The Shamshadin region east of Ijevan is a fertile stretch of woodlands, vineyards and farms carved by three valleys: the Khndzorut, Tavush and Hakhum. With Azerbaijan on two sides and rugged mountains dividing it from the rest of Armenia, it’s also quite isolated. As the crow flies its just 21km from Ijevan to Berd; the mountains in between them, however, have forced the construction of a roundabout road that loops for 67km north and then south. About 44km into the trip you’ll spot Nor Varagavank up the hillside – the 3km detour is worth the trip to see the ruined monastery. The oldest sections were started in 1198 by David Bagrtuni, son of King Vasak I; a Surp Astvatsatsin Church was added in 1237. The monastery once contained a fragment of the True Cross until it was lost in fighting in 1915.
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Berd (population 8000) itself is nothing special but does have a restaurant and a couple of hotels. The Berd Hotel was being renovated at the time of research. A cheaper place down the road is the Hotel Raipotreb, which also has a decent restaurant. The main reason to come to Berd is to hike here along the old road from Ijevan. The 35km road twists and winds through the mountains and past some attractive old villages. The hike takes about 12 hours in total, best spread over two or three days. There are no hotels, but you can ask in the villages for a homestay. Just make yourself known as a tourist as locals are wary of strangers in these parts (you may be mistaken as a wayward Azeri spy or soldier). It’s best to have a taxi driver take you the first 5km or so out of Ijevan to get you on the right track. Just make sure they are taking you on the old road that heads east of town rather than the new road going north. A daily marshrutka leaves from Ijevan to Berd (on the new road) at 9am. It returns from Berd at 2pm.
Khoranashat monastery used to be Shamshadin’s most visited historic attraction, but these days it’s off-limits as it’s only a few hundred metres from the border. The villagers of nearby Chinari don’t recommend going there – Azeri soldiers nearby are prone to taking pot shots at visitors. The road from Lake Sevan to the regional centre of Berd is one of the wildest and most beautiful in the country. From Chambarak (Krasnosyelsk) it turns north past the village of Ttujur over the 2286m Getik pass and winds over the summer pastures and through forests along the ridges and flanks of Mt Mrkhuz (2993m).