Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discoverer

Europe’s wild frontier, the Caucasus region, occupies an unusual geographical and cultural position intertwining elements of Russia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire and Central Asia. This two-week tour visits Georgia and Armenia. Once tucked away within the Soviet Union these countries are now easily accessible to the curious traveller.

The highlights on this trip are diverse. First, we head into the High Caucasus Mountains, visiting the mythical Mount Kazbek, reputedly the site of the Greek fable to Prometheus, and then move on to Mtskheta, the spiritual heart of the country with some stunning UNESCO listed monuments. Heading west we stop at Kutaisi with its striking religious buildings.

We then return once again to the mountains and the wild and untamed land of Svaneti, one of Europe’s most isolated and traditional areas with unique villages and towering summits. We meet the Svan people to learn about their unique way of life and enjoy some of Europe’s finest scenery.

Armenia offers ancient monasteries that date back to the emergence of Christendom. In Dilijan, we wander around the old centre and meet the Molokan people, one of Europe’s smallest, but most traditional ethnic groups. We discover the stunning churches of Echmiadzin and visit Kurdish and Yazidi villages. Lifestyles here have changed little for centuries and we’ll experience the rich cultural heritage of this complex but fascinating part of the world. At the dramatically located monastery of Geghard, we see ancient religious treasures.

In the area around Garni, we spend time in a local village as guests of a family, where we will be treated to a typical Armenian meal in a traditional setting. The adventurous can extend their trip with a visit to the independent republic of Nagorno Karabakh, a country unrecognised by most of the world.

Our Armenia and Georgia holidays uncover the secrets of an enchanting corner of Europe.

Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discover

Highlights

  • Explore the region of Svaneti
  • The scenery of the High Caucasus
  • Explore Tbilisi’s old quarter
  • Spectacular monasteries and churches
  • Traditional village cultures
  • Experience typical Georgian hospitality

Day 1 - Tbilisi

Arrive in Tbilisi and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight Sharden Hotel or similar. (B)

Tbilisi

Georgia’s charming capital is a bewildering combination of cultural influences, from Soviet Russia to ancient Persia and Ottoman Turkey, but despite being located between these three giants it has managed to carve out a unique identity for itself. Straddling the Mtkvari River Tbilisi – formerly known as Tiflis by the Russians – has a rather easy going air, with wide boulevards and public squares where old men play board games under the shade of trees, and is a very pleasant place to explore on foot.

Georgia’s Christian heritage is evident here and the city is home to a number of fine churches and cathedrals, one of the most impressive of which is the Sioni cathedral dating back to the 13th century. As well as these, a stroll around central Tbilisi will bring you to old caravanserais and bathhouses, synagogues and mosques – Tbilisi is more cosmopolitan than one might think. The city is also home to some excellent museums – the National Museum in particular, holds some exquisite examples of early gold jewellery which give credence to the theory that Georgia was the original ‘Land of the Golden Fleece’.

Day 2 - Mtskheta – Kazbegi - Gudauri

Drive to Mtskheta, Georgia’s ancient capital where we visit the UNESCO listed Jvari Monastery and the striking Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. From here we head north along the Georgian Military Highway, crossing the Jvari Pass en route to Kazbegi, surrounded by the High Caucasus Mountains. Hike to the picturesque Sameba Church with views of Mt Kazbek in the background, then drive to Gudauri for the night. Overnight Hotel Alpina or similar. (B)

Please note – there is the option to travel up to the Sameba Church by vehicle if you’d prefer not to do the hike.


Day 3 - Gori – Uplistiskhe – Kutaisi

Returning to the lowlands we visit Gori, the birthplace of Stalin, and the cave city of Uplistsikhe, dating back to the 7th century BC. Arriving in Kutaisi we visit the UNESCO listed Gelati Monastery, founded in the 12th century, and the Bagrati Cathedral. Overnight local guesthouse. (BD)


Day 4 - Svaneti

Drive to the almost mythical region of Svaneti, high in the Caucasus Mountains and home to the Svans, perhaps Georgia’s most traditional ethnic group. We head to the town of Mestia, known for its typical architecture and dominated by defensive stone towers. We stay tonight in a family-run guesthouse where you can expect to be treated to some typical Georgian hospitality. (BD)

Svaneti

The remote region of Svaneti, high up in the Caucasus Mountains, is a throwback to a bygone age when this was a truly wild frontier of Europe. Populated by the Svan people, the medieval style villages here consist of stone built houses clustered around imposing watchtowers, most of which are between 800 to 1000 years old and served as a lookout post to warn of potential invaders.

The Svan people make up a distinct ethnic group and have always been fiercely protective of their independence, functioning as a de facto autonomous state in the days before Soviet rule. They have their own complex set of traditions and customs, and in the past have been known as an aggressive and hostile group, suspicious of outsiders and renowned as warriors. Many of the churches in the region hold fine frescoes but the Svan are more traditional than the Georgians of the lowlands, and in places you can still find evidence of earlier, non-Christian beliefs. As Svaneti was never conquered by the Mongols during their rampage through this region, Svaneti became a repository for many of Georgia’s religious artefacts.

The scenery here is truly stunning, as you might expect from Europe’s highest mountain range, with snow-capped peaks ranging up to 5000 metres, forests and gushing rivers, and offers excellent opportunities for hiking. Both the landscape and the cultural traditions have led to Svaneti being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Svaneti is also home to Europe’s highest permanently inhabited village Ushguli, situated at 1800m and with great views of the mighty Mt Shkhara, at 5201 metres the highest peak in Georgia. This is a rather magical place, full of the traditions of yesteryear and the hospitable ways of the Svans make this an experience you are unlikely to forget.

Day 5 - Svaneti

A full day exploring this stunning region. Drive to the village of Ushguli with its medieval buildings, watchtowers and the Lamaria church, and with a backdrop of Mt Shkhara, Georgia’s highest mountain. We explore the landscape on foot, taking easy walks nearby and also visit a local house to learn more about the unique customs of the Svan people. Return to Mestia for the night. Overnight family-run guesthouse. (BD)


Day 6 - Tbilisi

Return to Tbilisi, arriving early evening. Overnight Sharden Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 7 - Tbilisi

Explore this interesting city and learn about its long and fascinating history. Visit the old town, the Metekhi Temple and the fortress of Narikala before heading to the impressive National Museum with its rich collection of cultural artefacts. We also explore the 11th-century Sioni Cathedral and take in the sights of Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare. Overnight Sharden Hotel or similar. (B)


Day 8 - Yerevan

Transfer to the border with Armenia, and from here continue to Yerevan. On the way, we stop at Haghpat monastery, dating back to the 10th century and a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. Overnight Hotel Imperial Plaza or similar. (B)

Haghpat

The monastery of Haghpat was constructed around the 10th century and is a delightful place to explore – a collection of buildings including a library, mausoleums and separate chapels complement the main church as well as an impressive bell tower. Overgrown with grass, the grounds surrounding it contain numerous examples of khachkars, a unique Armenian carving of a cross with intricate patterns.

Yerevan

Yerevan is one of the most attractive cities of the former Soviet Union, with a wide array of interesting monuments and an easy-going air that rewards casual exploration. There has been a settlement here since the 8th century BC, but it only became the capital of Armenia in the early twentieth century, when the country itself was subsumed into the Soviet Union. Yerevan is characterised by broad avenues and some of the best Soviet architecture to be found anywhere, as well as old mansions, enormous public squares and numerous statues of locally famous figures.

It’s difficult to miss the enormous sculpture of ‘Mother Armenia’ reaching 34 metres into the sky, which replaces the previous statue of Stalin. The cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator was built with money from the enormous Armenian diaspora to celebrate 1,700 years of Christianity in Armenia. It’s a surprisingly cosmopolitan city as well, perhaps a result of the large Armenian diaspora who return to the motherland to visit relatives. The area around the Opera House is particularly lively.

Yerevan is home to a number of good museums, including the Matendaran, devoted to ancient manuscripts and far more interesting than it may sound. The Genocide Museum gives the visitor an opportunity to understand the difficult and turbulent recent history of the Armenian people – not always an easy place to visit it is crucial in gaining an insight into current Armenian culture.

Day 9 - Yerevan

Spend today exploring the charming city of Yerevan. We visit some of its key sites including Republic Square – the city’s most striking public space flanked by impressive buildings, the Matenadaran museum of ancient manuscripts, one of Yerevan’s most interesting and unique sights, and the Genocide Museum for an insight into Armenia’s recent history. Overnight Hotel Imperial Plaza or similar. (BLD)


Day 10 - Khor Virap – Noravank

After breakfast drive to the monastery of Khor Virap, in a dramatic location with Mt Ararat in Turkey in the background. We explore the monastery, where it is claimed St Gregory was imprisoned for 13 years, then head to Norovank monastery, situated at the edge of the red rocks of Gnishik Gorge. We take lunch in a local café then head to a winery, located in a cave. Later return to Yerevan on a scenic route through mountains and gorges. Overnight Hotel Imperial Plaza or similar. (BL)


Day 11 - Sevan – Dilijan – Haghpat

This morning drive to the stunning Lake Sevan, a beautiful spot with the pretty Sevenavank monastery on its shores. From here continue to the town of Dilijan with its well-preserved historic centre. Nearby live one of Armenia’s ethnic minorities, the Molokans, and we explore their villages for an insight into a rather unique culture. We spend the night in either Dilijan or nearby Dzoraget. Overnight Hotel Avan or similar. (BLD)

Dilijan

Dilijan is a charming little town, in Soviet times a health resort and surrounded by woods in the Dilijan National Park. It is known for its well preserved old houses, with elaborate wooden carved balconies overhanging the streets. Part of the town has been preserved and maintained as a historic centre, giving a great glimpse of what much of the region used to look like.

The Molokans

Molokans (in Russian they are called ‘Milk drinkers’) are Christian sectarians, the descendants of Russian peasants who refused to obey the rules of the Russian Orthodox church at the end of the 17th century. They call themselves ‘true spiritual Christians’ and were exiled to Armenia in the 19th century, basing themselves here from that point. Keeping more or less the same lifestyle since then they live in harmony with Armenian people, and there are just a small number of Molokan villages in Armenia – and not many more elsewhere in the world.

Day 12 - Echmiadzin – Zvartnots – Yerevan

We head back to Yerevan, stopping en route to visit communities of Kurdish and Yazidi people with their distinct customs and culture – another hidden side to Armenia. This afternoon we visit the complex of churches at Echmiadzin, a rather stunning ensemble, then head to the ruins of the temple of Zvartnots before ending up in Yerevan for the night. Overnight Hotel Imperial Plaza or similar. (BL)

Echmiadzin

Often described as Armenia’s answer to the Vatican, the collection of churches and monasteries at Echmiadzin are the centre of Armenian Christianity. With some dating back as far as the 5th century this cluster of buildings have immense significance for the culture and heritage of the country and hold a number of relics, including the spear that reputedly pierced Christ on the cross. The area surrounding them contains some excellent examples of khachkars, the uniquely Armenian carved stone crosses. They are still used today for worship and ceremonies and you may be lucky enough to witness a wedding or christening taking place.

Day 13 - Geghard – Garni - Yerevan

Drive to the monastery of Geghard, another of Armenia’s UNESCO sites and a fascinating place to explore. We then continue to the pagan temple of Garni, very different from other monuments here and perched on the edge of a gorge.

We descend by 4WD into the gorge to explore then drive to a local village, where we have lunch in a village house and can learn about Armenian cuisine as we watch and help (if you choose) the meal preparation – a great insight into typical local life and a highlight of the trip. Before arriving back in Yerevan we stop at a brandy distillery to taste one of Armenia’s most famous products. Overnight Hotel Imperial Plaza or similar. (BLD)

Geghard

Geghard means ‘spear’, and this church set in a narrow gorge is reputed to have once contained the spear which pierced the side of Christ on the cross; the spear now lies in the treasury at Echmiadzin. Built up against a cliff face, the main cathedral was constructed in 1215, but the first monastery on the site is thought to date from the 4th century AD. The monastery is decorated with reliefs depicting animals, crosses and geometrical shapes.

Day 14 - Yerevan

Transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)


Please note that this trip is part of a longer three-week tour travelling overland through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia and so while some people will be starting their tour in Tbilisi and visiting Georgia and Armenia only, others will arrive overland from Azerbaijan. If you would like information about our tour combinations in the Caucasus region please let us know.

Nagorno Karabakh Extension

Day 1 - Tatev – Stepanakert

Depart from Yerevan to the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. We stop first at the ancient site of Karahunj, also known as ‘Armenia’s Stonehenge’. Shrouded in mystery, it is thought that this may have been an observatory, but the truth will never be known. From here continue to Tatev, the site of an impressive 9th-century monastery. Continue driving through a landscape of mountains and valleys to reach Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. Overnight Armenia Hotel or similar.

Nagorno Karabakh

Nagorno Karabakh is one of those curious political oddities thrown up by the demise of the Soviet Union, unrecognised by most of the rest of the world but with its own government, army and currency. It has long been a source of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan – a war fought here in the 1990s saw most of the Azeri population leaving, and now its population is predominantly Armenian.

The scenery here is stunning, with striking mountains and beautiful valleys, and the name itself means ‘mountainous black garden’, a mixture of Persian and Turkish words reflecting its geographical location between two great powers. It is also home to some fine monasteries, but perhaps the biggest drawcard is the fact that you’ll be travelling to a country that doesn’t officially exist, and will be something of a novelty to local people.

Day 2 - Stepanakert – Gandsazar

Spend the morning exploring Stepanakert and its surrounds, an interesting area but rarely visited by foreigners. We visit the fortress of Mayrabad, mostly dating back to the 18th century and of Persian design. We then visit the monastery of Gandsazar, known for its impressive carved stonework – it is perhaps one of the best examples of Armenian architecture. Overnight Armenia Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 3 - Shushi – Yerevan

Leave Karabakh behind and return to Armenia. En route we visit the town of Shushi and stop at its striking Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, as well as the mosque – a reminder that this area was once home to both Armenians and Azeris. Continue to Yerevan for the night. Overnight Imperial Plaza or similar. (BLD)


Day 4 - Yerevan

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discover
Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discover
Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discover
Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discover

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.

    Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    In most cases, you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However, there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example, if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Most European nationalities, including British citizens, no longer require a visa to enter Armenia. For Americans and Australians, the visa is currently obtainable upon arrival and costs 3,000 AMD (about £5). Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. However, there are no compulsory vaccinations needed to enter either country. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

Armenia’s currency is the dram, while Georgia’s is the lari, and it’s unlikely you will be able to obtain these from your local exchange bureau. We recommend taking either US dollars or Euros to exchange – British pounds will be much harder to change.

Changing money is fairly simple – many hotels will offer this service and there are also banks and exchange bureaus in larger towns. Your guide will be able to advise of the best option. In Tbilisi and Yerevan there are also ATMs which accept foreign cards, although don’t count on these always working. Credit cards are not used as widely here as they are in other European countries, so you should only think of this as a back up rather than the main source of obtaining money.

Local conditions

When travelling in countries such as Georgia and Armenia, which are comparatively underdeveloped in places, it is important to understand that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing there are no warnings against travel to the parts of Georgia and Armenia that we visit – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discover
Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discover
Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discover
Georgia and Armenia - Caucasus Discover
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
09 May 2020
Price (PP) -
£1,949
Single Supplement -
£300
Trip Status -
Guaranteed
Date -
12 September 2020
Price (PP) -
£1,949
Single Supplement -
£300
Trip Status -
Guaranteed
Date -
08 May 2021
Price (PP) -
£1,999
Single Supplement -
£300
Trip Status -
Guaranteed
Date -
11 September 2021
Price (PP) -
£1,999
Single Supplement -
£300
Trip Status -
Available