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Dilijan (pop. 17,000 people), a major holiday and health resort in Soviet days, lies 36km southwest of Ijevan and is one of the country's most attractive towns. It’s billed as the ‘Switzerland of Armenia’ and, although that may be a bit of a stretch, alpine Dilijan is still one of the most pleasant regions in the country.

During Soviet times this was the peaceful retreat for cinematographers, composers, artists and writers to come and be creative; today it’s a centre for tourism with a number of fine B&Bs and some renovated old Soviet guesthouses. There is certainly enough natural beauty to inspire creative thought: the town is surrounded by the lush oak and hornbeam forests and deep mountain soils of the Dilijan Nature Reserve, one of the gentlest landscapes in the country. In summer the villagers herd cattle down from the mountain pastures through the town, and people gather mushrooms and mountain herbs from the rich deciduous forests.

Considerable renovation is in progress and hotel accommodation is now plentiful. Many of the surviving 19th-century buildings are built in a distinctive style, unique in Armenia: they have wooden balconies with carved handrails which are often supported by wooden struts. Local architecture uses a lot of steep tiled roofs and wooden beams, along with some cute gingerbread-style structures. Even the local Soviet monuments have a touch of flair. In the centre of the town the finely restored short Sharambeyan Street is home to a number of places which may interest the visitor in addition to the Tufenkian hotel and restaurant. The visitor information centre has a map of the town, hires out bicycles and provides internet access and help with accommodation. The History of Dilijan Museum is at the bottom of Sharambeyan Street, near the restaurant. It contains collections of domestic and farming implements and carpets. A number of craft shops are in the restored complex; particularly appealing is that of the wood carver, who carves his wares on site. The commercial centre of Dilijan (banks etc) is Miasnikian Street, above Sharambeyan Street. Across the river is the Folk Art Museum in a late 19th-century house, originally the summer house of Mariam Tamanian and latterly the home of the painter Hovhannes Sharambeyan (1926-1986), whose Early Spring is in the National Gallery, Yerevan. Items from the 19th century to the present day are on display. It is a surprisingly interesting display; however, one may have to curtail slightly the enthusiastic guides Intourist-style presentation. It is sometimes possible to buy locally made handicrafts there.

Some 23,400ha of the surrounding forest were designated as a nature reserve in 1958 and then as Dilijan National Park from 2002, the change in designation being to take account of commercial activity in the area. The park stretches over the forested slopes of the Pambak, Areguni, Miapor, Ijevan and Halab mountain ranges, from 1,070-2,300m above sea level, the mountain meadows above this altitude being excluded.

As at Ijevan, there is considerable scope for walking over the forested hills or in the valley of the Aghstev River on which Dilijan lies. There are also five monasteries nearby each of which is in good walking country. The gorgeous churches of Haghartsin and Goshavank are an easy day trip from Dilijan. Close to the main road in Dilijan is a striking Soviet-era monument erected to mark the 50th anniversary of Soviet power in the Caucasus: its design was intended symbolically to represent the eternal union of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan under Soviet rule. That it is still standing perhaps shows that the Armenians have a well-developed sense of irony. Dilijan also has a well-known spring to the west of the town and the mineral water bottled there is a familiar sight.

Sights - The Dilijan Historic Centre (Sharambeyan Poghots) is a little cobbled street next to Myasnikyan Poghots. This collection of stone and wooden traditional buildings includes shops, a hotel, eateries, souvenir stalls and workshops for local craftspeople. The complex was thoroughly renovated in 2007. A crownlike monument to the 50th Anniversary of Soviet Armenia stands near the main roundabout.

The WWII Memorial, with the huge silver figures of a soldier holding a dying comrade, is on a hillock south of the river. The ruins of Jukhtakvank Monastery are near the Dilijan mineral water plant, 3.2km east along the Vanadzor road and about 3.5km up to the right. The Surp Grigor Church, built around the 11th century, is missing its dome. The forest setting is a nice place for a picnic. Further on towards Vanadzor the scenery is gorgeous, passing the Russian Molokan villages of Fioletovo and Lermontovo.

Getting There & Around - Buses and marshrutkas to Yerevan leave from the main roundabout by the river. Buses (three hours) leave hourly between 9am and 3pm – some of these are services starting further north from Ijevan or Noyemberyan. Services to Ijevan (45 minutes) run hourly between 9am and noon. Services to Vanadzor (40 minutes) run at 10am, 11am, 2pm and 3pm. There are taxis at the main roundabout (AMD400 around town). During the day a local bus trundles between the western side of town around Kalinin Poghots up to Shahumian Poghots.

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