Panoramic view of Tbilisi Old Town with Narikala Fortress, Georgia
Panoramic view of Tbilisi Old Town with Narikala Fortress, Georgia

Archaeological Tours

Armenia & Georgia: Colors and Contrasts of the Caucasus

Suspended between the Black and Caspian Seas, where Europe meets Asia, are the spectacular mountain-and-steppe landscapes of the South Caucasus, home to Georgia and land-locked Armenia. Their scenery alone – from the towering snow-capped peak of Mount Ararat in Armenia to Georgia’s lush valley lowlands carpeted with ancient vineyards – presents drama and contrasts enough to justify a first visit to this ancient but largely still-to-be-discovered realm of the Silk Road caravans of old.

For the traveler with a keen interest in antiquity and archaeology even more compelling reasons exist to be tempted by the cultural and historical treasures offered by both Armenia and Georgia – especially their exquisitely beautiful monasteries, cathedrals and churches, some clinging to impossibly steep hillsides and many dating back over 1,000 years. Armenia formally adopted Christianity as the state religion in 301 (earlier even than Rome) and preserves countless monuments and masterpieces of its ancient religious past. Our tour also visits a number of the region’s most notable archaeological locations and museums, as well as several religious UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Appealing interludes of a different kind will be offered by the vineyard visits made to sample local Georgian vintages from this, one of the world’s oldest wine-making regions!

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Local Transport & private transfer to/from airport and group hotel
  •  Entries & Tips
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Four enlightening evening lectures from your expert scholar
  •  A name badge, luggage strap and bag tag
  •  A study guide, reading list, and other useful tour documentation compiled by your expert scholar and your Archaeological Tours team

Led by...

Ian Colvin

Ian Colvin

Ian Colvin is a historian specializing in the late Roman and Byzantine history of the Caucasus regions. He studied classical and modern Georgian after receiving his MST in Byzantine studies, and has devoted himself to excavations at the site of Nokalakevi.

Today's Price
$4,995

Deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $950

Tour highlights:

  • Admire Armenia’s delicate Graeco-Roman Temple of Garni, nearly 2,000 years old and a unique masterpiece
  • Enjoy the pleasures and friendly mood of Tbilisi – Georgia’s ‘city of light’ and capital with a lively café culture
  • Marvel at the extensive ancient rock-carved settlement of Uplistsikhe, uncovered by archaeologists and once a town of cave-houses, churches and sites of pagan sacrifices
  • Venture down the quaint cobbled streets of Kutaisi and explore the medieval complex of Gelati
  • Spend a final afternoon free in the relaxing resort town of Batumi beside the pebbled beaches of the Black Sea

Tour details

Dates September 30 2019 - October 14 2019
Duration 15 days
Cost
Today's Price
$4,995
Deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $950 Balance due by July 8 2019
Tour code A19GAA

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

September 30 2019: Itinerary

Upon arriving in Yerevan, the Armenian capital, we transfer to our city hotel. There is time to relax before we meet as a group this evening to enjoy a welcome dinner.

Meals include: Dinner

Hotel: Tufenkian Historic Yerevan Hotel

We take a short drive west this morning to visit the holy city of Echmiadzin. Armenia adopted Christianity as a state-religion over 1,700 years ago and Echmiadzin is considered to be its spiritual capital. We first see the ancient ruined complex of Zvartnots Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose historical importance and architectural design has influenced the design of numerous other churches in the region. It was constructed in the 7th century CE during the Byzantine era and collapsed three centuries later, yet its evocative remains still feature a fascinating assortment of columns and elaborate decorative carvings. Our next stop is the graceful Echmiadzin Cathedral, mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church and a place of great significance for Armenian Christians. It is believed that Armenia’s patron saint, Gregory the Illuminator, originally built the cathedral in c. 301 CE, and its lovely old bell-towers adorn well-preserved interiors that have endured a colorful and turbulent past. After breaking for lunch, we return to Yerevan to visit the Matenadaran, a grand building whose museum contains one of the world's richest collections of beautiful and priceless medieval manuscripts and books.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Tufenkian Historic Yerevan Hotel

Today, we enjoy a morning tour that takes us east to Geghard where we will find a fairytale-looking medieval monastery partially carved from the rocks from the Azat River Gorge. Revered throughout Armenia as one of the country’s greatest spiritual and cultural centers, the UNESCO -listed monastery takes its name from the Armenian word for “spear” as it once housed the spear allegedly used to wound Christ during the Crucifixion (now in Echmiadzin Cathedral). A few miles along the river - and in striking cultural contrast to Geghard - is the exquisite Ionic Temple of Garni, Armenia’s only standing Graeco-Roman colonnaded building and an evocative symbol of pre-Christian Armenia. After returning to Yerevan for lunch, we explore the capital’s History Museum, a national treasure boasting a vast collection of archaeological and ethnographic artifacts.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Tufenkian Historic Yerevan Hotel

Our morning features two very different archaeological highlights on the outskirts of Yerevan. We begin at Shengavit, an extensive hill site near Lake Yerevan, inhabited over a series of settlement phases from c. 3200 to 2200 BCE. We then continue to the equally as intriguing hilltop ruins of Erebuni Fortress. Once a military stronghold guarding the northern borders of this ancient Urartian kingdom’s royal capital, this present-day museum that dates back nearly three millennia is ours to explore. After lunch, we will visit the Genocide Museum - a moving memorial complex dedicated to the victims of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Tufenkian Historic Yerevan Hotel

Before traveling north into an altogether different Armenia, we visit three important sites in the south of Armenia. The first, Khor Virap, rises dramatically from a low hill in the plains below majestic snow-capped Mt. Ararat. Originally a prison, it held the man who would become St. Gregory the Illuminator in a pit (which can still be visited) for 13 years. Transformed into a monastery in the 7th century, it was then converted into a church a millennium later, and, now, thanks to its association with St. Gregory, it remains among Armenia’s most iconic pilgrimage sites. Our next stop is Areni Cave beside the Arpa River. This large cave complex not only has artifacts that date from the Chalcolithic to the Bronze Age, it also is where what are claimed to be the oldest leather shoe, the earliest winery, and even the oldest brain tissue have been discovered. After lunch, we continue to the beautiful river-gorge setting of the nearby 13th century monastery of Noravank - whose three churches, framed by spectacular tawny cliffs, are decorated with intricate designs and religious reliefs. We then turn north for a final three-hour drive, often along Lake Sevan, to Armenia’s spa resort town of Dilijan.

All meals included

Hotel: Best Western Paradise, Dilijan

After breakfast, we explore colorful Dilijan. At an elevation of 4,900 feet amid the forests of Dilijan National Park, this town is known for its traditional architecture of steep tiled roofs and wooden beams and for its Sharambeyan Street, an "Old Town" complete with craftsmen's workshops and museum. We then head for neighboring Haghartsin, a serene monastery complex home to various churches dating from the 10th to the 13th centuries. From the same period are the monasteries of Sanahin and Haghpat which we visit this afternoon after lunch. Once important centers of learning, these two UNESCO-listed sites represent the finest of Armenian religious architecture, blending classic Byzantine elements with the traditional vernacular of the Caucasian region. From here, a drive of about 75 miles takes us across the border to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, where we spend our next four nights.

All meals included

Hotel: Mercure Tbilisi Old Town

We start off our day with a sightseeing tour of Tbilisi, allowing ourselves to be immersed in this Eurasian crossroads by the Mtkvari river while also visiting various architectural landmarks and sites of cultural importance. We visit a host of religious sites, such as various Georgian Orthodox cathedrals that loom over the city from the riverside cliffs, as well as several buildings designed by Georgian Jewish migrants. After our sight-seeing, we enjoy a relaxing lunch at a local restaurant before spending the afternoon visiting to the Georgian National Museum where we can trace the country’s cultural development from pre-history onwards via its precious artifacts.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Mercure Tbilisi Old Town

A relaxing day awaits as we drive 60 miles north-east of Tbilisi to Ikalto Monastery. Picturesquely located in a cypress grove, and incorporating three churches, this late-6th century complex of monastic buildings is dominated by a ruined 12th century academy, one of two famous such medieval Georgian centers of learning. Archaeologists have identified workshops, wine-cellars, a smithy, and much more within the foregrounds of the academy building. An 8th-century stone wine press also survives thus highlighting how Georgian monasteries have long been the homes of enthusiastic winemakers. After visiting the Gremi Citadel, we travel on to a traditional winery east of Tbilisi where we can sample the local vintages of one of the world’s oldest wine-making regions and have lunch. We then return to our hotel in Tbilisi.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Mercure Tbilisi Old Town

This morning takes us to Tbilisi’s Open-Air Museum of Ethnography, a remarkable 120-acre outdoor museum that vividly illustrates Georgia’s rich ethnic diversity. Its examples of folk architecture and craftwork include over 70 buildings brought from different regions of the country and re-erected here, as well as some 8,000 costumes, ceramics, and artifacts from traditional Georgian life. We continue to the Museum of Fine Arts, one of the country’s foremost galleries and home to premier examples of the artistic skills of Georgian masters through time – from the Bronze Age through the Hellenistic and medieval periods to the present. Following lunch, the afternoon is ours to enjoy at leisure for personal sightseeing, shopping, or simply for relaxation.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Mercure Tbilisi Old Town

Today, we travel far back into Georgian history as a short drive takes us to the excavated remains at Armaztsikhe-Bagineti. These remains are a part of Mtskheta, one of the country’s oldest cities and former capital of the Georgian kingdom of Kartli which flourished in the early centuries CE before later destruction by Arab invaders. Our exploration of this UNESCO-listed area also incorporates the 6th century Jvari Monastery, overlooking the entire valley from its clifftop perch, and towering Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, an architectural masterpiece from the Early Middle Ages, famed as the burial place of Christ’s mantle. Later, we travel 40 miles to Uplishtsikhe, a 3,000-year-old rock-hewn cave-house settlement with great halls, meandering corridors, and chambers for pagan worship. Coming to prominence after the Arab conquest as home to the Christian kings of Kartli, this once-great city was later abandoned after the Mongol invasion. From here, we head 60 miles west to the popular resort town of Borjomi.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Likani, Borjomi

A scenic two-hour morning drive south brings us to Vardzia, the breathtaking riverside site of a one of Georgia’s most renowned cave monasteries. A labyrinth carved deep into a mountain cliffside, 12th century Vardzia was first a military fortress and then the palace of the perhaps the most prominent woman in Georgian history - Tamar the Great, the first ruling Queen of Georgia. Vardzia’s strikingly decorated subterranean church has an important series of wall paintings dating back to the Christian Orient. We return to Bojomi via Akhaltsikhe to see Rabati Castle, a recently restored historical monument, medieval in origin, but, in its present imposing form, reflecting a long history of Ottoman Empire rule.

All meals included

Hotel: Hotel Likani, Borjomi

After breakfast, we embark on an 80-mile journey to the riverside city of Kutaisi, Georgia’s seat of parliament and home to landmark Bagrati Cathedral. Our tour takes us into the hills outside of the city to see the UNESCO-listed royal monastery complex of Gelati. One of the architectural masterpieces of Georgia’s medieval Golden Age, and a major center of learning and culture, the monastery is richly decorated with mural paintings from the 12th to 17th centuries, as well as a 12th century mosaic in the main church. We later visit Prometheus Cave near Tskhaltub. Georgia’s largest cave is open to visitors and it takes about an hour to explore its phantasmagorical neon-lit arrays of stalactites, stalagmites, petrified waterfalls, underground rivers, and lakes.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Best Western, Kutaisi

Today, we drive 110 miles west to the Black Sea to spend the morning exploring the active archaeological site of Nokalakevi, an early-Byzantine royal fortress-citadel whose crenellated riverside ruins have revealed extensive walls and towers, burial grounds, jewelry and weapons. These finds are evidence of possible human habitation as long ago as the 4th century CE. From here, we travel along Georgia’s Black Sea coast to the resort town of Batumi, a popular holiday destination that will be our base for the last two nights of our tour.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Hotel: Batumi World Palace

The morning of our final full day is devoted to a walking tour of Old Batumi, after which we continue on to nearby archaeological site, Gonio-Apsaros. Georgia’s oldest fort, located close to the Turkish border, is an impressive Roman-Byzantine military structure, built in the 1st century CE within a rectangle of high stone walls and 18 towers. It was occupied by the Byzantines in the 6th century and the Ottomans in the 16th century. The earliest mention of Gonio is in the writings of Pliny the Elder, and excavations continue to unearth traces if its prosperous past. We return to Batumi for a relaxing afternoon, open for personal exploration of this resort at our own pace. We meet up as a group again for our farewell dinner.

All meals included

Hotel: Batumi World Palace

We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

September 30 2019: Additional Info

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September 30 2019: Accommodation

Featuring free WiFi and a seasonal outdoor pool, Tufenkian is a boutique hotel combining historic and contemporary features. The modern rooms include handcrafted Armenian furnishings. Yerevan’s central Republic Square is 500 yards away.

Designed in 19th-century Caucasian style, each room at the Hotel Tufenkian Historic Yerevan includes designer fittings, a flat-screen satellite TV and minibar. The private bathrooms provide bathrobes and slippers.

Kharpert Restaurant serves traditional Armenian and Halal cuisine, as well as Italian dishes in a stylish dining room with wood, stone and metal elements. Local drinks and cocktails are offered at the bar.

There are cafes, restaurants and museums in the surrounding area, including the National Historic Museum, 5 minutes' walk away. Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral is 12 minutes’ walk from the hotel.

We travel to Dilijan, surrounded by snowy peaks and alpine forests, the picturesque town has ginger-bread-style houses, medieval churches and traditional buildings with steep tiled roofs and wooden beams. The hotel makes the most of these surroundings with its very own winter gardens. Its interior is equally as charming, with a wellness centre and modern spacious rooms with plush furnishings. After a refreshing evening’s stay here, wake up to a lavish breakfast spread with local treats and international favourites.

Mercure Tbilisi Old Town is located in the center of Tbilisi, a 5-minute walk from Metekhi Cathedral. It features a spa center with sauna and hammam. Free WiFi is provided. You will find sulfur baths within a walking distance.

The comfortable rooms are air conditioned and fitted with flat-screen TV with satellite channels. Private bathrooms come with a shower, hairdryer and free toiletries.

Mercure Tbilisi features Old Town Restaurant & Lobby Bar and Rooftop Terrace Bar SKY7 which offers a variety of drinks and panoramic views of Tbilisi. Various cafes and restaurants are situated within a 5-minute walk.

Narikala Fortress is a 5-minute walk from Mercure Tbilisi Old Town. Shardeni Street is 450 yards away and Freedom Square is within a 15-minute walk. Tbilisi International Airport is 9.3 miles from the hotel. 

This hotel is a luxury retreat and resides in the beautiful pre-alpine area, carrying the name of the well-known mineral waters of Georgia. Relaxation and wellbeing are the hotels main features, offering a spa, indoor pool and sauna all on site. Experience beyond expectations in the hotel rooms with stunning views of the surrounding areas. The restaurant blends local taste and international cuisine.

Located in the heart of Kutaisi, this hotel is perfect for our stay. Witness the small cobbled streets, one-storey buildings and view the White Bridge, only a few steps away. Each hotel room has its own balcony and other various facilities. A buffet breakfast is on offer every morning.

Just 150 yards from the Black Sea coast, this hotel is set in the center of Batumi. Free WiFi and a 24-hour front desk are featured at Batumi World Palace Hotel.

The elegant, air-conditioned rooms of this hotel are decorated in warm colors and offer classic-style interiors. Each room includes a flat-screen TV, a minibar and a private bathroom.

The hotel’s restaurant, with panoramic views of Batumi and the Black Sea, serves European and Georgian cuisine. A selection of Georgian wines is offered at the restaurant.

The Medea Statue is just a 5-minute walk from the hotel, and the Alphabet Tower is 350 yards away. The picturesque Seaside Boulevard is a 7-minute walk from the hotel. Batumi Port is only 100 yards from Batumi World Palace Hotel. Batumi Train Station is 0.9 miles away, and Batumi Airport is 4.3 miles from the hotel. Free shuttle service is available.

September 30 2019: Enquiries

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