ARMENIA, GEORGIA & AZERBAIJAN TOUR
ARRIVAL TO YEREVAN & DEPARTURE FROM BAKU
14 DAYS | 13 NIGHTS
The complete South Caucasus 14 days/13 nights tour. This lovely territory, with its ancient culture, rich history, that has, from time immemorial, drawn the attention of thinkers, historians, students of local lore, travelers to it, like a magnet. We all know that these three South Caucasus countries are one of the newest, most desirable and hot travel destinations in the world; now let us show you why! Our tour package provides a comprehensive, authentic experience filled with culture, food, music, architecture and more!
Visit the Main Cathedral of Echmiadzin, the oldest state-built church in the world, having been built by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 303 AD (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Attend the colorful service of the Holy Liturgy on Sundays, which receives a numerous visitors and pilgrims from around the world. Visit the Cathedral Museum, where amongst other relics, you can see the Holy Lance, with which Jesus Christ was pierced on the cross.
Drive back to Yerevan. En route to Yerevan visit ruins of the 7th century Zvartnots Temple (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Zvartnots Cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake in 930 AD, and was lost to history until its discovery in the early 20th century. The Armenian and Arab historians alike marveled at the beauty of Zvartnots, calling it one of the most beautiful buildings ever built. Originally built to be the tallest church of the world at the time, and to last for 1,000 years (a projected date for the second coming of Christ), the Zvartnots Cathedral has been only partially reconstructed.
Return to Yerevan. Start exploring the Armenia’s capital city and one of the oldest cities in the world. Stop at the Victory Park and Mother Armenia monument to get a spectacular view of the Biblical Mt. Ararat with a panorama of central Yerevan.
Take a walking tour of Cascade Complex, with its Sculpture Park and Cafesjian Center for the Arts. See Fernando Botero’s sculpture of “The Black Cat” and other international artist’s works decorating the Park. The Cascade is an Art Deco version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a massive white stairway up a hillside of central Yerevan, decorated with green stretches, fountains and waterfalls, that run uphill and crowned with the obelisk of the Revived Armenia.
Visit the magnificent building of the Opera House, the postmodern Northern Avenue and the city’s main Republic Square, the centerpiece of the architect Alexander Tamanian’s master plan for Yerevan. The Republic Square is ringed by the National Gallery, National History Museum and several government buildings. Be sure to return to Republic Square after dark to see the “Dancing Fountains”, a choreographed water show synched with lights and music.
Continue to the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex on the hills of Tsitsernakaberd. The Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex houses both the Armenian Genocide Museum, and the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial. The museum offers an account of the 1915 genocide in which as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished while Armenia was part of the Ottoman Empire. Dinner. Overnight in Yerevan.
Continue to the oldest surviving building on the territory of Armenia, the 1st century Garni Pagan Temple. The Garni Temple was built by the Armenian King Tiridates with the money he received after visiting Emperor Nero in Rome, and was dedicated to Sun God Mithra. After adopting Christianity in 301 AD, the pagan temple lost its significance and the fortress of Garni became the summer residence of the Armenian kings. The temple was destroyed in 1679 in an earthquake, but was reconstructed in Soviet times.
Listen to traditional Armenian wind instrument duduk at the temple. Born in the early eons of Armenian history, the duduk is considered the most “Armenian” of all folk instruments, because of its origins and its ability to express the soul of the Armenian people.
Return to Yerevan. Take a tour of the “Ararat” Brandy Factory, featuring degustation of the two types of Armenian brandy. While Georgia has gained its fame for its wine, in Armenia it’s the brandy that has a solid international reputation. Even Winston Churchill himself was turned into Armenian brandy after Stalin introduced it to him at the Yalta Conference, after which the former British Prime Minister continued to have cases shipped to him until he died. Dinner. Overnight in Yerevan.
Continue to the masterpiece of medieval Armenian architecture, the 14th century Noravank Monastery. Set in the spectacular valley of red rocks, the monastery built out of the local stone, blends into the background of the molten red gorge, that contrasts with the stark blue sky. In the 13th–14th centuries the monastery became a residence of Syunik’s bishops and, consequently a major religious and cultural center of Armenia, closely connected with many of the local seats of learning.
Continue in the Vayots Dzor Province, which is Armenia’s most storied wine growing region. Armenia is considered one of the most ancient cradles of grape growing and wine making, as the Bible states: “Noah descended from Mt. Ararat and he planted the first vine, and made wine from it.” Stopover for wine tasting at the local winery in Areni Village, which is famous for its rather delicious dry red wine. Areni is marked by spectacular cliffs and caves, where archaeologists found evidence in one of the caves of the very first winery in the world, along with the world’s first shoe.
Continue to Goris. The endlessly winding roads that leap through the gorges over the mountains of Syunik come to a major junction at Goris, making this an inevitable stop between Yerevan, Stepanakert and the Iranian border. Boasting fine stone houses with arched windows and balconies on tree-lined avenues, a couple of museums and a busy little shouka – Goris is a great place for strolling around. It’s worth making a trip to the cave city on the other bank of the river and equally majestic sets of volcanic pillars, that spear through the steep grassy slopes above town. Goris is also known for its variety of homemade fruit vodkas, including the deliciously potent mulberry and Cornelian cherry vodkas. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Goris.
Built on a fairy tale natural fortress of rock on the edge of the Vorotan Canyon, Tatev is one of the jaw-dropping sights in Armenia. According to tradition, Tatev Monastery is named after Eustateus, a disciple of St. Thaddeus the Apostle, who preached and was martyred in this region. His name has evolved to Tatev. In the 14th and 15th centuries Tatev Monastery hosted one of the most important Armenian medieval universities, the University of Tatev, whose scholars contributed to the preservation of Armenian culture and creed during one of its most turbulent periods in its history.
Drive to Lake Sevan via Selim Pass. Stop at Selim Caravanserai, located at 2,410m above sea level. Tucked up on the Selim Pass, this caravanserai is the best preserved caravanserai in Armenia. The Selim Caravanserai was built in 1332 under the reign of Khan Abu Said II by the prince Chesar Orbelian, and contains inscriptions in both Persian Arabic script and Armenian. It’s not only a unique site, but the location on the pass renders it a spectacular stopping point.
Continue to Lake Sevan. Visit the Noratus medieval cemetery, with the biggest cluster of the early khachkars (cross-stones) on the territory of Armenia. The cemetery is spread over a 7 hectare field containing almost a thousand khachkars, each of them depicting unique ornamentation and telling a unique story. Noratus is presently the largest surviving cemetery with khachkars in the world, following the destruction of the khachkars in Old Julfa, Nakhichevan by the government of Azerbaijan.
Lake Sevan is one of the highlights of a visit to Armenia. The lakeshore is lined with sandy beaches, some teeming with activity and resorts, offering water sports such as sailing, jet skiing and windsurfing, and some quiet and secluded. Lake Sevan’s proximity to Yerevan, coupled with its cooler summer temperatures, outstretched blue waters and historic sights make it one of Armenia’s key places to visit.
Walk up to the 8th century monastery of Sevanavank on Sevan Peninsula, one of Armenia’s iconic landmarks. Sevanavank is perhaps the most photographed part of the lake. The conical towers of the monastery set against the backdrop of the turquoise lake and blue sky may look idyllic, but it was once a place of penance, a place of exile for monks from the religious capital of Echmiadzin who were guilty of sinful acts. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Sevan.
Continue to Alaverdi, the largest city in the Debed Canyon, an area rich with historical monuments and natural beauty. Visit the Sanahin Monastery. The moss-covered 10th century Sanahin is a fascinatingly detailed monastery complex, packed with ancient graves, darkened chapels and medieval gallery schools. During the period from the 10th-13th centuries, the monastery was an important and reputable center of learning, where humanitarian sciences and medicine were taught. Scientific treatises were written, paintings and miniatures were created here. The complex of Sanahin is also rich in Armenian khachkars (cross-stones). The most distinguished are Grigor Tudevordi (1184) and the Sarkis (1215) khachkars. The both khachkars are considered to be the finest examples of Armenian medieval sculpture.
Stop by the 9th century Bridge of Sanahin (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Next to the Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries, a part of the heritage is the Bridge of Sanahin, built over the heavy waves of the river Debed. Owing to its firmness and the harmonic construction of all the parts, the Bridge of Sanahin has its unique place among the numerous bridges of medieval Armenia and an outstanding one in the whole Transcaucasia. There are high-reliefs of lions, which seem to have preserved the bridge and guarded the road from the bridge to the monastery for ages.
Visit the 10th century Haghpat Monastery. This pearl of a monastery, perched on the lip of the Debed Canyon, has a UNESCO World Heritage Site status, along with Sanahin Monastery. These two magnificent monastic complexes are among the most outstanding examples of Armenian religious architecture. There is also a number of splendid khachkars (cross-stones) of the 11th-13th centuries standing on the territory of the monastery, the best known among them is the “Amenaprkich” (All-Savior) khachkar, which has been standing there since 1273. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Alaverdi.
Continue to the 14th century Khertvisi Fortress. Given its location perched above the river, that serves as a clear access point from modern day Turkey, it was most likely a defensive outpost to ward off invaders. According to the legend, Khertvisi was one of the first fortresses that was destroyed by Alexander the Great. An inscription on a damaged stone reads: “The King of the Kings”, and dates from 985 AD. The part of the fortress, the tunnel leading to the river, and a high tower have remained unharmed.
Drive to Borjomi. Stop at the city park in Borjomi and enjoy the world renowned “Borjomi” mineral water. Famous throughout the former Soviet Union for its salty-sour mineral water, Borjomi is a popular resort town in the very green valley of the swift Mtkvari River. The town dates from 1829, when some soldiers discovered a health-giving mineral spring here. A Russian governor of the Caucasus, Count Vorontsov, developed Borjomi as a resort, one that became particularly fashionable after Duke Mikhail Romanov (brother of Tsar Alexander II) took a liking to it.
Continue to Kutaisi, the second largest city of the country. It is widely believed by historians that when Apollonius Rhodius was writing about Jason and the Argonauts and their legendary journey to Colchis, Kutaisi was the final destination of the Argonauts and the residence of King Aeëtes.
Visit the 11th century Gelati Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Gelati was founded by King David the Builder in 1106 as a center for Christian culture and Neoplatonist learning, and its academy became, according to medieval chroniclers, ‘a second Jerusalem’. Many Georgian rulers were buried here, including David himself and Queen Tamar. In 1510 the Ottoman Turks set fire to the complex, but Bagrat III of Imereti subsequently restored it. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Kutaisi.
Drive to the highland town of Mestia in the Caucasus Mountains. If Georgia is the place the gods reserved for themselves, then Svaneti was their playground. At an altitude of 1,400m above sea level, Mestia is a conglomeration of at least 10 neighborhoods, dotted with typical 9th to 12th century Svan towers, which are picturesquely floodlit after dark. These 5-6 storey towers were originally built as a defense against invaders, feuding clans and rock slides. Today, most are still owned by the same families who built them 900 years ago. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Mestia.
Visit the 12th century Lamaria Church. On the outskirts of Ushguli, on a lonely hill there stands an ancient Lamaria Church (Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God), with the church services here being conducted on a regular basis. Local residents believe that it was under this church that Queen Tamar, who was a central figure in Svans history, was buried.
Return to Mestia. Take a tour of the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography. Most of the treasures of Svaneti are collected in the Historic and Ethnographic Museum of Mestia, which was founded in 1936 on the basis of the collections of the Church of St. George, in Seti. Among the museum exhibits, highlights include icons from the Middle Ages and ancestral artifacts from the noble family Dadeshkeliani dating back to the medieval times. Dinner. Overnight in Mestia.
Continue to Mtskheta and Jvari Complex. Mtskheta is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and has been Georgia’s spiritual heart since Christianity was established here in about 327 AD, and holds a near-mystical significance in Georgian culture.
Visible for miles around on its hilltop, overlooking Mtskheta from the east, the Jvari Church is, to many Georgians, the holiest of holies. The Jvari stands where the King Mirian erected a sacred wooden cross, soon after his conversion by St. Nino in the 4th century. Between 585 and 604 AD, the Stepanos I, the duke of Kartli, constructed the church over the cross.
Visit the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, where the Robe of Jesus Christ is believed to be buried. Apparently a Mtskheta Jew, Elioz, was in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion and returned with the Robe to Mtskheta. Christ’s robe is believed to be buried in the nave beneath a square, and one of the greatest religious holidays of Georgia, the Mtskhetoba-Svetitskhovloba is dedicated to the Svetitskhoveli and the Robe of Christ. Both Jvari and Svetitskhoveli are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Continue to Tbilisi. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Tbilisi.
Take a cable car to the 4th century Narikala Fortress, and get a superb panoramic view of Tbilisi, with its hanging houses, the historic Metekhi Church and the gold-topped Sameba Cathedral. Views also sweep down to the glass Peace Bridge, the gorge of the River Mtkvari and the picturesque spurs of the Trialeti Range. Take a walk along the fortress, and you’ll pass by the feet of the Mother Georgia monument, the celebrated symbol of Tbilisi.
Visit the Holy Trinity Cathedral, commonly called Sameba (“Trinity” in Georgian). With its gold-topped roof, it’s easy to spot the Sameba in most places in the city and catch its golden light. This is a new building that opened in 2004, but embracing classic Georgian church styles with epic proportions. The Holy Trinity Cathedral is the largest religious building in the area of the South Caucasus, and it’s the main cathedral of Georgia with the seat of the Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia.
Continue to Sioni Cathedral. The first church on this site was built by King Vakhtang Gorgasali in the 5th century and has been rebuilt several times since. The most significant relic of the cathedral is the venerated Grapevine Cross, which, according to a tradition, was forged by St. Nino, a Cappadocian woman who preached Christianity in Georgia in the early 4th century. The Cross of St. Nino, according to legend, is made from the vine branches bound with the saint’s own hair. Visit on a Sunday morning and enjoy the singing by the Sioni Boys’ Choir.
Continue to the fortified city of Sighnaghi, the prettiest town in the region, renowned for its charming architecture. The name Sighnaghi comes from the Turkish siğinak (shelter), as the town’s defensive walls with its towers, were built by King Herecle II to protect the area from incursions by Lezgins from North Caucasus. From the St. Stephen Church in Sighnaghi Fortress you can capture a terrific bird-eye view of surrounding areas, the Alazani Valley and the Caucasus beyond.
Take a tour of the Sighnaghi History Museum. This excellent, well-displayed modern museum has good exhibits on Kakheti archaeology and history, and a room of 16 paintings by the great Kakheti born artist Niko Pirosmani – the biggest collection of his work after the National Gallery in Tbilisi.
Continue to the Georgia-Azerbaijan border and arrive at Lagodekhi-Balaken border crossing. After border formalities change the guide and transportation. Start the Azerbaijani part of the tour and continue to Sheki. Rich in Islamic architecture and Silk Road history, the city of Sheki is Azerbaijan’s true travel gem, located on the picturesque hillsides of the Caucasus Mountains in the background of snowy peaks. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Sheki.
Visit the Sheki Caravanserai Historic Complex, which was built to house caravans as they passed through on the Silk Road to and from China. In the 18th-19th centuries about 5 big caravanserais were active in Sheki. Only two of them have survived. The Upper and the Lower caravanserais were built with a view of all conveniences and safety of merchants and their goods. The merchants stored their goods in cellars, traded on the first floor, and lived on the second. Each one had more than 200 rooms. When closed, caravanserais turned into fortresses.
Visit the Sheki Silk Factory and the local handicraft workshops. The Silk Factory in addition to being on the Silk Road, has itself been a major silk producer over the past four centuries, and is famous for its various silk products. The plant was constructed in 1932 and was once the Soviet Union’s largest silk plant. Nowadays the silk industry is still alive, but through smaller private workshops. Certainly you won’t miss an opportunity to visit one of the many of silk workshops, where vendors sell very fine silk items.
Visit the church of St. Elisaeus in the village of Kish, one of the most frequently visited monuments of the Christian culture from the period of the Caucasian Albania. The current building of the church of Saint Elisaeus was erected in the 10th-12th centuries. According to some scholars the current church in Kish is standing on the same spot where the Apostle Elisaeus had founded his original church. That is the reason why the church in Kish is often called the Mother of churches in the Caucasus. In the inner yard of the church there is an ancient burial place and above the burial, the restorers placed a transparent plastic dome, that allows to see the skeleton of an unusually tall man (about 2 meters tall).
Drive to Shemakha. En route to Shemakha stop at the Maraza Village and visit the 15th century Diri Baba Mausoleum. Many legends and mystic events are related to this monument, hence, the mausoleum attracts many pilgrims and curious people since the 17th century. The mausoleum delights with the austerity of its architecture, purity of lines, bright and smooth surface of its walls against the background of the rough and dark cliff, and it is also distinguished by its grandeur.
Continue to Shemakha. For centuries, Shemakha was the royal seat of the Shirvan Shah’s and thus one of northern Azerbaijan’s most prominent cultural and trading cities. Present day Shemakha is a recognized center of winemaking and carpet weaving. Besides, it is a city of literature since it was the native land of many Azerbaijani poets.
Visit the 18th century Yeddi Gumbez (The Seven Cupolas) Mausoleum, which was the burial place for members of the royal families of the Shirvan Shahs. The monument’s name is defined to be the number of gravestones in the crypt. Other mausoleums of the group are partly destroyed and are without cupola or walls. This architectural monument was built for a family of Mustafa Khan, the last khan of Shemakha.
Continue to Baku. If time permits, visit the Zoroastrian Fire Temple of Ateshgah. Situated on the Absheron Peninsula, the Fire Temple of Ateshgah was a place of sacrifice founded above a natural gas vent. The altar of the temple is situated right at the natural gas vent, igniting a large flame in the middle and four smaller flames on the rooftop corners of the pavilion. Surrounding the temple altar are a number of small cells which held the ascetic worshippers and pilgrims. Check into a hotel. Dinner.
An evening tour to Yanar Dag, a naturally occurring fire which blazes continuously on a hillside. Situated on the Absheron Peninsula, 25 km northeast of the capital city of Baku, Yanar Dag is a 116m hill located on top of a pocket of natural gas that constantly erupts into flames. These flames jet out at least three meters into the air, through a porous layer of sandstone. Unlike the other mud volcanoes of Azerbaijan, Yanar Dag has no seepage of mud or liquid, so the fire always burns. Overnight in Baku.
Visit the 12th century Maiden Tower (UNESCO World Heritage Site). There are a number of competing explanations for the name, the most prominent of which is the legend of a maiden (said to be the daughter of the Khan of Baku) who threw herself off its top to her death in the waves below. The Maiden Tower houses a museum, which presents the story of the historic evolution of the Baku city. The view from the roof takes in the alleys and minarets of the Old City, the Baku Boulevard, the De Gaulle House and a wide vista of the Baku Bay. The Maiden Tower is one of Azerbaijan’s most distinctive national emblems, and is thus featured in Azeri currency notes and official letterheads.
Visit the 15th century Palace of the Shirvan Shah’s (UNESCO World Heritage Site). The Shirvan Shah’s Palace ensemble was built when the Shah’s capital was moved from Shemakha to Baku. This was the most prominent architectural complex in the medieval city. Despite having been built in different periods without a single plan, the several construction forms a harmonious whole.
Visit the 15th century Multani Caravanserai. Multani Caravanserai is one of the hundreds of caravanserais in Azerbaijan. This caravanserai was built in the 15th century for Indian merchants, fire worshippers, who came from the city of Multan in India (the present-day territory of Pakistan). Like the majority of caravanserais, Multani Caravanserai has a square shape.
Stroll through the 17th century old town’s Market Place with its narrow, cobbled streets that allow you to dine inside former caravanserais, and haggle with shop owners for silk tablecloths and scarves, the traditional traditional astrakhan hats called papakh, and Azerbaijan’s handmade carpets. As always, bargain hard and never accept the first price!
Drive to Absheron Peninsula and visit the Gobustan State Reserve, best known for being the home to the famous rock petroglyphs and mud volcanoes. The area has been settled since the 8th millennium BC. It is known for hosting thousands of rock engravings spread over 100 square kilometers depicting hunting scenes, people, ships, constellations and animals. Its oldest petroglyphs date from the 12th century BC. In 2007, UNESCO included the ‘Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape’ in the World Heritage list. Gobustan is also famous for its mud volcanoes. Nearly 300 of the world’s 700 mud volcanoes are located in this part of eastern Azerbaijan near the Caspian Sea. Return to Baku. A gala dinner with wine, featuring Azerbaijani folklore show.
Check out from hotel. Transfer to Heidar Aliev International Airport. Departure from Baku.
THE FEATURED TIER PRICE OF 1,695 USD PER PERSON IS BASED ON GROUP SIZE OF 10 PERSONS IN 3 STAR HOTELS
all transfers according to a program in a 17 seater bus with A/C; accommodation in a DBL room in 3 star hotels (13 nights with an early check-in on arrival day: 2 nights in Yerevan, 1 night in Goris, 1 night in Sevan, 1 night in Alaverdi, 1 night in Akhaltsikhe, 1 night in Kutaisi, 2 nights in Mestia, 1 night in Batumi, 1 night in Tbilisi, 1 night in Sheki, 1 night in Baku); meals HB (breakfasts & dinners); foreign speaking guide services; local guide services; 1 country map per person; 1 bottled water per person per day; entrance fees to museums and temples; performance at Geghard Monastery; duduk playing at Garni Temple; “Ararat” brandy degustation; wine tasting in Areni; “Wings of Tatev” cable ride; Ushguli Jeep rentals; folklore show with wine at a gala dinner in Baku; 1 free of charge place for a tour leader.
PRICE DOESN’T INCLUDE
airfare; entry visas; insurance; alcohol during the meals; all additional tours not mentioned in the program; tips.