Khor Virap, Noravank & Tatev

by Ucman Scher
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Tatev monastery

Solo Day Trip Guide to the Central & South Armenia – Khor Virap, Noravank and Tatev

A Day trip to Khor Virap, Noravank and Tatev is one of the best ways to explore central and southern Armenia. The south of Armenia is equally beautiful and offers some amazing views. Mount Ararat has a bit of religious fervour attached to, in Armenia and there is no way you can miss that, you can see it from Yerevan but a clear day guarantees the very contested mountain which is sadly situated in neighbouring Turkey.

Read my country Guide to Armenia and posts about Dilijan, Lake Sevan & Yerevan for a complete picture.

Spandarian Reservoir

Spandarian Reservoir

Fun Fact: People in Armenia are obsessed with it, I found whiskey, cigarettes, bread, soaps and a lot more with the Ararat brand name which isn’t a single company.

I had some time and wanted to see the southern part of the country so I started looking for tours to Tatev which is another beautiful monastery. It ended up as an amazing day spent with a new friend I met from Grindr.

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Booking Day Tours to Central & Southern Armenia

I checked online before and there were plenty of highly inflated tours with prices well above what they are on the ground. I decided to leave it. When I arrived in Yerevan, I asked around and I found out about Republic Square. There are vans with banners right in the square going in different directions. The prices are reasonable and the seats are easily available. Unfortunately, there was no tour on the day I wanted to go. With such a tight schedule, there was no room for manoeuvering. My Airbnb host helped me arrange a local guide for the day trip. It cost me roughly $40 for the entire day including fuel which was a bargain honestly. I asked my new Grindr buddy to join me and he happily agreed.

If you are to go with a tour I’d recommend booking on the ground in Yerevan, the prices online were absurd.

Itinerary for the Day

I decided to follow the same route as the tours do with the added advantage that no one would be going in that direction in terms of tourist buses. The plan was to start early in Yerevan and head to Khor Virap which is an hour away. After Khor Virap the next stop was Noravank Monastery (an hour and a half drive) and the last one would be Tatev after another 2 hours 30 minutes drive.

Want to plan your perfect trip? Read this guide.

On The Day

It was quite a long day with a total of around 10 hours drive time so we left early.

At Noravank Monastery

At Noravank Monastery

Leaving Yerevan

I woke at 5am on the day for our trip to Tatev, took a nice cold shower to wake up, grabbed some green tea and headed out where my guide cum driver cum travel companion was waiting. He turned out to be a student in the local university studying medicine to be a doctor and a very decent guy. We picked up Ammar and left for our glorious day to the South of Armenia. I was also excited because I was getting close to Iran.

It was still early and there was little traffic, we headed to our first stop of Khor Virap Monastery. The views of Mount Ararat on this clear beautiful day were amazing. The urban area gave way to suburbs and then started small villages.

Khor Virap Monastery

It took us some 40 minutes and we arrived at our first stop in Artashat. The monastery is close to the village but there is not much to see there. It is considered a city but there is no infrastructure to support that ‘claim’. We headed straight to the monastery. The sun was getting intense by the minute was the monastery seemed like a small toy in front of Mount Ararat.

Khor Virap with Mount Ararat

Khor Virap with Mount Ararat

Fun Fact: Mount Ararat is actually a small mountain range called Ararat Massif. It has two mountains; Greater Ararat which is the tallest mountain in Armenia and turkey and Little Ararat. It is a hotly contested mountain between Turkey and Armenia.

Khor Virap

The monastery is interesting because it plays a pivotal role in the history of Armenia. According to the legend, St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned here in the 4th century. He healed the King of the region of his illness and converted him and the country to Christianity. He is an influential figure in the history of Christianity because the Armenian Church has a distinct presence even in a city like Jerusalem.

Interior of a chapel in Khor Virap

Interior of a chapel in Khor Virap

The monastery is a typical one, with stunning views of around especially Mount Ararat but the real thing is going down the narrow pit where St. Gregory was imprisoned. Apparently, he was there for many years but the size of the hole is just too small for that to be true.

I couldn’t bring myself to go down that hole, my claustrophobia immediately kicked in full force and I had to leave the chapel. I felt bad for the poor guy, even if he had to go down this hole for a single minute.

YouTube Video for Noravank

On the Way to Noravank Monastery

We left Khor Virap after an hour to head to our next stop; Noravank Monastery. The way to Noravank was boring and dull at first going through empty roads and countryside. I was very hungry by now and we stopped at a small pit stop for some local food. The Jangiyal bread with fried eggs was the best breakfast I have had in Armenia honestly. I purchased some fresh fruit from very sweet ladies and we were on the way again. The scenery changed all of a sudden when we turned towards the small road that leads to Noravank. The mountains turned red and all of a sudden we were in a canyon. It was extremely gorgeous.

Noravank Monastery

Out of all the monasteries I visited, Noravank is my very favourite. It is located in such a beautiful, idyllic location. The entire complex is surrounded by red mountains which make the complex look even more beautiful. It is also quite remote with not much to sustain you. It would have taken real dedication to have lived here.

The interior of this monastery is gorgeous, the stairs going to the upper floor of the chapel were very narrow though. Not sure what’s with all the dark interiors though.

Don’t miss on the intricate decorations and the beautiful Khachkars. No matter how many of these beauties I saw, I couldn’t stop admiring them.

We spent about an hour or so here and then headed to our next stop; Tatev.

Spandarian Reservoir

On the way to Tatev, things changed again and the entire land became golden once we crossed into Syunik province. There were barely any trees and the ground just covered in gold. It was mesmerising through and through. I spotted a blob of blue on the roadside and we stopped for a while.

Spandarian reservoir

The view is still fresh in my mind and I can still feel the slightly cold rush of wind through my hair. We still had some way to go before Tatev and we got back on the road. The rest of the way was the same of this beautiful, endless gold, until we arrived in Tatev.

Tatev

We arrived in Tatev and the first thing to sort was our rumbling stomachs. We had plenty of time to get to monastery and we headed to the Cable car point because they had a restaurant there. The cable car runs till 8pm in summers which was perfect. It was around 3pm now. The food was pretty mediocre but that wasn’t important. We finished soon and purchased our tickets to catch the next flight to the monastery.

Tatev valley

The smokey Tatev

While waiting for the our turn we ventured out for photos and that’s when I discovered the reason no one was coming today. The valley was quite smokey. Apparently, they burn the leftover grass or plants which caused the smoke. It was getting clearer though with each passing hour and by the time we got back it was beautifully clear.

Wings of Tatev

Official WebsiteWings of Tatev

The Wings of Tatev is the longest reversible cable car in the entire world. That might be impressive on its own but the views it offers are unparalleled. I have taken the Funicamp cable car in Andorra but this was another beast. The views beneath, the Devil’s bridge, the serene Vorotan River. The entire 12 minutes, I looked outside with my eyes fixed on changing scenery. It was a beautiful ride ending with us arriving at the monastery. Another win for the day trip to Tatev! The road before used to be really bad.

The road to Devil’s bridge, Tatev

Tatev Monastery

Tatev is no different than the rest of monasteries in Armenia. It offers stunning views of the entire green valley, offers peace and did I mention the stunning views with a steep drop? What’s different is how massive the complex is! The central Chapel is grand with the typical structure.

We walked around a bit even at the back of the complex overlooking the valley. It was a little terrifying but still beautiful. It was getting late soon and we still had Devil’s Bridge left to see. After about an hour we headed back to get our car and we were (kind of) soaring on a road down in the valley to our last stop for our day trip to Tatev.

Devil’s Bridge

The road was pretty bad and it took us some time but we finally arrived. It is a natural bridge which leads to some small ponds. Made of clear blue water, you could drink from these pools but people were dipping their feet in trying to swim in these little ponds. It was a little distraction on the way but definitely not worth the detour we had made.

It was starting to get dark and we had a long drive back to Yerevan but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the beautiful sunset on the way.

Sunset in Southern Armenia

Sunset in Southern Armenia

It was an amazing day full of beautiful views, stunning scenery and lots to explore and I would highly recommend it even if you come with a tour. This day trip to Tatev will be a happy memory for all three of us.

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