Northern Armenia comprises the marz of Shirak, Lori and Tavush – this also includes the rugged bare highlands of Gegarkunik around gorgeous Lake Sevan. The regional landscapes vary from Shirak’s open plains to Lori’s pine forests and Tavush’s lush hornbeam and oak woods around Dilijan. Most travellers head up to Lake Sevan and then on to Dilijan with a side trip to Ijevan. Travellers usually overnight in Vanadzor before going to Georgia via the Debed Canyon. Stepanavan and Gyumri are also worthy side trips.
Shirak, Lori and Tavush are very different from each other. Shirak is mostly a high plateau while Lori is characterised by its deep gorges; Tavush retains extensive forest cover. Visitors who combine a visit to Armenia with one to Georgia cross Lori between Yerevan and the Georgian border, seeing some of the monasteries of the Debed Valley en route. Others go to the one-time resort town of Dilijan in Tavush with its attractive wooden buildings. The monasteries of Sanahin, Haghpat, Haghartsin and Goshavank are all much visited, and others such as Odzun receive a fair number of visitors, though such gems as Makaravank and Hnevank see only a few and the immensely worthwhile Khuchap and Khorakert see hardly any.
Gegharkunik comprises the area surrounding Lake Sevan, a large high-altitude lake whose surface level was originally 1,915m above sea level, and which formerly occupied almost 5% of the total surface area of the country. It is 78km long and 56km wide at its broadest point. Historic Armenia was a land of three large lakes but Lake Van is now in Turkey and Lake Urmia in Iran. The province also includes ihe beautiful and little-known valley of the Getik River which lies to the north of the lake. The Getik rises close to the Azerbaijan border and then flows northwest, roughly parallel to the lake shore but separated from it by the Areguniats range of mountains whose highest peak is Mount Karktasar (2,743m). The Getik flows into the Aghtsev River about 15km east of Dilijan.
The name Gegharkunik recalls early legends. Gegham was the great-great-grandson of Haik, the legendary founder of Armenia. Gegham left Armavir and moved north to Lake Sevan where he established a city which he called Gegh. The lake he called Geghamalich (Gegham's lake). The name of the province translates as 'Gegham's seat' since this is where he established his capital, fhe whole area around the lake is rich in prehistoric and historic remains. It seems that almost every village has a nearby Bronze or Iron Age fortress, megalithic tomb, medieval settlement or something else of interest.
The towns in the region are small but like all small towns in Armenia they have all basic facilities. Lake Sevan's beaches are very popular with Armenians and in summer, particularly at weekends, it can be very busy.
Minibuses from Yerevan go to Sevan, Martuni, Chambarak and Vardenis.
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