Past the town of Areni and through a canyon is the impressive Noravank Monastery perched on a hilltop surrounded by red rocks. Both the church and surrounding red rocks are best lit in the afternoon and glow red-gold as the sun starts to set.
Although the 14th century Surp Astvatsatsin church has some beautiful stone carvings on the outside of the structure, the interior is plain. The second church, Surp Karapet, has beautiful carvings in the interior of the structure as well as the exterior. Be sure to check out the small chapel, Surp Gregor, attached to Surp Karapet. Of particular interest is the lion-human tombstone.
There is also a short hike that takes you up the side of the hill behind the second church with views back over the complex.
Unfortunately the monastery is a popular tourist destination that is open until 9 p.m. in the summer and has bus loads of tourists visiting until nearly that hour. If you are planning on photographing the church with the famed evening glow I’d avoid the summer travel season. In the morning the tour buses start early, 7 a.m. At this hour none of the structures are lit. By 9 a.m. they were lit from the backside, the side you see as you enter the complex.
While it’s a lovely setting, a pleasant place to dine al fresco and the staff is warm and friendly (despite the lack of English), the Noravank’s Hotel is OK at best.
The clean room has a bare basic small private bathroom with a shower. It’s furnished with a wardrobe and a desk but the bed is terrible – a hard springy mattress with rough muslin sheets. It was the worst sleeping experience of the trip. In addition there is no air conditioning. There is a fan and you can open the balcony door to cool the room off at night.
The family that runs the hotel and restaurant are very accommodating but they leave at night and don’t return until 9 in the morning to prepare breakfast. When we asked about a water boiler for coffee in the morning (we had our own instant coffee) after a bit of negotiating to get across what we wanted we were given a tray with a water boiler, a plate of cakes, sweet preserved peaches, cups and saucers. Before they left they also offered us a wireless router for internet, not speedy but gave it us a connection. Parking is available on the property.
The restaurant has tables in the shade of large trees and overlooking the valley and opposing red rock face. The views are, however, somewhat obstructed by low hanging branches. Still, on a warm afternoon it’s a great place to dine and wait for the intense sun to lower. They don’t speak much English (Russian works better), but enough that you can get something to eat or drink. We negotiated a tomato and cucumber salad, lamb kebabs with potatoes, bread and a carafe of wine. The meal was well prepared and tasty.
Breakfast, eaten at the same tables under the tree where we had dinner, was a nice spread considering we were the only guests eating there. It included – butter, a sweet sour cream, a filled cake, bowls of super sweet preserved grapes and apple sauce, a plate of fresh cherries, lavash – a type of flat bread, cold apple tea, salty cheese, and a puffy egg omelet served piping hot in a skillet. The omelet instantly deflates when you lift the lid. Coffee is Turkish style served with sweetened condensed milk.
Driving to Noravank from the Yerevan Airport
We first drove through Yerevan and then on a two lane road with a fair amount of traffic to the Geghard Monastery and Garni Temple, about 1 hour 15 minutes. (See the Yerevan Sights post for a description and photos of these sights.) Once we left the popular attractions we had little traffic through the mountains and towns. It took another 2.5 hours to reach Noravank from Geghard Monastery. The scenery, much dryer than Georgia, was pretty with dry rolling mountains and green valleys of orchards and other vegetation. The two lane road was generally in good condition.
July 9-10, 2022