Akhtala, a small village 20km northeast of Alaverdi, has one major claim to fame: the magnificent frescoes in its 13th-century church. These include a stunning Virgin Mary in the apse, and depictions of the Last Supper, Last Judgement, Crucifixion and Resurrection on other walls. Note the fresco of bearded Persians, said to have been painted so that invading armies would spare the church. To get to the church, you'll need to walk through towering 10th-century basalt fortifications.
Entering the monastery from the main gate, look left and you’ll see two large caves that were used for smelting copper. Surrounding the church are a well-preserved chapel and a graveyard with old and new headstones – be careful where you walk, as weeds and grass hide dangerous drops into underground structures.
A daily marshrutka to Akhtala (AMD200, 40 minutes) departs Alaverdi at noon, but returns immediately, meaning that you will be stranded here after your visit. It's a 3km walk to the highway.
Outside the monastery is Nurik, a USAID-supported cafe and visitor centre established by a local women's organisation. Besides serving tasty food, Nurik offers courses in doll-, candle-, soap- and carpet-making as well as felting. Cooking classes are also available.