Explore the best of Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia with a small group of like-minded travelers.
Day 1: Departure from USA
Overnight flight from JFK to Baku, Azerbaijan.
Day 2: Arrive in Baku (Azerbaijan)
Arrive at Baku International Airport (GYD). Upon arrival, you will be met at the airport by our driver and transferred to your hotel. Overnight in Baku.
Day 3: Baku (Azerbaijan) [B,L,D]
Today, we begin our tour with a panorama of the city, viewed from a height of the Upland Park, which clearly gives an idea of the contrasts and scale of the city that covers Baku Bay as a horseshoe. The town is in the shape of an amphitheater, descending to the Caspian Sea. The tour covers the central part of Baku showing of the most interesting historical and architectural sites, as well as visiting a favorite walking place for residents and guests – Baku Boulevard. Also we will visit the “Old Town”, there are several dozen historical and architectural monuments are situated in its the territory, including the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, the symbol of Baku – Maiden Tower, places of rest and stay of medieval merchants – Caravanserai.
After lunch, we will visit to the Cultural Complex named after Heydar Aliyev, former President (Oct. 1993 to Oct. 2003). Many of those who first saw the design project of the center named after the former president, could not believe that such a project could ever come true. In fact, even in theory, the construction of a building complex with extraordinary design, looks far from being realistic. Overnight in Baku.
Day 4: Baku – Gobustan – Ateshgah – Gala – Baku (Azerbaijan) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we drive to Gobustan, is a historical and an architectural reserve under the open sky with the unique cave paintings of Neolithic Times, which is 44 miles from Baku. There are more than 6,000 Petroglyphs (rock carvings) dated over 12,000 years old in Gobustan. The figures reflect the life of people in the Stone Age – hunting, recreation, dance, accompanied by the melodious sounds of “Gaval Dash” (a large rock with a deep resonant sound). Thanks to the huge rocks, there were formed many caves, which served as a refuge for ancient people and helped to survive during severe weather. Before the start of the tour to Gobustan we will visit the newly-built hi-tech museum of the same name. After lunch, we will have an excursion to the Temple of Fire Worshipers in Ateshgah.
The Temple of Fire Worshipers is ancient religious building, built on the site of natural gas output. This temple is a part of the Zoroastrian chronicles and symbolizes the cult of the Eternal Flame. In the former cells, where pilgrims from all over the world stayed, now the museum with unique exhibits is set up. Our last stop will be the Gala Village is about a 40-minute drive from Baku. Earlier only few people knew about the village, but in recent years the popularity of this small village has become enormous. And the reason is simple – someone came up with a great idea to make an open-air museum at the place of the archaeological site. Entering the museum, you feel being dropped in the old days. The historic architectural monuments confirm that these places were ancient settlements of people. Overnight in Baku.
Day 5: Baku – Shamakhi – Maraza – Lahic – Sheki (Azerbaijan) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we drive to the Shamakhi district. Visit the town of Shamakhi, Diri Baba Tomb and Yeddi Gumbaz. Shamakhi was the capital of Shirvan Kingdom for several centuries. Yeddi Gumbaz (The Seven Cupolas) Mausoleum is the burial place for members of the royal families of the Shirvan Shahs. Visit famous Lahij Village in Ismayilli District. Many of the 2,000-people living in Lahij are involved in ancient crafts such as engraved copper work and carpet weaving. In the mid XIX Century, there were more than 200 workshops in Lahij. Traders discovered Lahij crafts many centuries ago, and sold them for soaring prices at bazaars in Baghdad (now Iraq), Shiraz (now Iran) and other Middle Eastern cities. Stop by a copper workshop for a impromptu lesson in ancient craftsmanship you’ll get to see copper-smiths use small mallets to decorate plates, trays, jugs, goblets and pitchers, just as their ancestors have done for centuries. Lunch and dinner at local restaurants. Overnight in Sheki.
Day 6: Sheki (Azerbaijan) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, visit the Palace of Sheki Khans, dating back to XVIII A.D., where the most outstanding and valuable monument of the XVIII Century is in Azerbaijan. Then drive to Kish Village, to visit the Albanian Church. Legend says that the church was built in 78 A.D., but the researchers place it a few centuries later. After lunch, visit the Sheki Bazaar and look at the various local handicrafts including scarves, unique boxes, a plethora of sweets, confections and local sweet bakery. Overnight in Sheki.
Day 7: Sheki – Lagodekhi Border – Telavi (Azerbaijan-Georgia) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we drive to the Georgia – Azerbaijan border of Lagodekhi. After border formalities, you will meet with your guide and driver from Georgia, we will then drive to Telavi – center of Kakheti Province. A visit to the Tsinandali Estate and the first winery founded by one of the famous poets and public figures Alexander Chavchavadze in XIX Century. Explore the site – garden, home museum, wine cellar, where oldest bottle of wine dating back to 1814. Continue to local family, located close to the site. Taste homemade wine, master class of making churchkhela – Georgian traditional sweet, bread and lunch with the family. Drive to Telavi after lunch. Visit to Alaverdi Cathedral of XI Century and visit to the winery run by monks. Here you have a chance to have a brief introduction and lecture about the way of Georgian wine making and taste one of the best wines right from Qvevri – clay Jar. Overnight in Telavi.
Day 8: Telavi – Sighnaghi – Tbilisi (Georgia) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, drive to Sighnaghi – royal town surrounded by the defiance wall with 23 towers built by the king Erekle II in XVIII Century. The town had many gates through which Georgia was connected to Europe and Asia by various trade routes. Stroll through tiny and cozy streets of Sighnaghi and enjoy amazing view of Alazani Valley. Visit to local winery “Pheasant’s Tears” taste diverse types of Georgian wines and lunch, accompanied by Georgian folk singing. We drive to Tbilisi then, check into the hotel for short rest. Later in the evening a sightseeing tour of Tbilisi – known as a capital of Georgia from the V Century, the city is extraordinary for its turbulent history, elegant and remarkable architecture, destroyed and restored through centuries but keeping entire style of the Georgian orthodox religion and traditions. Walk through the old city. Visit to Metekhi Church, dated XIII Century, Sulfur Baths, take a cable car up to Narikala Fortress, walkthrough oldest part of Tbilisi, along the Sharden and Erekle II streets. Dinner in Funicular restaurant located on the highest spot in Tbilisi, from where the view of the whole city opens. Enjoy Georgian meals and music performances. Overnight in Tbilisi.
Day 9: Tbilisi – Gori – Mtskheta – Tbilisi (Georgia) [B,L,D]
After breakfast we drive to Inner Kartli Province to the town of Gori – famous for being a birthplace of J. Stalin. Visit to Stalin’s Museum and house of birth in Gori. Excursion to Uplistsikhe Rock hewn known from 1st millennium B.C. – a complex of rock cut halls, temples, passage streets, wine pressers, tunnels where Hellenistic period is mixed together with early Christian Age, upper and lower-class hierarchy dwellings. Lunch in local restaurant. After lunch drive to Mtskheta – old capital of Kartli, Iberia Kingdom known as a political and cultural center from III Century B.C. Drive up to Jvari Monastery dated VI Century distinguished with harmonious proportions and representing the high achievements of early Georgian Medieval Architecture. Visit to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral – XI Century Architectural Monument. Reception in Vino Underground – here are gathered the best Georgian wines from all over Georgia. Dinner in a Georgian city restaurant. Overnight in Tbilisi.
Day 10: Tbilisi – Sadakhlo Border – Akhtala – Haghpat – Dilijan (Georgia – Armenia) [B,L,D]
In the morning, transfer to the Sadakhlo Border (Armenian/Georgian) for formalities and meet your guide and driver from Armenia. Meeting at the Sadakhlo border at about 10:00 am and continuing to the town of Akhtala. This area is famous for copper and silver mines but your main point of attraction will be the half-ruined fortress of Akhtala which is more than 1,000 years old. Archaeological excavations have shown that the area has been occupied by human since the early Bronze Age. Lunch in a local restaurant tasting local Armenian Barbecue. Continue to Haghpat (976 A.D.) Monastic Complex, which is among the outstanding works of medieval Armenian architecture and are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The complex used to be an educational center of the middle ages were the majority of Armenian scholars and scientists get their background education. Proceed to the resort town of Dilijan. The forested and reclusive city is home to numerous Armenian artists, composers, and filmmakers and features some traditional Armenian architecture. The Sharambeyan street in the center, has been preserved and maintained as an “old town,” complete with craftsman’s workshops, a gallery and a museum which might be interesting to explore while your leisure time in Dilijan. Overnight in Dilijan.
Day 11: Dilijan – Lake Sevan – Garni – Geghard – Yerevan (Armenia) [B,L,D]
After breakfast we head to Lake Sevan. After your nice rest in the forested area with fresh air in your lungs, you will start the tour to the high-mountainous Lake Sevan – the emerald of Armenia. It is the largest lake in Armenia and The Caucasus, and one of the largest fresh-water high-altitude lakes in the world. This huge mountain lake which takes a huge territory of Armenia’s surface area is about 1,900 meters above sea level. Sightseeing on Sevan Peninsula. Visit the Peninsula for the monastery and perfect views over the lake. Continue to Garni. Lunch at a local house in Garni where you will have opportunity to watch Armenian national bread “Lavash” baking and barbecue making process in the underground stove called “tonir”.
The pagan temple of Garni is a picturesque monument of the Hellenistic period and an impressive piece of ancient Armenian architecture. It was built in the first century A.D. by the Armenian King Tiridates and it is dedicated to a heathen god, probably to Mithra, the god of the sun whose figure stood in the depth of the sanctuary. After proclaiming Christianity as a state religion in Armenia in 301, the temple was probably used as a summer residence of the kings. Northeast of Garni, higher up the gorge of the Azat River, there is a magnificent monument of medieval Armenian architecture – Geghard Monastery inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage list. Welcome dinner at a traditional Armenian restaurant. Overnight in Yerevan.
Day 12: Yerevan City Tour – Etchmiadzin – Zvartnots – Brandy Factory (Armenia) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, proceed to the town of Etchmiadzin which is a mere 13 miles from Yerevan. Stop at the Ruins of Zvartnots Temple – the pearl of the VII Century Architecture (inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage list). We will see Etchmiadzin Cathedral and walk the Cathedral area (no entrance, closed for re-construction until 12/2019) which is one of the oldest standing churches in Christendom. It was built in 303 A.D. over a pagan fire altar. The name Etchmiadzin means “descent of the Only Begotten”. It was believed to have been designated in a vision where Christ came to earth and struck the plains with a golden hammer. This landmark is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Then a visit to St. Hripsime Apostolic Church and exhibit in Vagharshapat (UNESCO), one of the oldest surviving church in the country. Lunch will be at a local house/restaurant. Return to Yerevan to visit their famous Brandy Factory founded in 1887. During the International Exhibition in Paris in 1900, the brandy received the Grand-Prix and the legal right to be called ‘Cognac’, not ‘Brandy’. While touring the visitors are offered to visit the museum of the factory. The bar offers tasting of various old and chateau sort of cognacs, which have mellow-velvety flavor endowed with a rich bouquet of chocolate-vanilla accents. Leisure time and farewell dinner in a traditional Armenian restaurant with live folk music. Overnight in Yerevan.
Day 13: Yerevan – Tbilisi (Armenia – Georgia) [B,L,D]
After breakfast we drive to the town of Ashtarak, visit the Church of Karmravor (VII Century). Participation in Folk Theater “Tonatsuyts”. Departure to the region of Lori, then lunch at a local restaurant. Driving to the border of Sadakhlo for border crossing formalities. Overnight in Tbilisi.
Day 14: Departure From Tbilisi (Georgia) [B]