Ashtarak (tower in Armenian), the largest city of the Aragatsotn Province, is an old settlement along the Kasakh River gorge. Its historic churches show the evolution of Armenian architecture, with a range spanning from the 5th to the 19th centuries, and together with a 16th century bridge and the beautiful home of Perch Proshyan, there is much to admire.
Tsiranavor, the oldest church, is on the edge of the gorge, near Spitakavor Church (13th century) and Karmravor (7th century), and once contained detailed frescoes on its now-crumbling walls and ceilings. Karmravor Church is the most famous, for the amount of intricate décor on such a small church and its perfect current state, with almost all of its red tiles and tuff stone intact! These three churches are nicknamed the three sisters, after a legend where three siblings were spurned by a prince and threw themselves into the gorge.
On the outskirts of Ashtarak is the large restaurant and entertainment complex, Ashtaraki Dzor. 25 minutes from Yerevan, it is an ideal place to go for dinner one evening, with its small zoo, massive gold stage, live singing and dancing, and women making lavash bread in a traditional tonir oven, all whilst surrounded by the picturesque nature of the gorge. The river gorge itself is a natural jewel, seldom explored on its own right except by the hardiest of trekkers, but worth the effort for the unique flora, rock formations and fauna that inhabit the microclimate.