The Grand Transcaucasus Adventure. Tour to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia
Group: 2–10 persons
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Each of the Transcaucasus states is unlike the others—on this tour you’ll discover the many diverse and distinct cultures of the region for yourself. We have planned this special and lengthy trip across the whole region based on our many years of traveling experience. As you traverse the Caucasus, you’ll see a variety of wonders, from snowy peaks and fertile plains, to skyscrapers, cave towns, ancestral towers and ancient monasteries. We’ll drive along picturesque winding roads and hike into the mountains, traveling the diverse terrains by boat and plane. You’ll have the chance to taste Shaki baklava and Kakhetian wines, highland khachapuri and griddle cakes with wild greens. Most importantly, you’ll get to meet hospitable and frank locals who represent dozens of nationalities. We would be surprised if by the end of this trip you didn’t feel a warm sympathy for the Caucasus, because it’s impossible to see and learn so much about this region without falling in love with it.
The journey will last three weeks. The first week will be spent in Azerbaijan, the second in Georgia, and the last one in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. We will meet in Baku and fly home from Yerevan. The principal mode of transportation will be cross-country minibuses and minivans. The itinerary will be intense, but we won’t be in a hurry, so that you’ll have time to rest after long drives. Nice dinners will help to replenish energy after mountain hikes, and nights spent in village guesthouses will be followed by stays in boutique hotels.
Day 1. Meeting in Baku
We will meet at the airport and drive to a downtown hotel and enjoy a short rest. Next we’ll take a walk around Icheri Shekher, the Old City of Baku. The day will end with dinner at a cozy restaurant, and a group meeting.
Day 2. Discovering Highland Villages
Today we go to the northern part of Azerbaijan. In two days we’ll visit three neighbouring villages, accompanied by a professional ethnographer and guide, who will introduce us to local residents and share stories about the culture of these ancient traditional communities. The first village, Khynalyg, is 2,200 m above sea level. Its residents consider themselves the descendants of Noah, who escaped the Flood in this gorge. After a delicious lunch of traditional dolma, a stuffed vegetable dish, we’ll hike to the village of Kalakhudat, populated by the highland Turki. Dinner will include traditional kufte soup made from freshly slaughtered lamb. The night will be spent in a village guesthouse with a beautiful view of the mountains.
Day 3. Back to Baku
After breakfast, we’ll take the age-old mountain road to visit the neighbouring village of Kryz, populated by a small ethnic group of the same name. After lunch, we’ll be off to Baku, driving along a picturesque road. On the way we’ll stop for a tea ceremony with baklava. The night will be spent in the Museum Inn hotel.
Day 4. Trip to Gobustan National Park and Walk Around the Capital
In the morning we’ll go to the Gobustan National Park, a nature reserve with mud volcanoes and a gallery of ancient rock carvings. By lunch, we’ll be back in Baku. We’ll take a walk around the grand embankment and see the new buildings designed by the late Zaha Hadid. Afterwards, we’ll visit the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum, dedicated to the seven original carpet-weaving schools from different regions of the country.
Day 5. Going West
We’ll leave Baku, driving towards Georgia. On the way we’ll take a short tour of Shamakhi, with stops near the mausoleum of Shirvan rulers and the Juma Mosque. After lunch, we’ll continue to the southern gorges of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range, to the medieval village of Lahij which is populated by hereditary tinsmiths and armorers. Here we will take a walk around the village and have a master class with one of the local craftsmen. The day will end with a dinner of local delicacies, and a night in the guesthouse.
Day 6. Traveling to Georgia
Today we are back to the plains and the main highway that leads from Baku to Tbilisi. We’ll travel to the city of Shaki, which used to be the center of the wealthy and influential Shaki khanate before Russia’s move into the Transcaucasus. We’ll take a tour of the city and visit the khan’s old palace and fortress. A traditional lunch and tea will be served, along with delicious baklava for dessert. After going through passport control at the border, we’ll drive to the picturesque Signagi fortress town, where we’ll taste local wines and have dinner at a local haute cuisine restaurant. We’ll spend the night at the Kabadoni boutique hotel.
Day 7. Exploring Kakheti
In the morning, we’ll be off to Georgia’s primary winemaking region, Kakheti. First, we’ll visit one of Georgia’s oldest and most revered monasteries, Alaverdi, established in the early 6th century. It still has its ancient wine cellars, and in recent years the monks resumed manufacturing traditional wines in large earthenware vessels called kvevri. After the tour and a wine tasting, we’ll visit a local potter who produces these traditional flagons. For lunch, we’ll visit the family winery of Timur Dakishvili, where we’ll taste wines made from the indigenous kisi and saperavi grape varieties. This will be followed by a short walk around the vineyards and a trip to the Ikalto Monastery, renown for its academy and winemaking classes that date back to the Middle Ages. We’ll dine and spend the night at the Schuchmann boutique hotel, where you can finish off the day with a wine spa treatment.
Day 8. Exploring Tbilisi
Today we’ll take our time exploring the capital, including a visit to the local market and a viewing at a local art gallery. We’ll also walk around Tbilisi’s oldest districts and enjoy the city’s most exciting restaurants. After lunch, we can visit Georgia’s ancient capital, Mtskheta, to see the great Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, stroll around the city, and hike to Jvari Monastery, which offers an amazing view of the Aragvi and Kura rivers. After returning to Tbilisi, we’ll rest and take an evening stroll through the streets of Old Town.
Day 9. Journey to Svaneti
In the morning we’ll go to the airport for a 40-minute flight to Mestia, the administrative center of Upper Svaneti. We’ll have some rest after arriving, and then take a short tour of the city. We’ll enjoy lunch at Zuruldi, Georgia’s highest-altitude restaurant that offers marvelous views of Ushba Peak. We’ll follow lunch with a nice walk, through alpine meadows, to enjoy the view of the valley with villages clinging to wooded mountain slopes. In the evening after returning to Mestia, we’ll stroll around the ancient streets of the historic Lanchvali district. Dinner will be accompanied by a view of night-time Mestia and its illuminated medieval towers.
Day 10. Trip to Ushguli
Today we travel to Svaneti’s most remote village, Ushguli. Its medieval ancestral towers rise against the backdrop of the Shkara mountain group, the top of which demarcates the border between Georgia and Russia. One of the village’s four districts, Chazhashi, is a unique architectural monument, included by UNESCO in its list of World Heritage Sites. We’ll walk around the village and have lunch with a family of highlanders. In the evening, we’ll head back to Mestia.
Day 11. Across Samegrelo to Kutaisi
We’ll take the land route to get out of Svaneti. The road will take us through Samegrelo, a lovely and distinctive region of Georgia. Megrelians speak a dialect of Georgian that many linguists consider a separate language. We’ll stop at Zugdidi for lunch to have a taste of Megrelian cuisine. In the afternoon, we’ll make a detour to the Martvili Canyons for a boat ride, and by nightfall we’ll reach inviting Kutaisi, the capital of Imereti and all of western Georgia.
Day 12. Out and About in Kutaisi
We’ll start the day by walking around the city center and visiting a market to buy local delicacies. Afterwards, we’ll visit the medieval Gelata Monastery, another monument from the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. From there we’ll go to the winery of Ramaz Nikoladze, the head of the Kvevri Wine Association. We’ll walk around the vineyards and taste the best wines, made from Imereti grapes using traditional methods. After lunch and some rest, we’ll take a short hike around Okatse Canyon, with its footpaths suspended in the air. In the evening, we’ll be back to Kutaisi for a stroll and a delicious dinner.
Day 13. To Adjara and the Sea
Today we go to Adjara, Georgia’s subtropical region on the Black Sea coast. On the way, we’ll stop for some rest and a dip in the sea at Ureki, which beaches are famous for their salutary magnetic sands. Afterwards, we’ll drive to Batumi, where we’ll check into a hotel and rest. For those who are interested, in the afternoon we can organize a short trip to the Mtirala Reserve. We’ll spend the night in downtown Batumi.
Day 14. Highland Adjara
Today we’ll cross all of Adjara’s highlands, driving off-road vehicles; picturesque landscapes will be flying past our windows. We’ll stop at a medieval arched bridge, and enjoy a lunch of Adjarian khachapuri and borano omelet in one of the local villages. In the afternoon, we’ll reach the small town of Akhaltsikhe that houses the medieval Rabat Fortress. In the evening, we’ll be in Vardzia, the site of an early Christian cave monastery. We’ll walk around and spend the night at the Vardzia Resort Hotel.
Day 15. Traveling to Armenia
To enter the Shirak Province, we’ll cross the border of Georgia and Armenia on an austere mountain plateau. Our first stop beyond the border will be the city of Gyumri, former Alexandropol, with its old pre-revolutionary city quarters. We’ll walk the charming streets to the central bazaar, which is quite literally Armenia’s liveliest and most colorful market. Here we’ll have lunch, and try traditional Shirak appetizers and dishes such as green cheese, baked ox brains and lamb meatball soup (kololak). Don’t worry, all of these delicacies are delicious! In the evening, we’ll reach Dilijan, where we’ll spend the night at the Tufenkian boutique hotel.
Day 16. Visit to Lake Sevan and Karvachar
In the early morning we’ll be off to Lake Sevan, which Armenians call a sea for its great size and beauty. We’ll make a couple of stops along the way, first near the walls of the ancient Hayravank Monastery, and then at the farm of a local cheesemaker, named Arman, to taste some rare cheeses. Next, the road will take us to Nagorno-Karabakh and its northern region of Karvachar. First, we’ll travel to the republic’s highest-altitude village, Zar, where we’ll meet a family of settlers from Russia, and enjoy a lunch of charcoal-baked fish, accompanied by breathtaking views of a 300m-deep canyon. Next, we’ll travel upstream of the Tartar River to the abandoned spa resort of İstisu, where we’ll bathe in a thermal spring. The day will end with a long feast, and we’ll spend the night in a local guesthouse.
Day 17. Journey to the Capital of Karabakh
In the morning we’ll continue along the picturesque gorge of the Tartar River, going downstream. We’ll make a stop at the village of Dadivank to visit a monastery that was established there during the 9th century, and watch while art restorers carefully reconstruct medieval frescoes. After Dadivank, the road runs through a dense forest that covers the mountain crossing. Before lunch, we’ll make it to the village of Vank and visit Gandzasar, Karabakh’s largest and best decorated monastery. For lunch, we’ll stop at the house museum of Nikol Duman, a hero of the Armenian resistance in the early 20th century. In the afternoon we’ll reach the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakert. We’ll drop our luggage off at the downtown hotel and then visit a local winemaker for dinner.
Day 18. Rest in Karabakh
In the morning we’ll stroll through the city streets and visit the local market to buy some souvenirs and try zhingyalov hats, flatbread stuffed with seasonal herbs. Afterwards, we’ll go up to the ancient capital of Karabakh, the fortress town of Shushi, where we’ll spend the rest of the day ambling along the ancient streets and conversing with locals. We’ll lunch at a restaurant with a great view of Stepanakert, visit the Museum of Karabakh Carpets, and climb to the top of the fortress towers. The night will be spent in Stepanakert.
Day 19. Traversing Southern Karabakh
We’ll begin our journey at the village of Shosh/Shushekend, where we’ll go down to the gorge of the Karkar River. This narrow canyon, sandwiched between vertical cliffs, hides many amazing things, such as the ruins of an ancient village of millers, waterfalls, springs, caves, and a medieval bridge. After walking around the canyon, we’ll get to the village of Togh, the historic center of Karabakh’s southern province, Dizaq. Here, we’ll visit the Avetisyan family winery, which produces wonderful Kataro wine from the indigenous khindogny variety of grapes. Finally we’ll visit the ruins of a castle that belonged to the Yeganyan noble family who ruled this area for decades. On the way back to Stepanakert, we’ll stop to visit one of the planet’s oldest trees, a 2000-year-old sycamore.
Day 20. From Karabakh to Syunik
In the morning we’ll leave Karabakh via the Lachin Corridor, the “road of life” which connected Stepanakert to Armenia during the last war. Just after crossing the border, we’ll visit the cave town of Khndzoresk, where people used to live in houses carved into the rocks until the mid-20th century. After Khndzoresk, we’ll ride the ultra-modern reverse cableway (also the world’s longest) to get to Tatev Monastery. This convent, which stands at the edge of a deep canyon, was the key religious and learning center of medieval Armenia, complete with a university and a book-producing workshop staffed by outstanding miniaturists. We’ll dine and spend the night at Mirhav Hotel, located in the nearby town of Goris.
Day 21. Exploring Vayots Dzor Province
As we begin our journey back to Yerevan, our first stop will be Zorats Karer (the “Armenian Stonehenge”), a cluster of stone structures that have been a part of this empty plateau for over 4,000 years. By lunchtime we’ll reach Areni village, where vine cultivation began as early as the Copper Age, so we’ll visit a local cave where evidence of the world’s oldest winemaking activities were discovered by archeologists. After lunch, we’ll walk to Noravank Monastery, where you’ll be dazzled by intricate khachkar cross stones and base reliefs produced by the celebrated artist, Momik. The last leg of our journey to Yerevan runs through the Ararat plain, where we’ll take a detour to visit Khor Virap, a medieval monastery that stands on a low-rise rock, offering a tremendous view of Mount Ararat. After visiting the monastery, we’ll drive back to Yerevan, where we’ll dine and settle for the night at the Villa Delenda hotel in the city center.
Day 22. A Day in Yerevan
Today we’ll leisurely stroll through the capital, visit the local flea market, and take a tour of the Matenadaran Museum of Ancient Manuscripts. We’ll also walk around Yerevan’s oldest district, called Kond, visit Parajanov’s house museum, and check out the city’s most exciting restaurants. If anyone is interested, we can also organize a trip to Geghard Monastery, which is located just outside of the city.
Day 23. Departure from the Caucasus
After much adventuring, our journey has come to an end. You can spend your free time walking around the city and buying souvenirs, then it’s time to head off to the airport!
This tour does not require any special degree of physical fitness. If all group members agree, the itinerary can be changed or altered. If you want to travel at your own pace, please feel free to request an individual tour, and we’ll be happy to help you.