Fire and Ice – Jermuk, Armenia

Finally after two weeks it was time to leave Yerevan, so we said our goodbyes (for the third time) to the crew at One Way Hostel, dragged our bags down five flights of stairs and into a taxi to the bus terminal a few kilometers away. With plenty of time to spare we grabbed two seats on the 1pm to Jermuk and sat back to enjoy the view as we passed through the Vayots Dzor region mountain ranges. After about three hours we were dropped in Jermuk where perfect blue skies, evergreen pine trees and huge piles of snow lined the main streets and snow covered peaks enveloped us on all sides

Streets of Jermuk
Jermuk

Streets of Jermuk
Jermuk

Hiking to the hot springs
Jermuk

Jermuk is famous for it’s mineral waters which are bottled here and also used for health benefits in the many Spa Hotels dotted around town. If you’re budget doesn’t allow for an expensive stay Hotel Life is about 20 metres from the bus stop and is a good budget option. Feeling more like a home than a hotel our twin room had comfortable beds, private bathroom and a small yet cozy lounge space with table, chairs, fridge and large couch. A small communal kitchen is also provided making it a good option for backpackers and self-caterers. Strolling around town in the afternoon sun we failed to find a single restaurant open so heading to a nearby corner store to pick through the limited options we managed to concoct a pretty delicious creamy ham, onion and cheese pasta.

Hotel Life
Our funky twin room at budget Hotel Life

Our reason for coming here was to hike in the surrounding forest to a natural hot spring which we were hoping, given the amount of fresh snow covering the ground, was warm enough to enjoy an afternoon soak. From town we followed the road downhill along the Arpa River for a couple of kilometers, coming across a small cave filled with the remnants of wax candles and religious images left by devout worshipers. Continuing on downhill we eventually caught sight of the reservoir where we turned right onto a dirt road and continued a short way until we reached some abandoned buildings. Here the road continued but hadn’t been driven on since the snowfall and we had to find our own way judging by the covered tracks of previous hikers and our trusty Maps.me app on the phone.

Hiking to the hot springs
Some scruffy locals hiding out in an abandoned restaurant

Hiking to the hot springs
Inside the roadside cave/shrine

https://www.flickr.com/photos/124085300@N05/
More offerings just outside the cave

The snow varied from ankle to shin to knee deep yet without a cloud in the sky the sun was warming enough that this didn’t bother us. The path turned upwards and over a small hill where we got a view of the tree filled valley we were to follow to the spring and a sign warning of bears in the area. Passing several animal tracks, some fresh, some a few days old, we ponder over their owners, as some are quite small and cute and others are big enough to see us startled whenever a huge chunk of snow falls from a nearby tree. Hoping the snowfall had sent any early risers back to their dens to hibernate we headed into the valley where a couple of wrong footfalls saw us both pulling ourselves out of thigh deep snow.

Hiking to the hot springs
The initial road to the hot springs

Hiking to the hot springs
And then this road

Hiking to the hot springs
Followed by this road

Crossing a couple of small streams we picked our way through the valley where the path wasn’t always easy to distinguish and eventually caught sight of the first spring where the bright orange earth stands out against the white snow and blue skies. It’s a tiny man made square and the water isn’t exactly warm and be careful where you step or you’ll end up ankle deep in orange muck. No prizes for guessing which one of us did.

Hiking to the hot springs
Warning, bears in the area

Hiking to the hot springs
Safely on the path

Hiking to the hot springs
And not so safely on the path

Hiking to the hot springs
The first tiny hot spring

Hiking to the hot springs
The orange earth surrounding the natural hot springs

Following the river along the valley and ducking through low hanging trees we spot the ultimate goal when a patch of bubbling orange water appears in front of us. This spring is bigger and you’re easily able to fit a couple of people in it but more importantly, it’s also much warmer. Spreading out our raincovers we leave our packs on the snow, peel off our soaking wet shoes and socks and strip down to our shorts and bikini. Having not seen a single person or even a footprint, and with the only way to get here at this time of year to hike in, we decide to throw caution to the wind and opt for a skinny dip instead. The serenity of this stunning location is only interrupted by the bubbling gases of the spring which come up, sometimes rather violently and stinky, every seven minutes. Otherwise we enjoy the warm water and sunshine while Mother Nature’s beauty soothes us after two weeks in Armenia’s bustling capital.

Hiking to the hot springs
The hot spring

Hiking to the hot springs
Contrasting against the white snow and blue skies

Hiking to the hot springs
With nobody else around!

Having taken almost three hours to get here due to the snow it’s soon time to dry off, get dressed and reluctantly pull on our still wet socks and shoes for the hike back. Able to retrace our steps the hike back took just over two hours and we arrived at the hotel as the sun was still shining. Ducking into the same corner store of yesterday to stock up on some more local produce for another creative dinner and using some aborio rice we had to hand we threw together a tasty ‘Jermuk risotto’ using cherry tomatoes, nettles, onion, garlic and some crumbly local white cheese in place of the usual parmesan. Not bad!

Hiking to the hot springs
Hiking to the hot springs

Hiking to the hot springs
Hiking to the hot springs

With a 7:30am start to Tatev the next day, over 10km hiking under our belts and not a scrap of nightlife to be seen we have a very un-rock’n’roll evening wrapped in matching blankets, wearing matching shirts, catching up on a few episodes of The Walking Dead over a glass of wine leftover from the risotto. Yep, travelling ain’t all glitz and glamour when you’re on a budget.

Matching shirts, matching blankets, settled in for a night of The Walking Dead
Rock and roll with our matching shirts and blankets


Oh and incase you missed it, we made the Guardian with our Instagram pic from the hot springs! Check it out!

Thanks for reading, if you have any questions or have visited the hot springs when it’s not so snowy let us know how the hike was in the comments below!


Hiking to the hot springs
Hiking to the hot springs

Tips for Jermuk

  • From Yerevan there are two marshutkas a day to Jermuk at 10am and 1pm which will drop you in the main square.
  • If you’re planning to hike to the hot spring in winter when there’s snow on the ground bring a spare pair of socks so you don’t have to pull on your soaking wet ones for the hike back, like we did.
  • The hike is an easy one with not much elevation change, though the road leading down to the reservoir is quite long meaning the walk back uphill is equally as long. Still anybody of reasonable fitness will be able to cope.
  • Ladies if you’re heading to Iran after Armenia and find yourself out here all alone, make the most of the chance to be naked outside before you can’t leave your hotel room without covering up head to foot.
  • There’s no large supermarket in town, only a handful of small ‘corner store’ type markets where you can buy the staples, whatever produce is in season and some frozen goods.
  • Leaving Jermuk a marshutka leaves for Vayk at 7:30am from where you can head to Yerevan or onwards to Goris, however connections aren’t that frequent and if you’re time constrained you might be best to take a taxi.
  • We booked our room with Hotel Life via Booking.com with a discounted rate as it was outside of the high season. It cost AMD12,000 per night for a private double.

 

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