Georgia - Wild Tusheti


Georgia - Wild Tusheti

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 9 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers

Dossier

Tour Rating

 Fitness ●●●○○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●● | History ●●●●● | Wildlife ●○○○○

Tour Pace

Busy 

Tour Highlights

  • Truly head off the beaten track in wonderfully scenic Tusheti province
  • Walks and village visits in the shadow of the High Caucasus mountains
  • Explore the impressive rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex of David Gareji
  • Visit the magnificent cathedral of Alaverdi
  • Wander through the delightful old town of Tbilisi
  • Enjoy the friendly local hospitality of Georgian family run guesthouses

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of comfortable hotels and locally run guesthouses (private bathrooms)
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: Tbilisi – You can depart anytime on Day 9
Transport: DeliCa Style vehicles for Tusheti and Minibus for the rest of the tour
Country visited: Georgia

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.

Tour Guide

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 merely 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: we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip, but on occasions it may be advantageous to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.

Day 1: Tbilisi

Arrive in Tbilisi and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure. You will stay in a central location near the old town where you can explore the delightful streets of Old Tbilisi. Overnight Hotel Kalasi or similar.

Tbilisi

Surrounded by mountains on three sides, Georgia's capital feels neither European nor Asian, but rather an invigorating fusion of both. Founded in the 4th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali on the site of its warm mineral-water springs, it rapidly developed into the principal 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 station 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 stately Mtkvari River which dissects the city, at times through a deep gorge, and in the city centre there are imposing neo-classical and Art Nouveau buildings mingling incongruously 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 an ideal place to start a walk taking in the sights of the city. A road from the Armenian Church on the south side of the square leads to the Narikala Citadel, built in 360 AD by the Persians, indicating the significant Middle Eastern influences here; it was severely hit by an earthquake in the 19th century. You can walk along the battlements of the citadel which offer rewarding 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

A guided walking tour around old Tbilisi, taking in the fascinating history of this long-overlooked region. You 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. Later this afternoon you will have the opportunity to explore the atmospheric streets at leisure. Tonight, enjoy traditional Georgian food at a local restaurant. Overnight Hotel Kalasi or similar. (BLD)

Day 3: Tbilisi – David Gareji – Signagi – Kakheti – Telavi (Drive – 4 hours in total)

An early start today at 8am. Drive to Signagi, with its defensive wall of megalithic proportions, built in 17th - 18th centuries. Continue to the impressive partially rock-hewn David Gareji Monastery, situated in the Gareji semi-desert, 75km southeast from Tbilisi. The monasteries were founded in the 6th century. You will visit Lavra and Peristsvaleba monasteries and then walk up to Udabno Monastery to explore some of the fine frescos of the 8-13th centuries and cave architecture. Visit Kakheti, Georgia’s famous wine district which lies due east from Tbilisi in a land dotted with grandiose old churches and vineyard after vineyard. After enjoying a lunch with delicious home-made food, you also visit a winery and taste some of Georgia’s best wine. Continue to Telavi. Overnight Old Telavi or similar. (BLD)

Walking guidance – walking shoes/boots are recommended to make your way up on some of the steeper slopes up to the Udabno. (It depends on fitness as to how long it will take to reach Udabno caves, but it is approximately a 40-minute walk up, roughly a similar space of time to see caves and descending back to the vehicle will take around 45 minutes.)

David Gareji

The monasteries of David-Gareji were founded in the 6th Century by St David Garejeli, 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 beautifully complementing the hundreds of small chapels, cells, living quarters and churches hewn into the rocks. The impressive undertaking’s sundry caves contain a number of 10th to 12th century frescoes, some better preserved than others, and are slightly reminiscent of Turkey’s Cappadocia.

Wine in Georgia

Even for those who regard their wine knowledge as broad and inclusive, the vines of Georgia will, in all probability, have largely escaped them.  Incredibly, there is much evidence to suggest that Transcaucasian wine making may date back over 8,000 years, making it the probable home of the cultivation of grapes and production of wine – in fact the Georgian word ‘gvino’ gives us our modern name for the drink.  Families widely produce wine on a small scale and the original Georgian method of underground fermentation in 'kvevri’ – large earthenware storage vessels is having a renaissance. Georgia now annually produces 150 million litres of wine in 18 specified areas, of which Kakheti is by far the largest and boasts the most celebrated and prized bottlings, including the excellent Kindzmarauli. Both whites and reds have traditionally veered towards the sweet, but this is evolving as the wine industry grows in influence and a wide range of styles and preferences are now catered for.  International interest in Georgian wines is burgeoning, but you will certainly have access to a range of tastings which have yet to emerge beyond the region’s borders.

Day 4: Telavi – Alaverdi – Omalo (Tusheti) (Drive – approximately 5 hours in total)

Your departure will be early at around 8am and the journey heads into the spectacular Greater Caucasus range. Before the climb into the mountains, visit the magnificent Alaverdi Cathedral (11th Century), noted for its glorious high dome. You then continue into the foothills: quickly the journey becomes incredibly scenic and you will stop at various points to stretch your legs and soak up the views and also to enjoy a picnic lunch. The journey into Tusheti is a true adventure passing first through lush forests, then gorges and canyons carved by raging torrents. There are also numerous waterfalls to admire and in Spring endless carpets of a myriad of wildflower species. After crossing the spectacular and vertiginous Abano Pass (2927m), you continue down into Tusheti. Approaching Omalo, the sheer beauty of this wild region is immediately apparent. On arrival in Upper Omalo check in to the guesthouse and then take some time to explore the imposing medieval watchtowers that stand sentinel over the valley. Later enjoy an evening meal of traditional Georgian fare, prepared by your local hosts. Overnight guesthouse. (BLD)

Kindly note that the guesthouse in Omalo is comfortable but phone reception is patchy and at the time of inspection in 2018 there is no WiFi.

Tusheti National Park 

Only accessible since the 1980s and a relatively new national park covering over 16,000 Hectares, Tusheti has to be one of the most remote and wild places in Europe. The region is only accessible during the late spring and summer, and by late September snow once again redoubtably closes the door on the Abano Pass. The villages of Tusheti are home to the Tush people, an extremely resilient and hospitable people who live off the land herding sheep and cows. You will see them often herding their livestock on horseback flanked to the front and rear by a number of protective Caucasus dogs. Don’t be surprised at some point during your visit if you are welcomed into a Tush home. The scenery in Tusheti is quite magnificent with outstanding vistas of 4000m plus peaks around every corner. Birdlife here is also very compelling so bring your binoculars. Exploring the enchanting and mystical isolation of the valleys and villages of Tusheti is an experience one is unlikely to ever forget.

Note – the road into Tusheti is not sealed and in places is rough. We will be using suitable 4WD vehicles for this terrain and experienced drivers. The road in places has sheer drops and so may not be suitable for those with vertigo.

Omalo 

Comprising of a lower and upper part, Omalo is the main gateway to exploring the valleys of Tusheti. Approaching the village, wide open meadows predominate, often sumptuously spread with wildflowers in June. On the approach to Upper Omalo, atmospheric medieval watchtowers loom over the village. Sunset is a particularly good time to take the invigoratingly steep but short walk up to towers. Good footwear is required. From the towers, one is treated to breath-taking sweeping 360-degree panoramas.

Day 5: Shenako and Diklo (Walk – approximately 4 hours; Drive – 1 hour)

Today you start to explore this incredibly beautiful and wild region. Your walk from Omalo takes you through the delightful village of Shenako and on to Diklo. In these remote villages you can truly appreciate the traditional architecture and the stupendous views of the High Caucasus. From Diklo, continue for a short distance to the old fortress which is about as close as you can get to the border with Russia. Later you return to the guesthouse for dinner. (BLD)

Note – for those that do not wish to walk to Diklo then you can be driven there via Shenako with the driver. 

Shenako and Diklo 

Situated at 2050 metres, Shenako is a diminutive village most notable for a beautiful 16th century church. Diklo is magnificently overlooked by 4285m peak of Diklo to the north and is only a few kilometres from the border with its huge neighbour, Russia. The approach to Diklo is through yet another wonderful alpine-style meadow which in June is often a blanket of floral colour.

Day 6: Omalo – Dartlo – Parsma – Omalo (Walk – approximately 1½ hours in total)

This morning journey into a different valley to the village of Dartlo, situated at 1900 metres. Admire the interesting architecture of the local houses and the watchtower. There is a cafe next to a picturesque stream where you can take some tea and coffee amidst the splendour of the surroundings. Continue by car to the next village of Chesho and start a beautifully scenic walk to the village of Parsma through the valley. The walk follows a stunning river and also affords views of many medieval watchtowers that were built to warn of invaders from the Northern Caucasus. At Parsma enjoy a picnic lunch before returning by car to Dartlo. Back in Dartlo, it is possible to visit an abandoned village, clinging tenaciously to the mountainside above Dartlo with an eerie watchtower precariously teetering over the abyss. The views from here are tremendous. Return to Omalo by car. Overnight guesthouse. (BLD)

Walking guidance (Parsma) – the walk to the village of Parsma is an easy grade, following a dirt road through the valley. The return journey distance on foot is around 5km and of course there will be plenty of time for stops to admire the wonderful scenery. The last 5-10 minutes involves a moderate ascent into the village of Parsma.

Walking guidance (Dartlo) – the optional walk from Dartlo to the abandoned village is a constant steep incline and takes around 40 minutes up and around 25 minutes down. Only those with good fitness and good footwear should attempt it. It is also not suitable for those with vertigo issues. Those that do not wish to do this walk can relax in Dartlo.

Day 7: Omalo

Today you have the option to simply enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Upper Omalo; perhaps take your camera up to the watchtowers and immerse yourself in the ever-changing light and cloud formations. For those that wish to be more active, it will be possible to do a walk and this can be discussed with the guide. Overnight guesthouse. (BLD)

Day 8: Tusheti National Park – Tbilisi (Drive: 7-8 hours)

Depart early at around 8am for the journey back to Tbilisi once again traversing the majestic Abano Pass. Depending on the road conditions, expect to arrive back in the Alazani Valley by approximately 1pm. Lunch will be taken in a local restaurant overlooking the valley before continuing through fine scenery and over the Gorombi Pass back to Tbilisi. Tonight, enjoy local Georgian food at a local restaurant in Tbilisi. Overnight Kalasi Hotel, or similar. (BL)

Day 9 – Departure 

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight, or perhaps choose to spend some extra time in delightful Tbilisi. (B)

Inclusions:

Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation
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

Excluded:

International flights
Travel Insurance
Visas if applicable
Drinks
Items of a personal nature
Tips (Discretionary)