Welcome to Yeghegis Valley
To reach the area, turn north off the Yerevan–Goris Hwy at Getap and after 12km turn right (east) towards Shatin village. The sights are well signposted off the road.
About 2km up from Shatin village, a road branches up the valley to the west towards Artabuynk. About 1km past the village of Artabuynk a sign points to the left for the 10th-century Tsakhatskar Monastery, a crumbling agglomeration of churches and old khachkars. From the stream, continue up the main track to the right (the side of the valley with the power poles); the monastery eventually comes into view on the left. It can only be accessed by 4WD.
From the monastery, head back down the way you came and at the fork in the path head left up the slope to Smbataberd fortress. The stretch up to the fort takes about 30 minutes. On the other side of Smbataberd you can look down on the valley.
Yeghegis (yer-ghiz) village is reached by taking the right fork after Shatin. It has three churches in the village on the left-hand side of the main road: the 18th-century St Astvatsatsin with its grass-covered roof; the 13th-century Surp Karapet Church; and the very unusual 14th-century Surp Zorats, where worshippers gathered before an outdoor altar. It’s believed this courtyard was created so that horses and soldiers could be blessed before going off to battle. Surp Karapet and Surp Zorats are difficult to find: start at St Astvatsatsin and walk uphill, then turn right, veer left and then turn right again when you see some khachkars. Surp Karapet is down another road to the right; Surp Zorats is straight ahead, around a corner (left) and then in a field on the right.
On the northeastern edge of the village, look for a blue sign saying 'Arates 9.7km'. Park here and walk down a switchback dirt road to find a metal footbridge crossing the river. Cross the bridge to find an 800-year-old Jewish cemetery – Hebrew inscriptions are clearly visible on some of the grave markers. The engravings are biblical verses and the names of the deceased. Prior to the discovery of the cemetery there had been no evidence of Jews inhabiting Armenia. The cemetery was in use for about 80 years – the oldest tombstone is dated 1266 and the newest is dated 1346. Researchers theorise that this community of Jews arrived from Persia, having travelled up the Silk Road. The reason for their disappearance remains a mystery.
The next village up the valley is Hermon, where a rough track north (on the left) leads to Arates and Arates Vank, a monastery with three ruined churches dating from the 7th to the 13th centuries. Arates is about 10km beyond Yeghegis.
Public transport to the area is limited. Marshrutky and taxis travel from the villages to Yeghegnadzor in the morning and return in the late afternoon. Taxis from Yeghegnadzor cost the standard AMD100 per kilometre; you'll need to negotiate waiting times with the driver.
The excellent Lucytour Hotel Resort at Hermon is a huge complex offering beds in dorms and private rooms, an indoor swimming pool, sauna, gym with trampoline, free use of bicycles and telescopes, volleyball and basketball courts, and fishing in a stocked fish pond. There's a guest-only coffee shop and restaurant (dinner AMD4000) and staff can organise guided hikes, horse-riding and quad-bike tours. Wi-fi is available in the reception area only.