Founded by Bishop Hovhannes in 1105 and sensitively renovated in the 1990s, Noravank (New Monastery) is one of the most spectacular sites in Armenia and should be included on every visitor's itinerary. Around sunset, the reddish hues of the dramatic cliffs surrounding the monastery are accentuated by the setting sun, and the reddish-gold stone of its churches acquire a luminous sheen – it's a totally magnificent sight.
The complex includes the 13th-century Surp Karapet Church, built next to the ruins of an earlier church also dedicated to St John the Baptist. Attached to this is a small 13th-century chapel dedicated to Surp Gregor; it's home to a carved lion-human tombstone dated to 1300.
The main, much-photographed, structure is the 14th-century Surp Astvatsatsin Church (1339), built on top of the mausoleum of Burtel Orbelian, who is buried here with his family. Historians say the church is reminiscent of tower-like burial structures created in the early years of Christianity. There’s a wonderful carving of Christ flanked by Peter and Paul above the door.
There are picnic spots and springs around Noravank, as well as an excellent restaurant on-site (mains AMD2500, open 9am to 9pm). Parking costs AMD100. The valley really warms up in the middle of a summer’s day, so come early, or late in the afternoon.
Noravank features on many travel-agency tours from Yerevan, which is about 90 minutes away by road – many combine a visit with a stop at Khor Virap and a winery. Marshrutky from Yerevan or Yeghegnadzor can drop you at the turn-off on the highway near the Edem restaurant. From here, it's 6km to Noravank. Hitching is a fairly easy process, especially on weekends.
About 4km from the turn-off to Noravank is an unusual cave-cafe dug out of the side of the cliff. There is no sign, but you’ll see the metal grating between the boulders on the right side of the road.