Our epic journey through the dramatic Trans-Caucasus region with veteran Trip Leader Roger Williams brings us to lands with a fascinating ancient history, deep religious roots, and incredible people from a variety of cultures. We begin in Azerbaijan, ancient home to Zoroastrianism, and kick off our adventure by savoring its Central Asian atmosphere, craggy mountain scenery, and utter lack of outside visitors. After exploring its mountainous landscapes, we’ll cross the border into the Republic of Georgia. Here, we visit the charming riverside capital, Tbilisi, explore the rugged, green foothills of the Caucasus below Mt. Kazbek, visit ancient wine country, and then head to the city of Batumi, with its 19th century architecture, set along the shores of the Black Sea. With its innate beauty and fascinating cultural legacy, Svaneti has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. We’ll explore this remote region of northwestern Georgia—celebrated in myth as the home of the fabled Golden Fleece (Svaneti belonged to the ancient state of Colchis, from where Jason stole the Golden Fleece)—and end our grand journey in Armenia, whose rich human heritage dates back thousands of years and whose landscape is dotted with stone-carved monasteries and frescoed churches set in dramatic locations. Each day, we enjoy wonderful interactions with hospitable people, visit nine different World Heritage Sites, and spend comfortable overnights in lovely hotels and inns.
Days 1-4, May 20 - 23, 2016
Baku, Azerbaijan / Qobustan / Guba
Welcome to Baku, the largest city in the Caucasus! We’ll get acquainted with this ancient yet cosmopolitan Azeri capital, walking the intriguing cobble-stone back streets, with stops at the fascinating Palace of the Shirvanshahs (World Heritage Site), the Maiden’s Tower (World Heritage Site), Heydar Aliyev Center, the Nobel House, and the superb carpet museum. We’ll also visit Qobustan (World Heritage Site), site of thousands of Stone Age petroglyphs, and explore other important historical sites including the Ateshgah Fire Temple, Mrdakan Fortress, and Yanar Dag (Burning Mountain). On Day 4, we’ll head to mountainous Guba, a land steeped in Jewish heritage, and visit the famous Red Town and a local carpet weaving workshop.
Days 5-7, May 24 - 26, 2016
Lahic / Sheki / Gremi, Georgia
We leave Baku for the traditional mountain village of Lahic, famous for its carpet weavers and coppersmiths. We’ll visit some of these workshops and watch the masters and their apprentices create elaborate and complex designs before continuing west to Sheki, situated in a serene mountain setting. Highlights include visiting an impressive Shebeke stain-glass workshop and touring the Kish Albania Church, built in the 1st century. On Day 7, cross the border from Azerbaijan to Gremi, Georgia, once the mighty capital of the Kakheti province and Georgia’s wine country.
Days 8-9, May 27 - 28, 2016
Telavi / Tbilisi
The Kakheti province of Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. We’ll visit a 300-year-old wine cellar, learn traditional Georgian wine-making techniques, tast home-made wines straight from quervi, visit the Lavra Monastery, and walk to ancient painted caves of Udabno in the semi-desert area of David Gareji. In Tbilisi, head to the 4th century Narikala Fortress, with views of the mighty snow-capped peak of Mt. Kazbegi (16,508') in the distance, and spend time at the 16th-17th century brick-domed Sulphur Baths.
Days 10-12, May 29 - 31, 2016
Gori / Uplistsikhe / Akhaltsikhe / Vardzia / Batumi
After arriving in Gori, the heart of the Kartli region and the birthplace of Stalin, we’ll visit Uplistsikhe, a first millennium BC cave town that was one of the main stops along the Silk Route, and continue on to Borjomi, famous for its mineral water, then head to Akhaltsikhe. We’ll enjoy a visit to an incredible church building carved out of rock revealing beautiful frescoes in Vardzia, then set out for a 4WD adventure over the picturesque Goderzi Pass to Batumi, a popular seaside destination in southeast Georgia.
Days 13-15, Jun 1 - 3, 2016
Svaneti / Zugdidi / Mestia / Lakhiri / Ushguli
Established in 1912, the Botanical Garden of Batumi is a marvelous spectacle (and a great photo opportunity!). We drive to Zugdidi and visit the Enguri Dam, currently the world’s second highest dam. We continue to Mestia, the tiny capital of Svaneti. Our excursions include a hike through the Svanetian villages of Lakhiri, bringing us past bright wildflowers and stunning views of the Greater Caucasus. In Ushguli, the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe and part of a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, we’ll explore incredible scenery and fascinating culture. We’ll also spend time with a local family to see how they make cheese.
Days 16-19, Jun 4 - 7, 2016
Tskaltubo / Kutaisi / Mtskheta / Akhtala, Armenia
In Tskaltubo, we’ll explore the Prometheus Grotto, a large limestone cave complex with an underground river and lake and 16 chambers full of extraordinary stalactites and stalagmites. We head to Kutaisi, the second largest city in Georgia before heading to the ancient capital of Georgia, Mtskheta, and visit its many historical sites including the the 6th century Jvari Church and 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (also World Heritage Sites!) After crossing the border into Armenia, we drive to 10th century Akhtala Monastery to examine its breathtaking frescoes, and continue to beautiful Debet Canyon, with its two World Heritage–listed monasteries, Hagpat and Sananhin.
Days 20-25, Jun 8 - 13, 2016
Dilijan / Sevan / Khor Virap / Yerevan / Matenadaran / Echmiadzin
In the alpine town of Dilijan, we’ll stroll beside the century-old wood framed houses and craftsmen’s workshops of the old town. Then we’ll explore the wonderful city of Yerevan and its surrounding villages, including the turquoise-blue Lake Sevan, the largest lake in the Caucasus region, the Khor Virap Monastery, the Matenadaran with its ancient repository that holds one of the world’s richest collections of illuminated books, manuscripts, and historical documents. Outside of Yerevan, we’ll visit the 1st century pagan temple of Garni, the fascinating 4th century Geghard Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 7th century St. Hripsime Church, the Main Cathedral of Echmiadzin, and the open-air Zvartnots Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Transfer to airport for international flights on Day 25, or extend your journey in Nagorno-Karabakh.