Day 01: Baku, Azerbaijan
Xosh gälmìsän! We are welcomed at the airport of the capital Azerbaijan and transferred to our hotel.
Overnight: Atropat Hotel, Baku (3 nights)
Day 02: Baku
This morning we tour the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape*, which covers three areas of a plateau of rocky boulders rising out of the semi-desert of central Azerbaijan, with an outstanding collection of more than 6,000 rock engravings bearing testimony to 40,000 years of rock art. The site also features the remains of inhabited caves, settlements and burials, all reflecting an intensive human use by the inhabitants of the area during the wet period that followed the last Ice Age, from the Upper Paleolithic to the Middle Ages. Next we visit the Walled City of Baku*, built on a site inhabited since the Palaeolithic period, the Walled City of Baku reveals evidence of Zoroastrian, Sasanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman, and Russian presence in cultural continuity. We explore the Inner City (Icheri Sheher), which has preserved much of its 12th century defensive walls; the 12th century Maiden Tower (Giz Galasy), built over earlier structures and the 15th century Palace of the Shirvanshah, one of the gems of Azerbaijan's architecture. (B, D)
Day 03: Baku
We travel around the Absheron Peninsula, visiting the Ateshgyah Zoroastrian Temple of Fire, which for centuries has been an important center of worship. Visiting of “Gala” historical ethnographic reservation area. One of the oldest settlements in Absheron is Qala village situated in North East of the peninsula. There are 215 architectural and archeological monuments in Qala village and the surrounding regions. The environment, which is dated back to 3rd millennium BC is preserved here.
In 2008, “Open Air Archeological Ethnographical Museum Complex” was created in the territory of Qala Historic – Ethnographical Reservation. Archeological, architectural monuments found in the territory of Absheron were gathered and restored in the Museum Complex. Excursion to the 14th century temple in Mardakan and the Yanardag Flaming Mountain, burning with an eternal flame fed by the underground naphtha and gas. In the afternoon time at leisure walking throughout the central part of the city and exploring local shopping centers, a perfect opportunity to meet and mingle with the local people. (B, D)
Day 04: Baku/Sheki
We begin this day with a scenic and relaxed drive to the town of Sheki. Here we will visit the Museum of Applied Arts, "Shebeke" manufacturing workshops, and view the magnificent Sheki Khan's palace (view from the outside only). The evening is free to enjoy and stroll around Sheki. Trip to village Kish near Sheki town –to visit the first church in Caucasus.
Overnight: Sheki Saray Hotel, Sheki (1 night) (B, D)
Day 05: Sheki/Lagodekhi/Telavi, Georgia
In the morning we leave Azerbaijan as we are driven to the border where we will meet with our Georgian guide and transport for our transfer to Telavi. Kakheti region - Georgia’s famous wine district lies due east from Tbilisi in a land dotted with fine old churches and vineyard after vineyard. Historically Kakheti was often the centre of political turmoil however some of the most beautiful and important buildings were erected here and the church architecture is as diverse as wines in the region. En-route to Telavi visit Gremi architectural complex - which consists of the Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel (16th century), a three-story castle, a bell tower and a wine cellar. After that, visit Alaverdi Cathedral (11th century) – the tallest Cathedral of Kakheti region and Tsinandali Estate - House-museum of Chavchavadze family and taste a glass of local Tsinandali wine.
Note: As you will be in the wine producing part of Georgia it is possible to arrange wine sampling at one of the wineries for an extra charge.
Overnight: Chateau Mere, Telavi (1 night) (B, L)
Day 06: Telavi/Tbilisi
In the morning excursion to New Shuamta Monastery (16th c). En route to Gareja stop in the hill-town Signagi. Weather permitting there are fine views of the Kakheti area and eastern Caucasus summits. It is an eclectic mix of old and new. The old section has narrow cobbled streets lined with typical houses complete with wooden balconies and shuttered windows. We will have lunch here at one of the local restaurants. After that, proceed to Gareja. Excursion to David Gareji Monastery, which is situated in Gareji semi-desert. The monasteries were founded in the 6th c. Visit Lavra and Peristsvaleba monasteries. Walk up to Udabno Monastery to explore some of the fine frescos of the 8-13th c. and cave architecture.
Note: The path to Udabno can be unstable and visitors must wear sensible footwear and proceed carefully. (As a guide, it will take about 40 minutes to walk up, about the same to see the caves and walking back to the car will take 45 minutes).
Overnight: Sheraton Metechi Palace or Courtyard Marriott, Tbilisi (2 nights) (B, L)
Day 07: Tbilisi
We start the city tour of Tbilisi with visits to the Old Town – the original settlement of Tbilisi with winding roads, alleys and wooden balconies; Metekhi Church standing proudly above the river on a cliff-top; Sulphur baths (Abanotubani) – according to legend responsible for giving the name to the city and for the king Vakhtang Gorgasali’s (5th century) decision to move the capital from Mtskheta; Narikala Fortress – impressive ruins located above the Old Town a landmark of the city and excellent for views of the swirling river Mtkvari (Kura) and the Old Town; Sioni Cathedral the beating-heart of Georgian Orthodoxy; Anchiskhati Church a yet more ancient style of Georgian church with a choir to match – if lucky we will witness a service at this church; excursion to the State Museum of Georgia which houses an extraordinary collection of gold filigree work dating from the 6th century BC among other items of repoussé work and jewellery. Then we walk along Rustaveli Ave – The main 1 500 meter-long artery of the city decked out with elegant Renaissance and neoclassical buildings. Here you find the city’s most important theatres and the Opera House. Funicular, Mtatsminda (Holy Mount or Father David’s Mount) Pantheon & Park – railway built in 1903 with two stations – the lower stopping at St. David's church and the Pantheon of Writers and Public Figures and the upper station takes you to the Panoramic Park which provides spectacular views of the city. We end the day with visit to Sameba (Holy Trinity) Cathedral – Recently built magnificently dominating Cathedral of Georgian Orthodox Church. (B, D)
Day 08: Tbilisi/Gudauri
Today we head north up the Georgian Military Highway towards Gudauri & Kazbegi visiting Mtskheta* en route, which lies in a lush valley on the confluence of two rivers, the Aragvi and the Mtkvari. It was founded 2,000 BC and was the capital of the Georgian Kingdom of Iberia between 500 BC and 500 AD. Georgians adopted Christianity in the 4th c. and thereafter Georgians, Byzantines, Persians, Arabs and Mongols traded control of the territory until the Russian annexation in the 19th century. It is overlooked by the marvellously simple church of Jvari (6th c.), a perfect example of early Georgian Christian architecture. We also visit Svetitsikhoveli Cathedral (11th c.), Georgia’s largest remaining Cathedral and burial place of the Georgian kings, notably members of the Bagrationi family. It has an extraordinary interior combining paintings, frescoes and a domed chapel used for the Christmas service. They are both UNESCO sites. En route to Gudauri visit Ananuri Fortress (16th – 17th cc). The one time home of the tyrannical Aragvi dynasty it sits in a green valley overlooking the Aragvi Valley and Zhinvali Reservoir. After that, we continue drive on the sides of the dramatic Aragvi River Valley. Continue driving over the Jvari Pass (2395m) and down into Kazbegi (1700m). Arrive in Kazbegi. Surrounded by gigantic mountains, Kazbegi/Stepantsminda is a picturesque settlement overlooked by the biggest peak of all - Mount Kazbek (5047m) - one of the six 5000 metre peaks of the Caucasus. Change transport on to the 4X4 vehicles to drive up to the Sameba (Trinity) Church at Gergeti, which is the main attraction.
After that, we drive back to Gudauri, the most famous ski resort in Georgia, set in a spectacular location high in Greater Caucasus. The resort’s southern facing slopes ensure plenty of sunshine and good snow conditions during the whole skiing season (December until mid-April).
Overnight: Marco Polo Hotel, Gudauri (1 night) (B, D)
Day 09: Gudauri/Kutaisi
After breakfast check-out of the hotel and drive to Gori. Today the town is mainly known as the birthplace of J. Stalin. En-route visit Samtavisi Cathedral (11th c). Excursion in Stalin’s Museum in Gori. Visit Uplistsikhe (‘the Lord's citadel’), a cave town hewn into the living rock, 8 kms south-east of Gori. The citadel dates back to the 7th century BC. It served as a strategic point on the ancient Silk Road from ancient times until the 15th century AD. It contains a large central hall for pagan rituals, living rooms and a 9th century church.
Overnight: Tskaltubo Spa Resort, Kutaisi (1 night) (B, D)
Day 10: Kutaisi/Akhaltsikhe
The city of Kutaisidates back to the Argonauts’ time (13th -12th centuries B.C). Formerly capital of old Colchida, Kutaisi then ruled all of Western Georgia. The nearby Gelati Monastery* was founded in the 12th century by Georgia’s most famous king, David the Builder (1073 – 1125 AD). Its walls are covered in splendid floor-to-ceiling murals of Georgia’s saints and monarchs. Visit Bagrati Cathedral* (11th century). These sites are listed as the World's Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO. Arrive in Akhaltsikhe. Excursion to the recently restored 13th century Rabati Castle.
Overnight: Rabath, Akhaltsikhe (1 night) (B, D)
Day 11: Akhaltsikhe/Dzoraget, Armenia
After breakfast we drive to Vardzia, a thirteen stories cave town built between 1186-9 by Georgia’s famous Queen Tamar. It stands as a unique example of the Georgian renaissance in an area of many medieval sites. En-route stop at Khertvisi Fortress. After the excursion to Vardzia drive to Armenian – Georgian border of Bavra. Border crossing procedures. City tour of Gyumri, the second city of Armenia. Gyumri has a distinct look, style & dialect. Drive to Dilijan via city Spitak and Vanadzor accompanied by beautiful sceneries of forests and mountains.
Note: Please be aware that your Georgian guide and driver will NOT cross the border. Therefore, you should be ready to cross the border on foot through no mans land.
Overnight: Avan Dzoraget Hotel, Dzoraget (1 night) (B, D)
Day 12: Dzoraget/Lake Sevan
Tour to Sanahin* Monastery which is within the limits of Alaverdi city and Haghpat is to the north-east of it, in the village of the same name. Standing on a high plateau, amidst low structures, they raise sharp against the background of steep forest-grown slopes. The ensembles are complemented by small churches built near them. Among them :churches and chapels, four annexes, sepulchers, bell-towers, the building of the Academy, book depositories, refectories, galleries, bridges and other monumental structures. Lunch in Dilijan then explore surroundings city and historical monuments of the area. Wander in the art street of Sharambeyan, chat with the carpenter and pottery master, see them at work and choose one lovely souvenir from there. Our next stop is at Lake Sevan famous for its emerald water and delicious fish. This mountainous lake covers approximately 5% of Armenia’s surface area and is 2000 meters/2187 yards above sea level.
Overnight: Hotel Harsnaqar, Lake Sevan (1 night) (B, L)
Day 13: Lake Sevan/Yerevan
The first stop is Noraduz cemetery of cross stones (khachkars). Proceed to Noravank by Selim pass, on the way visiting Selim Caravanserai, situated in the Selim (Sulema) mountain pass, 2410 m above the sea level, on the old road that connected historical Gegharkunik with Vayots Dzor. According to the two building inscriptions (one of which is in Arabic) the caravanserai was built in 1332 by Prince Orbelyan Chesar. The tour culminates with a visit to the 12th century Monastery of Noravank set in a canyon rich with rare flora. Visit Bird's Cavern where the world's oldest shoe was found. Lunch in Noravank. We take an excursion to Khor Virap Monastery, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Armenia. Its location, near the closest point to Mount Ararat within Armenia, offers a spectacular view of the mountain, the national symbol of Armenia. It is also significant as being the place of Gregory the Illuminator's 13 years imprisonment, after which Gregory made Armenia the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion in the year 301.
Overnight: Golden Tulip Hotel, Yerevan (2 nights) (B, D)
Day 14: Yerevan
We explore Armenia’s capital visiting the Sergey Parajanov Museum, which is a tribute to one of the greatest figures [or auteurs] of 20th-century world cinema. Comprising some 1,400 exhibits, the museum’s collection includes installations, collages, assemblages, drawings, dolls, and hats. The museum also showcases unpublished screenplays, librettos, and various artworks which Parajanov created while in prison. Parajanov’s visionary films, such as “The Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors,” “Sayat-Nova,” and “The Legend of Suram Fortress,” earned him international acclaim and led to lifelong persecution by the Soviet regime. Followed by an excursion to the Cathedral and churches of Echmiatsin and the Archaeological Site of Zvartnots* that graphically illustrate the evolution and development of the Armenian central-domed cross-hall type of churches, which exerted a profound influence on architectural and artistic development in the region.
Time to visit the Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley*, which contains a number of churches and tombs, most of them cut into the rock that illustrate the zenith of Armenian medieval architecture. The complex of medieval buildings is set into a landscape of great natural beauty, surrounded by towering cliffs at the entrance to the Azat Valley. (B, D)
Day 15: Yerevan
Today we depart the Caucasus filled with memories and unforgettable experiences of lands, as we are transferred to the airport. (B)