GEORGIA & ARMENIA TOUR (KUTAISI AIRPORT)
ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE FROM KUTAISI
11 DAYS | 10 NIGHTS
Georgia and Armenia have centuries of history and captivating culture to draw upon. You, on the other hand, have only 11 lovely days. Make ‘em count! This comprehensive adventure across the South Caucasus presents travelers with the chance to explore these two countries through their cuisine, architecture, and idyllic countryside. Beginning and ending in beautiful Kutaisi, spend your days on fascinating trips to Tbilisi, and to the balmy Batumi on the Black Sea coast, savor the best of Armenia’s appealing destinations, such as the crystal clear Lake Sevan and the foothills of the majestic Biblical Mount Ararat on the border with Turkey.
Visit the 11th century Bagrati Cathedral. From the Jachvis Khidi (Chain Bridge), you can walk up cobbled streets lined with attractive houses and gardens to the splendid Bagrati Cathedral on Ukimerioni Hill. The cathedral was commissioned by the first king of a unified Georgia, Bagrat III. In 1692 a Turkish explosion brought down both dome and ceiling to leave the cathedral in a ruined state. The cathedral is now being completely restored, with the aim of returning it to its original form.
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.
Drive to Tbilisi. En route to Tbilisi visit the Joseph Stalin’s birth place in Gori. Gori has long been synonymous with just one man: this is the town where the Joseph Stalin was born and went to school. The large museum devoted to Stalin, is still Gori’s best known attraction, but there are also several intriguing older historical attractions close by.
Visit the cave town of Uplistsikhe. Uplistsikhe is an ancient rock-hewn town, which played a significant role in Georgian history over a period of approximately 3,000 years. Back then, the complex was a very important cultural center of pagan worship in the Kartli (Iberia) region. Archaeologists have unearthed numerous temples and findings relating to a Sun Goddess, worshipped prior to the arrival of Christianity. Continue to Tbilisi via Mtskheta. Arrive in Tbilisi. Dinner. Check into a hotel. 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.
Visit the 5th century Anchiskhati Basilica, the oldest of the surviving city churches. This church was built in the 5th century and its name, which in literal translation means “The Icon of Anchi,” is derived from the famous icon, made by the 12th century Georgian goldsmith Beka Opizari, at the Ancha Monastery in Klarjeti (in what is now part of northeast Turkey). In 1675 the icon was moved to Tbilisi, to be saved from the Ottoman Turks. The icon was preserved in the Basilica of St. Mary for centuries and it is presently on display at the Art Museum of Georgia.
Take a tour of the impressive National Museum of Georgia. A major highlight is the Archaeological Treasury, displaying a wealth of pre-Christian gold, silver and precious stone works from burials between the 3rd millennium BC and the 4th century AD. Most stunning are the fabulously worked gold adornments from Colchis (western Georgia) from the 8th to 3rd centuries BC.
Drive 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 (UNESCO World Heritage Site). 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 Samtavro Convent, which was the center of the Christian ecclesiastical life in medieval Georgia. The first Christian king of Georgia Mirian desired to build a magnificent church with striking harmonies and laconic beauty. Subsequently, the Samtavro convent became the burial place for the saints and kings of Georgia. King Mirian himself and Queen Nana are buried in its southwest corner, under a stone canopy. The little church in the grounds, Tsminda Nino, dates from the 4th century and stands on a spot where St. Nino is said to have prayed.
There are many shrines on the territory of the convent, among them is the grave of the Saint Gabriel, a Georgian Orthodox monk venerated for his dedicated monastic life and piety. With many miracles attributed to him, Gabriel’s grave at Samtavro has attracted an increasing number of pilgrims.
Visit the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, where the Robe of Jesus Christ is believed to be buried (UNESCO World Heritage Site). 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. Return to Tbilisi. A gala dinner with wine, featuring Georgian folklore show. Overnight in Tbilisi.
Visit the 17th century Ananuri Castle. This fortress with its churches, was the seat of power of medieval Georgian dukes of Aragvi, and presently, it is one of the most scenic fortresses of Georgia. It’s lovely to walk around it as well as on the walls of the castle. You may even climb up to the tallest of the fortress towers for fine views.
Continue to the ski resort of Gudauri, whose bare hillsides make for Georgia’s best downhill ski runs, and stop at the Jvari Pass. The Jvari Pass starts about 4 km after Gudauri, at 2,379m above sea level, and takes its name from a cross placed here by King David the Builder. The present red stone cross, about 500 meters to the east above the road, was erected by Russian General Yermolov in 1824.
Continue to Kazbegi. Kazbegi is a valley town at about 1,750m above sea level, just a few miles short of the Russian border, with the famous hilltop silhouette of Gergeti Trinity Church and the snowy peak of Mt. Kazbek towering to the west. Mount Kazbek is associated in Georgian folklore with Amirani, the Georgian version of Prometheus, who was chained to the mountain in punishment for having stolen fire from the gods and having given it to mortals.
Visit the 14th century Gergeti Trinity Church, near the village of Gergeti. During the dark times, the precious relics from Mtskheta, including St. Nino’s Cross were taken here for safekeeping. Hiking to Gergeti takes between 1 and 2 hours one way, and the difficulty depends on the path you take. For those, who prefer not to walk, you can rent a Jeep for an extra charge to make it up the hill. Return to Tbilisi. Dinner. Overnight in Tbilisi.
Visit the Lavra Monastery, the first monastery, which was founded by David Gareja, one of the 13 ascetic Assyrian monks who returned from the Middle East to spread Christianity in Georgia in the 6th century. The religious complex grew until monasteries were spread over a wide area. Manuscripts were translated and copied, and a celebrated Georgian school of fresco painting flourished here. The monasteries were destroyed by the Mongols, sacked by Timur, and then suffered their worst moment of all, when in 1615 when Shah Abbas’ soldiers killed 6,000 monks and destroyed many of their artistic treasures.
Visit the Udabno Monastery. This is the true prize of the visit, as it is where the cave frescoes are located. Each cave is painted with beautiful frescoes, depicting scenes from the Bible or important figures from the early era of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Even though many of the caves are badly ruined and some of the frescoed walls have been completely eroded or destroyed, you can still sense the magnificence of the monastery at its zenith.
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.
Visit the Bodbe Convent. Set among tall cypresses, the convent is dedicated to St. Nino, a woman Evangelist, who preached Christianity in Georgia in the early 4th century, and who is buried here. The little church was originally built, over the saint’s grave, by King Mirian in the 4th century. Nino’s tomb, partly silver-covered, with a bejewelled turquoise cloisonné halo, is in a small chapel in its southeast corner. Down a steep path of 800m, you can reach a small chapel built over St. Nino’s Spring, which burst forth after she prayed on this spot. Pilgrims queue up to drink and splash themselves with the holy water. Return to Tbilisi. Dinner. Overnight in Tbilisi.
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.
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 Sanahin Monastery. The moss-covered 10th century Sanahin is a fascinatingly detailed monastery complex, packed with ancient graves, darkened chapels and medieval gallery schools. Sanahin means ‘older than that one’, referring to its younger cousin at Haghpat. 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.
Drive to Lake Sevan via Dilijan, a resort town renowned for its charming nature and some traditional Armenian architecture. Stroll through the Dilijan’s Historic Center, the cobbled Sharambeyan Street, with its collection of stone and wooden traditional buildings, shops, restaurants, souvenir stalls and workshops.
Continue to Lake Sevan. 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. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Sevan.
Drive to one of the most beautiful monasteries in Armenia, the 13th century cave monastery of Geghard (UNESCO World Heritage Site). The Geghard Complex is set in the landscape of great natural beauty, surrounded by towering cliffs at the entrance to the Azat Valley. Geghard literally means “Monastery of the Spear”. The name of the monastery originates from the spear which had wounded Jesus at the Crucifixion, allegedly brought to Armenia by Apostle Jude, called here Thaddeus, and stored amongst many other relics. Now it is displayed in the Echmiadzin’s Cathedral Museum.
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.
Continue to Yerevan. Stop at the popular fruit market “Shouka” to buy traditional sweets and dry fruits. You will be greeted by vendors of all types asking you to sample their goods – from delicious homemade dried fruits stuffed with nuts, paper thin fruit lavash and grape sujukh (local walnuts threaded on string and dipped in grape molasses) – right through to fresh lavash bread, an organic fruit and vegetables. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Visit the Republic Square to see the “Dancing Fountains”, a choreographed water show synched with lights and music. Overnight in 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.
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.
Drive to Echmiadzin, the spiritual and administrative center of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Visit the churches of St. Hripsime and St. Gayane (UNESCO World Heritage Sites). The St. Hripsime Church is one of the famous ecclesiastical buildings in the city of Echmiadzin. The church is notable with its architectural simplicity and loftiness, and the tomb of the Christian martyr Virgin Hripsime is located in the sacristy of the church. The church of St. Gayane is not far from the Echmiadzin Cathedral, and according to the legend, this church was constructed over the tomb of Virgin Gayane, who was martyred for preaching Christianity in Armenia.
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 attracts 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.
Return 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. Dinner, featuring Armenian folk music. Overnight in Yerevan.
Stop at 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.
Continue to the cave complex of Vardzia. The drive into the wilderness to the cave city of Vardzia is as dramatic as any in Georgia outside the Great Caucasus. The road follows the course of the upper Mtkvari, passing through narrow canyons and then veering south at Aspindza along a particularly beautiful valley, cutting like a green ribbon between arid, rocky hillsides. The cave city of Vardzia is a cave monastery dug into the side of the Erusheli Mountain and it was founded by Queen Tamar in 1185. The monastery was constructed as protection from the Mongols, and consisted of over six thousand apartments in a thirteen story complex.
Continue to the popular ski and the balneotherapeutic resort of Bakuriani. Bakuriani is a beautiful small alpine village in a spectacular setting, situated at the altitude of 1,700m and surrounded by green meadows and thick pine woods. The snow blanket remains for 4-5 months, but in the summer the aroma of the pine forests and other climatic factors create ideal conditions for rest and recreation. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Bakuriani.
From the Greater Caucasus Mountains descend to the subtropical coastline of palm trees, citrus groves and tea plantations. Start exploring Batumi, a seaside city on the Black Sea coast and capital of Adjara, an autonomous republic in southwestern Georgia. The most visit attractions in and around Batumi are Gonio-Apsaros Fortress, a Roman fortification on the Black sea, the Batumi Botanical Garden, the Aqua Park and Dolphinarium. The old part of Batumi just renewed is also one of the main attractions for tourists.
Visit the 1st century Gonio-Apsaros Fortress, which is associated with the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. Mythology holds that Jason came to this kingdom in search of the Golden Fleece, and indeed archaeologists have found objects that date as far back as the 8th century BC. The site rose to prominence in Hellenistic and Roman times, but successive rulers added their touches: pebble and brick walls by the Byzantines and merlons by the Ottomans. The Apostle Matthias, who replaced Judas, is said to be buried beneath the crenellated walls. Check into a hotel. Dinner. Overnight in Batumi.
Drive to Kutaisi. En route to Kutaisi stop by the colorful Prometheus Cave. Discovered in 1984, the Prometheus Cave is one of Georgia’s natural wonders providing visitors with breathtaking examples of stalactites, stalagmites, curtains, petrified waterfalls, cave pearls, underground rivers, and lakes. The Khvamli Mountain, which is visible from Prometheus Cave, is the place where legend says that Greek Titan Prometheus was chained. Take a walk through the cave, or enjoy a boat ride on an underground river. Continue to Kutaisi. Check into a hotel. Free time for your own exploration of Kutaisi. Farewell dinner. Overnight in Kutaisi.
THE FEATURED TIER PRICE OF 1,040 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 (10 nights: 4 nights in Tbilisi, 1 night in Sevan, 2 nights in Yerevan, 1 night in Bakuriani, 1 night in Batumi, 1 night in Kutaisi); meals HB (breakfasts & dinners); foreign language speaking guide services; local guide services; 1 country map per person; 1 bottled water per person per day; folklore show with wine at a gala dinner in Tbilisi; entrance fees to museums and temples; duduk playing at Garni Temple; 1 free of charge place for a tour leader.
PRICE DOESN’T INCLUDE
airfare; entry visas; insurance; alcohol during the meals; Kazbegi Jeep rentals ($10 p/p); Prometheus cave boat ride ($5 p/p); Echmiadzin museum entrance fee; all additional tours not mentioned in the program; tips.