The Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia

June 20, 2012by Brenda Pierce

Oct 27: Welcome to Azerbaijan! Upon our arrival at Baku airport, we will be met and assisted, then transfer to our hotel for overnight at the Park Inn Hotel at the heart of the City.

Oct 28: After breakfast we will depart for full day tour of Baku including lunch at the open-air restaurant Chanag Gala. Baku, Azerbaijan’s capitol city has a cosmopolitan air about it with oil wealth used to create a unique blend of Soviet and Islamic architecture. Oil has been a part of Baku for many centuries but the city did not become an oil “boom town” until the late 1800’s. Tour includes visit of open-air museum Gobustan (rock paintings), Old City with Shirvan Shah Palace and Maiden Tower, visit of local Teza Bazaar and walking tour of pedestrian zone. Dinner at Bah Bah Restaurant, famous for its delightful cuisine prepared on the basis of old Azerbaijan culinary recipes. Transfer to the hotel after dinner. (B/D) 

Oct 29: After breakfast we will depart Baku for the mountain town of Sheki via Shemakha, the royal seat of the Shirvan Shahs from the 9th century to the 18th century. Lunch and sightseeing en-route (see Diri Baba, Yeddi Gumbaz in Shemakha). Continue to Sheki. Upon arrival in Sheki, check in at 5* Sheki Saray Hotel. Overnight. (B/D) 

Oct 30: After breakfast we will check out and depart for a half-day tour of Sheki including visit of magnificent Khan’s Palace, Panorama point, shabaka shop, sweet shop, and the local bazaar. Depart Sheki for the Georgian / Azerbaijan border (Lagodekhi) via Zakatali where we will stop for lunch. Zakatali is located at the confluence of several rivers that come down from the Caucasus Mountains to the north. Meet at the border with our Georgian partner and exchange bus / guide. Welcome to Georgia! After we get our Georgian bus and guide we will drive to Telavi. Overnight in guesthouses. (B/D) 

Oct 31: After breakfast we depart for Tbilisi with stops on the way. We will visit the town of Tsinandali and a noble family house/museum of the 19th century with a beautiful park. In Signaghi we will see the 16-17th century town, renovated, so called town of love, all surrounded by the wall. We will have a chance to wander around and to explore the city. There are nice cute restaurants there as well and we will have time for independent lunch there. Continue on to Tbilisi for dinner and overnight at the Holiday Inn or similar. (B/D)

Nov 1: After breakfast we will have a city tour of Tblisi which will include the State Museum of Georgia, which has a vast collection of icons and metalwork, and also include a walk along Sharden Street and the new Peace Bridge. Afterwards we will drive to Mtskheta, the ancient spiritual capital of Georgia. Visits will include Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century) and Jvari Church (7th century). Return to Tbilisi for dinner and overnight. (B/D) 

Nov 2: After breakfast we will depart for David Gareji, one of Georgia’s most important and remarkable ancient religious sites. The area contains several monasteries carved out of the limestone rock, and built in the 6th century by the Davit, one of the 13 Syrian fathers. The area had fallen into neglect and was even used by the Soviets for military exercises, but the 19 known monasteries in the area are now being restored. We will have a picnic lunch along the way. Return to Tbilisi for overnight. (B/D) 

Nov 3: Check out after breakfast and drive to the Armenian border. Upon arrival at the border crossing of Bagratashen, proceed through usual immigration and customs formalities and we will change to our Armenian bus. Welcome to Armenia! Drive to the Haghpat Monastery, perched on the edge of the Debed Canyon. The monastery has UNESCO World Heritage status and the view alone with worth the visit. Built by Queen Khosrvanuch in 976, it is a splendid architectural monument in a spectacular natural setting. Also visit another UNESCO site – the Sanahin Monastery. Overnight in Alaverdi. (B/L)

Nov 4: Check out from the hotel and continue your Armenia trip from Alaverdi, Vanadzor to Dilijan (visit Haghartsin and Goshavank Monasteries in Dilijan -magnificent and beautiful ecclesiastic monuments which are the highlight of the medieval Armenian architecture. Continue to Lake Sevan. Visit the peninsula and enjoy your lunch here – fresh fish from sweet waters of the lake! Spend some time exploring the wild nature and sunshine as well as visit 9th c AD Sevan Monastery. Head to the hotel and check in for overnight in spa town Tsakhkadzor. (B/L/D) 

Nov 5: Check out after breakfast at the hotel. We depart for and Noravank (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Khor Virap via the famous Selima Pass – one of the main junctions on the Great Silk Route. We will stop to visit the caravanserai recorded as best preserved of its kind, the gather place for travelers along the Silk Road where they could re-supply, exchange news and information, and rest from their long journey. We will have a picnic lunch near the monastery of Noravank, known for its architecture and dramatic setting. Continue on to Yerevan with an optional visit to a local winery en-route to the capital. Arrive in Yerevan; check in at the hotel. Free evening and overnight at the hotel. (B/L) 

Nov 6: Today we will have a full day of sightseeing around Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. Yerevan is a diverse city with a very intense cultural life. There are dozens of theaters, museums, concert halls, galleries, and live music clubs. People are relaxed and go at relaxed pace. The city itself has a history dating back to 782 BC, and its past is as diverse as the present. Visit Matenadaran, the repository of ancient Armenian manuscripts (UNESCO World Heritage Sight). Lunch will be at a local restaurant, then continue your tour to Etchmiatsin, the Vatican of the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church, and Surb Hripsimeh Martyria Church. Free evening for independent activities and optional dinner. (B/L) 

Nov 7: After breakfast depart for a full day tour to Ashtarak to visit the Saghmosavank (1215) and Ohannavank (1216-1221) Monasteries as well as the Byurakan/Amberd Fortress (weather permitting). Both monasteries perch on the edge of the precipitous gorge of the Kasakh river. The book repository of Saghmosavank, built in 1255 under Prince Kurd Vachutyan is among Armenia’s buildings rare in their purpose and original in their composition. Amberd Fortress is on the slopes of Mt. Aragats at 2300 meters above sea level. It was built during the 11th to 13th centuries. (B/L)

Nov 8: This morning we will visit Garni Temple, the only survivor witness of Hellenistic period in the history of the country. Dedicated to the goddess of Sun Mihr (Mythra) it dates back to the first century, AD. We then continue our excursion and visit Geghard Monastery (UNESCO Heritage Sight), named after the lance that pierced Christ’s side at the crucifixion. The spear was once housed there but now resides at Etchmiatsin. Lunch will be hosted by a local family in Garni. Return to Yerevan and visit one of the most fascinating museums – the History Museum. Return to hotel for brief rest before farewell dinner. (B/L/D) 

Nov 9: Group transfer to the airport for final departure (breakfast is served from 7:00 AM). (B)
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