed from where I want to visit, and then everything develops by itself.
None of my trips to the land of my ancestors is complete without a meeting with Sevan.
And this time I even manage to fulfill my old dream – to wake up with a view of Sevan. But I’ll tell you everything in order.
With Tigran, the founder and owner of Armenia Diving Center, we were introduced by love for poetry.
And so we agree on a meeting – I want to give him my book, since he can’t get to the presentation of my book Poems-Guides at the Russian Book House in Yerevan. During the conversation, it turns out that both he and I have planned a Saturday trip to Sevan, and he invites me to visit his center.
Well, at the entrance to it – a whole adventure. The track is closed due to a bike ride, there is no way to get to the center – and a boat is sailing after us. Another dream is to ride around Sevan – done! And not just ride, but even stand with your feet on the water. I didn’t say it, that’s right. When Tigran suggested that I do it exactly in this formulation, I thought about it. What if in Armenia, the country that was the first to adopt Christianity, is this possible? 🙂
Everything turned out to be simpler – it was a dive station.
We approach it at the moment when four-time Russian freediving champions Ilya Nabatov and Olga Davydova are diving into the icy depths of Sevan. By the way, from the end of July to mid-September, they will be the instructors of the Diving Center, and diving in Sevan under their guidance is a rare success. I plan to, if possible. When you look into the eyes of these instructors after diving, you think that something is clearly missing in life, and you really want to know what it is. This experience is still ahead of me, but for now, just a wonderful day in Sevan.
We drive up to the center on a boat, and on the way Tigran tells me about the peculiarities of diving in Armenia. Being a mountainous country, Armenia has never been associated with diving, while Lake Sevan, located at an altitude of 1900 meters above sea level, is a very convenient place for the development of diving tourism and an ideal place for high-altitude diving. For this project, the ArmDiving club participated in 7 dive tourism exhibitions (in Orlando, Las Vegas, Dusseldorf, Moscow, etc.), used the services of 40 dive centers in more than 20 countries and organized more than 1000 diving in Sevan. The team of the center currently consists of more than 150 certified divers.
The center also has a cafe with European cuisine, and an equipment store. In your free time from training, you can still drive around the neighborhood – there are a lot of things to see in the district. But this time I’m moving with a purpose: we’re going to have dinner in Tsaghkunk, a new restaurant about half an hour from the center, in one of the villages of the Gegharkunik region of Armenia.
The Armenian restaurant “Tsaghkunk” made history when it won a place in the top ten restaurants in the world in 2021 according to Forbes magazine. The rating was compiled by the famous travel author Ann Ebel. Last year, Ann visited Armenia as part of the culinary project “Apetizing Armenia” (the purpose of which was to present Armenian gastronomy and winemaking), and was able to personally experience the rich palette of flavors of local products and dishes. She described Armenia as an underestimated, but very interesting and promising destination for gastro and ethno-tourism. The journalist separately noted the breakfast, which included assorted local varieties of regular and smoked cheese, lavash, egg dishes with fragrant mountain herbs, aveluk (horse sorrel), thick soup “ash-e reshtekh”.
Along with Ann and 18 other journalists from leading gastronomy publications, the world-famous chef Mads Refslund, who is not for nothing called the Guru of Cooking, was on the tour. And it was Tsaghkunk that hosted a unique gastronomic show in October 2021: ten dinners were presented, each of which included 15 original dishes from the chef, based on the idea of creating a new culinary language of Armenian cuisine.
The unique approach and culinary skills and creativity of Mads gave a new breath and new perspectives to the Armenian cuisine and the products used in it. Previously, Refslund got acquainted with local natural products and mountain herbs, the taste and aroma of which impressed him greatly and inspired him to create dishes with a special local flavor. The Michelin-starred chef especially noted the “sunny” Armenian fruits, tolma in grape leaves, Sevan crayfish and fresh lavash.
The Danish chef was also impressed by the Armenian “tonir” – an oven in the form of a deep pit lined with stone, in which lavash is cooked, as well as meat, poultry and fish are baked. This oven, by the way, was recreated next to the restaurant (there used to be a local bakery here), and now culinary master classes are held here, and lavash is baked for Tsaghkunk. Refslund remarked that he would very much like to have a similar oven in his New York restaurant.
The emphasis in the preparation of all dishes in “Tsaghkunk” is on the freshest local ingredients: fish, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. Lavash and several types of cheeses are also prepared on site.
Working side by side with the staff of the restaurant for quite a long time, Mads Refslund noted the huge culinary potential of Arev Martirosyan, and it was she who became the new chef of the restaurant this week. Prior to that, Arev worked in several restaurant projects, and has been with Tsaghkunk since day one. With her arrival, the emphasis will shift to the development of a new rural Armenian cuisine based on seasonal, Armenian products, as well as traditional recipes.
“Tsaghkunk” is a family restaurant with a special relaxing atmosphere. It is so comfortable that you don’t want to leave it at all. We arrived at sunset, and after walking first to the bakery, then we watched the peach sky through the huge windows for a long time. The dishes of Armenian cuisine appeared on the table, replacing each other, seemingly so familiar, but in a new sound and unique presentation.
Tsaghkunk is one of the projects of the Dar Foundation, founded by the Aghajanyan family in 2006 and initiating the development of a community development program in several regions of Armenia. Within its framework, it is planned to repair the road, pave the center of the village with paving stones, improve the old and organize a new park, make co-working and restore the church of Surb Harutyun (St. Ascension) of the XIX century, located in the center of Tsaghkunk.
After dinner, I return to spend the night at the Diving Center. There are 9 capsule rooms, the main advantage of which is, of course, the view of the lake. Even my favorite Tufenkian is located far from the coastline, and although the blue stripe of Sevan is visible from the rooms, it is very conditional.
After spending the night in Sevan and waking up from the look of his blue eyes, you lie and bask in the rays of the sun for a long time, remembering the words of an Armenian friend who had a studio overlooking Sevan: “I wake up every morning and greet him. Before going to bed, I wish him good night.”
Sevan is indeed a magical lake. I can sit on the beach all day and look at it. However, I’m not alone. How many times have I found Armenians sitting for hours on the palms of Sevan and peering into its color-changing depths. Everyone has their own dialogue and relations with Sevan.
I would have stayed in the center for a couple more days, but since I don’t know how to dive yet (for this I need to take a few lessons in the pool), I decide to continue my journey and escape the Yerevan heat in Dilijan, where I have already been many times. But, as I wrote, every time I discover something new.
Stop by Old Tufenkian for a cup of coffee, stroll through the Dilijan Museum of Local Lore, admire the rich collection of paintings, which includes paintings by Ivan Aivazovsky, Martiros Saryan, Rockwell Kent, Ivan Shishkin, and others, and then go to dinner at a restaurant ” Im Toon” (former Dolmama), where on that day the owner of this establishment, Zhirayr Avanyan, whose name has been known in Armenia for more than 20 years, met guests and even fried burgers himself.
This restaurateur figured out how to serve khashlama in a new way, give new meanings to the beloved Armenian dolma and make people freeze in surprise when tasting old and familiar dishes…
In Yerevan, Zhirayr treats guests in an old 19th-century building at the Dolmama restaurant on Abovyan Street, and in Moscow in Romanov Lane.
Without thinking twice, he repeated a successful case in Dilijan: he bought an old stone house, restored it and opened a cozy boutique hotel with 5 rooms. By the way, this is his second project in this city. The first is “Flying Ostrich”).
“Give me your abandoned, rejected, forgotten buildings, and I will love, heal and restore them. They have the right to a long life,” Zhirayr wrote on his Facebook on the day the hotel opened. In this house, Zhirayr not only works, but also lives. This is his home. Perhaps that is why he gave the institution this name – “Im toon” translates as “My home”.
And in the house that Zhirayr built, it is easy to feel at home, sitting on the terrace with a glass of red and admiring the flowering Dilijan hills. Staying overnight here is not a bad idea at all: the rooms are cozy, with balconies, the shadow on which is cast by the shaggy paws of fir trees that grow on a shady alley of fir trees. It is not hot to walk along this alley and breathe the Dilijan healing air.
on this street, by the way, there are several more guest houses – well, there will be something to explore on your next visit. In the meantime, it’s time for me to return to Yerevan in order to hold a presentation of my book Poems-Guides in the Russian Book House in the evening. It is especially important for me to do this here, on the land of my ancestors, and dedicate this evening to the memory of my great-great-grandfather Alexander Shirvanzade.
By the way, there is the “House of the Russian Book”, where you can hide from the Yerevan heat at any time, read books and drink coffee, in the building of the hotel “Messier53”, and next time I will definitely stay there and, of course, I will tell you about it.