Surrounded by forested mountains and with the Aghstev River running through its centre, Ijevan (pop 21,000 people) is the attractive capital of Tavush marz. Ijevan means ‘caravanserai’ or ‘inn’ and the town has been on a major east–west route for millennia.
Ijevan is nowadays a pleasant though unremarkable town with good accommodation and there are many excellent walking possibilities in the hilly forests. Its appearance is enhanced by the extensive use of white felsite for building. The local climate is warmer than Dilijan, and the town is the centre of a wine-growing district with some very acceptable white table wines. The town has some handsome early-20th-century buildings, a big shuka, a winery and a little museum.
The province's more improbable visitors have included the English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-76) and his friend the tenor Peter Pears (1910-86) who spent their summer holiday in Dilijan in August 1965 as guests of the Armenian Composers' Union along with the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. Both Peter Pears and Galina Vishnevskaya have left accounts of the experience: while everybody seems to have enjoyed their visit, the English visitors had to listen to performances of the latest compositions of the Armenian composers, while headaches for the hosts included having to deal with Benjamin Britten wanting to buy a pair of shoes when his existing ones gave out shoes were virtually unobtainable in the Soviet Union at the time.
The main street of Ijevan follows the west bank of the Aghstev River and the market, post office and bus station are all within a short distance of each other. The park along the east bank is a favourite place for locals to stroll. Also on the east side are banks and the tourist information centre. This helpful information centre has leaflets about the town, can arrange homestays, monastery tours and (free) visits to the wine factory. Only Armenian is spoken in the centre but a translator can be obtained if necessary. You may also be able to buy a copy of the catalogue to the sculptures in the sculpture park. A relaxing hour or two can be had wandering around this park on the river's east bank. The thought-provoking sculptures are not labelled so the catalogue enhances any visit. Several of the sculptures listed in the catalogue are actually in the grounds of the local historical-ethnographical museum about 1km south of the town. Even when the museum building itself is shut the statues in front of it are accessible.
Outside the town there are opportunities for horse riding and hiking. The local authorities are trying to encourage tourism, though the process has been slow: no one in the tourist office speaks English and most of the dozen or so listed B&Bs seem to only exist on paper. Still, there are some decent cafes in town and a friendly local populace.
Sights - The Ijevan Wine Factory (9 Yerevanyan Poghots; working hours 9am-6pm Tue & Fri) presses much of the local vintage into dry white and sparkling wines under the Haghartsin, Gayane and Makaravank labels. The local dry red and white wines, made from grapes more usually associated with Georgia, are among Armenia's best. The factory offers free tours and tastings with advance notice, and has cellar-door sales. The winery also puts on lunches overlooking the river. It’s about 1.5km from the town centre towards Dilijan, just past the little Ijevan Local Lore Museum (5 Yerevanyan Poghots; admission free, donations appreciated; working hours 9am-5pm Tue-Sun), with a couple of rooms of ethnographical displays. A short way up the left bank of the Aghstev river from Melikbekyan is a sculpture park.
Getting There & Away - The bus stand is in front of a decrepit hotel, just uphill from the Vardanants Cafe. There is a little ticket window displaying departure information. There are marshrutkas to Yerevan (three hours, every hour from 10am to 6pm) that stop in Dilijan 36km down the road. One bus for Yerevan departs at 9.30am. Dilijan is also served by a bus and a marshrutka. There is one daily marshrutka to Vanadazor. At the time of writing there was no public transport to Georgia, but you could get something to Noyemberyan and change there. If you are headed that way it’s still worth asking about a share taxi to the border or a resumption of bus services.
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