The centrally located Kotayk Marz (region in Armenian) harbors many ancient Armenian landmarks and tourist attractions – from the pagan Temple of Garni and the Geghard Monastery, to the winter ski slopes of Tsakhkadzor. Loosely defined by the Hrazdan and Marmarik River Valleys to the west and the Geghama Mountain Chain on the east, most of the Kotayk Marz is less than an hour’s drive from Yerevan, holding within its borders countless mysteries to be discovered.
The Hrazdan River – the only outflow of Lake Sevan – winds its way through a deep gorge through most of the Marz, encountering hot springs, historic churches and fortresses, and even an ancient inscription, thought to be gibberish, that would have fooled adversaries into believing that the local populace was more advanced than they really were. Close to Yerevan is the still-thriving mineral spa of Arzni, offering multi-day treatments with mineral baths and massages, and the nearby Arzakan is full of summer camps complete with meals and a few mineral baths of their own.
North of the industrial town of Hrazdan – its power plant chimneys visible from miles away – is the popular resort town of Tsaghkadzor, packed with avid skiers in the winter months and vacationers staying at the town’s forested villas, resorts and hotels in the summer. Heading up past Tsaghkadzor into the Marmarik Valley leads to the end of the road in Hankavan, an old Greek mining village with hot springs and hotels at surprisingly affordable prices.
At the southernmost tip of the Marz is the Garni Temple, famed for being the only temple of its kind in the former Soviet Union, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Geghard Monastery. The former is a small classic 2,000 year-old Hellenistic temple perched above steep basalt cliffs, while the latter monastery was carved out of the solid rock of the mountain and once housed the spear said to have pierced Jesus’s side. Hidden in the Geghama Mountains are a number of 12,000 year-old petroglyphs, such as those in Seghanasar, Geghmaghan, Nalsar and Azhdahak.
Some of Yerevan’s northern suburbs fall into the Kotayk Marz, including the village of Arinj, where the unusual wonders of Levon’s Divine Underground can be found. Originally intended as a storeroom for potatoes, Levon had a vision telling him to keep digging up to eighty chambers! Though the underground maze never reached that vision, seven chambers beautifully carved by hand are now open to the public – its grand scheme and imagination never fails to leave visitors speechless!