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A few coffees, several biscuits and a lot of shame-faced apologising later, hotel owner Mihran sets us on our way again, giving us a bag of apples and a bottle of Fanta.

I’m utterly astonished by his humble, gracious manner. In what other country can you trespass on someone’s property, commit arson and still be invited in for tea?

We manage the rest of the trip without any more major gaffes and, despite the sometimes difficult climbs – where we strain at the pedals, heads down, legs pumping, trying to ignore the lorry drivers tooting with glee at our efforts – we enjoy the beautiful Armenian countryside and visit several of the dozens of ancient monasteries scattered across the rolling hills.

The 13th-century convent at Kobayr, just outside Tumanyan, is in a particularly pretty setting.

A short, steep walk takes us through the hamlet and up to the convent, which overlooks a gorge at its deepest; a place of sublime tranquillity.

Behind the convent, we find a series of small waterfalls and take a very welcome shower among the foliage and overhanging trees, looking out over the dramatic curves of the gorge.

Our journey continues south, covering about 40km a day, through the post-industrial Soviet city of Vanadzor and on to the Molokan Villages of Fioletovo and Lermontovo.

The Molokons, or ‘milk-drinkers’, were a Russian Christian sect who broke from the Orthodox church in the 17th century, and earned their name by refusing to fast on the specified days.

As we enter Fioletovo, three boys gallop past on horses, whooping with delight.

Gaggles of geese wander the tracks, flowers overspill the window boxes of ramshackle wooden houses, and men with scythes tend the fields. It feels like nothing much has changed in these villages since the 1600s.

About 12km down the road, we enter Dilijan National Park, where I’m pleased not to bump into any of the bears that inhabit this heavily forested region.

We stay at the secluded paradise of Daravand Guesthouse, owned by Rajik, an old bear of a man with a big beard and a penchant for vodka. While Rajik barbecues some delicious lamb chops, we relax on the large open veranda looking out over the river.

Our last stop before Yerevan is Lake Sevan, where Yerevanites come to escape the heat of the city in summer.

The Sevan Monastery sits in pride of place on a hillock at the west-most point of the lake, and offers fantastic panoramic views across to the ragged Areguniats mountains enshrouded in clouds. We take a leisurely swim and camp on the beach, eating dinner from our camping stove as the sun sets.

It takes us almost the entire next day to cycle to Yerevan, a leg-aching 70km away.

The capital proves a vibrant city with countless outdoor cafes lining the streets, squares and parks.

This penchant for the alfresco makes for an open, relaxed atmosphere and as Yerevan has a small centre, it’s easy to walk around the main sights, stopping for ice-creams and coffees along the way.

The Vernissage flea market is a hive of activity, with stalls selling masses of Soviet paraphernalia, such as enormous fur hats and military oddments, local handicrafts and the usual market bric-a-brac that make for excellent souvenirs.

I buy a few old  Soviet medals to award to friends and family back home.

We also take an afternoon trip out to Khor Virap Monastery, set against the magnificent backdrop of Mount Ararat in neighbouring Turkey.


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Free wheeling – Cycling from Georgia to Armenia
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