In Armenia, we visit the town of Dilijan. Commonly referred to as “Armenian Switzerland” or “Little Switzerland” by the locals, it is a quiet and reclusive town. You’ll find it in a beautiful forested valley amid Dilijan National Park, reminiscent of the Swiss landscape. The area is a bustling hotspot since the 1800s, with its historical center, “Old Dilijan.” Throughout history, this spot has been a favorite of the wealthy. Artists and creatives traveled into the town for a summer retreat, visiting the valley to escape from the hot Armenian sun.
Many of the original old buildings still stand tall in Old Dilijan, with modern restorative works keeping the center alive. All the work has been focused on conserving the typical Swiss-like local style. Here’s a closer look at this historical area, the stunning architecture, and the Tufenkian hotel where we stayed on our visit.
Cobbled Streets & Picturesque Wooden Buildings
When traveling into Old Dilijan, it really does feel like you’re stepping back in time. The landscape is undeniably picturesque, with 19th-century architecture among the rolling hills. As you walk down the cobble Sharambeyan Street alongside the traditional buildings, you feel the town’s historic culture. Made from stone bricks and with gently sloping rooves, the buildings are irrefutably quaint and charming.
Woodwork is also a recurring theme across many of the designs here. Balconies of buildings are intricately made from wood, reflecting Dilijan’s historical love for the craft. In fact, as a hub for creatives, many of the buildings used to be old workshops specializing in handicrafts. This again ties in with the “Little Switzerland” nickname. Wooden ski chalets are typical of the alpine regions in Switzerland, and a definite similarity between the two.
Tufenkian’s Restoration of the Historic District
People try to restore the historical Old Dilijan in the 1980s by Hovhannes Sharambeyan, Yerevan’s Folk Museum director. However, after the 1988 Armenian earthquake and collapse of the Soviet Union, the original project was abandoned. There seemed little hope for rebuilding the historic streets. That was until the Tufenkian Heritage Foundation came along in 2004 and started restoration works on Sharambeyan Street.
Old Dilijan wouldn’t be what it was today if it were not for the Foundation. They own the main complex and have turned the entire area into a cultural and historical gem. All of the work completed has transformed the forgotten complex into modern-day Dilijan. Walking through the streets, you come across specialized workshops and studios. These all focus on the historical crafts the town was popular for in the past, such as handmade jewelry, woodwork, and ceramics. Besides, surrounded by the region’s natural beauty, it is a must-see for any traveler.
Tufenkian’s Ananov Guest House
Today you can stay in Tufenkian’s Ananov Guest House for a true cultural experience. This is where we had the pleasure of staying on our visit. The hotel has incredible vaulted ceilings and wooden balconies, synonymous with the old style of the rest of the street. On the interior, the theme of woodwork continues. From the antique-style wardrobes to the beautifully carved architectural finishes, there are emblems of 19th-century craftsmanship throughout.
The Foundation has also used mafrashes as covers for the beds. This is a woven bedding bag characteristic of Caucasia that has been used throughout history. Artsakh carpets that originate from the region are in the rooms. Diverse in color, ornamental motifs, and style, Armenia is popular for its carpet weaving. While channeling and celebrating the country’s traditional crafts, these two fabric additions also create a cozy and inviting interior. For anyone exploring Armenia, the Old Dilijan is a must.