Sea Stone Hotel, Nagorno-Karabakh – lion head carved in the hillside. Pure genius! 2

You’re a rich man, a plutocrat, making lucrative deals left, right, and centre; money spilling in from a variety of avenues. You have a mansion in Moscow, another in the United States, a third in Armenia, a more modest flat in France; you move between the properties as you like. You’re beyond rich; you have the money and power of a king. But you come from humble roots: a small nondescript town by the name of Vank – home of the Sea Stone Hotel – in Nagorno-Karabakh (Nagorno-Karabakh is a self-declared republic in the Caucasus; it’s officially part of Azerbaijan, but currently under the control of Armenian separatists).

Lion carving, Seastone Hotel, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh

The lion sculpture at Sea Stone Hotel, Vank. Photo credit: Benjamin White

You want to help your town, you want to help them financially, but you want to do more than that, you plan to enrich the lives of the townspeople. You build a new school for the children; you build a new hospital for all the town’s citizens.

But you still want to do more. You want to do something to put Vank on the map (Vank, in case you are wondering, means monastery in Armenian).

So what do you do?

Seastone Hotel, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh

Sea Stone Hotel. Photo credit: Benjamin White

You build a whacky hotel on the edge of town and cram it full with quirky art. The crowning touch: a giant lion head carved into the hillside.

Sound bizarre? Well, it might be, but you can’t deny that it’s a good way to get people’s attention. And it’s exactly what one wealthy benefactor did for Vank.

Eclectic Hotel, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh

Hotel Eclectic; another hotel built by the same benefactor in Vank. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Sea Stone Hotel

It’s a pretty simple recipe to get the crowds in. Build a hotel (it’s called the Sea Stone Hotel). Get some local artists to make a few statues of winged donkeys – is it just me or are these statues modelled on Donkey from Shrek?

Seastone Hotel, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh

Are these creatures based on Donkey from Shrek? Photo credit: Benjamin White

Then you get a bronze of a nude lady reclining on a banana chair, get a replica of Michelangelo’s David and set it in a grove of Roman sculpture. Next you dam the local stream to make a water feature, build a pirate-ship along the water feature, and set up a dance floor and a stereo system on the pirate ship for parties. That should do it. All pretty standard stuff.

Seastone Hotel, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh

The pirate ship. Photo credit: Benjamin White

The giant lion’s head though, the lion head that’s part carving, part embodied by the hill itself: that’s just pure genius.

Who said living in a separatist-controlled unrecognised republic can’t be fun?

Lion carving, Seastone Hotel, Vank, Nagorno-Karabakh

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Practical information and how to reach Sea Stone Hotel:

Vank is 60 kilometres, about a one hour drive, from Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. Sea Stone Hotel is two kilometres beyond Vank, up a small road following the Khachen River. More transport info here.

Read more on Vank here.

Posts on Armenia:

The Temple of Garni – a much smaller Parthenon, built for the sun god Mihr

Noravank – the New Monastery of 1205 CE with its famous Stairs of Death

Zorats Karer – 223 standing stones in a grassy field. Is it linked to Stonehenge?

Selim Caravanserai – built by the Orbelian Dynasty at Vardenyats Pass in 1332 CE.

The geological marvel of Garni Gorge: Symphony of the Stones 

Tanahati Monastery – as good as Noravank or Tatev without the crowds

Posts on the Caucasus:


Vardzia – 400 room, 19 level cave city. Watch out for falling rocks.

Ushguli – watchtowers on every house; even Genghis Khan was deterred

Uplistsikhe – cave city that housed 20,000; destroyed by Mongols

Batumi – Las Vegas of the Black Sea


Gobustan – stone age petroglyphs that inspired Thor Heyerdahl

Baku – at 28m below sea level, it’s the world’s deepest capital

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