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

Armenia & Georgia: Colors and Contrasts of the Caucasus


15 days From $4,950

September 30 2019

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
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Local Transport
  •  Entries & Tips

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.

Book Now $4,950
Includes 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 $4,950
Single supplement: $950
Deposit: $1,250 , balance due by July 8 2019
Activity Level Moderate
Tour code A19GAA

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

September 30 2019: Itinerary

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

Meals include: Dinner

This morning we take a short drive west to visit the holy city of Echmiadzin, the spiritual capital of Armenia, which adopted Christianity as a state religion over 1,700 years ago. Our first visit is to the ancient ruined complex of Zvartnots Cathedral, whose historical importance has earned this hallowed site UNESCO World Heritage status and represented an architectural blueprint for many churches in the region. Constructed in the 7th century CE during the Byzantine era (only to collapse three centuries later), today’s evocative remains feature a fascinating assortment of columns and elaborate decorative carvings. Our next stop is at the graceful Echmiadzin Cathedral, mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church and a place of great significance for Armenian Christians. Thought to have been built originally in around 301 CE by Armenia’s patron saint, Gregory the Illuminator, the core of the present UNESCO-listed structure dates back to the 5th century. Its lovely old bell-towers crown well-preserved interiors that have endured a colorful and sometimes turbulent past. Following 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

Today we enjoy a morning tour taking us east to Geghard, setting of a fairytale-looking medieval monastery partially carved from the rocks of 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” and 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 imposing History Museum, a national treasure boasting a vast collection of archaeological and ethnographic artifacts.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Our morning features two very different archaeological highlights on the outskirts of Yerevan. We begin at enigmatic Shengavit, an extensive hill site near Lake Yerevan, inhabited over a series of settlement phases from about 3200 to 2200 BCE. We then continue to the no-less-intriguing hilltop ruins of Erebuni Fortress, a military stronghold guarding the northern borders of this ancient Urartian kingdom’s royal capital, dating back nearly three millennia. Our afternoon is free for Yerevan sightseeing - or an optional visit to the Genocide Museum, a moving memorial complex dedicated to the victims of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Before travelling north today into an altogether different Armenia we visit three important sites to the south of Yerevan. 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 converted into a church a millennium later - and now, thanks to its association with St. Gregory, remains among Armenia’s most iconic pilgrimage sites. Our next stop is Areni Cave beside the Arpa River, a large cave complex with artifacts dating from the Chalcolithic to the Bronze Age and 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 handsomely decorated with intricate designs and religious reliefs. We then turn north for a final three-hour drive, often beside Lake Sevan, to Armenia’s spa resort town of Dilijan.

All meals included

After breakfast we explore attractive Dilijan, at an elevation of 4,900 feet amid the forests of Dilijan National Park. The town’s traditional architecture of steep tiled roofs and wooden beams is seen at its best in preserved Sharambeyan Street, an "Old Town" complete with craftsmen's workshops and museum. We then head for neighboring Haghartsin, a serene monastery setting of clustered 10th-13th century churches. From the same period are the monasteries of Sanahin and Haghpat, which we visit during the afternoon. 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

Our morning’s sightseeing is focused primarily on vibrant Tbilisi’s main architectural landmarks - but also introduces us to the capital’s dramatic setting in the valley of the Mtkvari river; the welcoming mood of its colorful street scene; and the winding lanes and balconied houses of an Old Town still retaining the flavor of an ancient Eurasian crossroads. We first visit two historic Georgian Orthodox churches: the 13th century domed Metekhi Church, looming over the city from the riverside cliffs; and Sioni Cathedral, originally dating from the 6th and 7th centuries, but now derived from a 13th century version and housing exceptionally rich medieval frescoes and interiors.. In complete contrast is the Great Synagogue, a 19th century building designed by Georgian Jewish migrants. We round off the morning at the jewel-like 6th century Anchiskhati Basilica, Tbilisi’s oldest surviving church, whose weathered frescoes and antique naves exert a uniquely compelling spell. We relax over lunch at a local restaurant before enjoying an afternoon visit to the Georgian National Museum, whose precious artifacts map the country’s cultural development from pre-history onwards.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

A relaxing day awaits as we the drive to Ikalto Monastery, 60 miles north-east of Tbilisi. 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 grouped around the academy building. An 8th-century stone wine press also survives - Georgian monasteries have long been enthusiastic winemakers. We then enjoy lunch at a traditional winery east of Tbilisi: where better to sample the local vintages of one of the world’s oldest wine-making regions?

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

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 - sightseeing, shopping or simply relaxing.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

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

All meals included

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 perhaps the most famous woman in Georgian history - fabled Tamar the Great, crowned as king rather than queen! 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

We leave after breakfast for 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 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. Though only a fraction of this, Georgia’s largest cave, is open to visitors, 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

Today’s easy 110-mile drive 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 - evidence of possible human habitation as long ago as the 4th century CE. From here we travel along Georgia’s inviting Black Sea coast to the resort town of Batumi, the popular holiday destination that is our base for the last two nights of our tour.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

The morning of our final full day is devoted to nearby archaeological site  of Gonio-Apsaros, Georgia’s oldest fort. Located close to the Turkish border, this impressive Roman-Byzantine military structure, built in the 1st century CE within a rectangle of high stone walls and 18 towers, 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 relaxed afternoon to explore and enjoy this resort at our own pace. We meet up as a group again for our last dinner and to relive our favorite moments of the tour.

All meals included

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

September 30 2019: Enquiries

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