Northern tourist route
The Northern route begins in the capital Stepanakert, crossing the country to the north, reaching Sotk mountain chain. The route runs along the main north-south highway to the village Vank, then turns onto Martakert-Vardenis road. This road is another great route to discover and visit amazing places full of history and culture. It drives along the picturesque countryside with healing springs, waterfalls, the famous reservoir Sarsang and many more. You will come across numerous large and small temples, churches, medieval castles, and, of course, the famous monasteries of Gandzasar and Dadivank.
2 km to the north-south highway you will reach the village of stars - Astkhashen. The village is famous for its 0.1-1.5 centimeter fossilized remains of five-pointed star-shaped water lilies, which history dates back to the age of the Middle period of the Mesozoic era (between 161-175 million.BCE). This is why it is called Astkhashen.
To the west of Astkhashen you can visit the picturesque village of Patara. It is located 6 km from the highway north-south, in the scenic mountainous terrain, and is considered one of the most favorite places for the people of Artsakh and tourists. With its ice-cold springs, beautiful forest landscapes, alpine meadows, mountain streams, Patara is a place where you get closer to nature feeling the natural which is undeniably beautiful.
20 km away from Stepanakert going back on the highway, you will find the village Tsahkashat where the house-museum of Nikol Duman and Ethnographic District are founded. Here you can learn a lot about the life of Artsakhians in the nineteenth century.
Saint Gevorg monastery
For the next beautiful spot you need to go back on the highway, continue on to the village of Khachen about 4 km to the northeast and see the monastery of Saint Gevorg (Ptkes Berk). It was built in 1263, but in different periods was rebuilt over and over again. The main temple of this complex consists of a three-storey east chapel with three basilicas. If you are a christian, say a prayer but keep another one for Hakobavank (Church of St. Hakob).
Turning 6 km west of the road, you will reach the village Kolatak where you will find Hakobavank (Church of St. Hakob), located on the right bank of the river Khachen. In the historical literature it is also referred to under the name Metsaranits. Its foundation date is unknown, but thanks to one of the oldest khachkars built into the wall, we can read the year of 853. Subsequent notes of the monastery refer to the 1212th year, when queen Khorishagh started the reconstruction.
Far away, in front of the Church of St. Hakob, on top of the ridge, covered with thick forests, is gorgeously situated Kachaghakaberd. Historical sources mention this ancient fortress was called Khachen fortress in the 9th century. We wish it could have preserved its initial state, but even in today’s form it looks inspiring. The whole scenery is like from a movie.
Returning to the highway, you will reach the village of Vank, situated in the picturesque valley of Khachen. Before getting here, you can capture the panoramic views, opened from the bridge over the river Khachen - extending to the west valley of Khachen and mountain scenery on the east side.
Gandzasar Monastery, one of the most visited sights of Artsakh, stands proudly on a hill on the left bank of the river Khachen. The name Gandzasar means “treasure mountain” in Armenian. The monastery complex includes the church, living quarters, bishop’s residence, refectory and a school building. Over the centuries it embodies the Christian traditions and national wisdom for the people of Artsakh. The construction of the monastery started in 1216 and was completed in 1238. The ceremony of consecration of the church was held on the day of the great feast Vardavar (Sunday, July 22), in the presence of a large number of people, including about 700 representatives of the church. Since its foundation the monastery has been a center of education and manuscript production.
The Northern route will also give you a chance to see the church St. John the Baptist (Hovhannes Mkrtich) which is known throughout the Christian world since the head of John the Baptist is buried under the altar of it.
Sarsang reservoir was built in the early 1970s on the river Tartar, one of the largest rivers flowing through the AR territory. It is amazing in its size: the length is 12 km, the width is 2 km, the water surface area is 24 square kilometers, the volume is 612 million cubic meters, the maximum depth is 90 m, the barrier height is 125 m. This is the highest man-made dam in the South Caucasus.
From the highway, perched on a hill, you will notice Charektar Monastery, one of the most significant monuments of Artsakh Verin Khachen. It is located on the border of Shahumyan (Karvatchar) and Martakert regions on the territory of current Shahumyan region, high on a hill on the right bank of the river Tartar, in the village of the same name. Its main church was built in 1260 and was named after the Virgin Mary.
Another popular and gorgeous monastery named Dadivank is located on the left bank of the river Tartar, at a distance of 95 kilometers north of Stepanakert. This is a wonderful piece of architecture which blends with the environment in such a harmony. The church, with its numerous buildings is located at the foot of the wooded mountains on the south side. Dadivank was founded in the first century on the site of the grave of St. Dadi - a preacher of Christianity, who had a cruel death.
The jewel of the complex is the Church of Arzu Khatun (XIII century). Murals, some of which were created by the queen Khachen, are preserved on the walls of the church. The main church has Armenian script engraved into its walls in addition to 13th century frescoes. The complex also includes a dining room, recreation rooms of the archpriest, manuscript room, where wonderful miniatures were created for manuscripts, monastic cells. Initially, the bell tower of the complex was a separate structure. Two carved khachkars, dated of 1283, were placed in the belfry. Khachkars are now considered the most famous monuments of the complex.
Kusanats Anapat monastery
Just 2 km from the monastery Dadivank, on the river Tartar there is the monastery Kusanats Anapat (Blessed Virgin). Another holy place to discover. The complex consists of 9 buildings of various purposes. The main church was built in 1178. The ruins of the monastery impressively arose at the confluence of history and nature. In this part of Tartar river, you will see an original hanging bridge stretched from the highway to the monastery. The view is nature perfect.
Village Zouar and hot spring
Turning off the main road to the south at a distance of 22 kilometers, you will reach the village of Zouar, where there is a natural landmark - the so-called source of "Hot Water". "Hot Spring", a natural "Jacuzzi" about 2.5 meters in diameter and one meter depth, is formed from calcareous sediments. Hot mineral water erupts at the very center. The water temperature is so warm in the "Jacuzzi", that even in the cold weather you can take a bath without the risk of catching a cold. This open-air bath is such an amazing and relaxing activity! This tourist site even provides some services, offers pavilions, guest houses, parking, etc.
Karvachar city and jermajur
The city of Karvachar is located in the north-western part of the Artsakh Republic, 128 km away from Stepanakert, on the height of 1550 meters above sea level. This special place is like an open-air museum exhibiting khachkars, tombstones, and petroglyphs.
About 20 km from the town of Karvachar you will find the hot mineral pool "Jermajur" located on the banks of the river Tartar. The road to the source Jermajur passes along the river Tartar, through the rocks and woods, leaving one in awe from the surrounding landscape. Mineral water has healing properties. Many people come here as a part of an alternative and natural medicine. You can enjoy a long dip in the pool, which was built near a natural spring. Jermajur is just another reason to visit Artsakh in summer.
Medieval Armenian chroniclers praised the immortalized history of the royal or princely village Tsar, calling it "blessed village Tsar." This famous village is located in the upper flow of the river Tartar, on a high plateau at an altitude of 300-310 m, surrounded by rocks, and only one side is the way to the village.
Large and Lesser lakes Al of volcanic origin are located on the eastern outskirts of Vardenis mountain range, 20 km away from the village of Tsar. A merging border of new and old lava flows forms a small valley like a canyon, which connects the lakes so that water of the Lesser Al flows into the Large Al.
After having a rest in this wonderful valley, return back to the highway, and head to the village Knaravan, where the fortress Handaberd is situated. Fortress, known with a glorious historical past, is constantly mentioned in the history of Armenia. It was founded in the IX century.
Northern tourist route ends at the border with Armenia, near the village Sotk. On the border with Armenia there is a custom checkpoint. Martakert-Vardenis road leads directly to the lake Sevan, the largest in Armenia, and the second of the highest freshwater lakes in the world. This Northern route is, in fact, as beautiful as other ones making Artsakh a cozy yet hidden, a thrilling and an inspiring destination.