Each season has its own rewards. It is hard to say when the best time to visit Armenia is.
Summer is considered In-Season in Armenia. Beginning in June, the spring-time rains continue in the middle mountain and upper elevation areas, but soon fade in the Ararat Valley. The wildflowers that cover the lower areas of the country continue to bud and bloom in the higher elevations, following a mountain springtime that does not end until the uppermost reaches of the mountains, when the snows begin to fall. Stone monuments, ancient churches and castles that are inaccessible during the long winter months reveal themselves among alpine trees and fields of blue, yellow and red flowers. The weather gets very hot and dry in the Ararat Valley and the lower altitudes. In Ararat Valley, a dusty haze settles over the area and does not leave until the October rainy season. In the summer, Armenians shift their visiting to the evening hours, and the streets and cafes are thronged after sundown. Fountains relieve the weary passersby, music blares from every corner, and the markets are filled with summer vegetables and fruits. In the middle mountain areas it may be cool, but the mountain sun can quickly burn the unsuspecting visitor. It can also get quite chilly in the evenings. On Mount Aragats the snowcap may remain until July or August, and locals will practice their ski technique well into summer. Locals love to escape the dusty heat of Ararat and visit Lake Sevan, Tsaghkadzor, Dilijan and Jermuk, which have basic resort facilities, excellent mineral water springs and baths. Summer is excellent for mountain trekking, climbing and repelling. From mid-June to October the entire Northern reaches of the country quickly dry, though the forests maintain their greenery, and rivers and springs are always flowing. Evenings are usually pleasant, and a breeze always seems to blow.
Even in August, the Southern areas around Sisian, Goris and Kapan can have cool days and chilly nights, and receive most of their rainfall during this time. The air is consequently clean and invigorating, and the villages welcome visitors. Around Meghri, the summer heat can be quite intense, but shaded courtyards, tropical plants and fruits abound. At the border with Iran, Meghri is the closest you get to a really Middle Eastern feeling, made obvious by the architectural feature of homes facing inner courtyards and arched verandahs that line the public buildings. Even in the throes of summer’s heat, where Armenia is irrigated and along each river and stream there is abundant vegetation and respite from the sun.
Though generally dry until the month of October, the weather follows two predictable patterns: a first break in the summer temperatures occurs in mid-August, with a few rainstorms. In mid-September comes the first break in the hot weather. Afterwards, an “Indian Summer” will last throughout October, broken occasionally by clouds and rain.
Autumn is harvest season, and beginning August 15, when the Catholicos blesses the grape harvest, it is also grape season. The variety of grapes that are grown in Armenia is mind-boggling, as is the pride of each person that specializes in a certain variety, handed down for generations. Even in the back alleys and along the streets and avenues of Yerevan, you will see grape vines lovingly raised several stories high to apartment balconies. Ararat Valley is renowned for grapes, as is the area close to Yeghegnadzor. Ashtarak is famous for its walnuts. At every Shuka, the appearance of Sujukh, a string of walnuts dipped in thick grape juice until it forms a naturally sweet covering, hails the height of the fall harvest. Every region claims fame for apples. The wheat harvest is in full swing, and village women shake huge baskets of wheat kernels to separate it from the chaff. Kilns blaze as they bake lavash, a large oval flat bread.
The weather is pleasant and mild, and many visitors choose the month of September to travel. The streets are thronged in the quiet evenings with locals passing the time to visit neighbors and friends, and the cultural season begins, with Opera, music, theatre and dance venues holding their first premieres of the the year.
Winter can be cold and snowy in the mountains, but it is mild in the valleys. Villagers live off the fruits of the summer and fall harvest, and spend long winter evenings visiting with their neighbors. A visitor from a foreign land will earn special hospitality in the winter time, as well as urgent requests for news from the outside world (which might mean news from the next village over). For the winter camper, there is fairly easy terrain to traverse, and if you are experienced and well equipped, the conditions are not too difficult. Tzaghkadzor and Dilijan are as popular in the winter as they are in summer, and both have world class ski trails (though if you want world class equipment, you need to bring your own). The Soviet ski team regularly trained here before the breakup of the USSR. Recent economic recovery has brought back electricity, central heating, the saunas and whirlpools (as well as the ski lift), and the prices ($15-20 a night, with meals) cannot be beat. Expect this area to recover a little sooner than the others, and the prices to rise accordingly.
Even in the winter, Southern Armenia is relatively mild around Goris and Kapan, and Meghri rarely freezes enough to dampen its agricultural and friendly spirits. The coldest areas are in the mountains, and around Giumri.
Still, locals love to cross-country ski, and all Armenians seem to heave a huge sigh of relief at the passing of the summer heat, and to dedicate their hospitality in doors. New Year’s is the main holiday. Homes open their doors to visitors, children bristle with delight at their gifts, and the streets fill with well-wishers on New Year’s eve. The cultural season is at its height, with performances scheduled early enough for spectators to make their way home before night. In past winters, public transport shortened their working hours in the winter, forcing people to reschedule their work and pleasure to winter daylight hours. It is expected that this will occur again this coming winter, but not as much as before. And this should not stop the winter visitor. To gain access to Armenia
and its unique history, sitting around a leisurely winter meal with locals is one of the few ways to absorb the history and stories of Armenian’s past. In summer they are too busy escaping the heat, in the Spring and Autumn they are too busy celebrating. Winter is the time for winter tales, and the time to reflect changes and hopes.
Spring is an especially good time to travel, and I must declare my preference for it’s blossoming splendor. Spring begins with Geezh Mart (Crazy March), a month so known for its changeable weather there are songs and poems and toasts made to its honor. By April, the last winter snows are retreating from the Valleys and middle mountain areas, and everything that can grow seems to grow at once. Flowers first peeking through the snows are crowded by daffodils and irises, grass and trees grow at an incredible rate, and the air becomes electric from the change in atmospheric pressure and the Spring rains. The color of tuf, a reddish-orange or gray stone popularly used in Armenian construction seems to glow from within in the spring light. People stir from their winter retreats, the sidewalk cafes reopen, and everyone takes to the streets to gab with their neighbors and friends.
Several springtime festivals and commemorations bring the population out at large, and the hills become alive with anxious pilgrims to historic sites, and with naturalists gathering wild herbs and spices along the swollen rivers and suddenly verdent mountainsides. The melting snow and spring rains produce an emerald look on the mountainsides, as grass, trees and wildflowers fill the landscapes. Those rocky, barren hills and cliffs you gazed
at in the summer are covered with moss and lush grass in the Spring. In May the entire lower regions are blanketed with wild flowers and new growth. It is in the Spring that I compare Armenia (rightfully) to the green, green West of Ireland. In the middle mountain areas, Spring begins in late May and early June, and continues its steady path to the upper elevations through July and August.