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. 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. After completing border formalities we drive to Haghpat monastery (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. Overnight Royal Plaza Hotel (BLD)

Day 4 - Yerevan, Geghard and Garni

This morning we drive to Kotayk province to explore the Geghard Monastery and Garni Pagan temple. On arrival we take a walk, where we will view the Armenian Highlands stretched out before you. There are breathtaking views down into the canyon and to the strategically located Geghard Monastery below. We begin our descent and the views become even more impressive as we see the ruins of the 11th Century Havuts Tsar Monastery, which adds a certain additional atmosphere to today’s walk. Just past this ruin is a spring where fresh, mountain water can be obtained to quench your thirst as the temperatures noticeably rise as we get lower. We then follow a typical mountain trail that leads ever downwards, but now more gradually and we reach the Rangers Post of the Khosrov National Reserve. It’s then a short, but steep downhill to the floor of the canyon where we cross the Azat River by means of a bridge and follow a bumpy road to reach the “Symphony of Stones”. This is Garni, dating back to the 1st century AD and is the only pagan temple that remained after the adoption of Christianity. We drive back to Yerevan where we will have a short city tour visiting the most interesting places in Yerevan (The Cascade, Opera House, Victory Park, and Abovyan Street). Overnight Hotel Royal Plaza or similar. (BL) 

Day 5 – Khor Virap Monastery and Wine Tasting

After breakfast we will visit the Khor Virap Monastery which gives an excellent view to Mt Ararat. This monastery has always been a place of pilgrimage for Armenians. We will then drive to Areni Village for some wine tasting and explore the Noravank monastery with its surrounding rocky mountains. The monastery is surrounded with fascinating landscapes and in one of the surrounding caves a 5000 year old shoe was found! We will drive back to Yerevan and discover Echmiadzin home of the mother cathedral. Overnight Hotel Royal Plaza or similar. (BL) 

Day 6 – Harichavank – Gyumri – Bavra – Vardzia

Visit Saghmosavank with its 13th Century monastery perched on the edge of the precipitous gorge of the Kasakh River. Its silhouette dominates the adjacent village with a background of the mountains crowned by Mt. Aragats. Continue to Amberd fortress 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 Harichavank a 7th century Armenian monastery. Harichavank is known as one of the most famous monastic centres in Armenia and it was especially renowned for its school and scriptorium. Archaeological excavations in 1966 indicated that Harich was in existence during the 2nd century BC, and was one of the more well-known fortress towns in Armenia. Continue to Gyumri with its excellent 19th century Tsarist architecture which suffered greatly in the 1988 earthquake. We will make a short stop before crossing the border into Georgia at Bavra and on to Vardzia where we will overnight. Overnight Valodia Cottages ort similar (BLD) 

Day 7 – Vardzia – Akhaltsikhe – Kutaisi

This morning we explore the fascinating cave town of Vardzia dating back to the 12th century. We then visit the recently restored Rabati Castle dating from the 13th century before continuing to Kutaisi. Overnight at a family run guesthouse with private bathroom. (BLD)

Day 8 – Kutaisi – Zugdidi – Mestia

This morning we drive to Zugdidi 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. 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 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. Overnight in Mestia at a family run guesthouse with private bathroom. (BLD) 

Day 10 – Mestia, Svaneti - Kutaisi

A morning drive to Zugdidi passing Colkhida lowlands with some picturesque villages. From Zugdidi we journey to Kutaisi along the Enguri river valley. We have 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 – Gelati – Gori – Uplistsikhe - Kazbegi

This morning we drive to Gori a town almost entirely known as the birthplace of J. 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 which houses a statue of Stalin. Then we drive 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. We shall take a stop at 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. 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 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 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, 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. 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 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, 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. Lunch with delicious home-made food. A fitting way to end your time in Georgia. Return to Tbilisi. Overnight Hotel Shardeni or similar. (BL)

Day 15 – Depart Tbilisi

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


Tusheti 5 Day 4 night Optional Extension

Day 14 - Kakheti - Telavi

As the main group leaves for Tbilisi from Kakheti, those on the Tusheti extension will continue to Telavi. Overnight comfortable hotel in Telavi (BL)

Day 15 - Telavi – Tusheti - Omalo – 6 hours driving – 100km distance

We journey from Telavi to Tusheti crossing the Greater Caucasus over the Datvis Jvari Pass (2930m). Visit the village of Omalo and overnight in the village of Dartlo situated beautifully at 1900m in amongst the high Caucasus Mountains. Overnight at a local guesthouse with private bathroom. (BLD) 

Day 16 - Dartlo – Parsma - Dartlo

We take a tour around Dartlo and then we enjoy a half day walk to the village of Parsma with a picnic lunch. Parsma is noted for its fine medieval towers. Return to Dartlo and stay overnight again at the local guesthouse (BLD)

Day 17 - Omalo – Tbilisi – 8 hours by car

This morning we visit the villages of Shenako and Diklo. Later we return to Tbilisi. Overnight Hotel Shardeni or similar (BL)

Day 18 - Departure

Transfer to the airport. End of the tour. (B)