Explore the best of the Caucasus and Iran.
Day 1: Departure from the USA
Overnight flight from JFK to Tbilisi, Georgia.
Day 2: Arrive in Tbilisi (Georgia) [D]
Arrive at Tbilisi International Airport. Upon arrival, you will be met at the airport by our driver and transferred to your hotel. Overnight in Tbilisi.
Day 3: Tbilisi (Georgia) [B,L,D]
Morning at your leisure!! Enjoy an afternoon sightseeing tour of Tbilisi – known as a capital of Georgia from V Century the city is extraordinary for its turbulent history, elegant and remarkable architecture, destroyed and restored through centuries but keeping entire style of Georgian orthodox religion and traditions. Walk through old city. Visit to Metekhi Church dated XIII Century, Sulfur Bathes, take a cable car up to Narikala Fortress, walk through 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 4: Tbilisi – Gori – Mtskheta – Tbilisi (Georgia) [B,L,D]
Morning 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 formation known from 1st Millennium BC – 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 BC. 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. Return back to Tbilisi. Reception in Vino Underground – here are gathered the best Georgian wines from all over Georgia. Dinner at a Georgian city restaurant. Overnight in Tbilisi.
Day 5: Tbilisi – Sadakhlo Border – Akthala – Haghpat – Dilijan (Georgia – Armenia) [B,L,D]
In the morning we transfer to the border, change guide and vehicle. Meeting at Sadakhlo, the Armenian/Georgian border at about 10:00 am and continue 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 1000 years old. Archeological excavations has shown that the area has been occupied by human since the early Bronze Age. Lunch in a local restaurant and tasting local Armenian Barbecue. Continue to Haghpat (976 AD) 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. Dinner and overnight in Dilijan.
Day 6: Dilijan – Lake Sevan – Garni – Geghard – Yerevan (Armenia) [B,L,D]
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”. Sightseeing in the area. The citadel and 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 7: Yerevan City Tour – Etchmiadzin – Zvartnotz – Brandy Factory (Armenia) [B,L,D]
Proceed to the town of Etchmiadzin, which is mere 20 km from Yerevan. Stop at the ruins of Zvartnots temple – the pearl of the VII Century architecture (inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage list). Etchmiadzin Cathedral is one of the oldest standing churches in Christendom. It was built in 303 A.D. over a pagan fire altar. The name Echmiadzin 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. Lunch in a local art school tasting homemade dishes. Return to Yerevan to visit the famous Yerevan Brandy Factory founded in 1887. During the International Exhibition in Paris in 1,900, the brandy received the Grand-Prix and the legal right to be called ‘cognac’, not ‘brandy’. While the tours 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 and vanilla accents. Enjoy some leisure time!! Farewell dinner in a traditional Armenian restaurant with live folk music. Overnight in Yerevan.
Day 8: Yerevan – Khor Virap – Areni – Noravank – Goris (Armenia) [B,L,D]
After breakfast, departure to Ararat region to visit Khor Virap Monastery (IV-XVII Century) the religious importance is related to the first Armenian Catholicos, St. Gregory the Illuminator. The monastery is the closest point to biblical Mt. Ararat and in clear weather you will enjoy a gorgeous view of the mount. Proceed to Vayots Dzor region, the agricultural capital of the country, which has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. The region pride for its old wine making traditions and latest excavations found an entire wine production unit in one of the caves which is proved to be the oldest wine producing system. On the way visit Areni Cave where in 2008 the archaeologists found “the oldest leather shoe” in the world, even older than Egyptian Pyramids and the Stonehenge. Lunch at a local house. Later visit Noravank Monastery – a great religious and cultural center of XII Century. Continue to Goris. Overnight in Goris.
Day 9: Goris – Tabriz (Armenia-Iran) [B,L,D]
Breakfast at the hotel the, drive to the Iranian Border. Reaching the border at about 1:00 pm and then we continue to Tabriz. Check in in hotel and rest of the day free of leisure!! Dinner and overnight in Tabriz.
Day 10: Tabriz [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we’ll visit the Azerbaijan Museum which is the major archaeological and historical museum in Tabriz. It was established in April 1958. The museum consists of three major halls, a side yard, office rooms and a library. It mostly contains objects discovered from excavations in Iranian Azerbaijan, also some artworks and sculptures of artists. Its library contains more than 2,500 books, both handwritten and printed, about history, archaeology, art and Iranian culture. Apart from National Museum of Iran in Tehran, Azerbaijan Museum has the largest collection belonging to different periods of Iran’s history. Our next visit will be the Blue Mosque built in 1465 by Shah Jahan. The mosque was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1779, leaving only the entrance iwan. Reconstruction began in 1973. However, the tiling is still incomplete.
Our next stop will be the Iron Age Museum situated under the several sediments and geological strata from the floor of the existing mosque. Among the 38 graves of Iron Age, mummies of two couples and their belongings were found and those have been kept at the Azerbaijan Museum. Then we will visit Arg-e-Ali Shah a huge brick edifice, a landmark and it is remnants of a big unfinished XIV Century mausoleum and a XIX Century military compound at the city center of Tabriz. Our last stop will be El Goli Safavid site and park with a beautifully renovated old building surrounded by a large pool. Dinner and overnight in Tabriz.
Day 11: Tabriz – Zanjan [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we’ll see the famous Constitution House of Tabriz which is a historical edifice located next to the Great Bazaar of Tabriz. During the years which led to the Constitutional Revolution and afterwards the house was used as a gathering place of the leaders, activists and sympathizers of the movement. Among them, the most famous people were Sattar Khan, Bagher Khan. The two story building was constructed in 1868. It has numerous rooms and halls. The most beautiful part of the house is a skylight and corridor decorated with colorful glasses and mirrors. Our guide will lead us through the wonderfully constructed Tabriz Bazaar, second oldest in the world (after the one in Aleppo, Syria) which is another UNESCO World Heritages Site. Drive to Zanjan for dinner and overnight.
Day 12: Zanjan – Soltanieh – Tehran [B,L,D]
Before leaving Zanjan, we will visit the unique Rakhtshur khaneh (old public laundry now turned into an ethnographic museum) and the old Public Bath House which is a traditional Qajari Era laundry house and is today Zanjan’s Museum of Anthropology. This place was used for washing clothes by women around the city. At the present this historic building is being used as Zanjan anthropological Museum.
En route back to Tehran (4-hour drive) we will visit the magnificent XIV Century Gonbad-e-Soltaniyeh, the tomb/tower of Olijaytu, the last Mongol/Il-Khanid Ruler of Iran (1304-1330). The monument is remarkable in many different architectural aspects, including its huge dome, which is about 167 feet high and ranks among the largest domes in the world. Gonbad-e-Soltaniyeh is one of 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Iran. Dinner and overnight in Terhan.
Day 13: Tehran [B,L,D]
After you enjoy a great buffet breakfast, you will leave the hotel, enjoy a full day guided tour of Tehran. First we will visit The Archaeological Museum: A must-see in Tehran. The collection includes pottery, ceramics, stone figures and carvings from 5th & 4th Millennium B.C. Four tablets inscribed in cuneiform, Darius I inscription, carved staircase, tiles from Apadana Palace, and salt man are some of the highlights. Later, we will explore The National Jewels Museum: The treasury of Iranian national royal jewels accommodates the world’s most precious jewelry collection. The treasury has an interesting history, going back centuries. The Glassware and Ceramic Museum would be our last stop before lunch. The premises have been turned into a museum where glass and clay works are on display and were built about 90 years ago. The building is a combination of the traditional Iranian style and the European architecture of the XIX Century. The collection of glass and clay works that are on display at the museum is among the rarest in Iran and it includes clay pots dating back the 4th Millennium B.C. up to the present time, as well as glass works from the 1st Millennium B.C. up to the contemporary era. European glass works from the XVIII and XIX Centuries are also part of the collection.
In the afternoon, we will visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Golestan Palace. The lavish Golestan Palace is a masterpiece of the Qajar Era, embodying the successful integration of earlier Persian crafts and architecture with Western influences. The walled Palace, one of the oldest groups of buildings in Tehran, became the seat of government of the Qajar Family, which came into power in 1779 and made Tehran the capital of the country. Built around a garden featuring pools as well as planted areas, the Palace’s most characteristic features and rich ornaments date from the XIX Century. It became a center of Qajari arts and architecture of which it is an outstanding example and has remained a source of inspiration for Iranian artists and architects to this day. It represents a new style incorporating traditional Persian arts and crafts and elements of XVIII Century architecture and technology. Dinner and overnight in Tehran.
Day 14: Tehran – Shiraz [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we will visit the Carpet Museum with its beautiful modern architecture and a facade resembling a carpet-weaving loom. Founded in 1978 the museum provides a historical background for the evolution of this art form. We will then transfer to the airport and a short flight to Shiraz.
Shiraz is crowned as the heartland of Persian culture and this city of sophistication will never fail to conjure up images of roses and nightingales, gardens and poetry. This gorgeous city in the province of Fars is home to famous poets such as Hafez and Sa’adi. Also, historical sites from different eras stretching back 6,000 years ago can be found there. Relish in the highlights of Shiraz when it was the capital of Iran during the Zand Dynasty. Be inspired by the glorious Karim Khan palace, the splendid Vakil Mosque, Vakil Bazaar and Saray-e-Moshir with its splendid architecture and interesting ethnic souvenir shops and Nasir Almolk Mosque. Next, we will stop for a mouth-watering Iranian lunch at one of the traditional restaurants of Shiraz. In the evening, we will visit Ali-Ebn-e-Hamzeh and be prepared to marvel at its beauties. Take a stroll through the Jahan Nama Garden and witness its tall and proud cedars. Not forgetting the two famous Persian poets, Hafez and Sa’adi, whose mysterious poems are everlasting in the Persian language, we will get a chance to pay homage to their tombs. Finally visit the Delgosha Garden and Khajoy-e-Kermani tomb from where the perspective of the mysterious city of Shiraz will perpetuate in our mind. At night have dinner in a restaurant with specific atmosphere in the north of Shiraz. Overnight in Shiraz.
Day 15: Shiraz – Persepolis – Shiraz [B,L,D]
Get ready for a truly wonderful day! After breakfast, we’ll drive about 35 miles to Takht-e-Jamshid or as the Greeks called it, Persepolis, a ruined capital of ancient Iran. It is one of the greatest artistic legacies of the ancient world and perhaps one of the most beautiful and spectacular archaeological sites surviving today. In the XI Century B.C., the Achaemenian King Darius I, created Persepolis as a palatial precinct for an empire which eventually became larger and more efficiently ruled than any other in the ancient world. Persepolis was reserved only for ritual celebrations. In the spring of each new year, on Nowruz, the Zoroastrian observance of the beginning of Spring, March 21st, the dynamic ruler and his court gathered at Persepolis to receive the tribute of subject nations and to reestablish universal order for the coming year. Nowruz is still celebrated today. Step back in time as we enter through the Gate of All Nations. The arrival of the erstwhile delegations was announced by trumpeters who stood at the top of the staircase in front of the Gate of Nations. They were then led to the Hundred Column Palace to the presence of the king. Superb bas reliefs depict the flow of ritual processions that once passed through the palaces and audience halls of the Achaemenian Kings. We’ll explore the Gate of Xerxes, the Apadana Palace, the Treasury, the Harem and the private palaces of the different rulers. Persepolis was completed by Xerxes and Artaxerxes I who ruled Persia in the V Century B.C. The palaces were used by the Achaemenid Kings up until they were destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C. as revenge for the sacking of Athens during the Persian Wars with the Greeks. To top off the afternoon, visit Naghsh-é-Rostam, which contains the rock carved chambers of four Achaemenian tombs, believed to be those of Darius the Great, Xerxes, Artaxerxes and Darius II. The ornamental façades are rock reliefs from the Sassanian dynasty depicting various scenes of imperial conquests as well as a probable fire temple from Achaemenian times. Later, return to Shiraz via the Koran Gate, for dinner and overnight.
Day 16: Shiraz – Pasargadae – Yazd [B,L,D]
Today, we say goodbye to Shiraz and embark on our journey to Yazd, stopping en route at Pasargadae – another UNESCO World Heritage site. Pasargadae was the first dynastic capital of the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus ll the Great in the VI Century B.C. Its palaces, gardens and the mausoleum of Cyrus are outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid art and architecture and exceptional testimonies of Persian civilization. Particularly noteworthy vestiges include: the Mausoleum of Cyrus ll; Tall-e-Takht, a fortified terrace; and a royal ensemble of gatehouse, audience hall, residential palace and gardens. Pasargadae was the capital of the first great multicultural empire in Western Asia. Spanning the Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt to the Hindus River, it is considered to be the first empire that respected the cultural diversity of its different peoples. This was reflected in Achaemenid Architecture, a synthetic representation of different cultures. After a leisurely visit to Pasargadae, you continue on through the desert to the city of Yazd. Upon arrival, we’ll have an evening stroll through Fahadan Historical Neighborhood and Amir Chakhmagh Square. Dinner and overnight in Yazd.
Day 17: Yazd [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we will explore the city of Yazd. Visit the Towers of Silence and the Fire Temple and adjoining museum, to learn about the Zoroastrian faith, their holy book – the Avesta, four divine elements – air, water, earth and fire, and motto – good thoughts, good words, good deeds! Next at the Yazd Water Museum we learn about the construction of qanats (canals or canats), which are underground tunnels or subterranean aqueducts carrying life-giving water from the mountains to the homes, Persian gardens, fields, orchards, pomegranate groves. You’ll admire their courageous builders using techniques developed from the IV Century B.C., and explore a house with its own qanat system in place. There are enough qanats in Iran the distance of which to go the moon and back four times! Walk through the Friday Mosque and see more of the crafts of the area. Visit Alexander Prison and learn about the famous “Badgirs” or wind-catchers water towers that efficiently cool a home in a desert setting. We’ll have a look at the area’s famed handicrafts – carpets, ceramics and textiles. You’ll find silk Ikats and Termeh – a traditional hand-made cloth woven with precious threads and metals. The textile designs spread from Persia to Moghul, India. Overnight in Yazd.
Day 18: Yazd – Na’in – Esfahan [B,L,D]
This morning, we continue to Esfahan. We’ll make stops along our journey to visit the early Islamic period Friday Mosque in the city of Na’in. We will continue our drive to the beautiful city of Esfahan (Isfahan), the XVII Century capital of the Safavids, referred to as “Nesf-e-Jahan” (Half of the World) in Safavid sources. We’ll stay for three nights at the exotic Abbasi Hotel which was built in the 1960’s on the site of a XVII Century caravanserai. Dinner and overnight in Esfahan.
Day 19: Esfahan [B,L,D]
Today, is another full day of sightseeing in wonderful Esfahan. Wander through the antique Friday Mosque; as it stands now is the result of continual construction, reconstruction, additions and renovations on the site from around 771 to the end of the twentieth century. Archaeological excavation has determined an Abbasid hypostyle mosque in place by the X Century. Buyid construction lined a façade around the courtyard and added two minarets that are the earliest example of the double minaret on record. Continue to the Naghsh-e-Jahan complex, the central focus of Esfahan. It is a Royal Square, 1674 feet by 540 feet and enclosed by double-storied arcades. The square drew merchants and ambassadors to the Safavid court for centuries. It’s unmatched in elegance and spaciousness anywhere in the world! It is seven times the size of the Piazza San Marco in Venice, and puts the grandeur of the surrounding palaces and mosques into appropriate proportions. On the north side is the entrance to the Royal Qaysariyeh Bazaar. On the east side is the Lotfollah Mosque. Constructed between 1603 and 1617, it served as a private chapel for the Imperial family. You’ll see exquisite XVII Century Persian tile work on the domed ceiling. On the west side is the Ali Qapu Palace. To the south is the Friday Mosque and Shah Mosque, dedicated to Shah Abbas the Great. To many it is considered to be the most beautiful mosque in the world. Overnight in Esfahan.
Day 20: Esfahan [B,L,D]
After breakfast, we start on our tour of Esfahan. We’ll begin with a visit to the beautiful Chehel Sotuni (forty pillars) Palace, with its exquisite collection of Fresco paintings on tile. The reflecting pool magnified the majesty of the ruler. Here Shah Abbas II welcomed dignitaries and ambassadors. Today you are the guests of honor! Next, we’ll begin with a walk across the historical bridge of Khaju, constructed by Shah Abbas II in 1650. It is essentially a bridge superimposed upon a dam, 436 feet long and supported by twenty-four stone arches. On the far side is the garden tomb of Arthur Upham Pope and his wife Phyllis Ackerman, Americans who were dedicated to the study of Persian art, history and culture.
Continue to the Armenian Quarter to visit the richly decorated Vank Cathedral. Begun in 1606 at the time of arrival of Armenian immigrants to Isfahan, it was completed between 1655 and 1664 under the supervision of Arch-Bishop David, with the encouragement of the Savid rulers. It is the historic focal point of the Armenian Christian Church in Iran. The dome and walls have colorful paintings representing the story of Creation. Pause for lunch in the Armenian Quarter.
During our time in Isfahan, you are invited to a private gallery to visit with a famous miniature artist.
Those who are interested may visit a carpet shop to sip tea and admire Iran’s most valuable craft and art form. The Persian knot allowed the tight composition to create intricate Arabesques, geometric and other floral designs. See both City and Tribal carpets. Unlike Arabic Islamic design, Shia Muslims took literally God’s commandment to know Him through His creation. Thus you find figurative art in all forms including tile, metalwork and carpets. Persians also developed natural – and lasting- dyes. Cobalt found in Isfahan was exported to China where it was used in the blue on ceramics known later by the British as ‘China’.
End the afternoon with a visit to the Hasht Bahesht (eight paradises) Pavilion and Park. It was built as an official court and a reception hall by Shah Abbas II (1647 A.D.). The ceilings are outstanding. Overnight in Esfahan.
Day 21: Abyaneh – Kashan – Tehran [B,L,D]
Today, will visit the UNESCO recognized village of Abyaneh, located at the foot of Mount Karkas and in the vicinity of desert. Appreciate the serenity of this quaint village with its splendid archaeology and meet the dwellers who speak, live and dress in the original Persian style. Province and the city of Kashan are among the most prominent producers of the stunning handicraft. The wool for the carpets is usually shorn by local men in spring or autumn and women are mostly in charge of the weaving. Next, hop onto Kashan and visit Tabatabaiha and Boroujerdi houses and some other historical places specially chosen by our tour guide and be acquainted with the previous century’s architecture, the Qajar Era. Continue on to Tehran for dinner and overnight.
Day 22: Departure from Tehran [B]
After breakfast, you’ll transfer to the airport for you flight back home.