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 August 29, 2003 




Sevan Surprise: Hotel on the lake offers contemporary comfort in the heart of a village


Shaped like a barn, Avan Marak offers creature comfort.

You reach the village of Tsapatagh over a bumpy road far from the crowded peninsula that is the stopping point for most tourists to Lake Sevan.

On that distant eastern shore poplars wave a greeting in the quiet breeze of a quiet settlement.

And there, against the shade of a mountain painted by wildflowers, a red tile roof draws the eye to an unexpected structure surely made for another place.

But on closer inspection under that roof a visitor finds the luxurious Avan Marak hotel surprisingly at place amid the barns and small homes of its neighborhood.

Tsapatagh is a village known for its advantageous climate (compared to other village settlements). "We even grow apricots here," one villager said proudly, pointing out that many lake-side villages don't have a long enough season even for apples.

And it was its very scenic seclusion that attracted the Tufenkian Company to Tsapatagh to open the second of its "Heritage" hotels. (The first, Avan Villa, opened two years ago in the Nork district of Yerevan.)

For most travelers in Armenia, a trip to Lake Sevan means going to the peninsula. But to reach Tsapatagh from Yerevan, the popular peninsula is only half way. Another 65 kilometers farther - away from crowded beaches with new hotels and those held over from Soviet times - Avan Marak embarks on a path of its own, moving far from its competition in terms of location, design, and attitude to customer service.

The 34 rooms of Avan Marak (ranging in price from $45 to $120) follow the motif of hand-crafted comfort that is becoming a Tufenkian (www.tufenkian.am) trademark in Armenia.

Here, guests in Tsapatagh Avan Marak's hot tub or swimming pool might see a shepherd leading cattle through a field, just steps from the life of luxury. President Robert Kocharyan stopped in for a short visit earlier this month and called Avan Marak "a masterpiece; a place where you can feel like you're in paradise".

For all its relative extravagance (compared to its surroundings) however, the hotel and the village share a complementary co-existence.

Owner James Tufenkian's goal was not merely to create an escape for those who can afford it, but to also create opportunities for the villagers of Tsapatagh. (Tufenkian first started doing business in Armenia in 1993, with three employees. Today his various enterprises - including a carpet and furniture design showroom and a construction company - employ 1,700.)

The hotel staff consists of 30 employees, from which 25 are Tsapatagh locals. At least one member of each family from the village has a job at the hotel.

A pool with a view . . ..

Further, the hotel's restaurant (intentionally placed a short walk from the hotel, so that guests mingle with villagers on the way) buys produce and cheese from Tsapatagh farmers, who previously had to send their goods to Charentsevan for selling.

"Tufenkian is an exceptional example of patriotism," says villager Grisha Mirzoyan. "He never shouts that he loves his native country. He doesn't hang a picture of Masis over his bed but he does his work improving his country and life of his countrymen."

Built in the same general shape of a nearby barn, Avan Marak is constructed from Sevan rocks. The interior features carpets, lamps, tables, fixtures and even trash cans all specially made by the Tufenkian team.

Even the room keys maintain a rough-hewn but elegant attitude, attached by pieces of frayed wool to heavy iron squares into which the room number is carved.

"The creative idea of an architect lies in being able to influence people's feelings through small components and details," says chief architect Hrachia Poghosyan (creator of several Yerevan landmarks, including the Concert and Sport Complex).

Such devotion to detail is apparent in the hotel's 120-seat Zanazan restaurant. Showcasing an unhindered view of the lake, the restaurant is equal parts medieval dining hall and New York City (Tufenkian's home) elegance.

The menu utilizes fresh, locally-grown ingredients to prepare traditional Armenian cuisine, but with occasional unexpected twists.

Avan Marak is in the peak of its first season, and already Yerevan diners are making the four-hour roundtrip just to enjoy the restaurant and its view.
Public relations manager Lilit Hakobyan says the company plans to specialize in providing wedding receptions. The first, in fact, took place earlier this month, hosting 170 guests.

 




According to Agnes
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There She Is . . .

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