Sanahin

(Sanahin Monastery in Northern Armenia)

I’m sitting in a beautiful hotel room at a ski resort as I write this. It is the best hotel in town and has a cigar bar, billiards room, Turkish bath, amazing views and is right next to the ski lifts.The breakfast buffet is delicious, infinite and included with the room. It’s the most expensive hotel anywhere around at $100/night. I’d pay five times that if I were in Aspen. I’m in Tsaghkadzor, Armenia.

I’ve been traveling in Armenia and Georgia for the last week and have been amazed by the hospitality of the people and the great sites that can be reached fairly easy if you have a little adventurer in you. So here are my top 8 reasons to visit these 2 amazing countries:

1. No visa required– Just show up at the airport or a border crossing and if you’re an American, welcome!

2. World class sites– Both countries have amazing monasteries and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I have seen more churches than I can probably recount in my travels around the world, but the monasteries here are showstoppers. When you walk into one, you’ll feel like you’re in an Indiana Jones movie. Best of all, most of them are free. The ones that aren’t, are usually less than $2!

3. Driving– Gasoline actually costs about the same as in the US. Most of Europe can be double or triple the price that you’re used to paying. Cars are easy to rent and a few companies allow you to drive freely across the borders if you don ‘t want to rely on public transport.

4. Skiing– Tsaghkador, Armenia is the ski resort where the Soviet team used to train for the Olympics. The powder is great, the facilities are decent and lift tickets for the day are only $12.  If you just want to do one run, you can buy a single lift ticket for $3. You can ski for an entire week for what you would pay at Vail for a day or two.

5. Food– Georgian cuisine is unlike any other food in the world. In Russia, Georgian restaurants are as ubiquitous as Mexican food in the US. For some reason, the food has never really made it across the Atlantic. If you like cheese, the Georgians will give you cheese on top of your cheese. Khachapuris are fabulous, the cognacs are amazing and no matter what you order, it will cost you half of what you would pay anywhere else if you could find it.

6. Friendliest people– Last night I accidentally walked into a private party. I was grabbed by the host, seated at the table and given drinks and food and everyone took turns wearing my cowboy hat. When I finally escaped and walked into another restaurant down the street, the same exact thing happened at someone else’s private party.Where else do you find such hospitality? The Georgians make you feel like a celebrity.

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(UNESCO site at Zvartnots)

7. Wine– Georgia is famous for it’s wine. You could do an entire vacation just visiting the wineries in the area. Every Georgian worth his weight in laris, has grapevines in his back yard. The wine is cheap and very good quality. Georgia is the only country I’ve ever been to where I’ve been given you a bottle of wine when the custom agent stamped my passport.

8. Cheap Flights- You can get to Tbilisi with a free stopover in Istanbul via Turkish Airlines. TA is about half the price of any other airline to get to Europe and the quality of the airline is very nice. Georgia is a short flight from Istanbul and with the free stopover, you have two vacations instead of one.

If you’re looking for someplace a little different, these countries will surprise you with all the amazing things they offer, and best of all, the price is half of the rest of Europe!

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(The famous delicious cheese filled bread of Georgia, called khachapuri)