Founded by Bishop Hovhannes in 1205 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 Sts Peter and Paul above the door.
An unimpressive museum featuring prints, as well as some old coins and books, is found to the right of the entrance (AMD500, open 9am to 9pm).
There are picnic spots and springs around Noravank, as well as an excellent on-site restaurant (set menu AMD3500 to AMD4500, open 7.30am to 8pm). 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 7.5km to Noravank. Hitching is a fairly easy process, especially on weekends.