Multicolored Caucasus - Armenia and Georgia (7 days)
Tour Duration 7 days, 8 nights
Tour Brief During this journey you will learn about the culture and history of the earliest Christian nations in the world, see the spear that pierced Christ's body and the place where the robe of Christ is buried. You will visit rock-carved churches and ancient towns along with pagan temples and fortresses. The beauty of mountains and forests, rivers and lakes will surprise you as well as the experience of warm hospitality of locals. You will get the feel and flavor of capitals and provincial towns, and be able to walk and choose souvenirs in streets where artisan masters live and work. You will certainly try delicious dishes of national cuisines and taste wines that are produced here for three thousand years.
Cost 790 USD690 USD (the cost includes hotel accommodations on the first and the last nights of the tour)
Through beautiful landscapes we drive to the mountains east of Yerevan to a temple-castle complex of Garni (1st century AD) hosting the only pagan temple in Armenia. Then, farther up in the mountains, we visit the rock-carved monastery of Geghard (a UNESCO World Heritage site). The latter stored the spear that pierced Christ’s body on the cross (the spear is in Ejmiatsin now). Finally we visit the center of the Armenian Church Holy Ejmiatsin Cathedral (UNESCO site, 4th c.) and its museum that hosts extraordinary religious artifacts. Those who wish may attend the evening mass in the church (in case we arrived there in time). Overnight accommodations in Yerevan.
We start the day visiting the legendary Khor Virap, the dungeon where St. Gregory the Illuminator was jailed for thirteen years before converting Armenia into the world’s first Christian nation in 301 AD. The breathtaking view of Mount Ararat from the chapel here will be a memorable experience. Our next stop will be the renowned monastery of Noravank (13th century) located in a red-rock canyon, one of the most spectacular sceneries in the country. We will have an opportunity to taste Armenia’s finest wine in a village nearby. Afterwards we will head north passing by Armenia’s highest Mount Aragats to Gyumri, the second largest city that used to be an important Armenian cultural center in the late 19th early 20th century. We will take a walk through its historical center (Alexandropol) that has many traditional 19th-century houses and visit a museum located in one of them. Overnight accommodations in Gyumri.
We depart Gyumri to drive to the Armenian-Georgian border to the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia. Passing the border, on our way from Akhalkalaki to Akhaltsikhe, we will come across Khertvisi fortress towering above the convergence of Parvana and Kura (Mtkvari) rivers. It is said to be the most favorite fortress of Tamara, the queen of Georgia (12-13th centuries), and one of the best preserved fortresses in the Caucasus. We will then continue our drive through the mountains to a unique cave monastery complex of Vardzia (12th century), a UNESCO World Heritage site, which used to have thirteen stories, thousands of apartments and a church, where we can still find magnificent frescoes. Afterwards we will drive to Akhaltsikhe, the capital and the largest town in this region. We may go up the castle here that dates back to the 12th century. It belonged to Jakeli princes and later served as a stronghold for an Ottoman pashalik (province). Near Akhaltsikhe, concealed in scenic mountains, we will discover the Sapara Monastery (10th century) where we will again see beautiful architecture and frescoes. Overnight accommodations in Akhaltsikhe.
We will drive out of Akhaltsikhe following Mtkvari river gorge toward the town of Borjomi. On our way there will be ruins of Atskuri castle, which used to be the center of Meskheti region. Apostle Andrew is said to have preached here and the whole population converted to Christianity as early as the 1st century. Then we will pass through the idyllic landscapes of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park (a World Wildlife Foundation/ WWF site) and reach the town of Borjomi. It was founded on therapeutic mineral springs and used to be popular place among the Russian elite in the 19-20th centuries. We will visit the Likani Palace, the summer residence of Duke Mikhail Romanov (Tsarʹs brother) and later of Joseph Stalin. This region is popular for its honey and ʹSuluguniʹ cheese, which we will taste.
The next stop will be Kutaisi, the center of Imereti region. This city was known from ancient times and used to be the capital of Georgian Kingdom. We will see the magnificent Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery complex (11th and 12th centuries) both of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Following our way to Tbilisi we will stop in the town of Gori, the birthplace of Josef Stalin. We will have a look at Gori citadel, said to be once conquered by Pompeii, the Roman general. But more interestingly, we will see Stalin’s impressive statue on the central square, such statues are rare to find in the former Soviet Union these days. Those who wish may visit the Stalin Museum to learn in detail about the life of this unordinary person. Evening arrival and overnight in Tbilisi.
We take walk in old Tbilisi to explore its cultural treasures. We will visit Metekhi church (13th century) by which an impressing statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali (the founder of Tbilisi) stands. It is overlooking the beautiful old town on the Kura or Mtkvari river. We walk in celebrated Chardin and Sololaki quarters; see St. George Armenian church where the famous poet Sayat-Nova was killed during the Persian invasion. Not far from it stand the Synagogue and the Sioni Cathedral (6th century) that retains the first vine cross of Georgia’s enlightener St. Nino. In this same quarter we will see the renowned decorated Sulfur Baths and the Mosque. We may ascend the Narikala Fortress (4th century) and enjoy a panoramic view of the city. (Note, all these sights are located in a small quarter of the old town and it will take us only about two to three hours to see them all.) Passing the old town we will reach Rustaveli Avenue, the heart of Tbilisi. The Freedom Square with the golden statue of St. George the Victorious, the symbol of Georgia, will be an interesting sight to see.
In the second part of the day we will explore Mtskheta, next to Tbilisi, the ancient capital of Georgia, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We will visit historic churches that are outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture: Samtavro, the burial and coronation place of the Georgian royal family, Svetitskhoveli (4th century), the heart of the Georgian Orthodox Church where the robe of Christ is buried, and Jvari where St. Nino erected the first cross in Georgia. While in Tbilisi we will taste the celebrated Georgian food and wine (note, Georgia boasts to be the birthplace of wine). Overnight accommodations in Tbilisi.
Today we will visit Sighnaghi, a small town that has turned into an important tourism hub in Georgia. It is located to the east of Tbilisi, in Kakheti region, which is famous for its wines and historical monuments. Sighnaghi resembles small Italian towns, most of the houses here are dating back to 17-19th centuries. They are built around cozy small squares, are made of brick and have ornamented wooden balconies. Sighnaghi thrived during the reign of King Erekle II in the 18th century. The king built a fortress, which now highlights the beauty of the town. The fortress wall is currently the longest in the Caucasus (4.5 km.). Built in the “King’s Tower” of the city wall we will find St. Stephen Church (“Stepan Tsminda”). Taking the stairs up its bell tower we will enjoy a wonderful panoramic view over the Alazani valley and the Caucasus mountain range.
While in town, depending on the season calendar, we may attend music and folk song concerts and festivals (the most famous one is St. Nino Feast on June the 1st). In Sighnaghi or in vineyards around it we will enjoy delicious grapes, grape juice and wine-tasting. Outside the town we will visit the Monastery of Bodbe (4th century) that hosts Saint Ninoʹs tomb and the remarkable St. George church (9th century). This area is regarded sacred by Georgians; they say the water in the monastery has healing powers. After Bodbe we will drive toward the Azerbaijani border to visit another major historical site, David Gareji Desert, a spectacular cave monastery. St. David Garejeli, one of the Thirteen Syrian Fathers, founded this monastery in a desert here in the 6th century. The ascetic life of David Garejeli and his disciples played an important role in the formation of Christianity in Georgia. In the evening we will return to Tbilisi.
From Tbilisi our route lies back to Armenia. Crossing the Georgian-Armenian border we will enter the Lori region. Here we will visit the renowned Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries (10th century), UNESCO World Heritage sites. Through the scenic National Park we will reach the town of Dilijan to walk in its famous Artisans street. Our next stop will be Lake Sevan, the treasure of Armenia, one of the unique high-altitude freshwater repositories of the world (2000 meters above the sea level). Trying the local fish will be a special delight. Our program will finish here. At the farewell dinner we may toast each other to the memorable experiences of previous days. Overnight accommodations in Yerevan.
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