Georgia - Peaks and Valleys of the Caucasus
Georgia - Peaks and Valleys of the Caucasus
Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●● | History ●●●●● | Wildlife ●○○○○
- Get off the beaten track in wonderfully scenic Tusheti province
- Walks and village visits in the shadow of the High Caucasus mountains
- Explore the rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex of David Gareji
- Visit Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia
- Wander through the delightful old town of Tbilisi
- Climb back into the Caucasus mountains to Svaneti, the mythological province of Georgia,
- Enjoy the friendly local hospitality of Georgian family run guesthouses
Accommodation: Mix of comfortable hotels and locally run guesthouses
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum of 12
Start Point: Tbilisi – You can arrive anytime on Day 1
End Point: Batumi – You can depart anytime on Day 11
Transport: DeliCa Style vehicles for Tusheti and Minibus for the rest of the tour
Tour Itinerary Notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf.
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 the delightful streets of Old Tbilisi. Overnight Hotel Shardeni or similar.
Surrounded by mountains on three sides, Georgia's capital feels neither European nor Asian but rather a fusion of both. Founded in the 4th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali on the site of its warm mineral-water springs, it developed into the main city of the Caucasus. By the 12th century Tbilisi was one of the most important political, economic and cultural centres of the region. It stood as a key stop on the famous Silk Road - right on the border between Europe and Asia. The city has a vaguely southern feel to it, with a relaxed atmosphere and an easy charm. In the old town, known as the Maidan, wooden houses with a distinctly Balkan feel overlook the Mtkvari River, and in the city centre there are imposing neo-classical and Art Nouveau buildings mingling with the inevitable Soviet-era concrete blocks. Gorgasali Square, on the opposite bank of the river to the Metekhi Church, was once the site of the old bazaar, and is a good place to start a walk taking in the sights of the city. A road from the Armenian Church on the south Middle Eastern influence, and there are plenty side of the square leads to the Narikala Citadel, built in 360 AD by the Persians, and ruined by an earthquake in the 19th century. You can walk along the battlements of the citadel which offer good views across the city. Tbilisi has a good range of restaurants and cafes strung out along both the left and right banks of the river where you can sample some of the local delicacies and watch the life of the city pass you by.
Day 2 - Tbilisi – Tusheti – Omalo – Approximately 7 hours driving today
We depart around 8am to start the journey to Tusheti crossing the Greater Caucasus over the Abano Pass (2930m). Visit the village of Omalo and we overnight in the village of Dartlo situated beautifully at 1900m in amongst the high Caucasus Mountains. Overnight at a family run guesthouse with private bathroom facilities (BLD)
Pushed up against the borders of the Russian republic of Dagestan, Tusheti is a wild and untamed land of isolated medieval villages, the high peaks of the Caucasus and gushing rivers. There are no towns here, and the people here live intensely traditional lives, with an economy based largely around livestock. Situated high in the Caucasus Mountains, Tusheti is cut off from the rest of Georgia for most of the year, with snow sealing the high passes, meaning that age old traditions still thrive. The people living here are Tush and although nominally Christian now, ancient customs still form a large part of everyday life, and it’s quite common to come across the skulls and horns of rams pinned to posts by the side of the tracks, or to church doors, to venerate the old gods. Taboos are also important here – women are not allowed to enter some churches nor pass roadside shrines, often involving a bit of a detour, and horses are a more relevant form of transport than cars. The villages here are made up of houses built from the grey stones of the mountains, blending in to the surrounding scenery – inevitably newer influences are starting to creep in but this is one of the best places to see how much of Georgia once was. The hospitality of Tusheti is legendary – expect to be treated to enormous Georgian feasts, even for breakfast, and toasts of the local firewater, chacha.
Day 3 – Dartlo – Parsma - Dartlo – Walking distance approximately 10km
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. Here we should have the opportunity to meet some of the local people. Return to Omalo and stay overnight again at the family run guesthouse (BLD)
Day 4 – Omalo – Telavi – Approximately 5 hours driving today. Walking distance approximately 6km
This morning enjoy a 1.5 hour walk to the village of Shenako. We will also visit the village of Diklo if time permits. After a picnic lunch we then drive to Telavi where we visit a winery, and Alaverdi Cathedral (11th Century). Overnight at Hotel Shateau Kvareli or similar (BL)
Day 5 – Telavi – David Gareji – Signagi - Tbilisi – Approximately 5 hours driving today. 2 hours walking
Drive to Signagi, with its huge defensive wall built in 17th - 18th centuries. Continue to David Gareji Monastery, situated in the Gareji semi-desert, 75km southeast from Tbilisi. The monasteries were founded in the 6th century. Visit Lavra and Peristsvaleba monasteries. Walk up to Udabno Monastery to explore some of the fine frescos of the 8-13th centuries and cave architecture. Continue to Tbilisi. Overnight Hotel Shardeni or similar (BL)
Note: Walking shoes/boots are recommended to walk up on some steep slopes up to the Udabno. (It depends on fitness as to how long it will take to walk up to Udabno caves, but it is approximately a 40 minute walk up, about the same to see caves and walking back to the vehicle will take around 45 minutes.)
The monasteries of David-Gareji were founded in the 6th Century by St David, and are located in a remote area of semi-desert on a ridge that forms the border with Azerbaijan. Once a thriving monastery it is now home to a smaller population of monks, with newer buildings complementing the small chapels hewn into the rocks. The caves contain a number of 10th to 12th century frescoes; some better preserved than others, and are slightly reminiscent of Turkey’s Cappadocia.
Day 6 – 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 7 – Tbilisi – Mtskheta - Kutaisi – Approximately 4 hours driving today
Drive to Mtskhehta, Georgia’s ancient capital where we visit the UNESCO listed Jvari Monastery and the striking Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. Continuing west we stop at Ubisi church with its rich religious frescoes, before arriving at the city of Kutaisi. Here we explore the sites of the town including Bagrati Cathedral and the Gelati Monastery. Stay tonight in a local guesthouse where we can expect to be treated to typical Georgian hospitality. (BLD)
Mtskheta was the capital of Georgian Kingdom of Iberia between 500BC - 500AD. Here, Georgians accepted Christianity in the beginning of the 4th century. The town and its architectural monuments are listed as the World's Cultural Heritage sites by UNESCO.
Day 8 – Kutaisi – Zugdidi – Mestia – Approximately 4.5 hours driving today
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 defensive towers. Overnight at a family run guest house with private bathrooms (BLD)
Svaneti, the mythological western province of Georgia, land of the ‘Golden Fleece’ (where locals still sift for gold through sheepskins) lies high up in the Greater Caucasus. Several 5000 metre plus peaks thrust glaciers down into this beautiful and remote region, where amazing stone towers rise up beside homesteads, some dating back to the 12th century. Never far away is one of Svaneti’s numerous, richly frescoed churches, focal points for lively communities where traditions have been preserved for two thousand years. Unique icons and manuscripts are on display in Mestia’s museum, overlooked by huge hanging peaks. Mestia is a well-known climber’s launch point and the dramatic trekking trails will appeal more to the adventure traveller. The village of Ushguli, the highest permanently inhabited settlement in Europe, gives a stunning view of Mt. Shkhara (5201m) the highest peak in Georgia. Its ragged stone towers and the ongoing resilience of its population have led it to being declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The inhabitants of Svaneti make up their own distinct ethnic group, the Svans, with indigenous religious beliefs intertwining with Christianity to give them a very separate identity. The Svans have traditionally been fiercely independent, to such an extent that they expelled the local governor under the Tsar and functioned as an autonomous state for many years prior to Soviet rule. They have their own complex set of traditions and customs, and in the past have been known as an aggressive and hostile group, suspicious of outsiders. This is reflected in typical Svanetian architecture – huge watchtowers to watch for signs of intruders dot the landscape, most of which are 800-1000 years old. Svanetian hospitality is legendary within Georgia and while staying in local houses we can be sure to be treated to excellent food, and obtain a real glimpse into a lifestyle that is seldom seen by visitors.
Day 9 – Ushguli – Approximately 3.5 hours driving today
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 – Batumi – Approximately 6 hours driving today
This morning we descend from the High Caucasus to Zugdidi where we then journey along the Black Sea coast via Poti, the legendary land of Colchis from the Greek myth of the Golden Fleece. We arrive in Batumi where there should be some time for you to spend at leisure. Overnight at Hotel Chao or similar (BLD)
Batumi developed in the late 19th century as the western terminus of a railway from Baku that then carried one-fifth of the world’s oil production. A pipeline and refinery built by Ludwig Nobel, brother of Swedish dynamite inventor Alfred, soon followed. Batumi gained free-port status and became a fashionable resort at the southern tip of the Russian empire. In Soviet times the border with Turkey was closed, making Batumi a bit of a backwater, but it has since bounced back as a hub of tourism and since 2004 the seaside boulevard park and the old town have been tastefully renovated and make for pleasant places to spend time.
Day 11 – Departure
Pick up from the hotel in the early morning and transfer to the Batumi airport. End of the trip. (B)
Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation as per the itinerary
All land transportation
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Visas if applicable
Items of a personal nature