The Allure of Azerbaijan and Georgia

firetower-baku

October 25 – November 8, 2014

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Sat Oct 25: Arrival

Welcome to Azerbaijan! On arrival in Baku you will be met and transferred to the hotel for overnight.

Sun Oct 26: Baku

After breakfast we will depart for our first day of sightseeing in and around the Caspian city of Baku. Our first visit will be Martyr’s Alley with its superb views over the Bay of Baku. Next, as we drive through the city we will look at the imposing mansions of the oil barons, built in the oil boom of 1870-1914, then end up at the Old city Gates, a UNESCO HERITAGE sight. Our walking tour of Baku includes the medieval walled city “Icheri Sheher/Old City” with its narrow alleyways, historic caravanserais, mosques and Palace of the Shirvanshahs from 15th century. We will also visit the 12th century Maiden’s Tower a symbol of old Baku. Afterwards we will meet our driver in front of the Maiden Tower and go to lunch at a traditional Azeri lunch at the Panorama Villa Lux Restaurant. After lunch we will head to the open air museum of Gobustan, the UNESCO Heritage sight. First we will stop at the entrance and visit the Digital Rock Art Museum, then drive further into the site to see more than 500 petroglyphs, and rock carvings. We will also see the Roman soldier Maximus’s stone carving. After finishing our tour at Gobustan we will go to see the Mud Volcanoes. The sight is very unique in the world and in the ancient times its mud was used for cosmetic and health reasons. Afterwards we will return to Baku and the hotel for a short rest before dinner at the Kervansaray Restaurant with traditional dancing shows and music. Overnight in Baku. (B/L/D)

Mon Oct 27: Baku-Nakhchivan City

Today we will have an early breakfast then check out and depart for the airport (we can leave large bags at the hotel luggage room if necessary) for our flight to Nakhchivan. On arrival in Nakhchivan we will go on a tour to visit the Prophet Noah’s grave complex and hear of the Legend about the World Flood. Next we will visit the ruins of the old Nakhchivan city walls (3 millennium BC), the Momina Khatun Monument from the 12th century, which was built by the Shah/King to the honor of his mother. Next visit the Khan’s House, built in the 18th century. Lunch will be in Nakhchivan city, then we will visit Yusif Ibn Kuseyir’s Tomb from the 14th century. Drive to visit the 13th century Garabaghlar monument. In a clear day you will have chance to see Agri Dag in Eastern Turkey, where Prophet Noah’s Ark is believed to be. Our last visit of the day is Duzdagh Salt Mine caves (Physiotherapy Treatment Center), a unique asthma and bronchitis treatment center. Return to Nakhchivan city and dinner. Overnight at our hotel. (B/L/D)

Tues Oct 28: Nakhchivan-Baku

Check out after breakfast and then go to visit the visit to Carpet Museum and the Heydar Aliyev Museum. We will have tea at the Old Bath/Hamams and now used as Tea House. We will then drive to Julfa to see the Daridagh Arsenic Mineral Healing Spring. Lunch will be at a local restaurant then we will drive to the Asabu Kahf Caves noted in several Holy Books as the 7 Sleepers of Ephesus. We will then drive back to Nakhchivan city for our last dinner in Nakhchivan city. Drive to Nakhchivan International Airport for our flight to Baku. Arrive in Baku and transfer to Hotel for overnight. (B/L/D)

Weds Oct 29: Baku – Absheron Penesula – Museums – Bakuburningground

Today we will start with a visit to the Teze Bazar to see local art of shopping. This is an open market with local produce, spices, dried fruits, and some everyday goods. Next we will visit the Azerilme Carpet Factory and then the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, designed by Zaha Hadid and of a unique architectural style. We will visit culinary history and modern art sections. Our lunch will be at a local restaurant, then we will go to visit the Absheron Peninsula, including the Gala Historical open air museum, Mardakan Castle, and Ateshgah Fire Worshipers Temple. We will also visit Yanardagh the Fire Mountain. Afterwards we will go back to the hotel to relax for a short while then go to dinner, followed by a stroll along Baku’s Sea Side Boulevard, the second longest boulevard in Europe and enjoy a one hour public cruise on the Caspian Sea to enjoy a view of the city from the water. Return to the hotel for overnight. (B/L/D)

Thurs Oct 30: Baku – Shemakhi – Lahij – Sheki

After breakfast we check out of the hotel (9:30AM) and depart to Sheki. On the way we will visit Diri Baba Tomb, Shemakhi Juma Mosque, and the Yeddi Gumbez Cemetery in Shemkahi. Lunch at the local Restaurant. After lunch depart to Ismayilli and visit Lahij village, a craftsmanship center of the Great Caucasus Mountains. We will have memorable mountain scenes while driving. Once in Lahij we will tour the village then depart for Sheki. On arrival in Sheki check into the hotel then we will have dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight in Sheki.  (B/L/D)

Fri Oct 31: Sheki-Kish-Lagodekhi/Georgia – Telavi20121029_174425

After breakfast at the hotel we will check out then go to visit the magnificent Sheki Khan’s Palace, followed by a visit to the Sheki History museum and other sightseeing. We will also visit Sheki’s Karavansaray, then head to the village of Kish to see the Albanian Church. Lunch will be at a local restaurant, then we will head to the border with Georgia at Lagodekhi and arrive at about 3:00PM. Once at the border we will cross and be met by our Georgian guide and driver. Welcome to Georgia! Our first visit will be at Gremi complex, the citadel and royal residence, from where a beautiful view of the valley can be seen. We will continue to Telavi, the administrative center of Kakheti province. Our dinner tonight will be at a local Georgian house where we will enjoy a traditional “Georgian Table,” laden with fine examples of the country’s rich culinary and winemaking legacy. Georgia is where the wine grape was first cultivated and the flowers and fruits of the Mediterranean flourish. Guests will participate in bread baking, making of “churchkela” and “mtsvadi”. After dinner, we will transfer to the hotel for overnight. (B/L/D)

Sat Nov 1: Telavi – Tsinandali – Kvareli – Bodbe – Sighnaghi – TbilisiP1050971

After breakfast at hotel we will visit Tsinandali, the residence of one of the most beloved and notable Georgian families. The residence of legendary figure Alexander Chavchavadze consists of a summer home, garden and winery featuring several vintages of white vine. Visit the winery located in the tunnel carved out of the rock. We will have a tour and wine tasting. Next we drive to Bodbe Nunnery (19th c.), the burial site of St. Nino who brought Christianity to Georgia in the 4th century. Continue on to the royal village of Sighnaghi – a small town located on a hilltop providing beautiful views of Alazani river valley and the Caucasus Mountain Range. Sighnaghi is surrounded by an 18th century fortified wall – the longest one of existing fortifications in Georgia. After visiting the village and walking around it’s winding streets, we will continue on to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Dinner will be at a local restaurant with a traditional music and dancing show. Overnight in Tbilisi. (B/D)

Sun Nov 2: Tbilisi

Here myth and history, culture and traditions, diverse nature and hospitable people; all intermingle with one another, inspired poetry, polyphonic songs and elegant dancing. A blend of cultures, a smell of spices, different nations meeting on street corners, different faiths sharing the same courtyards….this is Tbilisi, the city that has been dominated by traders, warriors, tyrants and dictators in turn. Take a walk around the old town and breathe in the living past. Today Tbilisi is a modern city with well-known museums and theatres, art galleries, churches and archaeological excavations, Sulfur bathhouses, narrow streets with inner courts, surrounded with balconies decorated with laces, which overhang over abysses. Our sightseeing tour of Tbilisi includes Metekhi church (12th-13th c) – a cross cupola church, part of the Royal residential complex; Sulphur baths – favorite place of Tbilisi citizens and foreign guests; and a view of Narikala Fortress – the 4th century main citadel of the city, which overlooks the oldest part of Tbilisi. Over the centuries Narikala was considered the best strategic point and every ruler – local or invader – was adding some new construction to the previous fortification; Anchiskhati Basilica (6-7th c.); Meidan Square; and Sioni Cathedral. Dinner will be at another local restaurant. Overnight in Tbilisi. (B/D)

Mon Nov 3: Tbilisi – Mtskheta – Ananuri – Gudauri – Kazbegi – Gudauri20121101_174148

After breakfast we will check out and go to explore Mtskheta, one of the oldest towns and the cultural and religious center of Georgia. It was the capital of the Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the third century BC. Located at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers, Mtskheta was a crossroad of many trade routes. Today it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a living museum, with many architectural and historical monuments. Next we will visit Jvari Church (6th-7th cc) – a masterpiece of the early Medieval Period. This example of classic tetra conch design with all its miniature size, strikes the viewers with its grandeur and integrity. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral 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. Next we explore Khevi province, known for its severe nature and numerous architectural monuments. This trip gives us an opportunity to visit the largest and the most important sites of Khevi: Ananuri and Kazbegi. Visit Ananuri Architectural complex, the former residence of the Dukes of the Argveti region. The complex features churches and towers dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. It is beautifully situated overlooking the Jinvali reservoir. Drive through the highest point of Georgian Military Highway, going over the mountain pass at 2379 m. above sea level. En-route we will make a stop at the mineral water spring flowing down from a hilltop. Arrive in Kazbegi – a small town with the views of Mt. Kazbek (or Mkinvari) at 5033 meters in elevation – the seventh highest peak in the Caucasus Mountains. Mt. Kazbek is associated with the myth of Prometheus, according to the legend he was chained on the mountain in punishment for having stolen fire from the gods and having given it to mortals. We change transport to 4×4 minivans and drive to the 14th century Gergeti Holy Trinity Church located at an elevation of 2170 m under Mt. Kazbegi. Drive back to Gudauri for dinner and overnight. (B/D)

Tues Nov 4: Gudauri – Gori – Uplistiskhe – Borjomi – Bakuriani

Today we will visit the city of Gori. Explore the Joseph Stalin museum featuring the original house where he was born and his private coach. Next visit Uplistsikhe (“Fortress of God”), a rock-hewn town dating back to the Hellenistic period. Uplistsikhe is located on the left bank of the Mtkvari River and is notable for a unique combination of various styles of rock-cut cultures and the co-existence of pagan and Christian architecture. Afterwards we drive to Samtskhe – Javakheti via the spa resort town of Borjomi. Stop at Borjomi Park in order to try the local mineral water. Continue on to the ski resort town of Bakuriani for dinner and overnight. (B/D)

Weds Nov 5: Bakuriani – Akhaltsikhe

Our morning starts after breakfast with a drive to the city of Akhaltsikhe. We will have a photo stop near Khertvisi Fortress – one of the oldest fortresses in Georgia and was functional throughout the Georgian feudal period. It is situated in Southern Georgia, in Meskheti region. The fortress was first built in the 2nd century BC. The church was built in 985, and the present walls built in 1354. As the legend says, Khertvisi was destroyed by Alexander the Great. In the 10th -11th centuries it was the center of Meskheti region. During the 12th century it became a town. In the 13th century Mongols destroyed it and it lost its power. In the 15th century it was owned by Meskheti landlords from the Jakeli family. We will visit the cave town of Vardzia located in southern Georgia, excavated from the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain on the left bank of the Mtkvari River, thirty kilometers from Aspindza. The main period of construction was the second half of the 12th century. The caves stretch along the cliff for some five hundred meters and inward up to nineteen tiers. The Church of the Dormition, dating to the 1180s during the golden age of Tamar and Rustaveli, has an important series of wall paintings. Visit famous Rabath tower in Akhaltsikhe. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B/D)

Thurs Nov 6: Akhaltsikhe – Kutaisi

After breakfast we set out for the Imereti region via the picturesque Rikoti Pass. We will have a sightseeing tour of Kutaisi – an ancient city, the capital of the Kingdom of Colchis. According to the legend Kutaisi or Aia was the final destination of Jason and the Argonauts in their journey to Colchis and the residence of King Aeëtes. Today Kutaisi is the second biggest city in Georgia and administrative center of Imereti province. The exploration of the city starts by visiting Bagrati Cathedral (11th century), a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on Ukimerion Hill. The next stop will be at 12th century Gelati Academy built by King David the Builder. For the longest time the academy has been one of the main cultural and intellectual centers in Georgia. Dinner will be at a local restaurant. Overnight in Kutaisi. (B/D)

Fri Nov 7: Kutaisi – Tbilisi

Our guide Tamara and Tamada the Toastmaster

Tamada the Toastmaster

After breakfast we will visit the Prometheus Caves with formations of stalactites and stalagmites. We will then drive back to Tbilisi, en-route visiting the Ubisa Basilica. Enjoy free time in Tbilisi before a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight in Tbilisi.

Sat Nov 8: Departure

Transfer to airport 2 hours before the flight.

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Included:

  • Accommodations in 3*-5* hotels based on double occupancy
  • Meals as listed in itinerary
  • Transportation and sightseeing as listed in itinerary
  • Round trip air to Nakhchivan from Baku
  • Services of English speaking guides throughout
  • Group airport transfers
  • Azerbaijan visa

Not Included:

  • International Airfare
  • Personal expenses
  • Beverages, meals not listed, snacks
  • Tips for guides and drivers and at restaurants
  • Trip insurance

Prices:

6 to 8 people: $5375 per person, double occupancy

9 or more people: $4975 per person, double occupancy

Single Supplement: $500