From Yerevan to Almaty aboard the Golden Eagle

Overview

Explore six countries on the shores of the Caspian Sea—Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Located at the historic crossroads of trade, religion, language, and the arts, these countries are home to intriguing modern cultures as well as some of the world’s most ancient and timeless architecture. Aboard the private luxury train Golden Eagle, enjoy a breathtakingly beautiful and remarkable journey as you discover the mysteries, diversity, and traditions of this part of the world. From your starting point in the historic Armenian capital of Yerevan, you’ll explore the beauty and rich history of the South Caucasus while weaving through Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. From the South Caucasus, you’ll then cross the Caspian Sea from Baku and continue along the great trading posts of the Silk Road in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, before arriving at your final destination of Almaty.

Itinerary at a Glance

Day 1
Yerevan, Armenia

Arrive in Yerevan, where you are met and transferred to the centrally-located Armenia Marriott (or similar). The Yerevan skyline is dominated by Mount Ararat in nearby Turkey, with its snow-covered peak towering in the distance. Yerevan has a rich history and was occupied as early as 6000 BC. The fortress of Erebuni was erected there in the 8th century BC. Seized by a succession of conquerors, the city later passed back and forth between the Turks and the Persians until 1827, when it was taken by Russia. It became the capital of Soviet Armenia in 1920 and following the demise of the Soviet Union, the capital of the new nation of Armenia.

Day 2
Yerevan / Board Golden Eagle

Today you’ll explore ancient Geghard Monastery, located about 25 miles outside of Yerevan. The monastery contains a number of churches and tombs, many of them cut into the rock. The complex of medieval architecture is set into a landscape of great natural beauty, surrounded by towering cliffs at the head of the Azat Valley. You’ll also visit the 1st century pagan temple of Garni, built to worship the Sun God Mitra, and explore the remains of an ancient fortress, palace, and baths there. In Yerevan city, visit the Cascade giant stairway and inside it, the Casfejian Museum of Modern Art. In the evening, board the Golden Eagle private train and start your adventure to Almaty.

Day 3
Lake Sevan and Dilijan

The train takes a scenic route today around stunning Lake Sevan and you’ll make a short stop to walk to the beach for a photo opportunity. Along with Lake Van and Lake Urmia, Sevan was considered one of the three great lakes of the historic Armenian Kingdom, collectively referred to as the Seas of Armenia; it is the only one within the boundaries of today’s Republic of Armenia. Continue to Dilijan to visit the nearby monastery of Haghpat, built between the 10th and 14th centuries. Its beautiful location in dense woosd in the gorges of two small mountain rivers makes an atmospheric backdrop for St. Astvatsatsin Church, its most important building. Later, enjoy an Armenian cognac reception at Avan Dzoraget Hotel on the Debed River, nestled among the forest-covered hills and rocky slopes of the Caucasus Mountains.

Days 4-5
Tbilisi, Georgia

Heading into Georgia, you’ll visit Tbilisi. Hemmed in by the Surami Range, the city extends for 17 miles along the banks of the River Kura. Despite the wars and fires that caused innumerable changes in the topography of Tbilisi, the old part of the city still retains much of its original layout, a spider’s web of narrow winding streets and alleyways. Historical sites visited include the 13th century Metekhi church, a cross-cupola church that forms part of the Royal Residential complex, and the 5th century Sioni Cathedral, the main church of Tbilisi. You’ll also visit the recently built Holy Trinity Cathedral, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world, and take a walking tour of the old town and Rustaveli Avenue. Here you will see the Great Hall of the Georgian Philharmonia, built in 1969-71, acknowledged as one of the finest public buildings built since World War II, and see the treasures of the city housed in the Janashia Museum of Georgia. You’ll also explore the beautiful Kakheti region, which borders the Great Caucasus Mountain range. This region is known as a birthplace of Georgian viticulture and wine-making. Tour the Tsinandali country estate of the Alexandre Chavchavadze family with its marvelous garden, house-museum, park, and winery dating back to the 19th century, located near Telavi, a couple of hours’ drive from Tbilisi.

Day 6
Gori, Uplistsikhe, Mtskheta

Gori is one of the oldest cities in Georgia, founded in the 7th century AD as Tontio. Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, was born here in 1879 and spent his childhood years in the city and later studied at its theological seminary (1888-94). The small house where Stalin was born is preserved under a canopy outside the huge columned palace-like building that houses the Stalin Museum, filled with interesting photographs of the man responsible for more deaths and suffering than any other human being. To the side of the museum is Stalin’s private railway carriage. From the town you’ll head go directly to Uplistsikhe where you will enjoy a private performance of traditional Georgian polyphonic singing.

The famous cave city of Uplistsikhe dates from the 6th century BC and is first mentioned in the chronicles of the 1st century AD. Carved into the rocky plateau we find huge echoing halls, meandering corridor-streets, chambers for pagan worship, and even the remains of Georgia’s oldest theater, complete with auditorium, stage, and orchestra pit. Like the other cave-towns of Georgia, it is rooted in the prehistoric traditions of the peoples of the Near East. On one side, the fortress was protected by the Mtkvari and an almost vertical rock face, on the other, by powerful fortifications. Its strategic position on the approaches to Gori and, in particular, its strong defenses, made it possible to control the surrounding terrain. There were numerous attempts to destroy Uplistsikhe. Only in the 13th century, however, did the hordes of Genghis Khan’s son Khulagu succeed in doing so, after capturing and destroying many fortresses in Transcaucasia with the help of siege machines. The 5,000 inhabitants of Uplistsikhe perished and life ended forever in the fortress.

In the late afternoon, visit the city of Mtskheta, Georgia’s Old Capital and a World Heritage Site due to its historical significance and numerous ancient monuments.

Day 7
Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, lies on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and the southern side of the Apsheron Peninsula, around the wide, curving sweep of the Bay of Baku. The bay, sheltered by the islands of the Baku Archipelago, provides the best harbor of the Caspian Sea, while the Apsheron Peninsula gives protection from violent northerly winds. Baku derives its international importance from its huge oil industry. The core of present-day Baku is the Old Town, or fortress, of Icheri-Shekher. Most of the walls, strengthened after the Russian conquest in 1806, survive, as does the 90-foot tower of Kyz-Kalasy (Maiden Tower, 12th century). The walled old town is highly picturesque, with its maze of narrow alleys and ancient buildings. These include the Palace of the Shirvan-Shahs, now a museum, the oldest part of which dates from the 11th century.  Also of the 11th century is the Synyk-Kala Minaret and Mosque (1078-79). Other notable historic buildings are the Law Court (Divan-Khan), the Dzhuma-Mechet Minaret, and the mausoleum of the astronomer Seida Bakuvi. Around the walls of the fortress, the regular streets and imposing buildings of modern Baku rise up the slopes of the amphitheater of hills surrounding the bay. You will stay at the five-star Four Seasons Baku (or similar) for two nights, while the train is loaded on the ferry to cross the Caspian Sea.

Day 8
Baku, Azerbaijan

This morning a Freedom of Choice tour to Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape is offered. Located 40 miles from Baku on the west bank of the Caspian Sea, Gobustan is an outstanding archaeological site of more than 6,000 prehistoric rock engravings. The area also features the remains of inhabited caves, settlements and burials. This is followed by lunch overlooking the Caspian Sea. Returning to the city in the afternoon, you can choose to enjoy free time in the city or visit a local theater. Dinner will be held in a traditional local restaurant this evening. Overnight at Four Seasons Baku (or similar).

Note:  The train is loaded in the early morning onto a cargo ferry for a 12- to 14-hour crossing of the Caspian Sea from Baku to the town of Turkmenbashi. Formerly known as Krasnovodsk, it is the western terminus of oil and natural gas pipelines and of the Trans-Caspian Railway, which links the Caspian region with central Asia. The cargo ferry has limited passenger facilities with basic cabins and catering, and the adventurous can choose to travel on the ferry with the train. Upon arrival at the port at Turkmenbashi, the train will be offloaded and you will travel overnight to Ashgabat (this option needs to be requested at the time of booking the tour).

Day 9
Baku / Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

If you have not chosen to take the cargo ferry across the Caspian Sea, you will fly directly to Ashgabat and overnight at the Oguzkent Sofitel in Ashgabat. Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, is known as the “Las Vegas of the Kara Kum.” Situated between the Kara Kum desert and the Kopet Dag mountain range, Ashgabat is a relatively modern city built upon the ruins of the Silk Road city of Konjikala and the Soviet city built after the devastating earthquake of 1948. The city's extravagant fountains, golden domes and towering modern buildings appear strangely incongruous in this desert setting. Highlights of your visit include a visit to the National Museum and Kipchak Mosque.

Day 10
Darvaza Gas Crater

The Golden Eagle makes a brief scheduled stop at Ichoguz, where you have the option to leave the train and make a short journey to Darvaza’s famous burning gas crater, a spectacular sight best seen at night. Located in the middle of the Kara Kum desert where the area is rich in natural gas, the 70-meter-wide crater is known by the locals as the “Door to Hell,” and has been burning for over 40 years.

Day 11
Khiva, Uzbekistan

The train travels toward Urgench, from where you transfer to the ancient city of Khiva, founded 2,500 years ago. As one of the Silk Road’s most important trading posts and now a World Heritage Site, it lies at the crossroads of the routes between Mongolia, Russia, China, and Persia. A truly magnificent sight to behold, it rises out of the desert to reveal a wealth of impressive architecture. Stepping back in time, you’ll discover the impressive mosques, bazaars, and minarets within Khiva’s ancient walls.

Day 12
Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Bukhara is quite simply outstanding. Like Khiva, UNESCO sponsored the renovation of much of the city for its 2,500th anniversary in 1999. The most enjoyable aspect of this city is to just immerse oneself in its atmosphere and re-live some of its fascinating history at the crossroads of Asia. The highlight of this wonderful tour is a visit to The Ark, a fortified residence of the Emirs of Bukhara, the despotic and ruthless leaders who ruled until Soviet times. You'll then travel out of the city to experience the Emir’s enchantingly named Palace of the Moon and Stars.

Day 13
Samarkand

Just the mention of Samarkand instantly conjures up evocative images of the Silk Road, more so than any other town. Founded in the 6th century BC, Samarkand’s stunning architecture hints at its former status as one of the most important cities in Asia. It’s particularly noted for its architectural remains from the 14th to the 17th century, when it flourished as the fabled capital of the Mongol empire of Timur and his successors. Today you'll visit some of its most significant sites including Registan Square, the refined elegance of the beautifully proportioned Bibi Khanum Mosque, and the Ulag Beg observatory, one of the earliest Islamic astronomical observatories, built in 1428. Before dinner, return to the now illuminated and awe-inspiring Registan Square.

Day 14
Tashkent

Tashkent is the capital city of Uzbekistan and you'll spend time touring this modern Soviet-style city that was rebuilt following the devastating earthquake of 1966. The tour includes the Old Town, where traditional homes and religious buildings line the narrow streets, and here in a small library you’ll be privileged to see one of Islam’s most sacred relics—the world’s oldest Koran. This is followed by a visit to the Railway Museum and the Museum of Applied Arts.

Day 15
Almaty, Kazakhstan

Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan and notable for its wide tree-lined boulevards. Surrounded by the majesty of the Tien Shan Mountains, this beautifully verdant city derives its name from “alma,” meaning “apple.” Just a short distance from the city, apple orchards thrive in abundance. The city tour includes a visit to Panfilov Park, where you'll have the opportunity to visit the Zenkhov Cathedral, built entirely of wood. Overnight at the InterContinental hotel, or similar, before transferring to Almaty Airport to begin your journey home.

Day 16
Depart Almaty

After breakfast, transfer to the Almaty International Airport for your flight home.

Highlights

Highlights

See the prehistoric rock engravings at Gobustan, Azerbaijan
Discover the old Silk Road outposts of Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand
Enjoy a private performance of Georgian polyphonic singing at Uplistsikhe Cave City

Details

Length: 16 days
Cost From: $21,495  
Arrive: Yerevan, Armenia
Depart: Almaty, Kazakhstan
Lodging: 10 nights aboard the Golden Eagle, 5 nights hotels
Meals: All meals included (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Journeying by Rail
Trip Level:

12-day rail journey, cultural explorations and walking tours
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