Welcome to Shamshadin & Around
Travelling north on the Yerevan–Georgia Hwy, you'll come to a Y intersection. Take the left branch towards Noyemberyan and then take another turn-off left towards Achajur village. The uphill road is edged by vineyards and offers lovely views across the countryside. At the village, follow signs to the 11th-century Makaravank monastery. It's 6.5km from the village to the monastery along an unsealed and potholed road. Those in 4WDs should be able to drive all the way, but those in 2WDs will probably need to park on the side of the road at some stage and continue by foot. There is no public transport and the road is rarely used, meaning that hitchers are unlikely to have any luck sourcing a ride.
The beautiful church here is set deep in a forest, giving it a very peaceful atmosphere. There are some fine carvings on the exterior and interior of the structures, including ornate altar daises carved with eight-pointed stars, floral motifs, fish, birds and geometrical forms.
The Shamshadin region east of Ijevan is a fertile stretch of woodlands, vineyards and farms carved by three valleys: the Khndzorut, Tavush and Hakhum. With Azerbaijan on two sides and rugged mountains dividing it from the rest of Armenia, it’s also quite isolated.
As the crow flies it’s just 21km from Ijevan to Berd; the mountains in between them, however, have forced the construction of a roundabout road that loops for 67km north and then south. About 44km into the trip you’ll spot Nor Varagavank up the hillside – the 3km detour is worth the trip to see the ruined monastery. The oldest sections were started in 1198 by David Bagrtuni, son of King Vasak I; a Surp Astvatsatsin church was added in 1237. The monastery once contained a fragment of the True Cross until it was lost in fighting in 1915.
Berd (population 8000) itself is nothing special but does have a restaurant and a couple of hotels. The main reason to come here is to hike along the old road from Ijevan. The 35km road twists and winds through the mountains and past some attractive old villages. The hike takes about 12 hours in total, best spread over two or three days. There are no hotels, but you can ask in the villages for a homestay. It’s best to have a taxi driver take you the first 5km or so out of Ijevan to get you on the right track. Just make sure they are taking you on the old road that heads east of town rather than the new road going north.
A daily marshrutka (AMD500) leaves from Ijevan to Berd (on the new road) in the morning. It returns from Berd mid-afternoon. A shared taxi between Berd and Ijevan costs AMD1500 per person.