16908
Azerbaijan/Georgia/Armenia
South Caucasus Odyssey: Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia
Gain a deeper understanding of the South Caucasus as you visit sacred monuments, sample traditional cuisine, attend cultural performances and learn the story of this ancient region.
Program No. 16908RJ
Length
15 days
Starts at
5,250
Flights start at
1,075
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15 days
14 nights
34 meals
13 B 12 L 9 D
Getting There
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DAY
1
In Transit to Program
In Flight
DAY
2
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
Baku
Qafqaz Point Hotel

Evening: Arrive in Baku this evening where you will be transferred to your hotel.

DAY
3
Baku, State Museum of Azerbaijani Carpets & Applied Folk Art
Baku
B,L,D
Qafqaz Point Hotel

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: Tour Baku’s Old Town, Icheri Sheher. Once the whole city, this is the best place to get a sense of Baku's history. It is completely encircled by the old city walls with their medieval gates. The winding streets and alleyways are home to private residences, mosques and madrassahs, carpet merchants and tiny shops. Pass by the UNESCO listed Maiden’s Tower and Shirvan Shah Palace.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.

Afternoon: The vivid colors and bold designs of Azeri, Caucasian and Iranian carpets are on display at the State Museum of Azerbaijani Carpets and Applied Folk Art. The museum collection was begun in the late 1960s, but the carpets in the museum today date as far back as the 16th century. Regional differences and stylistic details are highlighted, revealing how traditional carpets marry practical value, artistic merit, historical significance and beauty. Venture to the outskirts of the city to visit the Ateshgyakh Fireworshippers Temple. The Zoroastrian Fire Temple was originally built over a burning natural gas vent, although there is no real consensus about when this happened. As early as the 6th century, Zoroastrians lived on the peninsula, and could have worshipped here. The current temple was built in the late 1800s by Hindi-speaking Indians living in Baku. The complex comprises a walled pentagon enclosing an altar over the fire. Today the gas is piped to the altar, since the original pocket of natural gas has been exhausted, but the effect is still arresting.

Dinner: Welcome dinner at a local restaurant.

DAY
4
Baku / Coach to Sheki
Sheki
B,L,D
Sheki Saray Hotel

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: After an early breakfast, we check out and depart by coach for Sheki. En route, stop at the Bibi-Heybat Mosque and the old oil fields before a tour of Gobustan. Originally constructed in the 13th century in honor of the sister of Imam Ali, the Bibi-Heybat Mosque was completely destroyed in 1934, as a result of Stalin’s decrees. Local legends say that a white-robed woman was seen disappearing into the sea the day after the mosque’s destruction. Reconstructed from plans and photographs, the new mosque was dedicated in 1998. Today it sits near one of Azerbaijan’s first oil fields, developed during the first oil boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gobustan, an important site of ancient petroglyphs, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2007. Quarry workers discovered the rock carvings here by accident in the 1930s. Since then, the carvings depicting men, women, animals and artifacts have been the focus of much study and speculation. Continue to Shemakha, former capital of the once-powerful Shirvan Khanate from the 6th to the 15th centuries. Explore the town, passing by the 10th century Djuma Mosque, the oldest mosque in the Caucuses.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Continue to Sheki. On arrival, check into the hotel.

Dinner: Dinner this evening with traditional Azeri musical entertainment. Musical history in Azerbaijan dates from before 3000 BC. The most well known of its musical forms is mugham (moo-GAHM), a fusion of Persian and Turkic traditions honored as a World Cultural Masterpiece by UNESCO. This mesmerizing music is usually sung, accompanied by traditional instruments, but can be performed instrumentally as well. Ancient and modern poems, in the Azeri, Persian and Arabic languages are set to music, using a subtle scale of 84 micro-intervals and no time signature. The resulting unwritten pieces have traditionally been passed from ear to ear as the bases for improvisation by the performers.

DAY
5
Sheki / Khan's Palace
Sheki
B,L,D
Sheki Saray Hotel

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: Following breakfast, enjoy a walking excursion of charming Sheki. Claiming to have been founded some 2,700 years ago, Sheki is among the oldest settlements in Azerbaijan. Exploration of Sheki includes a visit to the mosaic-covered khan's palace with its brilliant stained glass work, called shebeke; the fortress that surrounds the palace, with its History and Crafts museums; and a walking tour of local crafts shops and bakeries.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Free time to explore Sheki on your own.

Dinner: Dinner at the hotel.

DAY
6
Sheki / Drive to Telavi, Georgia
Telavi
B,L,D
Chateau Mere

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: Today, depart by coach for Georgia. After customs formalities at the border, change over to a Georgian coach for the next five days. The native Georgians call themselves Kartveli and their country Sakartvelo, meaning “the Georgian’s place.” In geographical terms, Georgia belongs neither to Europe nor to Asia. Travel through the Kakheti region, the most important wine-grape-growing area of the country. Georgian wine is well regarded throughout the world and some of the country's best comes from Kakheti. Pass by the 17th century Gremi architectural complex known for its murals.

Lunch: Stop in the village of Alvani for lunch in a private home.

Afternoon: Continue to Alaverdi Cathedral, one of the tallest churches in Georgia and, in its simplicity, one of the most striking. One of the 13 Syrian Fathers, Joseph of Alaverdi, established the first church here. This afternoon, visit Tsinindali Village and the Alexander Chachavadze Museum. Tsinindali Village is best known for the family estate of Alexander Chachavadze, located here. A 19th century Georgian aristocrat and poet, Chachavadze managed to serve admirably in the Imperial Russian army during the times he wasn’t fighting Russia for Georgian independence. His estate was a center of the intellectual life of the time. Here he and his father founded the first and foremost winery in the country, which still produces the dry white Tsinindali wine. His mansion has been transformed into a museum in honor of the poet and hero. Drive to Telavi, the administrative center of the Kakheti region, check into the hotel and freshen up.

Dinner: Enjoy dinner served at a traditional Georgian Table – an unforgettable opportunity to taste authentic Georgian dishes and local wines while regional performers entertain. Also see a demonstration of traditional bread baking, vodka distilling and Georgian churchkela making, the wonderful Georgian sweet.

DAY
7
Telavi/ drive to Gudauri via Signagi & Mtskheta
Gudauri
B,L,D
Hotel Gudauri

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: Today, drive to the mountain village of Gudauri via the towns of Signagi and Mtskheta. The beautiful hill town of Signagi is known for its cobbled old town square, the nearby Bodbe Nunnery and the remnants of an impressive 18th century defensive wall that still surrounds part of the city. The wall’s towers were named for the nearby villages, and the townspeople were meant to gather at their tower in times of trouble. Wander the narrow streets and admire the richly carved balconies and the green Alazani valley below. Leave Signagi behind and drive toward Gudauri, stopping first at Jvari Monastery, an imposing structure atop a hill overlooking the confluence of the Kura and Aragvi Rivers.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Continue on to Mtskheta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mtskheta was the capital of the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC until the 5th century AD. Because of its location, it was an important market town. As the center of the Iberian civilization, Mtskheta was also significant spiritually and culturally. Georgia's conversion to Christianity took place here in 337 AD, and the Orthodox churches built during this period are considered among the finest in the country. The final stop today is made at the feudal stronghold of Ananuri. Its notched fortress walls contain two churches and a 12th century watchtower. The old frescoes in the churches are faded, but the carvings around the doorways and on the outside walls are still vibrant. Arrive this evening in Gudauri and check into the hotel, it is the highest village on the Georgian Military Highway. Gudauri is home to a ski resort built by Austrians, which is your overnight base. Enjoy spectacular views of the Caucasus Mountains.

Dinner: Dinner at the hotel.

DAY
8
Gudauri/ drive to Tbilisi via Gori & Uplistsikhe
Gudauri
B,L,D
Courtyard by Marriott Tbilisi

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: This morning travel back down the Georgian Military Highway to Tbilisi. En route, explore the town of Gori. A 7th century Georgian chronicle marks the first mention of the fortress, but the walls that survive today date from the Middle Ages. Gori is best known for its connection with Stalin, who was born here in December 1879 and lived here until 1883. Stalin's father was a local shoemaker named Vissarion Dzhugashvili, by all reports a cruel and abusive man. The family’s original wooden hut on Stalin Prospekt is today the fascinating Stalin House Museum. On the grounds of the museum is Stalin's private railway car, used to carry him in style throughout the Soviet Union.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Stop at the cave town of Uplistsikhe, meaning “Lord's Castle,” which was once one of the most important towns along the trade route linking Byzantium with India and China, and was primarily inhabited by artisans and merchants. People may have populated the naturally-occurring caves before 1000 BC. Some of the caves were used to celebrate early pagan rituals before the country was fully Christianized. Although heavily eroded and damaged by earthquakes, the town is still fascinating to explore.

Dinner: Dinner this evening is at a local restaurant in Tbilisi with a local guest to provide insight into contemporary Georgian life.

DAY
9
Tbilisi / Metekhi Chuch of the Virgin / Narikala Fortress
Tbilisi
B,L,D
Courtyard by Marriott Tbilisi

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: Start the morning off with a guest lecture from a local Tbilisi resident. Spend the day exploring Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, on a combination walking and driving tour. The red-roofed old town, its houses sporting carved wooden balconies, sits beneath the Narikala Fortress on the hill above. Tbilisi was last razed in 1795 by Aga Khan, and most of the current buildings date from that time. The domed sulfur baths and the stone Anchiskhati Church where all that survived. Discover the 13th century Metekhi Church of the Virgin, constructed on an outcropping above the river on the site of David the Builder’s former palace. See Tbilisi’s earliest sulfur baths, probably built during Arab rule in the 7th or 8th centuries, when it was discovered that hot springs are just under the surface in the old part of Tbilisi. In the 13th century there may have been up to 68 baths in Tbilisi; now there are six or seven. Most of the baths in use today were built in the 17th century. Pedestrians can see steam issuing from the dome-shaped underground baths as they pass by. The Georgian National Museum houses one of the largest collections of ancient gold decorative arts as well as very well-preserved medieval cloisonne. The most famous exhibit here, though, is the 1.7 million year old hominid skull found in Georgia.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Pause at Sioni Cathedral, sheltering the Cross of St. Nino, the woman who brought Christianity to Georgia, and the 19th century caravanserai built to house traveling merchants. Visit the 4th century Narikala Fortress. Narikala Fortress seems to grow from the rock above the city of Tbilisi, keeping watch on the narrowest part of the Kura River. The 8th century Arab occupiers of the city used the fortress’ strategic location to defend their position in Tbilisi, adding to the original foundations. When David the Builder re-conquered the city in the 11th century, he again expanded the fortifications. Much of what remains today is from the 16th and 17th centuries, and has been recently restored. In 1996, the Church of St Nicholas – once contained within the fortress walls – was rebuilt in its original 12th century style after years of painstaking research. The citadel overlooks the Central Botanical Gardens and offers excellent views of the Old Town.

Dinner: This evening enjoy dinner at one of the city’s best restaurants, featuring special Georgian entertainment.

DAY
10
National History Museum
Tbilisi
B,L
Courtyard by Marriott Tbilisi

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: Independence day in Georgia is celebrated on May 26th. As a result museums are closed today. Take a stroll along Tbilisi's main thoroughfare, Rustaveli Avenue, with your guide and take in some of the local celebrations.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Cherish some free time this afternoon and evening to walk, shop, explore and dine independently. You may wish to stroll along Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi's main street.

Dinner: Dinner on your own.

DAY
11
Tbilisi/ drive to Yerevan via Haghbat Monastery
Yerevan
B,L,D
Imperial Palace

Breakfast: Early breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: Say goodbye to Georgia and depart for the Armenian border. After customs formalities and changing over to our Armenian coach, stop in the Lori region of Armenia to visit Haghbat, the perfect place to begin an exploration of Armenia’s spiritual and cultural history. The Haghbat Monastery complex was founded in the 10th century, like its nearby companion, Sanahin Monastery. These fortified monasteries, added to over two hundred years, were literary, artistic and educational centers as well as monastic compounds. Comprising atmospheric stone churches, bell towers, mausoleums and numerous kachkar (carved stone crosses) Haghbat and Sanahin are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are outstanding examples of the blending of Byzantine church architecture with the local Caucasian architecture of the period.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.

Afternoon: The day ends with arrival in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, upon arrival check into the hotel.

Dinner: Dinner at a local restaurant.

DAY
12
Yerevan / State History Museum / Echmiadzin
Yerevan
B,L
Imperial Palace

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: This morning, explore Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia – a city older than Rome. Yerevan was founded under the name Erebuni in 782 BC. In the 4th century, Armenia became the first country in Europe to adopt Christianity as its official religion. The Armenian peoples’ faith, culture and language have managed to survive through centuries of conflict with Arabs, Mongols, Persians and Turks: Yerevan changed hands 14 times between 1512 and 1735. Begin the day at the weekend Art Park, Vernisage, the best opportunity for shopping and people watching. Here one can find a wide assortment of woodcarvings, ceramics, jewelry, paintings and other high-quality souvenirs. Continue to the city center to see a wide range of architectural styles integrating Armenian and Russian design. The layout of the city features a large central square, Republic Square, with broad avenues radiating from it, and a ring of parkland. Mountains surround the city, including the snow-covered peaks of Ararat to the south and the four peaks of Mount Aragats to the northwest. Located in Republic Square, the State History Museum features ancient models of Yerevan, archaeological collections from the Stone Age, and the statues of Catherine the Great and a beheaded Lenin tucked into its back courtyard. It also contains 10,000 original photographs and 5,000 historical documents that chronicle Armenia’s story. The museum recently acquired its current home following a ten-year stint in an obscure building, a period of homelessness and the repossession of the mosque it once occupied.

Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.

Afternoon: Echmiadzin, founded as Vargarsapat in AD 117 and once the capital of Armenia, is the center of an agricultural area renowned for its fruit and wine. But it is better known as the spiritual center of Armenia and the seat of its Catholicos, or Patriarch. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, it is also an important place of pilgrimage for Christian Armenians from the world over. It was here that St. Gregory the Illuminator had a vision of Christ descending to earth, and the Cathedral at Echmiadzin was built on the spot in the 4th century. Today’s version dates from the 7th century and features an intricately carved stone entryway and a fabulous treasury, including a piece of wood from Mt. Ararat said to be from Noah's Ark. The UNESCO Site also includes the ruins of the 7th century Zvartnots Cathedral, although it is miles away from Echmiadzin. In its day, Zvartnots was the largest round church in the world. It was sacked in the 10th century by Arab invaders, possibly because they wanted no building higher than their own mosque. Nearby Hripsimeh Church sits on the foundations of the 4th century mausoleum of martyred St. Hripsimeh, and was completed in the 7th century. Its complex architecture, unusual for its time, has enabled it to withstand earthquakes. Highlights are the beautifully carved wooden door and the 18th century mother-of-pearl altarpiece. Return to central Yerevan for an independent dinner.

Dinner: Dinner on your own.

DAY
13
Temple of Garni / Geghard / Genocide Memorial
Yerevan
B,L
Imperial Palace

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: This morning, continue to learn about Armenia’s spiritual history through a day trip the religious centers of Garni and Geghard. Carved into the side of a mountain, Geghard Monastery is one of the most fascinating monuments in Armenia. Beside the river at the foot of the rock, the church dates from 1215. It provides access to another building that has a roof formed by stalactites. The convent is in a cave adjoining this building; the only way in is through a narrow opening in the roof. The compound includes monastic cells, churches, tombs and khachkar, all hewn from solid rock. The churches are still functioning and for special events, such as baptisms, sacrifices of lambs sometimes take place. Appreciate a concert of sacred music performed a capella. Visit the Temple of Garni, standing on a cliff near the Azat River valley with walls of huge basalt blocks; the temple was once the summer palace of King Trdat I who built it in the first century AD. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1679, the monument has been restored by Armenian architects in recent years, and skilled work continues on the third century royal baths and their striking mosaics. Armenia is famous for the intricately carved stone crosses known as khachkar. These masterpieces can be found in various parts of the country. They are a unique art form, distinct to Armenia, which originally appeared in both pagan and Christian periods. Initially wooden, the first stone crosses appeared in the 4th-7th centuries.

Lunch: Visit a private home for a lavash-making demonstration, then taste the fresh bread during lunch here.

Afternoon: Return to central Yerevan this afternoon. Stop at the Genocide Memorial, standing in a park at the top of Tsitsernakaberd, or “Swallow Castle.” According to scholarly estimates, over one million Armenians perished as a result of policies of the last Ottoman government between 1914 and 1918. Thousands were deported to Syria and faced consequent starvation, while others were methodically massacred. Many of the remaining Armenians fled to other countries in what is now called the Armenian Diaspora. The visit will be to the memorial only, and does not include entrance to the museum. End the day with a visit to the fruit and vegetable market before returning to the hotel for a free evening and an independent dinner.

Dinner: Dinner is own your own to explore local fare.

DAY
14
Lake Sevan
Yerevan
B,L,D
Imperial Palace

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: This morning drive to Lake Sevan. Blue-green Lake Sevan, at over 6,200 feet above sea level, is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world. Filling two inter-mountain depressions, the brilliant lake is a favorite resort for citizens of Yerevan, about 70 miles away. In 1930, a Soviet plan to use lake water for hydroelectricity and irrigation caused the water level to sink rapidly, and beaches and resorts to appear on the new lakeshore. An ancient island monastery became a peninsula monastery. Work has been underway to reverse some of the drainage, and as of 2005, the water level of beautiful Lake Sevan is beginning to rise again. Drive to a neighboring province to visit the beautiful 12th century Goshavank Monastery. Once a major center of religious learning in Armenia, Goshavank today is nestled in a quiet village surrounded by forested hills.

Lunch: Enjoy lunch at a restaurant in a quiet lakeside setting before returning to Yerevan in the afternoon.

Afternoon: Have some free time to explore the city on your own.

Dinner: Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant.

DAY
15
Program Concludes
In Flight
B

Breakfast: Breakfast at the hotel.

Morning: Transfer to the airport for flights home.