Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discovery


Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discovery

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 16 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other 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 Kalasi 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 the rest of the day will be at leisure for you to familiarise yourself with Yerevan.  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)

Please contact us if there is anything specific we can help to organise for your leisure time on Days 5 and 6 in Yerevan.   

Day 6 – Yerevan

This morning enjoy a city of Yerevan including visits to a high-scale view point over the city, City Park, Abovyan Street, and Republic Square.  Visit the Genocide Memorial and also the museum dedicated to the victims of the Great Genocide that took place in 1915 and the memorial with eternal fire.  Visit the interesting cascade and the Gafeschian Centre of Art, dedicated to bringing the best of contemporary art from all over the world to Armenia and presenting the best of Armenian culture to the world. Inspired by the vision of its founder, Mr. Gerard L. Cafesjian, this establishment offers a wide variety of exhibitions, the majority of which are derived from Mr. Cafesjian’s own extensive collection of contemporary art. We also have short visit of Matenadaran – a Museum and Scientific Institute of ancient manuscripts, hosting the treasures of Armenian science and around 20.000 ancient manuscripts – the largest collection in the world. The short tour in Matenadaran will be exclusively guided by the most prominent specialists of the Institute. After lunch at your own leisure the afternoon is yours to further explore Yerevan or relax before we embark on the next stage of our adventure tomorrow.  Overnight Royal Park Hotel or similar (B)

Day 7 – 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 8 – 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 9 – 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 10 – 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 11 – 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 12 – 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 13 - 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 Kalasi or similar (BL) 

The cost for the optional jeep to Sameba Church is USD 30 per vehicle (max. 4 persons per vehicle)

Day 14- 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. A walk across the modern Bridge of Hope (pedestrian only) gives a great perspective of the mix of old and new and fine views. Tonight enjoy traditional Georgian food at a local restaurant. Overnight Hotel Kalasi or similar (BLD)

Day 15 – 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 Kalasi or similar (BL)

Day 16 – Depart Tbilisi

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

TUSHETI EXTENSION

Tusheti 5 Day 4 night Optional Extension (post tour itinerary for June and early September) – contact us for pre tour option for the late season departure)

Important Information 

Tusheti is a wild and remote destination. Weather conditions are unpredictable even in summer. The itinerary below is our goal but it may be necessary to change the itinerary at little or no notice due road conditions and/or adverse weather. 

Day 15 - Kakheti - Telavi 

After lunch the group will depart back to Tbilisi. Those on the extension will travel to Alaverdi and visit the beautiful cathedral of St George, built in the 11th century with an idyllic setting amongst vineyards overlooking the lower slopes of the Caucasus mountain range. If time allows we can visit a winery before continuing the short distance to Telavi. Overnight Old Telavi or similar (BL) 

Day 16 - Telavi - Abano Pass - Tusheti (driving time approximately 6 hours) 

We depart early at around 8am and journey into the spectacular Greater Caucasus range. The journey is incredibly scenic and we will stop at various points to stretch our legs and soak up the views and also to enjoy a picnic lunch. The journey into Tusheti is a real adventure passing first through lush forests, then gorges and canyons carved by raging torrents. There are also numerous waterfalls to admire and in Spring many different wildflowers. After crossing the spectacular Abano Pass (2927m), continue down into Tusheti. Approaching Omalo the sheer beauty of this wild region is immediately apparent. After checking into our guesthouse we will visit the villages of Diklo and Shenako before returning to Upper Omalo for 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.  

Day 17 - Dartlo - Parsma - driving time approximately 2.5 hours 

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 we can take so tea and coffee. 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 on foot to Dartlo. Back in Dartlo, it is possible to visit an abandoned village clinging to the mountainside above Dartlo with an eerie watchtower precariously teetering over the abyss. The views from here are mesmerising. Return to Omalo. Overnight guesthouse (BLD)

Day 18 - Tusheti National Park - Tbilisi - driving time approximately 7-8 hours 

Depart early at around 8am for the journey back to Tbilisi. 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 Gorombori Pass back to Tbilisi. Overnight Kalasi Hotel or similar (BL) 

Day 19 - Departure 

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