Akhtala Monastery

Northern Armenia

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.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Northern Armenia attractions

1. Haghpat Monastery

4.82 MILES

Occupying a commanding position overlooking the gorge, this monastery has atmosphere and architectural splendour in spades. Founded around 976 by Queen…

2. Mikoyan Museum

6.59 MILES

This Soviet-era museum is a shrine to brothers Anastas and Artyom Mikoyan. Anastas was in charge of administering food in the USSR and survived 60 years…

3. Sanahin Monastery

6.74 MILES

Sanahin is a World Heritage site packed with ancient graves, darkened chapels and medieval study halls. The inner sanctum of the cross-shaped Surp…

4. St Astvatsatsin Church

10.5 MILES

Built on the site where legend tells us St Thomas buried Christ's swaddling clothes in the 1st century, the core of St Astvatsatsin dates from the 5th…

5. Kobayr Monastery

12.05 MILES

Perched above the hamlet of Kobayr is the 12th-century monastery of the same name. The main church has some partially restored Georgian-style frescoes and…

6. Hovhannes Tumanyan House Museum

14.31 MILES

Those who have already visited the Hovhannes Tumanyan Museum in Yerevan will find this timber house where he grew up interesting, but those unfamiliar…

7. Hnevank

16.58 MILES

Travelling between Stepanavan and the Debed Canyon, one of two possible routes passes the monastery of Hnevank, located on a winding road 7km from Kurtan…

8. Lori Berd

20.19 MILES

On a promontory between the gorges of the Dzoragets and Miskhana Rivers, this ruined fortress has huge towers and massive stone blocks along its exposed…