Haghartsin Monastery

Northern Armenia

Hidden in a verdant valley 13km northeast of Dilijan, Haghartsin ('Dance of the Eagles’) was built between the 10th and 13th centuries and has three churches: one named for Gregory the Illuminator; another for the Virgin Mary (Surp Astvatsatsin); and the third for St Stephen (Stepanos). There are stunning khachkars (carved stone crosses; don't miss the one on the southern wall of Surp Astvatsatsin), a sundial on the wall of St Gregory, a ruined gavit (antechamber) and a refectory with a stunning arched ceiling.

The monastery was built by order of two brothers, princes of the Bagratuni kingdom, and their family seal can be seen on the back of St Stepanos.

A recent restoration of the site funded by the Sheikh of Sharjah in the UAE has seen the church buildings lose their historic patina, and many visitors find their bright and shiny appearance disconcerting. No doubt they will blend back into their surrounds in the future.

The grounds also feature a garden and a gata bakery (10am to 7.30pm, cakes AMD1000/1500) from the same owner as Kchuch and Losh.

The monastery is 4km off the main Dilijan–Ijevan Hwy. There is no marshrutka service, but it's an extremely pleasant walk from the highway, with plenty of picnic spots and lookouts along the way.