Arrive in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Tree-lined streets encase both grand soviet-era architecture and traditional Armenian coloured stone buildings, all set to the dramatic backdrop of the fabled Mount Ararat.
Our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Yerevan at any time although please note that your hotel room may not be available until after 2pm. If you would like to receive an airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Zvartnots International Airport (EVN), which is 30 minutes' from the hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information at 9am on day 2.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to the History Museum of Armenia which has a 5500-year-old leather shoe in its collection or taste a freshly baked gata while enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of this unique city.
You may also wish to attend a performance at the Armenian National Opera and Ballet theatre so should you wish to spend one or more extra nights in the bustling Armenian capital before the tour starts, please contact us to book additional accommodation. Please bear in mind some flights may land in the early hours of the day and should you decide to land on the morning of day 2, please bear in mind that the tour pace is full on from the start and the city tour will start right after breakfast. Stay: Hotel Ani Plaza (Comfortable)
This morning we head out of the city to visit the archaeological site of the 7th century ruins of the UNESCO listed Zvartnots, its remaining columns set against a magnificent backdrop of the snowy peaks of Mount Ararat. We continue on to Armenia's Holy City of Echmiadzin, the former capital, where we plan to visit the UNESCO listed Echmiadzin Cathedral in time to coincide with part of Sunday service.
Returning to Yerevan and before carrying on with our city tour, we will visit the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex and its museum. An unmissable stop, showcasing the most important testimony for Armenian people and their history. We then make our way to the Cascade complex - a Soviet period structure that resembles a giant stairway that houses a modern art museum. Stay: Hotel Ani Plaza (Comfortable) (B)
Today we again leave the city behind as we drive east through small villages and a landscape of alpine meadows out to the Hellenistic temple at Garni. This pagan monument dedicated to the worship of the sun was built in AD 77 and is an extraordinary sight to be found in Armenia, so far from the rest of the Hellenistic world. From the Garni river gorge we take an easy walk up the temple. Along the way, we can see the striking basalt rock formations that make up the towering walls of the gorge.
We continue on to the nearby UNESCO listed Geghard Monastery found in a beautiful location surrounded by mountains. Partly made up of caves and partly built from local stone, this tranquil monastery dates from the 4th century and houses two main churches decorated with impressive well-preserved carvings and a fountain of spring water alleged to have rejuvenating properties.
On our return to Yerevan, we continue on to see the expansive Republic Square before some time to enjoy a wander through the lively open air Vernissage craft market. Stay: Hotel Ani Plaza (Comfortable) (B)
Today we head northwest and en route we will stop for a visit of Alphabet park, a tribute to the complexity and uniqueness of the Armenian language. We then make an excursion to the imposing Amberd Fortress on the southern flank of Mount Aragats (4090 m). Its construction began in the 7th century and continued through into the 11th. The Fortress is surrounded by cliffs on three sides, which protected it for a long time until Tamerlane managed to sack it in the 14th century.
Afterward we head towards Oshakan village, where a local family invite us into their home to see how they bake traditional Armenian flatbread known as 'Lovash'. We then enjoy a lunch prepared with this freshly baked bread, before returning to the city. Back in Yerevan we have time to visit the remarkable Matenadaran library, which houses over 17,000 rare manuscripts. Stay: Hotel Ani Plaza (Comfortable) (B/L)
We depart Yerevan today and travel south through the vast plains of Ararat to visit Khor Virap Monastery. Mount Ararat is a constant companion on the horizon and provides a spectacular backdrop to the monastery. As we continue our way the plains give way to undulating hills as we start approaching the mountains. We pass through the wine-making village of Areni where we stop at a local winery to taste the best wine in Armenia. Driving on our way, the scenery becomes more mountainous, and we head into a spectacular gorge where we make a stop at the picturesque Noravank Monastery, taking pride of place in a lofty position overlooking the gorge below.
After a break here for lunch we climb higher making our way over Selim Pass (2410 m) providing wonderful views of the mountains and Alpine meadows with its many wildflowers in the spring. As Selim Pass was once part of the Silk Road we find can the remains of a caravanserai here, where travellers would find food and shelter on their journey. The road then starts a descent and once again we start to pass through villages, eventually catching our first glimpse of the expansive waters of the beautiful Lake Sevan with its backdrop of mountain peaks. Located 1900 m above sea level, Lake Sevan is famous for its ever-changing hues, and depending on the weather the colour of the water can range from a deep steely blue to a stunning turquoise. This huge body of water is the largest lake in the Caucasus region covering an area of 940 square km, and one of the largest fresh water high altitude lakes in the world. We have the chance to walk up to Sevanavank Monastery, where, from its high position we gain a different perspective of the lake. Our hotel for the night sits on the banks of the lake itself. Stay: Blue Sevan (Comfortable) (B/L/D)
Today we head to the Armenia/Georgia boarder at Sadakhlo. The scenery changes again as we find ourselves amongst hills and valleys covered in pine trees. In picturesque Dilijan town, we walk through a museum street, which has preserved houses dating back to the 18th century with typical fretwork wooden balconies as well as local handicraft studios. The scenery changes again and becomes more dramatic as we drive by towering escarpments and into the copper mining area of Armenia. Our final stop is at the dramatically located Monastery of Haghpat, listed by UNESCO on account of its outstanding ecclesiastical architecture.
Crossing the border in the afternoon, it is here we will wave goodbye to our Armenian tour leader and where we will meet our Georgian tour leader. We cross a river to arrive in Georgia and head to the capital of Tbilisi. Time permitting, on arrival there may be the opportunity to take a stroll up to the Narikala Citadel for fine views over the city or take a relaxing sulphur bath for which Tbilisi is famous. Tbilisi has a lively dining nightlife and social scene, a far cry from the days of the Soviet era. The capital's beauty lies in the melting pot of architectural styles spanning from Persian to Medieval, brutal constructivist buildings right next to shiny skyscrapers and western looking neighbourhoods. Stay: Hotel KMM (Comfortable) (B)
After breakfast we set off on foot to explore the eclectic Georgian capital. Tbilisi is an ancient and cosmopolitan city; we can find a synagogue, a mosque, a Georgian basilica, an Armenian church, and a Zoroastrian Fire-Worshipper's temple all within a 15-minute walk of one another. Tbilisi is one of Europe's most fascinating capitals, and our orientation tour takes us first to the important Church of Metecki and through the picturesque Old Town, the Sioni Cathedral and then on to the fascinating State Museum. Afterwards, we enjoy the panoramic views of the whole town and through the ancient Narikala fortress (4th century) and walk back to the city centre via the historical domed sulphur bath area- connected with the name of the city itself.
There is plenty of time free to explore the city further, perhaps a backstage tour of the Rustaveli Theatre or a wander through the narrow streets of the Old Town perhaps finding a quirky café to pass the time. A walk over the architecturally striking contemporary Peace Bridge is also a must. Stay: Hotel KMM (Comfortable) (B/D)
Leaving the capital this morning, we drive to picturesque Mtskheta, the spiritual heart of Georgia. Here we visit the hilltop 6th century Jvari Monastery where we have spectacular views of Mtskheta and the confluence of two rivers below. We make our way down into the town where we visit Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. The 11th century basilica contains the grave of Sidonia, who was said to have been buried holding Christ's robe.
We head further west, snaking through the beautiful Imereti villages that dot the landscape. We stop in Kaspi to visit a traditional winery and sample some of the Georgian bio-wines that are produced here, differing greatly to the more-famous wines found in eastern Georgia. This place is great example of how the younger generation continues the tradition left by their ancestors. Here we will learn about the history of wine making and will taste the natural wines made from the unique grape varieties, that were on the verge of extinction, just a few years ago.
Arriving in Kutaisi, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Colchis, we check into our guesthouse for a two-night stay. Kutaisi has always been an important town throughout the ages and for many years was the capital of Georgia, when the Arabs occupied Tbilisi. The period between the reigns of King Bagrat and Queen Tamar (roughly 900 - 1200) was the golden age for Kutaisi and most of the significant buildings date from this time. Now it is the main city of the Imereti region and here the people are renowned for their sense of humour and a special kind of 'khachapuri' - the cheese bread unique to Georgia. Stay: Kutaisi Inn (Simple) (B/D)
We set off this morning for the Batumi, Georgia's attractive summer capital that sits on the shores of the Black Sea.
A renovation and regeneration project carried out at the turn of the century has transformed the city's skyline, now a mix of modern skyscrapers, sculptures, and hotels, contrasting against charming 19th century buildings, all set against a backdrop of the rolling mountains that surround Batumi.
We start our exploration in the Old Town, walking through European Square and Piazza Square, home to charming classic architecture featuring many mosaics, stained glass windows, clock towers and churches. After lunch we move onto the more modern seafront, where a stroll along Batumi Boulevard takes in the modern skyscrapers, dancing water fountains and the moving metal sculpture of Ali and Nino.
After some free time at the end of the city tour, we return to Kutaisi in the late afternoon, a drive of approximately three hours. Stay: Kutaisi Inn (Simple) (B)
This morning after visiting the local farmer's market, we drive to the magnificent UNESCO listed monastery complex at Gelati, which includes an Academy that employed some of Georgia's greatest thinkers. It was founded in 1106 by King David the Builder in gratitude to God for his victories over the Turks. The King wanted it to serve as a centre of Christendom, so as well as scholars many religious artists studied here. Many of the treasures which were made here have been lost over the centuries, however the buildings and frescos inside are extremely well preserved, and the setting of the monastery on a hillside with views over to the distant Caucasus peaks is attractive.
We continue our drive south, travelling via the turquoise roofed Bagrati Cathedral and the Borjomi Mineral Water Park, travelling through the majestic forests of the Borjomi Gorge and stopping to sample the sulphurous water there, which is believed to have healing properties.
Our day's journey ends in Akhaltsikhe, a charming town which translates literally to 'new fortress', although ironically there isn't much that's new about this 12th century town. The skyline is dominated by the imposing Rabati castle, its old streets are home to a large Armenian population, and the forests just outside the town hide the beautiful 10th century Saphara Monastery. We have some free time late this afternoon to explore Akhaltsikhe. Stay: Lomsia Hotel (Comfortable) (B/L)
Today we head towards one of Georgia's most significant sites, the cave town of Vardzia. On route we'll stop off at Khertvisi Fortress, dramatically situated on a cliff above the confluence of two major rivers, it is one of the oldest fortresses in Georgia dating back to the 2nd Century BC. We'll continue our drive through a remote and beautiful landscape of rolling hills, with mountain peaks on the horizon and pine trees occasionally standing like sentries along the sides of the road. Vardzia itself is cut into a towering cliff and was established by King Giorgi III in the 12th century, as a stronghold against the Turkish Sultanate (the Turkish border is only 10km away). Vardzia was subsequently developed by his daughter, Tamar (later to become Queen Tamar), who created a cave monastery that became a centre of Georgian culture. This network of caves above the Mtkvari (Kura) river once numbered 3000, with up to 19 tiers in some places. Much of it was destroyed after a huge earthquake in 1456 and only 550 caves have been since discovered. There are numerous churches, meeting halls, refectories, and wine cellars, all interconnected by tunnels and stairways. We have time to explore and navigate our way around this fascinating place before returning to Akhaltsikhe. Stay: Lomsia Hotel (Comfortable) (B/D)
This morning we set off for our journey, stopping at the very Soviet style town of Gori, where Georgia's most famous son, Stalin, was born. Here we visit the museum and learn much about his life. Interestingly he initially began training as a priest in the Georgian Seminary, before abandoning religion to become a brigand and join the new Bolshevik movement. It has been suggested too that Georgia escaped the worst horrors of Stalin's regime because he was afraid of his conservative Christian mother! En route we'll pay a visit to the Ananuri Fortress overlooking a reservoir on the Aragvi River. We then continue to head north into the mountains. The scenery becomes more dramatic as we ascend along the Georgian Military Highway. We drive through the spectacular and breath-taking mountain scenery of the This morning we set off for our journey, stopping at the very Soviet style town of Gori, where Georgia's most famous son, Stalin, was born. Here we visit the museum and learn much about his life. Interestingly he initially began training as a priest in the Georgian Seminary, before abandoning religion to become a brigand and join the new Bolshevik movement. It has been suggested too that Georgia escaped the worst horrors of Stalin's regime because he was afraid of his conservative Christian mother! En route we'll pay a visit to the Ananuri Fortress overlooking a reservoir on the Aragvi River. We then continue to head north into the mountains. The scenery becomes more dramatic as we ascend along the Georgian Military Highway.
We drive through the spectacular and breath-taking mountain scenery of the Greater Caucasus as we make our way to Gudauri (2196 m), a winter ski resort overlooking an epic gorge, for a two-night stay. Stay: Hotel Gudauri Hut (Comfortable) (B/L/D)
North of Gudauri, the Kazbegi region is a picturesque area, with alpine meadows and towering snow-capped mountains. We'll make an early start this morning as we plan to hike from Stepantsminda town through Gergeti village and up to the iconic 14th century Church of the Holy Trinity, stunningly located at 2710 metres on a hilltop overlooking the snowy peaks of the Caucasus Mountains. The walk is a round trip of around seven kilometres taking three to four hours with an ascent and descent of around 1000 metres each way. For anyone not wishing to take part in the hike, a local taxi can be booked. The area is a treasure trove of mythology - it was to the majestic Mount Kazbegi (5047 m), the highest peak in this region, that Prometheus was chained to. This part of the Caucasus is a protected area and is home to a variety of flora and fauna. Georgia has over 100 different mammals, and although the European bison and Caucasian leopard have become extinct, there are still wolves and bears in the mountains. Stay: Hotel Gudauri Hut (Comfortable) (B)
In the morning we leave the mountains behind and drive to the Kakheti region which is famous for its wine production and welcoming hospitality.
Our first stop is Vardisubani village. To learn about the unique technique of wine making that Georgians have been using since ancient times, we attend a masterclass that will show us the process of making a \'abQvevri„ clay vessel. Afterwards, we will visit a traditional wine cellar in the village of Kondoli. The host has a special love for wine, which is reflected in the quality of the wine produced by him. Here we will taste the most distinctive, natural wine "Zhghia" which is made from the rarest and highest quality Kakhetian grapes.
Finally, we continue to the charming town of Telavi where we overnight in a guesthouse. Stay: Rusiko's Guesthouse (Simple) (B/D)
Today our first stop is Telavi's farmer's market. We then move on to the impressive 11th century Alaverdi cathedral, the tallest monastery in Georgia surrounded by a beautiful cypress grove and finally to 16th century monumental Gremi Fortress.
For lunch today we travel to a local farmer's home, where we enjoy a feast laid on by a farmer in his home. We have the unique opportunity to experience delicious traditional Georgian cooking and get the authentic tastes of freshly harvested products from the host`s garden.
In the afternoon we return to Tbilisi for our last night. Stay: Hotel KMM (Comfortable) (B/L)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Tbilisi.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Tbilisi at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like an airport transfer today, you need to depart from Tbilisi International Airport (TBS), which is 25 minutes from the hotel.
If you wish to spend one or more extra nights in the beautiful Georgian capital after the tour ends, please contact us to book additional accommodation. The Blue Gallery, Dry Bridge extroardinary flea market and the Botanical Garden are just some of the highlights you may wish to explore further. (B)