CAUCASUS BIG TOUR 15 DAYS
Group size 10 Start Yerevan
Countries 3 End Baku
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Challenging
Group Size Medium Group
On this tour you will experience fascinating countries with an ancient culture, own languages and scripts, intriguing traditions that express all the past centuries, when the Caucasus was a melting pot of western and oriental influences. Marvel with us beautiful sceneries and early Christian monuments, enjoy the delicious Caucasian cuisine with Georgian wine and let yourself be inspired by the extraordinary hospitality of the local population!
- 14 x nights in 3* or 4* hotels: 2 x Yerevan, 2 x Sevan, 2 x Tbilisi, 2 x Gudauri, 1 x Telavi, 2 x Sheki, 1 x Qabala, 2 x Baku.
- All-route English-speaking guide.
- Transfer by modern coach throughout the whole trip.
- Meals: 13 x HB, among which also dinner at farmer ’s family on the 9th day.
- English-speaking city tours (or other languages required) in Yerevan, Tbilisi,Mtskheta, Gori, Gudauri, Sighnaghi, Qabala, Sheki, Baku.
- Entrance+guided tour: all sacred buildings according to the itinerary; Monastery Naravank, Sevanavank church complex, Museum of Genocide Victims in Yerevan; Zvartnots ruins; Cave City Uplistsikhe; the Stalin Museum; Princess of Chavchavadze residence in Tsinandali; Nij church, Kish church, Khan Summer Palace of Sheki, the Shirvan Palace in Baku.
- Other highlights: wine tasting in Tsinandali.
- Visa Fee
- Travel Insurance
- Single Supplement
- Any meals not mentioned
- Any transfers not mentioned (e.g. first and last day)
- Any expenses of a personal nature
- Camera/video permits
- Tips to the guide and driver
Welcome to Caucasus
Your plane lands at the airport in Yerevan where we start our exciting Caucasus journey. At the airport you are welcomed by our guide and taken by the comfortable couch to the hotel, where you can relax from the arrival.
Overnight in Yerevan.
Today you get acquainted with the Armenian capital, which is one of the oldest cities in the world (of 782 BC). What makes this city stunningly picturesque and unique is that the inner city of Yerevan reminds a drawing board, there is no city center as we imagine it, because old buildings are scattered randomly. We stroll by the main attractions of the Yerevan: the Republic Square, the Opera House, the Parliament and the Cascade. From the first day in Armenia you will be captured by the feeling that you are in the oldest Christian country. After the breakfast we drive to Echmiadzin, the seat of Catholicos of All Armenian, the spiritual head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. On the way you will see Zvartnots – a ruin from the middle of the 7th century. In the background we will be accompanied by the towering spiritual symbol a for all Armenians – the mountain Ararat. Afterwards you have a few more hours at your disposal and our tour guide will gladly help you with tips that you should not miss in the Armenian capital.
In the morning we drive to the south of the country to Khor Virap Monastery. Its history is deeply connected with the name of Grigor Luisavorich (St. Gregory the Illuminator) who introduced Christianity in Armenia and was imprisoned here for the 13 long years. In the village of Areni we visit a private winery and taste its highly-praised dry wine. In an enjoyable atmosphere during lunch in a private household you will have a possibility to learn more about everyday life of the Armenians. Then we will explore Noravank Monastery, which belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. The most peculiar feature of the monastery is the two-story facade of the Mausoleum Church, which constuction had started during the reign of the Prince Burtel Orbelian and was finished in 1339.
In the late afternoon, we start our way towards Lake Sevan. On the way at the height of 2400 metres we reach picturesque Vardenyats Mountain Pass. In the ancient times the Silk Road passed here, hence in the 14th century
Orbelian’s Caravanserai served as a place where weary travelers could find a shelter on their long way. Here you will also see the ruins of a small chapel. In the town of Noraduz is an ancient cemetery, which is known thanks to numerous khachkars of the 6th Century (Cross-stones, unique religious art of Armenia). After a short visit to the cemetery, we drive to the Lake Sevan. Finally we stay near the Lake Sevan, ‘Blue pearl of Armenia’, in one of the surrounding villages.
In the early morning we drive to Lake Sevan, one of the largest mountain lakes in the world, which lies at the altitude of almost 2000 meters. The beautiful scenery and crystal clear water will carry you away to the loins of nature and captivate you by the tranquil atmosphere. Except its spellbound beauty, the lake is also famous thanks to its island and the prominent landmark of Armenian architecture – Sevanavank Church Complex, built in the 9th c. It is well worth climbing numerous stairs to see the mysterious medieval complex and enjoy the breathtaking view. Then on our way to Alaverdi we will explore other treasures of Dilijan National Park. Among other things, we visit the open-air museum with several buildings, built in the typical rural Armenian style. Only a few kilometers away is Haghartsin Monastery, which construction lasted from the 10th to the 14th century. Today, as before, it is surrounded by dense forests and is considered a place of asceticism and reflexation. We take a short photo stop at the monastery. Only a few kilometers away is the Goschavank complex – a former Armenian monastery from the 12th-13th century. The well-preserved building is no longer used by the church, but remains a popular tourist destination. The place was named after the author of numerous fables and of the first law book in Armenian language Mechithar Gosch. In the evening we come back to the lake.
Road to Tbilisi
On this day we say goodbye to Armenia, pass the Georgian border and arrive in Tbilisi in the evening. But on the way we still have a few highlights for you. Armenia is considered as a very religious country, which is of no surprise, as Armenia was the first country in the world to have accepted Christianity as state religion. To the Armenian Apostolic Church belongs 94% of the population and it plays a crucial role for the Armenian identity. At the same time, there are other groups that complete the religious mosaic picture in Armenia. During this afternoon we will briefly visit Lermontowo and Fioletowo – two Molokan settlements. This Christian branch is popular among Russian population. We drive along the so-called Monastery Street, which are full of smaller and larger monasteries. Thanks to the picturesque mountainous scenery the area is known as “Armenian Switzerland”. In Haghpat we admire the glorious monastery from the 10th c, UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main feature of this monastery is numerous cross-stones, a religious art, unique to Armenia. The most famous one is Savior Cross-stone, which represents the scene of the Crucifixion. Another UNESCO World Heritage site that we explore is a monastery complex situated in the village of Sanahin. We will attend the monastery academy of 10-13 c. and the Mother of God Church of 934th. In the small town of Akhtala you visit a fortress and a monastery within the fortress walls. The fortress played an important role in protecting the northwestern territories of the country and now is best preserved among all fortresses in modern Armenia. Then we cross the border and have two-hour drive to the Georgian capital Tbilisi.
Ancient capital of Georgia
In the early morning we start exploring the Georgian capital. As we know the city was built at the intersection of caravan routes from the Black Sea to the Far East since the 4th century. The ancient rulers used favorable location of the city to profit, and famous traveler Marco Polo rescinded Tbilisi in his notes as a rich “Wonderful city”. We visit the old town on the river Kura, the well-known Metechi church from the 13th cent. The name of the city is derived from a Georgian word, meaning “warm source”. Indeed on our way we can see sulfur baths and springs, bursting out of the earth. During the city tour we visit the Sioni Cathedral – a sanctuary for the Georgians, as the grape vine cross of the princess Nino, who christianised the country in 4th c., is kept there. You also see a synagogue and the 6th-centuried Antchiskhati church – the oldest in the city. Your tour guide tells you about the former German quarter in the city. In the afternoon we are heading to the cradle of Georgian culture – the oldest city in Georgia, Mtskheta. It is the most religious city of Georgia as paradoxically it has been both the shrine of pagan idols and the place where Christianity in Georgia takes its origin. Today the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that, with its numerous archaeological and historical monuments, resembles an inhabited open air museum. In this approximately 3000-years-old city we visit the Jvari church (6th century), built on the place where the princess Nino after the Christianisation of Georgia towered the large wooden cross. Then we lead our way to worth seeing Svetitskhoveli Cathedral of the 11th century, where, according to tradition, Jesus Robe should be located. In the oldest city of Georgia you should definitely try local specialty, hinkali, cooked dumplings that look like little bags with broth and meat. In the evening we will come back to Tbilisi.
Through the Silk Road
In the early morning we leave Georgian capital and drive towards Imeretia. We definitely are not going to miss on the way, as the route keeps a lot of attractions. We drive along the old Silk Road and visit the cave city Uplitsikhe, which is known since the 1st century BC. and was inhabited until the 19th century. In its heyday, the city counted up to 700 rock houses. Today you can still see the old market, old pharmacy and ancient pagan devotion site. Our next point is Gori. The city is ingrained in history as birthplace of the bloodthirsty dictator Joseph Dzhugashvili, known under the name Joseph Stalin. Next to his birth house Stalin museum is set up, which can be interesting especially for the Western visitors, as notorious Soviet heritage is represented here at all its ‘glory ’. Not far from the village of Ateni we visit the Georgian Orthodox Sioni Church, built in the 7th century. Architecture of this church will seem you familiar, because we already encountered with its prototype in Mtskheta. The walls of the church are painted with the first inscriptions of Nushuri, an early version of the Georgian alphabet from 835. First examples of Mchedruli, the present Georgian script (since 980), are also found in the Ateni Sioni Church. Then we turn north and drive through the Georgian Army road, captured by a scenic area. This is the historical name of the highway in the Greater Caucasus, connecting Russian North Ossetia with Georgia. The path was built in the second half of the 18th century during the 5th Russian-Turkish war. In the evening we are arriving to our hotel in Gudauri.
For many tourists Kazbek is a destination on its own. You want this mountain either climb or at least immortalize in the photo. This snow-capped mountain, quite capricious and mysterious, either shows itself among the clouds and or hides behind them again. In the morning we go for a walk through the town of Gudauri, enjoy morning chill that only can be found in the mountains. At the Cross pass, 2 400 meters above the sea, we have a scenic stop, hence continue along the Tegri River. Our next point is the alpine settlement Stepantsminda. We take a rest break. You can taste a very popular in Georgia trout-like fish kalmachi. From Stepantsminda we make a hike to the Gergeti Trinity Church, which is picturesquely located on the flank of the mountain. On a clear day, Mount Kazbek rises directly where, according to the legend, Prometheus was chained for bringing people fire. Before we return to Gudauri, we make a stop in the picturesque Dariali gorge. Past glaciers and waterfalls we drive to Gudauri back.
Wine region of Kakheti
From the mountainous region we come to Kakheti valley, birthplace of the wine. On our way we will visit Alaverdi Monastery – the third largest sacral building in the country, built in the 4th c. Although the monastery was ruined by numerous earthquakes, the building preserved virtually in its original shape. Around lunchtime we arrive in Tsinandali. In this small village, we visit world-famous wine producer. After a short walk we finally admire wine tasting of different local flavours. Afterwards we visit the family residence of Chavchavadze princess with a beautiful garden. In the afternoon we visit a monastery area in Ikalto, built in the 7th century. Here we will look at the unique qvevris – buried clay jugs for wine storage, listed to UNESCO heritage. We also visit the monastery academy. To the wine theme we will come back in the evening – for dinner we drive to Nafareuli where we are hosted by local family farmers. Here you can learn more about Georgian traditions and visit the rural wine cellar. At the evening we will not forget about traditional Georgian dessert, churchhela. You will make sure that Georgia is ubiquitously hospitable and family-oriented country. In the evening we come to Telavi and spend the night there.
Road to Azerbaijan
After breakfast we visit the town Gurjayani with its famous All Saints day Church from the 8th Century. Its architecture is different from typical Georgian building tradition, as it was built during the period of architectural experiments. The unique basilica has two domes over the middle of the three naves. We continue driving to Sighnaghi, called “City of Love”, that lies on the hillside above the Alazani Valley. Turning this small Georgian town into a tourist destination in Georgia was a successful venture of the Georgian government, based on a certain mystery of this place and its beautiful fortress. Our guide will definitely confide you in it. In the nearby Bodbe visit the Monastery of Saint Nino, who was buried here in the 4th century. Then we drive to the border of Azerbaijan in Lagodechi. Our way leads over village of Ilisu with its beautiful panoramic views to Sheki.In the evening we stay in the hotel and share our impressions at the dinner.
Silk production and an oriental bazaar
Our next destination is Sheki, the former center of silk production. As the Silk Road was intimately connected with the trade, first of all we pay a visit to a market square, that is local, oriental-style bazaar, which is beloved
highlight among travelers. The most popular thing there are the spices, which turn out to be quite unusual for the Western taste. Do not forget to try halva, made here according to traditional recipes. Then we visit the legendary Palace of Sheki Khans, built in the end of the 18th c. in the Ottoman style and is distinguished by its stunning frescoes and stained glass windows. In the late afternoon we arrive in the mountain village of Kish, where the legendary oldest church in the Caucasus is situated.
Capital of ancient Kingdom Albania
On the we see an imposing synagogue in Oguz. In the nearby village Nij we explore the former center of the Albanian Christian church. More over, this village is the original home of the Udi, an ancient people, whose beliefs, history and language you will learn about. The Udi Muslim beliefs have been recently risen among the Azerbaijani people. In the afternoon we take a walk through the downtown Qabala. The ruins of the ancient city of Qabala, which history dates back to the 4th c. BC and discovered only in the first half of the previous century, lie 15 km away. Up to the 12th c. before Persian conquest, Qabala used to be a capital of the ancient kingdom of Albania. Besides the beautiful mosques, we also see the Imam-Baba Mausoleum of the 18th century and the fortress tower from the 9th c. The city wall with battlements, gates, watchtowers, residential buildings, smelting furnaces and cemeteries was unearthed on a 25 acres. We leave the city and, in case of good weather, admire a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains, including the highest mountain in the area – Bazarduzu (4466 m).
Ethnographic diversity of the Land
This day will give us an opportunity to witness the ethnographic and religious opportunity diversity of this country. We are coming to the former capital of the Shirvan Khanate. Earlier, the town of Shamachi was one of the most significant crafts and trade centers on the edge of the Silk Road. The city has a long literary tradition as the most famous Azerbaijani poet Nasimi was born here. This made the city a symbol of Azerbaijani identity. We also visit here a Friday mosque and the impressive seven mausoleums in the cemetery. This day is one more opportunity for us to witness ethnographic and religious diversity of this country. Our first stop is Maraza (Qobustan) – the place of former Molokan (milkmen) settlements. The biggest peculiarity of this town is its inhabitants, Molokans, who represent a religious community that split from Russian Orthodox Church. In Maraza we see a century-old Muslim cemetery and two-story white cave mausoleum, built in honour of Diri Baba and is nowadays inhabited by hermit.
Our acquaintance with Azerbaijan starts with its capital, where the centuries-old quarters merge with totally modern parts of the city. It is the place where rich history mingles with vibrant present. For the western visitor Baku will be a capturing city. The sights line up one after another, all streets are full of fashionable boutiques and cozy pubs. Moreover, large parks, exquisitely restored old town, illuminated fountains and helpful locals create pleasant atmosphere around and an unforgettable image of Baku. The contrasts here have always been impressive, but now the city is also a real exposition of the contemporary architecture.
Firstly, we visit the legendary Zoroastrian Maiden Tower of the 5th c. Then we walk to the old bazaar. The entire old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and during our city tour we visit the oldest Multani Caravanserai, the Haj Banu-Hammam from the 15th c., the Juma Mosque (Friday Mosque), which housed the carpet museum in the Soviet times, the Beglyar Mosque, Abu Bakr Mosque with the tower from the 11th c., the Taza Pir Mosque, the Shirvan Palace and the Jewish district. You will be also impressed by the modern district with the three Flame Towers overlooking the city. They look as if they have been thrown from heavens into the city by some fairy tail giants.
On the day of departure, we offer you half the day of free time. You can catch up with what you missed on other days. Baku with its countless stores and boutiques is almost an ideal place to shop. You can also visit the local market and feel the flair of the oriental bazaar or just relax in one of many beautifully landscaped parks. In the afternoon we meet again and leave towards the airport. We hope you have discovered Caucasus, its culture, traditions and nature, and will keep this emotions for your lifetime. We are always happy to become your devoted companion for your future travels.