Treasures of the South Caucasus
* Retrace the ancient Silk Road from the shores of the Caspian Sea through the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.
* Imagine yourself a Silk Route merchant as you explore an authentic caravanserai in Sheki.
* Travel back in time to the sixth-century monastery founded by David Gareja, hewn out of the living rock.
* Stroll the streets of Tbilisi, stopping to sample fresh baked bread or pick up a bottle of Georgian wine from a local market.
* Marvel at the vast collection of manuscripts and the reverence for the written word at the Matenadaran museum in Yerevan.
* Pause for a moment of respect at the moving memorial to the victims of the Armenian Genocide.
* Feel the faith of centuries in the walls of the Geghard Monastery.
Other Tour Highlights
* Baku "Walled City of Baku with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower" (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Icheri Shere, Fountain Square, Martyr's Lane, Bibi-Heybat Mosque
* Baku Heydar Aliyev Center, Atashgah ancient Zorastrian Fire Temple
* Shemakha Djuma Mosque, the oldest mosque in the Caucasus
* Sheki Caravanserai, local market, Kish Village
* Royal town of Signagi
* Tbilisi Views of Narikala Fortress and Mother Georgia Monument, Anchiskhati Basilica,
* Sioni Cathedral with the Cross of St. Nino, Metekhi Church of the Virgin, Rustaveli Avenue and Old Town
* David Gareja Twelve Cave Monasteries
* Mtskheta "Historical Monuments of Mtskheta" (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Jvari Monastery
* Ananuri fortress complex, Zhinvali Reservoir Kazbegi Tsminda Sameba (Holy Trinity) and its bell tower
* Gudauri ... Highest village on Georgian Military Highway
* Vardzia Cave Town
* Gori ...Birthplace of Joseph Stalin, Stalin House Museum
* Akhaltsikhe-the magnificent Rabati Fortress, Borjormi Spa Town
* Kutaisi...Bagrati Cathedral & Gelati Monastery (UNESCO World heritage Site)
* Haghbat "Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin" (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
* Yerevan Historical Museum, Armenian National Gallery, Genocide Memorial,
* Matenadaran Museum, Vernisage Art Park
* Echmiadzin "Cathedral and Churches of Echmiadzin and the Archaeological Site of Zvart- nots" (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
* Khor Virap... View of Mt. Ararat, Monasteries of Khor Virap and Noravanq
* Garni ...Temple of Garni
* Geghard "Monastery of Geghard and the Upper Azat Valley" (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
* Sevan Region.. Lake Sevan at an altitude of 6,200 feet
Day 1 Baku
Flights usually arrive in the evening. Transfer to the hotel
Day 2-3 Baku
We get an early start today to take in Azerbaijan's capital and its environs. Parts of Azerbaijan, notably the Gobustan Peninsula just south of Baku, show evidence of human inhabitation from the Stone age.. Flaming natural gas vents on the Absheron peninsula, where Baku is located, may have inspired Zorathustra, a local resident around 1000 BC, to include fire rituals in his Zorastrian religion. Baku's residents stayed behind their 14th century walls until the 19th century, when the Russian empire began exploiting the great oil reserves under the waters of the Caspian Sea. Today the city is a beautiful mix, boasting the UNESCO listed old town, and a new town that boasts numerous unusual art-nouveau structures. Before we enter the old city, we visit Martyrs Lane, not only for the site, but for the beautiful panorama view of all Baku. Martyrs Lane in brief, is in memory for the lives lost in Azerbaijan's struggle for independence. Next, our stroll through the Old City, includes the Shirvanshah's palace, the Maiden Tower, several caravansarys, the old city walls and gates, the nearby Fountain Square and much more. On our 2nd day we venture a bit outside Baku, visiting the UNESCO petroglyphs on the Gobustan Peninsula and the nearby Mud Volcanos. After lunch beside the Caspian Sea, we visit the amazing Heydar Aliyev Center/Museum, the incredible building designed by the world renowned architect Zaha Hadid. We also see the Zorastrian Fire Temple on the northern outskirts. After dinner in the Old Cty, we take in Baku's night lights while strolling Baku's famous Bulvar. Overnights Baku
Day 4 Baku-Shemakha-Sheki
Our destination today is Sheki, but en route we have several interesting stops. First we visit the rock-hewn cliffside tomb of Dir Baba. Dir Baba was a most important Sufi Mystic who was entombed here. Legend has it that his body never decomposed, and hence he was given sainthood. We next stop at Shemakha, the former capital of the once powerful Shirvan Kharnate from the 6th-15th centuries. Here is the Djuma mosque, the largest mosque in the Caucasus, dating from the 9th century. High above, overlooking the town is the Geddi Gumbez Necropolis, which contains several unique domed mausoleums of important personages of the Shirvan dynasty. After the city was leveled by an earthquake, the capital was moved to Baku. After lunch, we continue on the Sheki. Overnight Sheki
Day 5 Sheki
Sheki is one of the oldest towns in Azerbaijan, founded some 2700 years ago. Sheki was an independent Kharnate until the 1820's when Russia finally got a grip on it. We tour the town which includes the Khan's palace, the caravansaray and the local market. We also stop at the neaby cobblestoned village of Kish, where we see the oldest church in the Caucasus, dating from the 4th century. Overnight Sheki
Day 6 Sheki-Signagi-Tbilisi
After breakfast, we drive to the Georgian border...go through customs formalities, and transfer to our Georgian coach. In geographic terms, Georgia belongs to neither Europe or Asia. Culturally, Georgia has language, customs, and traditions uniquely its own. The Georgian script is 1 of only 14 world alphabets, and evolved around the 5th century BC, possibly influenced by Aramaic. Before arriving in Tbilisi, we stop in the royal town of Signagi. King Erekle constructed a defensive wall around the town, in the 18th century, with much of its walls and gates still remaining. From its elevation, there are expansive views of the valley below and the Caucasus mountains beyond. Just outside the town is the idyllic convent of Bodbe dedicated to Saint Nino. It is an important pilgrimage site, as pilgrims come here to drink from the holy waters from the spring that burst forward when Saint Nino prayed here in the 4th century. After lunch here and taking a leisurely stroll through the picturesque town, we drive into Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Overnight Tbilisi
Day 7 Tbilisi
Tbilisi, set on the Mtkvari River, has changed hands many times. It was ruled by the Arabs for 400 years, before King David the Builder, defeated them in 1211, and moved the capital here. Overlooking the city is the Narikala Fortress. We tour the old town, taking in its many monuments, picturesque churches, basilicas, the old synagogue, the old baths, the fortress, the main Cathedral outside the town and much more. We have a great view of the old city from the Metekhi Church of the Virgin. On Rustaveli Avenue, we visit the State History Museum, where 1 of the hi-lites is the "Gold Room" containing solid gold artifacts and jewellry from over 2000 years ago. Overnight Tbilisi
Day 8 Tbilisi-Mtskheta-Ananuri-Kazbegi-Gudauri
Today we explore the treasures along the Georgian Military Highway. First we'll stop at the Jvari Monastery, an imposing structure overlooking the Kura and Aragvi Rivers. Nearby is Mtskheta (UNESCO World Heritage). It was the capital of the Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd Century BC to the 5th century AD. As the center of the Iberian civilization, it was significant both spiritually and culturally. Georgia's conversion to Christianity took place here in 337AD. The many "Historical Monuments of Mtskheta" make up this great UNESCO Site. Later on we stop at the fortress complex of Ananuri. Still further north before returning to Gudauri for the night, we stop at Kazbegi, just a stone's throw from the Russian border, where we visit the famous Tsminda church. We access the church, high above the town via 4-wheel drive vehicles, The views of Kazbegi and the surrounding Caucasus mountains are magnificent. Overnight Gudauri
Day 9 Gudauri-Gori-Kutaisi
Today our 1st stop is Gori town. Gori was once the stronghold of Georgian kings, but its present claim to infamy, is that it is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. We visit the Stalin house museum, housing his lifelong artifacts as he grew up to become the leader of the Soviet Union. We also see and enter his private railway car. From Gori, our beautiful drive takes us to Kutaisi. Georgia's second city. Here we visit the Bagrati Cathedral (early 11th century-built during the reign of King Bagrati III) and the Gelati Monastery with its magnificent frescos (founded in 1106 by King David IV), both being UNESCO World Heritage sites. Both are masterpieces of Georgian medieval architecture. Overnight Kutaisi.
Day 10 Kutaisi-Vardzia-Akhaltsikhe
Passing through beautiful scenery and picturesque villages, we arrive today at Vardzia. Vardzia, one of the most dramatic sites of Georgia is a unique cave monastery site. The expansive cliff face houses a labyrinth of ancient caves, with interior passageways, dwellings and churches, The main building period was the late 12th century during the reign of Giorgi III and his daughter Queen Tamar.. After lunch here we drive to Akhaltsikhe, home of the great Rabath Castle. Our hotel is actually within the castle walls. Overnight Akhaltsikhe.
Day 11 Akhaltsikhe-Borjomi-Tbilisi
This morning we tour the extensive Rabath castle. The huge complex is completely surrounded by its medieval walls and dates from the 12th century. The city and fortress has a long and varied history. For centuries it was governed by the Jakeli Dukes before it fell into the hands of the Ottoman Empire who governed the area from 1688-1828, before finally falling into Russian hands. Afterwards we drive towards Tbilisi, stopping for lunch in Borjomi, the picturesque spa town famous for its local mineral waters. We are able to sample the mineral water in the beautiful "Mineral water Park". We have some time here, where we stroll down Rustaveli, its picturesque main street, named after Shota Rustaveli, the famous medieval Georgian poet. Overnight Tbilisi.
Day 12 Tbilisi-David Gareja Monastery
Though some may stay behind in Tbilisi, we also include a day trip to the very important David Gareja monastery. David Gareja was the name given to the complex of 12 different cave monasteries here. 1 of the 13 Syrian fathers, David Gareja founded the monastery in the 6th century, where he made his home in a natural cave. By the 12th century, there were over 2000 monks living here. It was sacked and looted in the 13th century by the Mongols, and later overrun by Tamerlane's armies in the 14th century. Afterwards we return to Tbilisi.
Day 13 Tbilisi-Armenia border-Yerevan via Haghpat/Sanahin-Lake Sevan
After our breakfast we depart today for Armenia...our days end destination being the capital city, Yerevan. Armenia has had a long and difficult history, caught between the Greek, Roman, Persian, and Ottoman Empires. Yerevan was founded in 782 BC under the name Erebuni. In 310 AD Armenia converted to Christianity under King Trdates III, and adopted it as the State Religion, making Armenia the First Christian Country. We stop at the very important UNESCO World Heritage site of the Monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin which were built betwenn the 10-13th centuries. On the way to Yerevan we stop at the beautiful Lake Sevan, some 6,000 feet above sea level. Arriving in Yerevan, we check in to our hotel and we enjoy a "welcome Armenia dinner" at a local restaurant. Overnight Yerevan
Day 14 Yerevan-Echmiadzin-Zvartnots
Yerevan is one of the oldest cities in the world. Archeologists have discovered inscribed stones here that made Yerevan some 2783 years old. Yerevan is more of a contemporary city with colorful unique architecture and the city has a number of beautiful squares and parks. On a clear day we can even see Mount Ararat, barely 35 miles away just across the border in Turkey. After a tour of the city which includes Republic Square and the History Museum, we venture just 30 minutes outside the city to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Cathedral of Echmiadzin and the Zvarnots Temple dating from 643 AD. Overnight Yerevan
DAY 15 Yerevan-day trip to Garni, and Geghard
We have another interesting day stopping at the Garni Temple, the site of The Roman Temple of the Sun which was built in the 1st century. The Temple and surroundings became the summer residence of Armenian royalty. We also visit the Geghard cave monastery (UNESCO World Heritage). The name Geghard derives from the relic-the spear that one of the Roman guards had used to pierce the rib of the crucified Christ. Geghard monastery is uniquely carved into the side of a mountain and is one of the fascinating monuments of Armenia. The structure contains monastic cells, churches, tombs, and "Khachkar" crosses all hewn from solid rock. These crosses first appeared in the 4th-7th centuries. Once back in Yerevan, we stop in at the Matenadaran (Museum of Ancient Manuscripts) and visit the Cascades and the picturesque Art park..Overnight Yerevan
Day 16 Yerevan
Today in Yerevan we visit the Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial. However somber, it is a must for all visitors to Yerevan. later high above the city we stop at the Mother Armenia statue, which affords us great views of the city with the massive Mount Ararat looming beyond. Later we might take an optional tour of the Yerevan Brandy factory, or we may enjoy some free time in the city. Overnight Yerevan
Day 17 Yerevan-day trip to Khor Virap-Noravanq
We have saved one of the best days for last. A short drive takes us to the Khor Virap Monastery, a place of pilgrimage for Armenians all over the world. We have stunning views of the biblical Mount Ararat from the monastery, almost just a stone's throw away. Tearing ourselves away from this truly spiritual spot on our planet, we go to the beautiful Vayots Azor region, to visit the Monastery of Noravanq-one of the most splendid monuments of medieval Armenia set in a truly beautiful landscape of mountains and Spring colors. Overnight Yerevan
Day 18 Departure
Transfer to airport for return flight homebound or elsewhere