Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discovery


Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discovery

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 15 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers

Itinerary

Day 1 - Tbilisi

Arrive in Tbilisi and transfer to the hotel (this should take around 45 minutes). The rest of the day is at leisure. We will stay in a central location near the old town where you can explore delightful Old Tbilisi. Overnight Hotel Shardeni or similar. 

Day 2 - Tbilisi – Armenia border - Haghpat

We begin our day by travelling from Tbilisi to the border with Armenia. This journey should take around 1.5 hours to the border. After completing border formalities we drive to Haghpat monastery, a journey of around 2 hours from the border through beautiful scenery. Haghpat, (10th century UNESCO Heritage site) which used to be a spiritual, cultural and educational centre of the region. The monastery is one of the masterpieces of Armenian medieval architecture. We also visit Sanahin monastery a further masterpiece and UNESCO side dating to the same century. For those that wish, it is possible to walk between the two monasteries. Later we can take a walk in the village and then transfer to your accommodation for the night which is blessed with fantastic views over Dedbed gorge. Overnight Qefo Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 3 – Haghpat – Dilijan – Sevan -Yerevan

We begin our day driving through wonderful scenery to Dilijan known as the little Switzerland of Armenia. We have a short stop to have a look around the old part of the town. En route to Dilijan we can visit a village home to the minority Molokan (milk drinkers) people who were exiled to Armenia from Russia in the 19th Century. Visit Haghartsin monastery beautifully nestled in the heart of the forest. We then travel on to the picturesque Lake Sevan and the Sevanavank monastery which is a 9th century monastery founded on the peninsula that used to be an island. The monastery affords a panoramic view of the alpine lake. We then continue to Yerevan. Tonight we will enjoy some traditional food in a local restaurant in Yerevan. The journey time in the vehicle today is around 3.5 hours. Overnight Royal Plaza Hotel or similar (BLD)

Day 4 – Geghard Monastery and Garni Temple

This morning we drive around 1 hour to Kotayk province to explore Geghard Monastery and Garni Pagan temple. Admire the outstanding views of the Armenian Highlands stretched out before you.  From Garni three are breathtaking views down into the canyon and to the strategically located Geghard Monastery below. Garni dates back to the 1st century AD and is the only pagan temple that remained after the adoption of Christianity. After exploring these magnificent sites we return to Yerevan and after lunch, enjoy a city tour of the capital visiting the most interesting places in Yerevan such as the Cascade, Opera House, Victory Park, and Abovyan Street. Overnight Hotel Royal Plaza or similar. (BL) 

Day 5 – Khor Virap Monastery – Echmiadzin - Yerevan afternoon at leisure  

An early start today at around 08:00am travelling south to the spectacular Khor Virap Monastery which affords excellent views to impressive Mt Ararat. This monastery has long been an important place of pilgrimage for Armenians. After the tour of the monastery we return to Yerevan and discover Echmiadzin home of the mother cathedral and the spiritual centre of the Armenian Church. The driving time today is around 3 hours. We will be back in Yerevan by 1pm and after you will have the afternoon at leisure in Yerevan. Overnight Hotel Royal Plaza or similar. (BL) 

Day 6 – Amberd Fortress – Gyumri – Bavra – Vardzia

An early start around 08:00am and our first stop today is Amberd fortress. The fortress is situated at an altitude of 2300m above sea level which once again affords fine views of Mt Aragats. We may also get the opportunity to meet some of the minority Yazidis who inhabit this area. Continue to Gyumri with its excellent 19th century Tsarist architecture which suffered greatly in the 1988 earthquake. If time allows we will have a short stop in Gyumri before crossing the border into Georgia at Bavra and travelling on to Vardzia. The overall driving time from Yerevan to the Georgia border is approximately 4 hours. The journey time from the border to Vardzia in Georgia is around 2 hours and we aim to arrive by sundown. Overnight Valodia Cottages or similar (BLD) 

Day 7 – Vardzia – Akhaltsikhe – Kutaisi

Our first stop today is Khertvisi Fortress built in the Middle Ages before exploring the fascinating cave town of Vardzia dating back to the 12th century. We then travel for 1 hour to visit the recently restored Rabati Castle dating from the 13th century before continuing to Kutaisi. The journey to Kutaisi will be around 3 hours. Overnight at a family run guesthouse with private bathroom. (BLD)

Day 8 – Kutaisi – Zugdidi – Mestia

This morning we drive to Zugdidi (journey time 2 hours) passing through the Colkhida lowlands and some typical local villages. We visit Dadiani palace and its museum housing some fine natural exhibits of Georgian culture. From Zugdidi we start climbing through the Enguri river valley and the Enguri reservoir up to Mestia situated at 1400 metres above sea level. Mestia is the provincial centre of Svaneti. On arrival we will visit the iconic Svanetian towers. The journey time from Zugdidi to Mestia is around 4 hours with time for photo stops. Overnight at a family run guest house with private bathrooms (BLD)

Day 9 – Ushguli

A morning drive to Ushguli village, the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe at 2400 metres. On the way we visit Nakipari church. On arrival in Ushguli we explore on foot, visiting the stunning medieval towers as well as Lamaria Church. Those who wish can take an easy hike (subject to weather conditions) along the valley leading to the foot of Mount Shkhara (5201m). We return to Mestia in the afternoon. Please note that the road today is of a very poor quality and as such it is necessary to drive very slowly to avoid damage to the vehicle. However the scenery is worth the effort!  The overall travelling time should be around 4 hours but the distance is only 90km in total. Overnight in Mestia at a family run guesthouse with private bathroom. (BLD) 

Day 10 – Mestia, Svaneti – Gelati - Kutaisi

A morning drive of around 3.5 hours to Zugdidi passing the Colkhida lowlands with some picturesque villages. From Zugdidi we journey to Kutaisi (around 2 hours) along the Enguri River valley. Enjoy some photo stops and great views of the mountain summits. Continue the journey to Kutaisi. Kutaisi, dated back to the Argonauts time, was the capital of old Colchida and later of Western Georgia. We visit the Gelati monastery (UNESCO), founded in the 12th century by Georgian King David the Builder (1073 – 1125). It was here that he founded an academy and monastery, which became the foremost centre of education in Georgia. Unique murals of saints and Georgian monarchs can be found inside the main Cathedral. Overnight in Kutaisi at a family run guesthouse private bathroom (BLD)

Day 11 – Kutaisi – Gori – Uplistsikhe - Gudauri

This morning we drive to Gori (journey around 3 hours) a town almost entirely known as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. Visit the museum where you can explore Stalin’s personal train carriage and also see the small house where he spent his early years. Gori train station is also worth a stop for its imposing waiting room. Then we drive a short distance to Uplistsikhe, a cave town dated to 7th Century BC. It is then time to turn on to the Georgian Military Highway and snake our way up into the Caucasus Mountains. Visit the castle complex of Ananauri attractively situated on the Aragvi River. We continue to climb through dramatic scenery until our destination for the evening which is Gudauri. The driving time from Uplistsikhe to Gudauri is approximately 3 hours. Overnight Hotel Alpina or similar (BLD)   

Day 12 - Kazbegi – Mtskheta – Tbilisi

This morning we cross the Jvari Pass at 2395 metres above sea level and into Kazbegi (journey time around 1 hour) situated at 1700 metres above sea level and surrounded by 5000 metre peaks. You will have the opportunity to take the walk up to the Sameba Church (subject to weather conditions) with its stunning setting below Mt Kazbek. For those that do not want to walk it is possible to hire jeeps for an extra charge to go by up via a track. Later we drive to Mtskheta (journey time around 2 hours), the ancient capital of Georgia. Mtskheta is packed full of historical monuments and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We explore the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and the 6th century Jvari Monastery before taking the short trip back to Tbilisi (journey time 0.5 hours). Overnight Hotel Shardeni or similar (BL) 

Day 13- Tbilisi

A guided walking tour around old Tbilisi, taking in the fascinating history of this long overlooked region. We spend the day discovering sites such as the National Museum, home to many of the treasures that inspired the legend of the Golden Fleece, as well as the Narikala citadel, Metekhi Temple and the Sioni Cathedral, among other sites. Tonight enjoy traditional Georgian food at a local restaurant. Overnight Hotel Shardeni or similar. (BLD)

Day 14 – Kakheti

Visit Kakheti, Georgia’s famous wine district which lies due east from Tbilisi in a land dotted with fine old churches and vineyard after vineyard. First we visit Signaghi (journey time 2 hours), a beautiful hill-town providing panoramic views of Alazani Valley and the Eastern Caucasus Mountains. Then continue to a local farmer’s house to taste home-made wines. Enjoy a lunch with delicious home-made food. A fitting way to end your time in Georgia. Return to Tbilisi (journey time 2 hours). Overnight Hotel Shardeni or similar. (BL)

Day 15 – Depart Tbilisi

Pick up from the hotel and transfer to the airport. (B)