Mountains of Georgia

A taste of Georgia at its most traditional. With its location in the Caucasus Mountains, Georgia is home to a complex array of traditional cultures and ethnic groups that live with a foot firmly planted in the past. This trip spends time exploring the remote villages and mountain strongholds that once provided a line of defence against invaders from the north, in some of the least accessible parts of the country.

From Tbilisi we make our way north, visiting the splendid religious monuments of Georgia’s spitirual heart, Mtshkehta, before driving into a land of snow capped peaks and high mountain passes. In Kazbegi we visit the iconic Sameba Church, with its dramatic location on a spur overlooking the village, then explore the nearby Chaukhi Mountains on foot. From here we drive to perhaps the least visited part of the country, the valleys of Khevsureti, where medieval villages and watchtowers evoke a sense of Georgia’s proud military heritage. It was not so long ago that most people here still wore traditional dress, and it feels a world away from the modernising towns and cities of the lowlands.

Georgia is renowned for its excellent wine – in Kakheti we visit a local winery to sample the local tipple, as well as experiencing the life of the old Georgian nobles at Tsinandali.

In Tusheti we continue to explore ancient settlements, pagan shrines and breathtaking valleys crisscrossed by pine forests and rivers flowing from the glaciers beyond. This is Europe at its most remote – little has changed here for generations and the first road to Tusheti was only built in the 1970s. Churches adorned with the skulls of rams hint at archaic customs, still very much a part of everyday life in the towering High Caucasus.

Upon our return to Tbilisi we explore its multi-cultural influences, from Soviet to Persian and Ottoman, visiting its historic old quarter and the excellent National Museum for an insight into its fascinating history.

This is Georgia a little more off the beaten track than most, the Georgia of old that is quickly disappearing. It won’t be around much longer.

Highlights

  • The medieval villages of Tusheti
  • Wine tasting in Kakheti
  • Discover pagan traditions
  • Incredible mountain scenery

Day 1 - Tbilisi

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

Tbilisi
Georgia’s rather 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

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. Overnight Hotel Stancia 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 - Kazbegi

Drive to the nearby Sno Valley and the village of Juta, and explore the surrounding countryside on foot (approx. 2 hours walking). We then return to Kazbegi for lunch and from here venture to the Darial Canyon, whose walls reach almost two kilometres high in places. This was once fortified by the ancient Romans, and legend has it that Alexander the Great built great iron gates across the gorge. Overnight Hotel Stancia or similar. (B)


Days 4-5 - Khevsureti

We head into the breathtaking region of Khevsureti, little visited by outsiders but a treasure trove of ancient customs. On the way we stop at the 16th century castle complex of Ananauri, then cross the Jvaris Pass into the Greater Caucasus. Our base for the next two nights is Shatili, a fortified medieval village with dozens of imposing watchtowers, a maze of narrow walkways and bridges. We explore its fortress and visit the nearby village of Mutso – now abandoned, its ancient stone buildings are situated on a dramatic summit overlooking a river, and is home to pagan Khevsur shrines. Overnight village guesthouse. (Day 4 – BD, Day 5 – BLD)

Khevsureti
The remote region of Khevsureti is perhaps the most traditional part of the country, isolated in the High Caucasus and difficult to reach. The Khevsurs follow a largely pagan set of beliefs, and their shrines are often adorned with the antlers of stags; it’s also not uncommon to see people wearing traditional dress here. The medieval villages here are fortified, providing defence against the waves of different invaders that once swept through the region – the Khevsurs guarded Georgia’s northern boundaries, and in return were left alone, without the usual system of subjugation to feudal lords.

From a population of around four thousand in the early 20th century, now only a few families remain – the lack of arable land and harsh winters have meant that most have migrated to the Georgian lowlands. With its abandoned settlements and old watchtowers, Khevsureti is without a doubt one of Georgia’s most atmospheric regions.

Day 6 - Telavi

A scenic journey back to the lowlands and the town of Telavi, in the ditrict of Kakheti. This is Georgia’s most important wine producing area, and we’ll visit a local winery, the 11th century Alaverdi Cathedral, and the Tsinandali estate, once the home of Georgian nobles in the 19th century. Overnight Chateau Kvareli or similar. (BL)


Days 7-9 - Tusheti

From Telavi we make our way to the mountains of Tusheti. Passing through forests and gorges and crossing the Abano Pass, we head to Omalo, our base for exploring the region. Tusheti is home to numerous fortified villages, their watchtowers standing guard against invaders from the north, as well as ancient churches which mix pagan and Christian traditions. We explore the villages of Diklo, Shenako, Parsma and Dartlo, travelling through different valleys and meadows which are carpeted in wildflowers in early summer. The scenery here, close to the border with Russia, is wild and truly untamed, and each night we return to our guesthouse where we are treated to typical Georgian hospitality and great food by our hosts. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

Tusheti
Lying north of Telavi, Tusheti is only accessible for part of the year – even in August it’s not uncommon to see the last patches of snow on the passes into the region, and a road was only constructed to reach the villages in the late 1970s. Pine forests, waterfalls and snow capped peaks provide the backdrop to another of Georgia’s more traditional regions, with fortified villages like Parsma and Diklo a testament to the time when the slopes of the Caucasus were frequently invaded by Mongol armies and others. Like Khevsureti, pagan traditions are strong here, and ancient animist beliefs still play a part in daily life. This is a fantastic place to experience Georgian hospitality, with great local produce served on the table, along with Georgian wines and inevitably the local firewater, chacha.

Day 10 - Tbilisi

We leave the mountains behind and travel back to Tbilisi via the Alazani Valley and the Gombori Pass. Overnight Kalasi Hotel or similar. (BL)


Day 11 - 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 12 - Tbilisi

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


Kazbegi church in Caucasus mountains - Caucasus tours and holidays

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. In Shatili, the local guesthouse has shared bathrooms – there are no other options in the area.

    Please note that while we prefer to use centrally located hotels where possible, this is not always practical and in some locations they may not be the best option in terms of standards or reliability.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by an English-speaking guide.

  • 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. Please note that when meals are included, sometimes these will be in hotels, as often these are the most appropriate option, and will sometimes be set menus. Local restaurants are often lacking in variety, as well as the capacity to cater for groups. Drinks are not included and are at your own expense.

  • 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 (www.travcour.com) 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

Americans, Australians and most European nationalities, including British citizens, no longer require a visa to enter Georgia. 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

Georgia’s currency is the lari, and it’s unlikely you will be able to obtain this 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 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, which are comparatively underdeveloped in places, it’s 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 that we visit.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please 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.

Kazbegi church in Caucasus mountains - Caucasus tours and holidays
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
17 July 2022
Price (PP) -
£1,749
Single Supplement -
£200
Trip Status -
Available