Tue 30 April: Auckland – Doha
Depart Auckland to Doha mid afternoon on our day flight with Qatar Airways. Arrival and transfer to our hotel for overnight stay. Flight time 17.15 hours
Wed 01 May: Doha – Yerevan
Enjoy a morning city tour with lunch provided. This evening we reconnect with our onward 3-hour flight with Qatar Airways flight to Yerevan, capital of Armenia. On arrival late evening a representative of Info-Tbilisi will greet us and transfer us to our hotel in Yerevan. The journey will take approx. 30 mins. (B,L)
Thu 02 May: Yerevan City Tour + Welcome Dinner
Breakfast at the hotel and then commence a city tour of Yerevan. The sightseeing today includes the city centre, Republic Square, State University, City panorama, Mother Armenia Monument, Parliament, President’s Palace, Opera, Sports & Concert Complex. Visit to the Genocide Memorial, dedicated to the Victims of 1915 and the Genocide Museum.
Visit the Cascade Complex, which is considered the modern art centre of Yerevan, with art pieces displayed throughout the whole area: the boulevard and up the stairs, from top of which we can enjoy the panoramic view of the city and Mountain Ararat. Cascade is home to Cafesjan Modern Art Museum. This place becomes even more charming in the evenings, when it is full of people, both locals and tourists from all over the world, enjoying the magic and the warmth of the capital. We will enjoy time in one of the cozy open-air cafes surrounded by beautiful sculptures, redolent flowers shining brightly with magic colours. It is also a popular place for open air concerts in the summer season.
We visit the Armenian Central Market and finish with a very interesting one-hour tour around the Armenian Brandy Factory where we will have the opportunity to try 2 types of brandy in the Degustation Hall. This evening we will enjoy a welcome dinner at a special location.
We are based in the same accommodation in Yerevan for the next three nights (B,D)
Fri 03 May: Yerevan – Matenadaran – Garni – Gegard- Yerevan
Breakfast at the hotel. Today we visit Matenadaran, a depository for ancient manuscripts, the collection of which is one of the biggest in the world. This outstanding collection includes manuscripts dating from the 7th century and is widely appreciated by history and art amateurs and professionals.
We then drive to Garni and visit the only remaining pagan temple in Armenia devoted to the God of Sun, Myrth, that was built in 77AD by King Trdat of the Arshakid Dynasty. The temple in built in the Greco-Roman style with characteristic pillars which stands majestically on a rocky ridge Also, we will visit the ruins of the Royal Palace and Royal Bathhouse nearby. We also have a photo stop at Charent’s Arch.
Admire Garni Canyon, a magnificent and outstanding scene which creates the image of falling crags. It obtained the name ‘Symphony of Stones’ due to its view. The fantastic landscape of Garni canyon shakes the human imagination. We may have the opportunity of a small performance of the Armenian national musical instrument ‘Duduk’ with the panoramic Mt Ararat as a back-drop.
A highlight of today is attending a family hosted lunch in a village house we can observe the making of ‘Lavash’, the Armenian traditional flat bread that’s baked in stone-make oven and get acquainted with the local village life. We also enjoy a ‘degustation’ of homemade vodka made from different fruit varieties such as apricot, grape, pitch, apple or mulberry, plus some homemade wine. After lunch we drive to the uniquely caved Temple St. Geghard (12th -13th cc.), the name of which means ‘holy spear’ in the honour of the long-preserved spear that pierced the body of the crucified Christ. It is now exhibited in the museum of Etchmiadzin Cathedral. We also visit Geghard Monastery a UNESCO World Heritage Site before driving back to Yerevan.
Sat 04 May: Yerevan – Etchmiadzin – Zvartnots- Gyumri – Yerevan
After breakfast we drive to Etchmiadzin City, which is used to be the ancient capital of Armenia. Since 4th century, it is the largest religious centre, the residency of Catholicos of all Armenians. Etchmiadzin Cathedral is one of the ancient churches in the Christian world, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List (2000). It is the centre of Armenian Apostolic Church, founded in 301 A.D by St. Gregory the Illuminator. Later, it was rebuilt and currently it stands as a complex including the Cathedral, Spiritual Academy, residency of the Catholicos of all Armenians, Synod of Armenian Church, and a library. The museum of the Cathedral, located behind the Altar, has a collection of religious artifacts about Holy Mass, subjects made of gold, silver, precious stones, decorations, colossal silver boiler for making the myrrh and legendary Holy spear.
We continue to one of the architectural wonders of Armenia, Zvartnots Temple (641-661 BC), that got its name from the word “Zwart”, meaning “joyful and beautiful”. The temple is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Continue to Gyumri, and on the way visit Dashtadem Fortress.
Our last stop for the day is to visit the second largest city in Armenia, Gyumri. Gyumri is distinguished by its unique folk traditions and is considered one of the most hospitable cities of Armenia. We will take a walk in the historical district of Kumayri, an important art centre. Here are many cultural buildings with unique architectural style of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that creates cozy atmosphere of a typical Armenian city of those times. Return to our hotel in Yerevan late afternoon.
Sun 05 May: Yerevan – Ararat – Khor Virap – Areni – Noravenk – Goris
Today we leave Yerevan and drive south through the Ararat Valley and visit to Khor Virap Monastery, where St. Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years by the Armenian King for preaching Christianity. This monastery was built over the dungeon and now people have a chance to go down into the dark pit themselves! It is one of the holy places for the Christian world. It is also the best point to enjoy the spectacular view of Mount Ararat. The hills adjoining Khor Virap were the site of the ancient Armenian capital, Artashat, built by King Artashes I, founder of the Artashesid dynasty around 180 B.C. It is one of the few ancient towns built by the famous Carthaginian general, Hannibal, who after a defeat in a war against Rome, found shelter in Armenia.
We then drive through a spectacular red-rock canyon towards Noravank Monastery (13th c.) and on the way visit a local winery in the village of Areni for wine tasting. Areni used to be one of the ancient centres of wine production in Armenia. In 2010, archaeologists discovered a 6100-year-old wine cellar here containing a wine press for stomping grapes, fermentation, and storage containers, drinking cups, grape vines, skins, and seeds. This is the one of the earliest wineries and wine cellars found to date anywhere in the world.
Mon 06 May: Goris – Tatev – Selim Pass – Sevan
After breakfast at the hotel, we will take a ride on the longest cableway in the world (5,7 km), called the ‘Tatever’, over the canyons to the Monastery of Tatev. It is one of the most unique and beautiful monasteries in Armenia and is located on the steep side of a deep gorge surrounded with dramatic settings. It was built during the 9-13th centuries as an Armenian intellectual centre where philosophers, musicians, painters, calligraphers, and monks lived. Tatev used to be the religious and political centre of the Syunik princedom.
We take the road over the Selim Pass, a thoroughfare from the medieval ages when the Silk Road was operating. We will take a stop here and will walk down into the pass providing wonderful views of the mountains and Alpine meadows with their many wildflowers.
Continuing we reach the turquoise blue waters of Lake Sevan, located 1900m above sea level and famous both for its ever-changing hues and fresh fish.(B/D)
Tue 07 May: Armenia – Georgia
This morning we drive via Sevan Lake to Sevanavank Monastery, which has stood for centuries overlooking the picturesque lake and mountains. Continue to the mountainous resort of Dilijan, the ‘Armenian Switzerland’, which is well-known for its forests as and flora and fauna. During the drive we will experience the unbelievable change of the surrounding environment from the mountainous lake to the green and rich forests.
In Dilijan we will take a small walking tour of ‘handicrafts street’, where we can watch the making of different national souvenirs of wood, stone, and ceramics. Then a visit to Haghartsin Monastery which dates back to the 11-13th century, and represents a magnificent piece of history, culture and architecture. The complex, with its breathtaking nature and scenery leave visitors in awe as it appears unexpectedly, out of the dense forest, and creates a magical impression of a lost world.
We then drive on to the Georgian – Armenian border. After the customs clearance we walk 100 meters to the coach stop and meet our Georgian team who will head to Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia and check into our hotel.
Wed 08 May: Tbilisi City Walking Tour
Discover the best of Tbilisi’s history, culture, and architecture on a walking tour.
After getting picked up from our hotel, we enjoy a stroll through the streets of the Old Town towards Metekhi Church and learn all about the history of Tbilisi’s formation. In Shardeni Street, discover an open-air carpet market, visit Sioni Church and see the unique clock tower of the Rezo Gabriadze Puppet Theatre. We will also discover the fascinating story behind the Anchiskhati Church and get to sample local wine. Next, ride a panoramic cable car up to the imposing ‘Kartlis Deda’ (Mother of Georgia) Monument, from which point we can admire panoramic views of the entire city. Pay a visit to Narikala Fortress before beginning your descent down the mountain. Head to the Sulfur Baths District, stopping to admire impressive views of the Leghvtakhevi Gorge and Vakhtang Gorgasali Monument along the way. Finish our walking tour with a stroll along the Bridge of Love to a picturesque waterfall located in the centre of the city.
The rest of the day is free to explore this fascinating city on your own.
Thu 09 May: Tbilisi – Zhinvali – Ananuri – Gudauri
After breakfast we depart Tbilisi and head to the Zinvali Dam, the largest reservoir of eastern Georgia. Following this we will visit Ananuri Fortress, which is one of the best monuments of late feudal Georgia. Although there are few monuments like this on the territory of the country, it is Ananuri that helps to understand clearly how people lived at that distant time. Ananurian structures, unlike other similar structures, are perfectly preserved. This feature evokes interest in the fortress of both tourists and historians, and since 2012, this fortress has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After breakfast we depart Tbilisi and head to the Zinvali Dam, the largest reservoir of eastern Georgia. Following this we will visit Ananuri Fortress, which is one of the best monuments of late feudal Georgia. Although there are few monuments like this on the territory of the country, it is Ananuri that helps to understand clearly how people lived at that distant time. Ananurian structures, unlike other similar
structures, are perfectly preserved. This feature evokes interest in the fortress of both tourists and historians, and since 2012, this fortress has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (B/L/D)
Fri 10 May: Gaudari -Kazbegi – Gergeti – Dariali – Kutaisi
Today we will visit the ancient Georgian Stepantsminda (Kazbegi) Trinity Church in Gergeti sitting 2,170 meters on the slopes of the majestic snow-covered mountain of Kazbek. Our next destination will be Dariali Gorge and Monastery Complex. Since ancient times, the Dariali Gorge has acted as a road between what is modern-day Russia and Georgia. Even today, we’ll see countless trucks lining up at the border crossing to facilitate trade. The Dariali Monastery is considerably newer than this ancient trade route, with construction having begun in 2005 under the guidance of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II. The monks living there today were involved in the building and decoration of the monastery, including the decorative mosaics, fine metalwork, and the construction of twelve different churches. The first of these, the Michael and Gabriel Archangel Church, opened in 2011.
From here the road winds through narrow, forested valleys before dropping onto the fertile plains of the Rioni, Georgia’s most important river before arriving in Kutaisi, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Colchis where we check in for a two-night stay. Kutaisi has always been an important town throughout the ages and for many years was the capital of Georgia, when Tbilisi was occupied by the Arabs. The period between the reigns of King Bagrat and Queen Tamar (roughly 900–1200) was the golden age for Kutaisi and most of the significant buildings date from this time. Now it is the main city of the Imereti region and here the people are renowned for their sense of humour, and a special kind of ‘khachapuri’ – the cheese bread unique to Georgia (B/L/D)
Sat 11 May: Kutaisi – Martvili – Okatse Canyons – Prometheus Cave – Kutaisi
See Georgia’s most spectacular canyons on a day tour from Kutaisi. The main destination is the town of Martvili, located to the west of Kutaisi City, and home to many spectacular canyons. During our 4-hour drive there we will see wonderful numerous charming rustic villages with beautiful alleys and yards. On arrival we will enter the Canyon’s visitor centre where we will undertake a boat trip through the canyon to see some amazing waterfalls. The colours of the canyon are amazing, as the light intensity changes regularly while passing a gorge.
The next stop is the Okatse Canyons. This is a natural monument with recently built high-quality tourist infrastructure, including stairs and footpaths offering magnificent views of the canyon and its surroundings. From Okaste we return to Kutaisi with a stop at the Prometheus Cave. Kumistavi (Prometheus Cave) is the biggest cave in Georgia with spectacular stalactites, stalagmites, petrified waterfalls, underground rivers, and lakes. We will have two options to enjoy your impressive cave tour. We take a walking tour along the 1.6km route or a boat ride along the underground river. After finishing the tour, we drive back to Kutaisi for the night. (B/D)
Sun 12 May: Kutaisi – Rabati – Borjomi – Bakuriani
We begin the venturing out to southern Georgia, where the Rabati Castle and Borjomi resort await our discovery. The first stop at Akhaltsikhe is Rabati Castle, a medieval castle complex of Asian style architecture. Built in the 13th century, Rabati Castle developed under the influence of different cultures over subsequent centuries, and this is reflected in its architecture; the modern section including a restaurant, hotel, cafes, and shops while the ancient part includes the Ahmediyeh Mosque, the church, the family castle of Jakeli, and the historical museum.
Borjomi Gorge is our next stop, home to a hydro-thermal health spa resort. Borjomi has an international reputation for its geothermal spring mineral water resources. Here we will spend time enjoying a walk in Borjomi Central Park, visit the open-air sulfur water swimming pool, and taste the award-winning local mineral water said to have unique healing qualities. We then drive to Bakuriani for the night. (B/L)
Mon 13 May: Bakuriani – Vardzia – Tsalka – Tbilisi (Dinner with Folk Show)
After breakfast we drive to the Vardzia, a cave dwelling complex that was excavated from the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain in the 12th century. On the way to Vardzia we pass through narrow canyons at Aspindza along a particularly beautiful valley. The complex features a bell tower, chapels, pharmacy, and wine cellars.
From there, we drive to the recently renamed Tsalka Canyon. Once we reach the canyon, we can take a walk on a 240 metre long glass bridge that spans it. We will also take a short hike down the canyon to see the beautiful Dashbashi Waterfall. The walk is short, approximately a 3km round trip. You can try the zipline if you would like a challenge!
Later, we will explore the area around St. George Church, a medieval temple overlooking the canyon. We will also explore another fascinating site, the remnants of a German settlement in Asureti Village where a small part of the town surrounding an old Lutheran church has been preserved with charming architecture. Afterwards we will head back to Tbilisi where tonight we will enjoy dinner and folk show. (B/D)
Mon 14 May: Tbilisi – Mtskheta – Gori – Uplistsikhe – Tbilisi
Today we explore the western part of Georgia, towards Mtskheta. Mtskheta was the capital of the Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the third century BC and is one of the oldest towns and the cultural and religious centres of Georgia. We visit the Jvari Monastery, a true architectural masterpiece of the early medieval period built on a hilltop. From the hill, gaze down to the merging Aragvi and Mtkvari Rivers below, a great stop to take photos.
We continue onto Gori, the homeland of Stalin, and visit Stalin’s house, which is now a museum, and his wagon train. At the Stalin Museum, we learn about the life of the infamous dictator in an exhibit which includes unique photos, gifts he received, and his furniture.
After the museum we will travel to the cave town of Uplistsikhe, named ‘Fortress of the Lord’, situated on a rocky mount on the left bank of the river Mtkvari. The fortress is mentioned in chronicles dating back to the earliest of times, and its history began in the first millennium B.C. Uplistsikhe was an important religious, political, and cultural centre in the Hellenistic and the late Antique periods, and it has been identified as one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia. Enjoy an interesting walking tour here of the rock-cut structures, including and amphitheatre.
Lastly, visit the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, a sacred place where the robe of Christ is being kept, a masterpiece of the Early Middle Ages, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Late this afternoon we return to Tbilisi. (B/D)
Wed 15 May: Tbilisi – Telavi – Kvareli
Check out of our hotel after breakfast and drive to Telavi, a very beautiful district, which is distinguished by the abundance of cultural monuments of different eras. Here we will find Bronze Age settlements, medieval temples of great cultural importance, ruins of palaces and castles, which bear witness to many interesting histories and heroism. The Ikalto Monastery is especially famous, where Arsen Ikaltoeli founded Ikalto Academy. It was a higher education institution in XI-XII centuries. Also important are the old and new Shuamta, Vanta Palace complex, Kisiskhevi Church of the Mother of God and others. The Telavi Historical-Ethnographic Museum is in the palace of Erekle II where many interesting exhibits are presented: Numismatic material, pre-feudal sarcophagus, late medieval armor, collections of copper household items, weapons, Khevsurian garments of the XVII-XIX centuries, collections of textiles, manuscripts and paintings, scientific library, photo fund and more.
One of the most popular places in Telavi is the Alexander Chavchavadze House-Museum in Tsinandali with its beautiful garden, which has been visited by many famous Georgian and foreign writers and poets.
Next, we go to the Kvareli Wine Tunnel where we will experience different types of Georgian wine, and have fun in a cooking masterclass making bread, khinkali, and churchkhela for dipping.
Late this afternoon we continue to the Kvareli where we will check into our accommodation for the night. (B/L)
Thu 16 May: Georgia – Azerbaijan
After breakfast we drive to the Georgia-Azerbaijan Border at Lagodekhi where we will cross on foot. Upon arrival on the Azerbaijan side, we will be met by our Azerbaijan guides, and drive to Sheki. On the way we will stop at the village Kish.
Kish is famous for its huge Christian architectural monument. This is an Albanian church which history goes back to 6th- 7th centuries. An ancient cemetery is located near the temple and all the burial places are under a glass cupola where you can see skeletons of ancient humans. These skeletons impress with their height as some appear to be 2.5 meters, or higher. Ancient Albanian people were giants with white skin and golden hair. They looked unlike modern Caucasian nations of today. That is why sometimes this village is referred to as the ‘Land of Atlantis’. Arrive Sheki and overnight. (B/L/D)
Fri 17 May: Sheki – Ganja
Lost In the folds of the forested slopes of the Caucasus foothills, Sheki has for centuries been an important market town. Situated 700 m (2297 ft.) above sea level like an amphitheatre surrounded by the mountains and forests of oak trees, this ancient city was long famed as a silk centre and an important stop on the Great Silk Route. There is an assumption that the name of the town goes back to the ethnonym of the Saks, who reached the territory of Azerbaijan in the 7th century BC.
We start our Sheki tour by visiting the 18th century Khan’s Summer Palace with magnificent frescos and exquisite stained-glass work. The Sheki History Museum is famous for its artifacts from several periods and is a must visit.
This afternoon we depart for the ancient city of Ganja, the third largest city in Azerbaijan. On arrival we will conduct a city tour. The tour will include a visit to the Nizami Ganjavi Mausoleum, the ruins of a walled fort, and the Imamzadeh complex which features religious buildings with ornate blue tile work. Other notable landmarks include the Djuma Mosque, with its large dome and ornamental fountains, the mosque of “Shah Abbas”, the medieval caravanserai, museum of miniature, and “Bottle House.” We finish with a visit to the local bazaar. (B,L,D)
Sat 18 May: Ganja – Gobustan – Baku
After breakfast we drive to Baku, with an excursion to Gobustan, a settlement and municipality in Baku and is best known for being the home to the famous rock petroglyphs and mud volcanoes.
Covering 537 hectares, the rock art represents flora and fauna, hunting, lifestyles, and culture from pre-historic and medieval periods. The carvings on the rocks illustrate primitive men, ritual dances, men with lances in their hands, animals, bullfights, camel caravans, and pictures of the sun and stars. The area has been settled since the 8th millennium BC. (B/L/D)
Sun 19 May: Baku City Tour
This morning we begin exploring Baku. The city is shaped like an amphitheatre, descending to the horseshoe bay on the Caspian Sea. The tour covers the central part of the city showing the most interesting historical and architectural sites. We will visit the ‘Old Town” or ‘Inner City’. The territory of the ‘Inner City’ is 22 hectares, which represents a small fraction of the total area of Baku (44,000 hectares). The concentration of architectural and historical monuments makes this part of Baku perhaps the most interesting to explore. We visit Maiden Tower (12th century), Palace of Shirvan Shahs (15th century), Castle Synyk Gala, Caravan Saray, Juma Mosque plus more. (B)
Mon 20 May: Absheron Peninsula Tour – Farewell Dinner – Mugam Folk Music
After breakfast we begin an excursion to Ateshgah, the temple of fire worshippers, located on the Absheron Peninsula 30 km from the centre of Baku, and revered in different times by Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Sikhs. Construction of the temple dates to the 17th century and because of excavations far more ancient artifacts have been discovered. By the decree of the President of Azerbaijan, Ateshgah was declared a state historical-architectural reserve. We then continue to Yanar Dag where we can see a natural phenomenon, the incessant burning of natural gas on a rock. As the historians say, maybe this place gave the title ‘The fire country’ to Azerbaijan. We also include an excursion to the 16th century fortresses of Ramana and Mardakan. It is assumed they were built to protect the palace under the rule of Shirvanshahs.
Tonight, we celebrate our time away together with a farewell dinner and Mugan Folk music. Return our Baku hotel for the night. (B/D)
Tue 21 May: Baku – Doha
At mid-morning we transfer to Baku International Airport where we join our 3 hour flight with Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Arrive and transfer to our hotel for day-room accommodation until our mid-evening transfer back to the airport and onward connection to Auckland. (B)
Wed 22 May: Doha – In Flight
Depart Doha at 01.50am. Flight time 16 hours.
Thu 23 May: Auckland
Arrive in Auckland at 02.45am
CAUCASUS ADVENTURE HIGHLIGHTS
Estimated Tour Price:
NZ$8,990 per person twin/double
TOUR PRICE INCLUDES:
- Return economy class airfares ex Auckland
- Road transport by modern mini buses
- All accommodation & sightseeing as specified in the itinerary
- Meals (B-breakfast, L-lunch, D-dinner)
- Local tour guides throughout
- Entrance fees to all sites
- One bottle of mineral water per person per day
- Visa fee Doha
- Professional Tour Escort from New Zealand
TOUR PRICE EXCLUDES:
- Visa fee Azerbaijan
- Meals other than indicated
- Travel insurance (compulsory)
- Tipping for guides USD 160 per person, paid in advance to the escort
- Any Covid-19 related expenses such as PCR swabbing or quarantines (if required)
The above itinerary is subject to change due to airline reschedules, adverse weather and road conditions, unexpected political situations, or the decision by the host ground operator based on what is best for the group at time of arrival. Every effort will be made to deliver the itinerary and tour price exactly as stated