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“From Black to Сaspian” – Tour the North (Russian) Caucasus

North Caucasus, Abkazia and South Ossetia, 15th September – 6th October 2018

Guide — Dmitry Lemeshev

Group: 3 - 8 people

Wellcome_to_Caucasus

Nine republics, almost 2,000 kilometers of road, a maximum elevation of more than 3 000 meters, dozens of ethnic groups, hundreds of dishes, and immeasurable amounts of natural beauty. To remain a passive bystander simply isn’t an option throughout this magnificent trip, which includes mountain hikes, crafting workshops, and meetings with local historians, musicians, scientists, and villagers.
After this trip you will have every right to say: “I have seen the Caucasus!”

Itinerary

Day 1. Welcome to Abkhazia!

Route: Sochi Airport — Gagra
39 km, 50 min + 15-45 min to cross the border

Prince_of_Oldenburg_Park

Your tour guide will meet you at Sochi Airport, and from there we’ll head to Abkhazia, a small, fragrant, and blooming republic that is cozily nestled along the coast of the Black Sea. We’ll spend the evening in Gagra, a famous resort town founded before the Russian Revolution of 1917. During the Soviet era, this was a very prestigious vacation spot. Here, we’ll have dinner and experience our first taste of the national cuisine.
The night will be spent in a 3* hotel.

Day 2. Lake Ritsa

Route: Gagra — Lake Ritsa — Anchkho Pass — Gagra
86 km, 8 hours

Ritsa lake. Photo: Fedor Lashkov.

Today we will go to Ritsa Relict National Park. We’ll see Lake Ritsa, which sits about 950 meters above sea level within a primordial fir forest. We will also visit Stalin’s dacha which is located along the lake, and then go up to the alpine meadows for horseback riding, a lovely walk through the mountains, and a tasting of locally-made goat cheeses.

Anchkho pass in Abkhazia. Photo: Alexey Fursov

We’ll head back to Gagra in the evening and spend another night in a 3* hotel.

Day 3. Russian Riviera

Route: Gagra — Pitsunda — Achandara — New Athos — Sukhum
Transport: Toyota Voxy minivan or Mercedes Sprinter minibus
115 km, 1.5 hours

Cooking abysta (Abkhazian «bread») in the village.

Today we’ll travel around coastal Abkhazia to see the landmarks that it inherited from various empires. Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Russians, and the Soviets — all of them were mere guests in this region. While each empire did leave its mark, none were able to bend this ancient land to their will.

New_Athos_Cave

In the morning, we’ll walk around Gagra and Pitsunda. Lunch will be be served at the village of Achandara, and then we’ll drive to New Athos, home to the ruins of the Abkhaz Kingdom’s first capital. There we will see a beautiful monastery founded by monks from the island of Athos in 1864, and one of the world’s largest karst caves.
We’ll end our day’s journey at Sukhum, the capital of Abkhazia, which has managed to preserve the spirit of an old seaport town despite the devastation of the post-war years.

Day 4. Sukhum and Sochi

Route: Sukhum — central Sochi
146 km, 3.5 hours + 15-45 minutes for border crossing.

Sukhum

We’ll start the day with a morning stroll around Sukhum, then visit the National Museum and Botanical Garden, before heading back towards Russia.

Marine Station of Sochi.

In the evening, we’ll walk around Sochi and enjoy a sunset dinner next to the Marine Station, one of the city’s most fascinating buildings.

Day 5. Mezmay — Secret of the Caucasian Forest

Route: Central Sochi — village of Mezmay
184 km, 3 hrs 15 min by commuter train, 86 km, 1 hr 40 min by minibus

В самшитовой роще

walk in the grove of relict boxwoods. Photo: Alexandr Sheikin

In the morning, we’ll board the high-speed Lastochka commuter train and travel to the town of Khadyzhensk, regionally famous for its beer production. There we’ll switch to a minibus, and a couple of hours later will be at the village of Mezmay, the most out-of-the-way spot in the Krasnodar Region, located near the Lagonaki Plateau (a UNESCO heritage site). At Mezmay, we’ll trek across the canyon of the Kurdzhips River, with its picturesque waterfalls and boxwood groves that make the area look like a bewitched fairytale forest. In the evening, we’ll get to experience a genuine “black” banya, a traditional bathhouse where stones are heated indoors, emitting smoke which blackens the bath’s interior walls.

В русской бане

After partaking in this ritual, you’ll realize how little you actually know about the real Russian bath, and discover another method of purifying the body of toxins and excessive strain. The ritual will be overseen by professional bathhouse attendants.

Dinner will be served by one of the local families, and we’ll spend the night at a 3* hotel.

Day 6. The Flatlands and Mountains of the Western Caucasus

Route: Mezmay — Maikop — Zelenchukskaya — Arkhyz
330 km, 5,5 hours by minibus

Cherkess_autentical_music

Today we will visit the household museum of Zamudin Guchev, located in the suburb of Maykop, the capital of Adygea. There we will have the chance to learn about the culture of the Adyghs, the indigenous people of the Western Caucasus’ foothills and steppes. After a long drive through the flatlands, we’ll come to the Republic of Karachay-Cherkessia. From there we’ll go to Stanitsa Zelenchukskaya, a former Cossack village, to see the world’s largest radio telescope, a legacy of Soviet science which still operates to this day. We will also visit one of Russia’s oldest Christian temples, built in ancient Alania during the 10th century.
We’ll spend the night at a 4* hotel.

Day 7. Imperial Resorts with a View of Elbrus

Route: Arkhyz — Gumbashi Pass — Yessentuki — Pyatigorsk
220 km, 4 hrs

Вид на Эльбрус

In the morning, we will drive across the Gumbashi Pass towards the Caucasian Mineral Waters group of resorts, part of the Stavropol Region.

Oh, the majestic calm of the Central Caucasus! We’ll spend most of the day strolling around Russia’s first spa resorts that were established as an alternative to Germany’s Baden-Baden and England’s Bath. Wounded officers recuperated here, and the creme de la creme of Russian aristocracy flocked to the spa towns’ promenades.

Грязелечебница в Ессентуках

Mud bath was built in 1915, in 1923 it was named in honor of N.А. Semachko — one of the creators of Societ health care system.

Even today, Kislovodsk, Yessentuki, and Pyatigorsk are considered Russia’s best spa resorts. The day will conclude with mud baths in a Soviet era spa center.
We’ll stay the night at a 4* boutique hotel.

Day 8. Kabardino-Balkaria — Thermal Springs with a View of Elbrus

Route: Pyatigorsk — Dzhily Su — Shaukam Pass (2,950 m) — Tyrnauz — Nalchik
185 km, 7 hrs.

On the way to Djily-suu.

Today we will take off-road vehicles to high-altitude passes to see the beauty of the Balkar mountains, and even bathe in thermal springs. Europe’s highest mountain, Elbrus, will be just 15km away from us!
In the evening, we’ll conclude the trip at Nalchik and spend the night in a 3* hotel.

Day 9. Kabardino-Balkaria and Digoria

Route: Nalchik — Chikola — Kamunta — Verkhny (Upper) Zgid — Tsey
165 km, 6 hrs

В древности для тренировки скорости удара использовали упражнение "рубка лозы". Срубить тонкую гибкую лозу трудно, она норовит согнуться, удар должен быть быстрым, а шашка острой! В наше время проще использовать пластиковые бутылки.

In ancient times, men for training impact speed used exercise called «chopping vines». Cut the thin, flexible rod is difficult, it tries to bend, that is why blow must be fast and sharp sword! In our time, is easier to use plastic bottles.

At Nalchik, we’ll conclude our introduction to Adyghe culture by meeting Felix Nakov, a skilled master of the shashka, the Cherkessian blade which was the most effective weapon of the nineteenth century, eventually adopted by the Russian Cavalry who used it to conquer vast swaths of the world, from Siberia to Paris.

Дорога через Згидский перевал

The road through the pass Zgidsky highly conditional. Sometimes it’s just a track in the mud … It is nothing to do here Without an experienced driver and prepared all-road-car … Photo: Elnar Mansurov

Next, we’ll drive to the ancient mountain villages of North Ossetia. We’ll ride off-roads to get across a high-elevation pass, and by evening will find ourselves in the Tsey Gorge, the sacred valley of the Ossetians.
We’ll stay at a 3* hotel.

Day 10. South Ossetia

Route: Tsey — Dzhery Dzuar — Tskhinval — Tir Monastery — Tsey
215 km, 5 hrs

Djery dzuar

Djery dzuar is the place, where you’ll feel the sole of people’s religion. Photo: Lana Parastaeva.

Today we’ll travel to South Ossetia — a partially recognized republic which resisted Georgian aggression from 1991 to 2008, before finally being recognized as an independent state by four UN member states — Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Nauru. Its military history, however, is far from the only reason for visiting this small country. Here we’ll find the most interesting mix of Georgian and Ossetian culture, as well as a distinctive folk faith, a syncretism of Christian Orthodoxy and pre-Christian Ossetian traditions.
We will also visit the Ossetians’ most esteemed sacred place, Dzhery Dzuar, and afterwards stroll through the streets of the republic’s capital, Tskhinval, accompanied by a veteran of the independence war, concluding the walk with a traditional Ossetian feast.
In the late evening we’ll be back at Tsey, where we’ll spend the night in a 3* hotel.

Day 11. The Mountains of North Ossetia and Vladikavkaz

Route: Tsey — Zintsar — Ursdon — Dagom — Verkhny (Upper) Fiagdon — Midagrabin Waterfalls — Dargavs — Vladikavkaz
120 km, 4 hrs

«Town of Dead» near Dargavs village. Photo: Anton Agarkov

We’ll drive through various mountain roads across almost all of historical Ossetia to see its best-known landmarks: the Rekom Sanctuary, Ursdon rock fortresses, Midagrabin Waterfalls, and the Dead City of Dargavs.
We’ll spend the night in a 4* hotel in Vladikavkaz.

Day 12. Vladikavkaz — the Cultural Capital of the North Caucasus

Мечеть во Владикавказе

Mukhtarov’s mosque on Terek embankment. One of cymbols of the city.

Many call this city the St. Petersburg of the Caucasus. For years Vladikavkaz was one of the region’s most important cultural and commercial centers, and in many ways it remains one to this day. The streets of the Old City are adorned with late 19th and early 20th century houses that were built by Russian army officers and merchants. Walking along the city’s central street, Prospekt Mira (Avenue of Peace), one gets a sense of the quiet pace of provincial life. All around you’ll find inviting cafes, and cheerful locals who never seem to be in a hurry.
From the city’s central streets, there are also breath-taking views of snow-covered mountain peaks.

Экскурсия по Владикаказу, прогулка по Проспекту

The Peace avenue has the best Table mountain view. Photo: Timur Agirov.

We’ll spend the whole day slowly exploring the city, learning to make famous Ossetian pies, and enjoying traditional Ossetian dances. In the evening, we’ll meet with Taymuraz Berozty, a young multi-instrumentalist who is rekindling the musical traditions of his land.

Day 13. The Mountains of Ingushetia

Route: Vladikavkaz — Dzheyrakh — Armkhi — Lyazhgi — Armkhi
45 km, 1 hr

Эрзи

Medieval settlement of Erzi with eight defensive towers. Photo: Timur Agirov

The first half of the day is free time, and afterwards we’ll go to the market to buy fresh vegetables and fruit for a picnic, and drive to the mountains of Ingushetia.

The Ingush people refer to themselves as Galgay, which roughly translates to “branches of the towers.” We’ll visit several medieval villages to see for ourselves the origins of this name. It seems that the Caucasian culture of tower building was born and reached its pinnacle right here, in these valleys.

For dinner we are invited to the house of an Ingush family. This is our chance to have a delicious dinner and to learn from the hosts about their unique life in the mountain valley.

Day 14. Medieval and Modern Towers

Route: Armkhi — Vovnushki — Urus-Martan — Grozny
170 km, 5 hrs

Вовнушки

Medieval towers Vovnushki. Photo: Timur Agirov

We’ll spend the morning exploring the most interesting Ingush defense towers, and then drive to the flatlands of Chechnya, to visit a private open-air museum, Dondi Yurt. We’ll have lunch with the museum’s creator and take a tour of the exhibit.

Частный этнографический музей под открытым небом "Донди-юрт" (Урус-мартан, Чеченская Республика). На фото создатель музея Адам Сатуев. Фото: Абдуллах Берсаев

Adam Satuev, the founder of Dondi-yurt museum. Photo: Abdullah Bersaev

In the evening, we’ll go to the capital of Chechnya, Grozny, and see the skyscrapers of the newly renovated city.
Tonight we stay in a 5* hotel.

Day 15. Grozny and the Region’s Largest Mountain Lake

Route: Grozny — Argun — Kharachoy — Kezenoy-am
111 km, 2.5 hrs

Grozny in the morning. Photo: Abdullah Bersaev

We’ll explore the city in the morning, visiting the Heart of Chechnya mosque, and the museum of the republic’s first president, Akhmad Kadyrov, followed by lunch in a restaurant that specializes in the national cuisine.

Kezenoy-am lake. Photo Abdullah Bersaev

Afterwards, we’ll drive to the mountains, to Lake Kezenoy-am, the largest body of water in the mountains of the North Caucasus.
We’ll stay at a 3* hotel.

Day 16. Dagestan: Avar Villages

Kezenoy-am — Ansalta — Rakhata — Botlikh — Gunib
190 km, 7 hrs

On the street of Balkhar village, Dagestan.

On the street of Balkhar village, Dagestan. Photo Anton Agarkov

In the morning, we’ll take the off-road vehicles across an easy pass to find ourselves in the mountains of Dagestan. Today we’ll visit an ancient watermill, where locals make urbech — a Dagestani delicacy made from flax seeds or apricot pits, followed by a visit to a local manufacturing facility for burkas, traditional felt cloaks.

Next, we’ll visit Akhulgo, the place of the bloodiest battle of the 19th century Caucasian war. We’ll also stop by the workshop of an Untsukul craftsman, who will introduce us to the unique craft of intricate woodwork.

At the end of the day, we’ll find ourselves in the village of Gunib, which gained its fame through one of the most significant events of 19th century Russian history, the surrender of Imam Shamil to the Russian imperial army.
In 1834, Imam Shamil headed the mountain dwellers’ fight for the establishment of Sharia law and independence from the Russian Empire. The result of this uprising was the establishment of theocracy in the region, which survived for 25 years. In 1859, Shamil’s last battle took place at the village of Gunib.

We’ll spend the night in a 3* hotel.

Day 17. Dagestan: the Villages of the Free Community of Andalal

Route: Gunib — Chokh — Sogratl — Gamsutl — Gunib
70 km, 2.5 hrs

Gamsutl’ abandoned village. Photo: Nykolay Rykov and Dmitry Chistoprudov.

In the morning, we’ll drive to the village of Chokh famous for its unique 19th century architecture. Afterwards, we’ll go to Sogratl, an ancient village which once had a reputation for its scientists and magnificent madrasah, a Quar’anic school. To this day, Sogratl’s village school is unique — many of its graduates continue their education at Russia’s best universities. We’ll visit the school, and talk to the students and teachers.

If the group is physically ready, we’ll hike to the Dagestani Machu Picchu, the deserted village of Gamsutl. It offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and traditional Avar architecture. If the hike is not possible, we’ll have more time to explore the Andalal villages.

We’ll drive back to Gunib to spend the night in the same 3* hotel, so everyone can use the laundromat and rest.

Day 18. Dagestan: Laks and Dargins

Route: Gunib — Balkhar — Kubachi
120 km, 5 hrs

Waterfall in the cave near Salta village.

Waterfall in the cave near Salta village. Photo Murad Gamidov

In the morning, we’ll bid farewell to the hospitable Avar people and drive higher into the mountains. On the way, we can visit the unique underground waterfall near the village of Salta. Take an extra pair of shoes, as the trail to the waterfalls will have us walking ankle deep in water. Granted, if the hot weather persists for too long, the waterfall may dry out, but we’ll hope for the best.

By lunchtime, we’ll be in the village of Balkhar, known for its ancient ceramics production which is preserved to this day. In addition to lunch, we’ll have a short pottery workshop, so everyone will get their hands dirty! This village is home to the Lak people who are famous for their ingenuity.

The host is showing us how to cary water in traditional jars. Photo Nikolay Rykov and Dmitry Chistoprudov

In the late afternoon, we’ll arrive to Kubachi, which is best known for its craftsmen. In the old days, they made stone carvings, chain mail, and sabres, and in the Soviet era the village gained fame for its goldsmiths. Kubachi residents are a small ethnic group that speaks a dialect of the Dargin language.

We’ll spend the night in the house of a local goldsmith.

Day 19. Dagestan: Towards the Caspian Sea!

Route: Kubachi — Derbent
115 km, 3 hrs

Tombstones of Kala-kureish.

In the morning, we’ll visit Qala-Quraysh — a deserted village, which in the Middle Ages served as the capital of the Kaytag ustmystvo (kingdom). According to legend, this state was ruled by the arabs from the Quraysh tribe, to which Prophet Mohammed also belonged. In the village one can still find a mosque and a 12th century mausoleum. Many consider Qala-Quraysh a sacred place.

We’ll have lunch at Derbent, one of Russia’s southernmost and oldest cities.
The last few days were filled with diverse experiences and off-road traveling, so after lunch it’s time for some rest. Happily, our 3* hotel is just 50m from the beach!

Day 20. Dagestan: Derbent — One of Russia’s Oldest Cities

Gates of Old City of Derbent. Photo: Dmitry Chistoprudov Nikolay Rykov

Today we’ll stroll around the narrow old streets, see the Naryn-Kala medieval fortress (UNESCO world heritage site), Russia’s oldest mosque, ancient bathhouses, and the Kyrhlyar cemetery, which, as legend has it, is the burial site for forty Sahabah, the companions of the Prophet.

People of different faiths peacefully coexist at Derbent. Shia and Sunni muslims pray in the same mosque, which neighbors an Armenian temple, a Christian Orthodox church, and a synagogue. We’ll make sure to visit all of these places and speak to the local residents, so that you can see for yourself that, regardless of their nationality, the residents of Derbent are a special tribe with its own unique culture.

We’ll spend another night in our beachside 3* hotel.

Day 21. A Day in Makhachkala

Route: Derbent — Makhachkala
130 km, 2.5 hrs

Рынок в Махачкале

«Second Market» in Makhachkala. Photo: Max Avdeev

In the morning, we’ll drive to Makhachkala — directly to Second Marketplace, which resembles an entire city located inside the city. There you’ll find all the bounty of the Dagestani land: aged sheep cheeses, alpine herbs, honey and urbech, dried meat from the mountains, fresh fish from the Caspian Sea, and even black caviar (sold on the sly).

For lunch we’ll go to an authentic Dagestani restaurant. There, we’ll learn to make khinkal, local dumplings, chudu pies and other dishes. Afterwards, we’ll visit the Museum of Traditional Dagestani Art and stroll through city streets peppered with antique and craft stores. In the evening, we’ll enjoy a farewell dinner and a good night’s sleep in a 4* hotel.

Day 22. Departure

We’ll drive to the airport.

Map of the Tour

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Conditions

Included:

  • English-speaking guide 24 hours per day;
  • all local guides;
  • accomodation (3-5* hotels, 2 nights - home-stay);
  • 3 meals per day;
  • transportation;
  • all tickets, entrance fees and so on;
  • border-zone permits.

Not included:

  • your tickets to Sochi and back from Makhachkala;
  • extra alcohol;
  • souvenirs and other personal expenses.

Other detailes:

  • single suppliment is 700 USD;
  • we require 20% nonrefundable prepayment;
  • we need scanned copy of your passport and Russian visa 65 days before the tour starts;
  • please, get in touch with Dmitry Lemeshev for booking and other issues [email protected], phone +7 926 213 99 81.