CULTURE, HISTORY, & FOLKLIFE IN THE CAUCASUS
(AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA, ARMENIA)
15 Day Tour
The Caucasus comprises of three unique yet interconnected countries – Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – each with its own distinct customs and traditions. Connected historically with the great Silk Road, this rich region was once traced by ancient caravans from the East carrying delicate jewels, precious stones and spices. Our own tracing of the Caucasus will begin in oil-rich Azerbaijan, from where we journey west to the famous wine-making regions of Georgia, north into the mountainous provinces of the Greater Caucasus, and finally into Armenia, one of the oldest Christian countries along with its Georgian neighbor.
Discover architectural monuments, monastic jewels and cities steeped in a long, rich history of Soviet, Christian, pagan and Arab influence. Along the way, experience fabulous food, wine, music, art, and warm hospitality from our Caucasian hosts. Indeed, the celebration of the table – with endless toasts of wine – is part of the Georgian celebration of life!
Joining portions of this tour will be Iconic Journeys Worldwide founder, Jerry Sorkin. An expert on Oriental rugs from the Caucasus, Jerry has lectured widely on the topic in taught a course at the University of Pennsylvania’s College of General Studies entitled, “Oriental Rugs as a Reflection of Culture”. Jerry’s passion for Oriental rugs began as a hobby while in High School and continues to this day. Shown below, send from left, in northwest Pakistan in the late 1990’s where Jerry was involved in manufacturing rugs.
Saturday, October 12- ARRIVAL IN BAKU (Azerbaijan)
Arrive at Baku airport. Meet your Azerbaijan guide and transfer to your hotel for check in. Overnight in Baku.
Sunday, October 13- BAKU CITY/ ABSHERON PENINSULA (Azerbaijan)
After breakfast, depart for the Absheron peninsula sights. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ateshgyakh Fire Worshipers Temple and enjoy the view of the Burning Mountain Yanar Dagh, also known as the Fire Mountain. Afterwards, drive back to Baku and have a sightseeing tour of the city’s historic and architectural monuments. Visit the Shehidler Khiyabany and enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of Baku from the Martyrs Lane. You will also visit the medieval fortress of Old Baku known as Ichari Shahar, or the Maiden Tower, and also see the Complex of Medieval Caravansaray as you walk along the central streets of the city. During the afternoon, enjoy a relaxing and scenic Caspian Sea Cruise. Transfer to the hotel for check in where you will attend your welcome dinner. Overnight in Baku. (B, D)
Monday, October 14- GOBUSTAN/ CARPET MUSEUM (Azerbaijan)
Today, visit another amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site, which will take you all the way back to the years of the first humans who inhabited our planet. The Gobustan National Park preserves more than 6,000 rock engravings, which dates back all the way to an astounding 40,000 years.
These engravings cover hunting scenes, men, animals, boats, and much more. On the way from Gobustan, stop by the Bibi-Heybat mosque, which is a recreation of a mosque built in 13th century and is one of the most visited shrines of Baku. Its main yard is another site worth mentioning, as you can see another very old onshore oil field of the Absheron peninsula. The new building of the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum will amaze you with its vast collection of more than 10,000 items. Aside from carpets woven in-between the 17th and 20th centuries, an impressive collection of jewelry, ceramics and old metal works is also a part of the exhibition. Overnight in Baku. (B, L, D)
Tuesday, October 15- BAKU/ MEREZE/ SHAMAKHI/ SHEKI TOUR (Azerbaijan)
After breakfast continue your journey to the town of Sheki. En route, visit the Diri Baba mausoleum in the Mereze village. Tour the historical mosque Juma in Shemakha and the mausoleum of Yeddi Gumbez (Seven Domes), the graveyard of Shirvan Shahs’. Continue your trip to Sheki via the Muganly pass. On the way, stop in the Basqal village and the Ven Dam village in Gabala province, where ruins of the capital of ancient Caucasian Albania can be found, then arrive in Sheki to enjoy a sightseeing tour of the city. Visit the local Khan’s Palace, the local history museum, the mosque-madrassah, as well as a handicrafts workshop. Overnight in Sheki. (B, L, D)
Wednesday, October 16- SHEKI/ LAGODEKHI BORDER/ KVARELI/ TELAVI (leave Azerbaijan, enter Georgia)
Check out of hotel and depart to the Lagodekhi border between Georgia and Azerbaijan. Explore the Georgian region of Kakheti, the largest and the most important wine making region in Georgia, and is famous for its hospitality, delicious food and ancient Georgian technique of wine making that dates back to the 8th century BC, and is still used to produce unique organic Qvevri wine. First, we will visit Khareba Winery in Kvareli to enjoy a special wine tasting and to also see Georgia’s largest wine cellar. After an afternoon of tasting delicious Georgian wine, continue onward towards Telavi. Along the way, stop to see the Gremi complex; a beautiful 16th century architectural monument consisting of the royal citadel, the royal church, and a small archaeological exhibition. After, we drive to Telavi to check in to your hotel with a Georgian welcome dinner that evening. Overnight in Telavi. (B, L, D)
Thursday, October 17- TELAVI/ TSINANDALI/ ALAVERDI/ SIGNAGHI/ TBILISI (Georgia)
This morning we visit the magnificent Alaverdi Monastery dating back to the 11th century. Continue on to the Tsinandali House Museum and Winery founded in the 18th century by prince and poet, Alexander Chachavadze, and explore his summer palace while enjoying the beautiful English-style Park filled with beautiful roses and exotic plants. Continue to the 18th century royal town of Signaghi, which is surrounded by the longest defensive wall in the region, made up of 23 towers. We then head back to Tbilisi. Overnight in Tbilisi. (B, L, D)
Friday, October 18- TBILISI CITY TOUR (Georgia)
Enjoy the sightseeing tour of the old part of Tbilisi; the multicultural and multi-religious city with at least 1500 years of history. Visit the third largest Eastern-Orthodox church in the world, the Sameba Cathedral, as well as the cross-cupola church, the Metekhi, which used to be the part of Royal residential complex and dates back to the 12th century. After, take a Cable Car to the medieval Narikala Fortress and enjoy a Tbilisi Panoramic view from the statue of the Mother of Georgia. Next, journey on to the Sulfur Bath Area, the Tbilisi Synagogue and Sioni Cathedral. Walk along the narrow streets of the old town, full of souvenir shops, cafes and art galleries. Enjoy sightseeing along the Liberty Square and the Rustaveli Avenue, a central avenue in Tbilisi named after the medieval Georgian poet, Shota Rustaveli. In the afternoon, we explore the Archaeological Treasury Hall in the Georgian National Museum, where you will see Colchis Gold, which are unique examples of ancient gold and silver objects and jewelry made by early Georgian goldsmiths. Lunch and dinner independent in Tbilisi. Overnight in Tbilisi. (B)
Saturday, October 19- TBILISI / MTSKHETA /ANANURI /KAZBEGI (Georgia)
Today we explore the ancient town of Mtskheta, where we will discover two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Jvari Monastery (dating back all the way to the 6th century) and the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. Continue journeying up north along the Georgian Military Highway into the mountainous provinces of the Greater Caucasus, highest mountain range in Europe. Next we will make a short stop to see the incredible 16th century fortress Ananuri overlooking the Jinvali reservoir. Afterwards, visit Gudauri, Georgia’s top ski resort and Cross Pass. Stop for lunch on the way before arriving in Kazbegi. We then drive to the 14th century Holy Trinity Church, located at the beautiful solitary spot on the top of the hill, at an elevation of 7,119 ft (2170 meters). Enjoy breathtaking views of the snow covered Mount Kazbeg, an extinct volcano and the third highest mountain in Georgia reaching 16,558 ft (5,047 m). It is considered one of the most popular destinations for mountain climbers and is associated with the myth of Prometheus. According to legend, he was chained to the mountain for punishment for having stolen fire from the gods and having given it to mortals.
After visiting the church, we drive to the hotel for check in. Overnight in Kazbegi. (B, L, D)
Sunday, October 20- KAZBEGI – CHATEAU MUKHRANI – UPLISTSIKHE – KUTAISI (Georgia)
Today, explore the Uplistsikhe cave-town and visit the Château Mukhrani winery on the way. This is the first and the only true Georgian Royal Chateau, which unites four key components: vineyards, winery, castle and history. In 1512, Mukhrani became the prince’s estate, governed by the Bagrationi royal family. Mukhranian wine production was established by Ivane Mukhranbatoni, a famous representative of the royal family and stood as a strong political and public figure of the 19th century. You will have chance to enjoy a tour of the winery and a wine tasting with professional sommelier. After, drive up to Uplistsikhe (“Fortress of Lord”) a rock-hewn town dating to the 1st millennium BC, which comprises of a complex of cobbled streets, secret tunnels, water passages, markets and the oldest theatre in Georgia. Transfer to Kutaisi. Overnight in Kutaisi. (B, L, D)
Monday, October 21- KUTAISI/ GELATI/ PROMETHEUS CAVE (Georgia)
In the morning, start your Kutaisi sightseeing tour. Visit the old part of town and the Bagraty Cathedral. Next, drive from Kutaisi to visit the 12th century Gelati Complex. The Gelati Monastery was founded in 1106 by the famous king of Georgia, Davit the Builder. Gelati Complex includes an academy and remained for a long time as one of the main cultural and enlightening centers in Georgia. The Monastery Complex is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Next, head to the Prometheus Cave where you can see underground natural wonders: transparent lakes, forests of natural stalactite and stalagmite, and more. Walk through the cave and enjoy a short boat tour on an underground river (ONLY if water level permits). Overnight in Kutaisi. (B, L)
Tuesday, October 22- KUTAISI /BORJOMI/ VARDZIA (Georgia)
Today we leave for the town of Borjomi. Visit Borjomi Park where you will have chance to taste famous Borjomi mineral water freshly coming out from the ground and holds the spot as number one is exports, exporting to over 40 countries. We then head to Vardzia where you will visit the medieval Rabati Castle in Akhaltsikhe. On the way, make a short photo stop at the ancient 10th century Khervisi Fortress. Upon arrival in Vardizia, check in to your hotel. Overnight at in Vardzia. (B, L, D)
Wednesday, October 23- VARDZIA/ BAVRA BORDER/ YEREVAN (leave Georgia, enter Armenia)
After breakfast, drive to the rock-hewn complex of Vardzia. Vardzia complex is located on the left bank of the river Mtkvari and was founded in the 12th century. Initially planned as a town-fortress, the complex became a well-fortified monastery, which became a significant role in political, cultural, educational and spiritual life in the country. There are two-room, three-room and four-room cliff dwellings in Vardzia, including two story galleries and vertical tunnels, secret passes and even a pharmacy!
From there, drive to Bavra for your border crossing to Armenia where you will meet your Armenian guide. Then drive to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Armenian welcome dinner and overnight in Yerevan. (B, L, D)
Thursday, October 24- YEREVAN CITY TOUR/ ECHMIADZIN/ KHOR VIRAP/ YEREVAN (Armenia)
This morning we visit the ruins of the Zvartnots Temple and the incredible 7th century St. Hripsime Church, one of the oldest surviving churches in the country.
Afterwards, continue your sightseeing tour of Yerevan, which includes exploring Echmiadzin, the holy seat of the Supreme Patriarch Catholicos of all Armenians. The Cathedral was built in the site of a pagan temple after the adoption of Christianity as a state religion in 4th century. After touring the cathedral and museum, drive though the Ararat region to visit the Khor Virap Monastery located on the slopes of the biblical Mt. Ararat and enjoy the view of the magnificent mountain if weather permits.
Drive back to Yerevan and tour the rest of the city, such as the Matenadaran and the Armenia History museum. (B, L, D)
Friday, October 25- YEREVAN/ GARNI & GEGHARD/ SEVAN/ YEREVAN (Armenia)
Today we drive through the picturesque Avan Canyon, skirting formidable cliffs and passing exotic-looking gorges until a green plateau by the Azat River comes into view. Today we take lunch in a private home. Here you will see the pagan Garni architectural complex of the 1st century and feel the spirit of ancient ages.
After lunch, take another ten-minute ride through the gorge which will take you to the cave monastery of Geghard where you will discover the Sevanavank monastery in Sevan Peninsula.
Later, drive back to Yerevan. Overnight in Yerevan where you will attend your Farewell dinner. (B, L, D)
Saturday, October 26- DEPARTURE FROM YEREVAN
This morning, check out of your hotel and be transferred to the airport for departure.
Baku: Shah Palace
Telavi: Chateau Mere
Tbilisi: Rooms Hotel
Kazbegi: Rooms Hotel
Kutaisi: Argo Boutique
Vardzia: Vardzia Resort
Imperial Palace Hotel (or similar)
$5,895 per person! No Single Supplement!
English speaking guides and transfers
Visa application process
Meals not indicated by B, L, D
Gratuities to guide and driver