Heading south from the provincial border the main road from Yerevan descends a side valley to join the gorge of the Arpa at the village of Areni, a centre of Armenia's wine industry. Few grape varieties can thrive in Armenia's climatic extremes, but the Areni grape does. Most of the country's vineyards are on the Ararat Plain, but the valleys from the village of Areni up to Yeghegnadzor comprise a quality wine-growing region. Wineries open for tastings (daily in summer, 10am to 6pm) include Areni in the town of Areni, Ginetas at Arpi and Getnatep on the main highway at Yeghegnadzor. Visits can be arranged through tour operators in Yerevan or by just calling into the winery - you rarely have to wait more than 30 minutes for a tour. Getap, just up the Yeghegis Valley before Yeghegnadzor, is also a local wine-making centre.
Areni gives its name to an indigenous grape variety mainly used for making dry red table wines. Roadside stalls in the Areni area prominently display for sale large bottles labelled Coca-Cola. Should you be feeling thirsty and tempted to buy one, then prepare for a shock. The usual purchasers are Iranian truck drivers and they are taking home to alcohol-free Iran a beverage with considerably more body and flavour than Coca-Cola.
In Areni village, but on the opposite bank of the Arpa, can be seen in the distance from the main road a red cross-dome church dedicated to the Mother of God and built in 1321. It was restored in 1997. The church's most remarkable feature is the tympanum of the west door which is a wonderfully carved effigy of the Virgin Mary created by Momik, one of Armenia's greatest stone carvers and also a great illustrator of manuscripts; he worked in this region in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. High on the west facade, the representation of a head gazing down is said to be that of a Mongolian, a reminder that at the time the church was constructed Armenia was under Mongol rule and that persecution of non-Muslims was increasing. Inside the church in the pendentives below the tambour are more fine carvings, again by Momik, of the symbols of the four evangelists. The graveyard too has some exceptional carving with tombstones apparently demonstrating Areni's long wine-making history as they show a figure with a wine flask or wine glass. Another tombstone shows a horse and also a person playing a saz, a musical instrument rather like a lute and the ancestor of the Greek bouzouki.
Close by there is a row of five modern graves belonging to young men killed in 1992 in the war with Azerbaijan, a reminder that the frontier is only 5km away.
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