Georgia – Armenia – Azerbaijan
The Caucasus comprise three unique, yet interconnected former Soviet republics – Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – each with its own distinct customs and traditions. Connected historically with the great Silk Road, this rich region was once traced by ancient caravans from the East carrying delicate jewels, precious stones and spices. Our own tracing of the Caucasus will begin in oil-rich Azerbaijan, from where we journey west into the famous wine-making regions of Georgia, north into the mountainous provinces of the Greater Caucasus, and finally into Armenia, one of the oldest Christian countries along with its Georgian neighbor. We will visit architectural monuments, monastic jewels and cities steeped in a long, rich history of Soviet, Christian, pagan and Arab cultures.
The itinerary for the HMWS tour in September 2014, covers in 17 days, as much as possible, important and valuable cultural sights; along the way we experienced fabulous food, wine and hospitality from our Caucasian hosts.
03 September/ Day 1
Morning transfer to Manchester Airport. Afternoon Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. Transfer to Hotel Neorion in Istanbul for overnight stay.
04 September/ Day 2
Full day guided Istanbul city tour. Evening transfer to Istanbul Airport for flight to Tbilisi. Transfer to hotel in Tbilisi.
05 September/Day 3
We were met by our guide Tamara at 9 am for a sightseeing tour of the city, followed by a traditional Georgian lunch. Before and after lunch we visited: National Museum of Georgia, Anchiskhati Basilica dating back to the 6thcentury, Narikala castle with views of the city, Bathhouses of Tbilisi. We were introduced to Georgian wine at the Ghvino Underground wine bar where an artisanal wine-maker personally introduced the wines & shared stories about wine making. www.vinounderground.ge Dinner at a traditional Georgian restaurant. Overnight at newly opened boutique hotel. www.tiflis.ge
06 September/ Day 4
After breakfast at the hotel, we traveled to east Georgia, Kakheti province – homeland of Georgian wine culture. The road took us through local villages, surrounded by mountains of Gombori Pass. We visited Alaverdi monastery and its 1,000 year old wine cellar. This 6th century facility has a wonderful story, and the few monks who still live there, practice its old tradition of winemaking. We had a tasting of the monastery wines with the winemaker. www.since1011.com Brief visit to Ikalto Monastery, founded in the 6th c. From 12th c onwards Ikalto served as wine academy where Shota Rustaveli, the revered medieval Georgian poet studied. Lunch was at forest restaurant Nikala, founded by local chef Niko to serve only fresh food from Kakheti area. Visited the bazaar in Telavi and had a tasting at Teleda winery founded by Dakishvili family. Dinner was at Marleta Restaurant. Overnight at Hotel Old Telavi www.oldtelavi.ge
At Ikalto Monastery & Academy
At Alaverdi Monastery
At Forest Restaurant Nikala
At Teleda Winery
07 September/Day 5– Full day in Kakheti.
Today we explored the rich heritage of Kakheti area. The first stop of the day was Napareuli village; here we visited “Twin’s Wine Cellar”. This little family owned winery continues old traditions of winemaking. We sampled local Kakhetian wines and visited the small museum dedicated to Qvevri wines. www.cellar.ge Afterwards our tour moved on to “Shumi” winery www.shumi.ge where we sampled some of exceptional wines and Kakhetian traditional dishes at lunch. In the evening we arrived in Sighnaghi. This 18th c. town sits on the hill overlooking the Valley of the Alazani River and Great Caucasus Mountains. We had some time for rest before dinner and wine tasting at the Wine Restaurant “Pheasant’s Tears”. www.pheasantstears.com Overnight at hotel Solomoni in Sighnaghi www.solomoni.ge
FOOTLOOSE IN TELAVI
AT TWINS WINE CELLAR
08 September/ Day 6
In the morning we drove to Lagodekhi to cross border between Georgia and Azerbaijan. After short formalities we said goodbye to our Georgian guide Tamara and began to explore Azerbaijan with our Azeri guide Sulaiman. The first stop was the historic town of Sheki. Situated 700 m (2297 ft.) above sea level, the city looks like an amphitheater 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. We had an al fresco lunch of lentil soup, various salads, kebabs and BBQ lamb chops and drank Azeri beer. We started our tour by visiting the 18th century Khan’s summer palace with magnificent frescos and exquisite stained glass work and the Caravansary where tea was served, Azeri style, with Baclava. Dinner was a typical Azeri dish of fried chicken with fried fruit and vegetables preceded by Mountain Goats Cheese, salad, pickles and chicken soup. The Ivanovka White drunk with dinner was very forgettable. The Sheki Palace Hotel we stayed at is indeed grand.
09 September/Day 7
After breakfast, we visited the town “bazaar”. After a short drive, we arrived in Shamakhy district to visit Shemakha town. Shemakha once served as a capital of Shirvan Kingdom. We visited the mausoleum of “Seven Domes,” which served as a burial place for members of the royal family. Later we drove to the village of Kish, a place where an ancient Albanian church has been preserved. According to local legends this temple was built in 78 AD, though the historians date it to a much later period. In the evening we arrived in Baku, the capital and most important commercial centre of the country and the Caucasus region. After linch in Shemakha we visited Savalan Winery in the area of Gabala. Dinner was at a traditional restaurant with a folklore show in Baku. Overnight at 4* hotel in Baku
10 September/ Day 8 – City tour of Baku / Flight to Tbilisi
After breakfast, we explored the colourful and most cosmopolitan city of Azerbaijan – Baku. Tour covered the central part of the city showing the most interesting historical and architectural sights. We visited the “Old Town” or “Inner City”, Maiden Tower (XII century), Palace of Shirvanshahs (XV century), Castle Synyk Gala, Caravan Saray, Juma Mosque etc… This is a short list of attractions Old Town offers to its visitors. After the city tour we visited Firelands winery for a tasting. Afterwards we will drove to the airport for the evening Qatar Airways flight to Tbilisi which took 1 hour 10 minutes. We were met and transferred to the Old Tiflis hotel. Dinner was Shuchman Wine Bar. Overnight in at hotel in Tbilisi. www.tiflis.ge
11 September/ Day 9
After breakfast, we drove south of Tbilisi to Georgia-Armenian border- Sadakhlo. After border formalities we met our Armenian team headed by delightful Katar. Once the border was crossed, we started driving along beautiful valleys to visit the Haghpat Monastic Complex. After lunch, we traveled towards Lake Sevan. There was the opportunity to bird watch. After a brief city tour in Yerevan, dinner was served at one of the best restaurants in Yerevan – Dolmama. Overnight in Yerevan at 4* Hotel.
12 September/ Day 10
Our first stop was at Khor Virap (meaning (meaning “deep pit”). From here one can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Biblical Mount Ararat. We drove to Areni village to visit the Areni Archaeological Site and three wineries for tastings. Lunch was arranged in Areni village with a local winemaker. Before returning to Yerevan we visited the Holy Echmiadzin – the spiritual center of the country. Numerous kings and Catholicoses have been crowned and consecrated here. According to local legend when Noah emerged from the Ark in the Ararat Valley, he built an altar of sacrifice in the place where the Mother Cathedral is now standing and offered a sacrifice. St. Gregory the Illuminator chose the location of the 4th C Mother Cathedral. We continued the exploration of Armenian capital Yerevan. Dinner was at a good local restaurant in Yerevan. Overnight in Yerevan at 4* Hotel.
13 September/ Day 11
In the morning after check out we visited Geghard Monastic Complex famous for its rock-cut architecture. Later we visited the pagan temple of Garni. In Garni village we had a chance to see national bread lavash baking and had an open-air lunch. We returned to Yerevan for a brandy tasting at Ararat Brandy Factory. Then we drove North to the town of Gyumri where dinner was served after a brief city tour of Gyumri. Overnight in Giumri.
14 September/ Day 12
After breakfast we took the short drive to Georgian border. After border formalities we had the opportunity to see birds at the lake Paravani. Lunch and was at Poka nunnery. Afterwards we visited 12th century rock cut complex of Vardzia built by queen Tamar. For dinner & overnight, we transferred to the town of Akhaltsikhe. Overnight at hotel Lomsia in Akhaltsikhe. www.lomsiahotel.ge
15 September/ Day 13 –Akhaltsikhe to Gudauri
In the morning we had a short sightseeing tour of Rabat and traveled to the mountainous region via Kartli. We visited Iago’s winery in the central region of Kartli where we tasted this vintner’s superb rare wines and had a delicious lunch.www.facebook.com/pages/Iagos-Wine Later we continued our winery tour and wine tasting at Chateau Mukhrani, founded in 1878 by the Prince of Mukhrani, heir of the royal family of Georgia. www.chateaumukhrani.com
Afterwards, drove along the picturesque Georgian Military Highway. This beautiful ride took us to north Georgia. In the evening, we arrived in Gudauri, a great place to enjoy the fresh alpine air and harmony of the mountains. Dinner and overnight in Gudauri was at cozy hotel Truso. www.hoteltruso.com
16 September/ Day 14
Before breakfast, there was the option of bird watching in Gudauri. We travelled to Stepantsminda region (formerly Kazbegi) – Khevi province via The Georgian Military Highway, the main transport artery, linking Georgia with Russia into the mountainous provinces of the Greater Caucasus. The Georgian Military Highway from its beginning to the end runs through the picturesque areas along the turbulent Aragvi & roaring Tergi rivers, mountainous villages with medieval watch towers and at the highest point, “The Cross Pass”, reaches 2379 meters. We explored Stepantsminda village (former Kazbegi), drove to Dariani gorge where we were able to observe raptors inhabiting the high cliffs of Greater Caucasus. We visited the lovely monastery of Holy Trinity by 4-wheel drive vehicle, nestled on the top of the mountain at over 2000 metres and 6 km from Kazbegi town. After lunch, we drove back to Tbilisi via the Dzalisa archaeological site – the Roman site with Mosaics of Dionysus of 1st c AD, and checked in at hotel Boutique 12 www.no12hotel.com. Dinner was at the famous Bred Oven restaurant in Tbilisi.
17 September / Day 15 – Full day in Tbilisi
After breakfast, we enjoyed free time and packed. Around 10:00 we visited the flea market. Afterwards we visited Sarajishvili for a fabulous brandy tasting. Lunch was at the Beer Restaurant in. In the afternoon we had a sulphur bath and scrub at the ancient bathhouses. There was time for rest at the hotel before the farewell dinner at a delightful small restaurant with Georgian Polyphonic singers.
18 September / Day 16
We departed from Tbilisi International Airport in the morning for Istanbul. On arrival in Istanbul, we were transferred to Hotel Neorion. Afternoon was free to swim and enjoy the hotel spar.
19 September/Day 17
We took the morning Turkish Airlines flight to Manchester from Istanbul Ataturk Airport. Our taxi was waiting and we drive home in time for lunch.
Price structure / per person in double / twin room
- 5-8: 1500 Euro per person, 9-10: 1330 Euro per person, 11-12: 1240 Euro per person
- Single room supplement: 290 Euro per person
Included: All transfers & transportation by comfortable vehicle, English speaking guide, Meals & wine tastings as described above, Entrance fees, Mineral water, 5 x wine tasting, 6 x lunches with wine at restaurants, 6 x dinners with wine at restaurants, Group of singers for farewell dinner, 3 x overnight / breakfast at luxury boutique hotel Old Tiflis (early check in 4-5 Sept, 5-6 night, 10-11 night), 2 x overnight / breakfast at luxury boutique hotel N12 (16, 17 Sept) – 6 rooms available for now, 2 rooms on a wait list, available at N12 apartments within 5 minutes walking distance, 1 x overnight / breakfast at hotel Old Telavi in Telavi, 1 x overnight / breakfast at hotel Solomoni in Sighnaghi, 1 x overnight / breakfast at hotel Lomsia in Akhaltsikhe, 1 x overnight / breakfast at hotel Truso in Gudauri
Excluded: Flights, single room supplement, travel insurance, bell-boys fees, bathhouses & massage (approx 35 euro per person)
- 5-8: 750 Euro per person, 9-10: 700 Euro per person, 11-12: 660 Euro per person, Single room supplement: 100 Euro per person
- Included: Accommodation by program in comfortable 4* hotel (Amber Hotel or similar), Transportation service, English speaking guide, Entry fee, Wine tasting, 3 dinners and 3 lunches, 0,5lt water per person per day
- Excluded: Flights, single room supplement, travel insurance, bell boys fees, Visa fee, Flight ticket Baku – Tbilisi
The documents required for visa / Azerbaijan:
- Filed application form (attached)
- 3×4 color photo
- Passport copy (color)
All documents must be in JPG format and separate for each passenger. The price for visa 50 EUR per person. Flight from Baku to Tbilisi operated by Qatar Airways on 10th of September, cost each ticket (economy class): 131 Euro
- 5-8: 600 Euro per person, 9-10: 540 Euro per person, 11-12: 500 Euro per person, Single room supplement: 110 Euro per person
- Included: Transportation by air-conditioned comfortable 17-seat minibus, ½ DBL 4* accommodation in accordance with the program at comfortable hotels, Meal Board in accordance with the program, Wine tasting (1 winery) and Brandy Tasting (1 winery), English-speaking guide service in accordance with the program, Excursions in accordance with the program, Entrance fees in accordance with the program, Lavash baking ceremony, Water, Local Taxes
- Excluded: Single room supplement, travel insurance, bell-boys fees, visa fee (between 6-10 Euro for the time being)
Turkish Visa: UK citizens now require an e-visa to enter Turkey. The link for this is:
Hotel In Istanbul
Orhaniye street no:14 34110 Old City Sirkeci, Istanbul / Turkey sirkeci Old City Sultanahmet, Istanbul Turkey. Postal Code: 34110, Phone: 90 212 5279090, Phone 2: 90 212 5279090, Fax: 90 212 5279091, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web Address: http://www.neorionhotel.com
Arrival by Public Transport:
- Just 10 minutes walking distance from Haghia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Blue Mosque, Underground Cistern, Spice Market, Archeology Museum and Grand Bazaar.
- Just 20 minutes from Taksim Square and Galata Tower.
- Just 10 minutes from the Piers.
Double Room: Standard double rooms have a queen size bed and are 22 square metres. All of double rooms have hair dryer, split air condition, mini bar, LCD screen TV, bathrobe, towel, safe, free of charge wireless internet, complimentary coffee and tea maker and a bottle of water and the rooms also have a private bathroom. This category is non-smoking. – Room for 2 People (at most 2 people can stay) – App. Room Size : 22 m2, Beds in the Room – 1 x Queen. The hotel rates are including open buffet breakfast.
SITES TO VISIT
Shirvan Shah’s Palace One of the pearls of Azerbaijan architecture is the complex of Shirvanshah`s Palace (15th century). The Palace ensemble consists of 9 structures, each of which strike by their perfection and jewelry carving in stone.
Atashgah – The Fire Worshippers’ Temple is located in the village of Surakhany. It was built on land where natural gas burned eternally by Zoroastrian believers who travelled from the province of Multan in India to worship. These ancient fires are believed to have given Azerbaijan its name,which is thought by some researchers to mean the ‘Land of Fires’.
Diri Baba Mausoleum means ‘Living Grandfather’ and refers to the Sufi mystic whose body, entombed in 1402, mysteriously refused to decompose, leading to a posthumous declaration of his sanctity.
Gobustan open-air museum Gobustan, 40 minutes drive to the south from Baku. The land of Gobustan is rich in archeological monuments. It presents more than 600 000 rock paintings, the age of the oldest goes back to 10 000 years. World famous scientist and traveler Tur Kheyerdal says that Gobustan is invaluable treasure house of Azerbaijan. It is possible to see unique ancient petroglyphs made by primitive people on the cave walls, rocks and stone blocks depicting people, animals, and scenes of works, hunting and dances.
Tsinandali is the Kakhetian residence of the 19th century Prince, poet and public figure, Alexandre Chavchavadze. The exhibits of Tsinandali museum recreate scenes from intellectual life of 18th – 19th cc. It also offers a beautiful English garden and wine cellars.
Metekhi Church was built in 1289 under the order of king Demetre the 2nd (‘The Devoted’), although the former church stood here already in 5th century. The Church was destroyed and later repaired several times. Under Russian rule the site was the home of the infamous Metekhi jail. In the Soviet period the church stopped functioning and was used as a theatre. However, with independence of Georgia, it has regained its original purpose. At present, Metekhi is an active Orthodox Church.
Svetitskhoveli – which may be translated as “The Life-giving pillar”, is the main church of Mtskheta and a sacred place where the robe of Christ is being kept. An enormous cedar tree grew on a place where Christ’s robe was buried. The place was chosen as a site for the future church. The branches of this magic tree served for constructed pillars. This bright example of Georgian renaissance architecture was erected by architect Arsukidze in 11th c, in the place where the first church in Georgia once stood in the 4th c.
Jvari is a masterpiece of the early Medieval Period. It stands on a mountain opposite the ancient city of Mtskheta. St. Nino erected the first wooden cross at the site. Its pedestal can still be seen in the centre of the church. This example of classic tetra conch design with all its miniature size, strikes the viewers with its grandeur and integrity. The interior, once decorated with mosaics is rather bare today, but a spectacular view opens from the church, which is seen from far away, equally well from all directions.
Uplistsikhe – meaning “The Fortress of God” is an ancient cave town from the 1st half of the 1st millennium BC situated on the crossroads of important trade routs. It was the main centre of paganism, and represents a complex of halls, caves, theatres, altars, pagan temples, secret tunnels, prisons, pharmacy, passages-streets all carved out of stone over an area of 4 hectares. At its peak of prosperity, the city had a population of 20 000. In 9th -10th cc AD a three-nave basilica was added to the complex.
Lake Sevan is one of the world’s highest and largest freshwater lakes. The lake is almost two kilometres above sea level and is encircled by volcanic mountains. Its blue waters are fringed with a chain of snow- capped mountains. The average temperature of Sevan’s crystal clear water, the colour of which is impossible to define or describe, is 18 C. People say the waters of Sevan are blessed with a mysterious power and they almost worship them.
The Garni temple was built in the second half of the 1st century BC. In 1679 it was destroyed by an earthquake. In 1975 the temple was restored. The bath that was constructed in the 3rd century and had at least 5 rooms with cold and hot water, has survived, located 50 meters from the temple.
Zvartnots Cathedral (Church of Guardian Angels) was built in the VII century and destroyed by an earthquake in the tenth century. This extraordinary triple-tiered structure of sculptured capitals with their motifs of eagles, grapes, leaves and pomegranates lie in ruins in the middle of an arid wasteland.
Khor Virap – church of XVI AD. This monastery complex is widely known for its fortress and underground prison where the first Armenian Saint and the establisher of Christianity in Armenia, Gregory Lousavorich was in confinement. You can climb down into the dark pit yourself, and then treat yourself to the most spectacular view of Mt. Ararat.
Echmiadzin cathedral is the most ancient Christian temple in Armenia, and official residence of the Catholics of all Armenians. According to tradition, St. Gregory the Illuminator saw a vision of the “Only Begotten” descend from heaven, and showed the spot where the church should be erected. In 303 AD, two years after Christianity was declared the state religion, the Mother hutch of the Holy See was completed. It was rebuilt in the 480s. Through the centuries there have been construction and additions, and the main dome was rebuilt in 1627.
Related Posts & Pages:
- Sighnaghi (batemanchris3.wordpress.com)
The tour is arranged by Ia Tabagari of the Georgian travel company, Living Roots. The guide in Georgia will be Tamara Natenadze who guided the HMWS group during the first wine tour of Georgia.