Armenia became Christian in 301 AD (around 90 per cent of Armenians are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church) and the lovely countryside is scattered with old churches and monasteries and elaborately carved stone crosses, khatchkars. Beautiful, green Lori province has a concentration of medieval monasteries along the spectacular Debed Canyon, Both the railway and the road north to Georgia follow the line of the Canyon, but if time is not pressing this makes an excellent walk Distances are small, several of the villages have accommodation and climbs are not demanding.
From Tumanyan, the ruined 13th-century convent and the hamlet of Kobayr are visible. Stone steps from the railway line lead up the hill. The roofless church still has some frescoes. The large village of Qdzun sits on a shelf over a steep drop to the Debed River; in the centre of the village, the sturdy church is 17th century, with an arcaded cloister once used as a school. On the edge of the cliff is another church and the remains of Horomayri Monastery cling to the slopes a little to the south.
Alaverdi is a quiet town lYing in a bend of the canyon. There is a 12th century hump-backed stone bridge over the river, but this is mainly a modern copper-mining town. The cable car (which runs to the shift timetable at the mine) provides an easy way up to the canyon edge, and the villages of Sadahart and Sanahin. Sanahin Monastery is a UNESCO Word Heritage Site. The oldest building dates to 928; this was the seat of an archbishop and there is a funeral chapel for the royal Zakarian family. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Haghpat Monastery, founded in 976, perches on the edge of the canyon and combines superb architecture with a tremendous location.
WHEN TO GO
Late May to early July, September
TIME IT TAKES
Two days plus
Debed canyon is richly green, well watered and densely wooded; it is a lovely place to walk, either along the shady riverbed or the canyon rim.
Sanahin Monastery - the mossy complex of church, shadowy chapels, ancient graves open archways and scattered khatchkars is bewitching.
Haghpat Monastery - the extensive walled complex, built in the 12th century. includes bell tower. library refectory and chapel as well as the fine main church. The views over the canyon are superb.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Some of the walking can be muddy.