Itinerary

Crossing the Caucasus: Armenia and Georgia

Travel to these fascinating and ancient cultures at the crossroads of East and West.

September 4 – 16, 2024
September 4: Depart the U.S.

September 5: Yerevan

D,R

  • Arrive in Yerevan and transfer to the Republica Hotel (or similar).
  • Armenia has always had an advantageous geographic location between the great powers of the planet. As an important center of the Hellenistic world, it had constant contact with areas of Asia Minor, the Mediterranean, Iran, Turkey, Russia and Europe.
  • Join fellow travelers for a welcome reception and dinner this evening at the hotel.

September 6: Yerevan

B,L,D

  • Spend the day exploring the beautiful city of Yerevan (which was built on the site of Erebuni founded in 782 BC), starting with a guided tour of the Armenia History Museum. The present-day capital is Armenia's political, administrative, commercial, and financial as well as cultural and educational center.
  • Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before visiting the Matenadaran, a museum and repository of over 10,000 manuscripts and records dating back to 5th century BC.
  • This afternoon meet with Zhanna Aleksanyan at the Journalists for Human Rights. Ms. Aleksanyan is a human rights activist and will talk with the group about the current Armenian government and the challenges posed by the protest movement of the opposition.    
  • Dinner this evening is at the Tavern Yerevan Riverside

September 7: Yerevan

B,L,D

  • This morning meet with Anna Nikoghosyan, Chair of the Board at “FRIDA I The Young Feminist Fund” as well as a UN Women Regional Civil Society Advisory Group Member in Europe and Central Asia. Ms. Nikoghosyan, will discuss her participation with Coalition to Stop Violence against Women, which for the last 10 years has worked to prevent domestic violence through education and legislation, confronting a topic rarely discussed in Armenia.
  • Later depart for a one hour drive to the pagan temple of Garni. Garni is one of the oldest centers of Armenian civilization and was once the summer residence for the Armenian royal family. The funds and many of the artisans came from Rome as payment from Emperor Nero for support against the Parthians.
  • Continue to Geghard Monastery, a working monastery just a short distance away. The monastery probably dates back to the 4th century but its superb rock-carved churches were created in the 13th century. Enjoy a special choir performance here in a small chamber with marvelous acoustics.
  • Lunch today is traditional Armenian dishes at the Cross of Armenian Unity NGO (CAU). The CAU is a non-political, non-religious, non-profit charitable cultural organization. In 1987, a group formed to provide small-scale social initiatives and care and support for orphans. The headquarters of the charity also houses a children's art school and we hope to meet with some of the students. 
  • After lunch meet with Mr. Grigor Babakhanyan, the founding President of the charity.
  • Visit the Genocide Museum, where a modern monument has been built in memorial to Armenians who died during the genocide of 1915.  
  • Meet with Martin Marashlyan, Co-founder and Executive Director of Repat Armenia, an NGO that assists with the resettlement of Armenia by diaspora Armenians. The organization claims about 50,000 have returned to Armenia since 1991.  
  • Early this evening drive to the Parajanov Museum, dedicated to the Tbilisi-born dissident filmmaker/artist. Explore the museum, which includes artwork that Parajanov did in prison (including fashioning coins from foil lids of food cans and designing stamps of fellow inmates).
  • After the museum head to dinner at a local restaurant.

September 8: Yerevan

B,L

  • After breakfast meet with staff from Radar Am, a news platform producing analysis, interviews and articles, to discuss the issue of Nagorno Karabagh. The area, home to a 95 percent ethnic Armenian population, has been in dispute for over a century. With the end of Soviet rule, fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory intensified, culminating this year in September and October when the Azerbaijan military expelled 120,000 ethnic Armenians, nearly the entire population, from the area. This has created a humanitarian crisis for the displaced Armenians.
  • From here depart for a visit to the monastery complex of Khor Virap, where St. George was imprisoned in an underground cell for 12 years for preaching Christianity. The views of Mt. Ararat from the church are stunning and the church itself is only a few miles from the Turkish border. 
  • Drive 30 minutes to the grounds of Noravank to enjoy lunch. Weather permitting, a freshly prepared picnic lunch will be provided.  
  • Noravank commands a superb location ‑ set high on a large terrace overlooking a valley below. It was the cultural and religious center of the historic Syounik region in the 12th century and a residence of bishops of the region. 
  • Dinner this evening is at leisure.

September 9: Alaverdi

B,L,D

  • Depart early this morning for our journey to Georgia.
  • Stop first at the Armenian Alphabet Monument—a field scattered with massive, metal letters memorializing the birth of the alphabet over 1600 years ago and located near the final resting place of the man who created the alphabet, Mesrop Mashtots. When Mashtots began working on an Armenian alphabet, it was under great pressure so that it could be used to create a bible for the newly Christian kingdom. To honor his work, Armenian architect J. Torosyan created the stone carvings. Set against the backdrop of Armenia’s Mt. Aragats.
  • A short distance away is the small village of Byurakan, also set against the backdrop of Mount Aragats, where several silver domes of the Byurakan Observatory (a premier astronomical center which was established during the Soviet era). can be seen. Visit the observatory and learn about Armenia’s long history of astronomical study dating back several thousand years.
  • Stop at the Kurdish village of Reya Taza where most of the residents are Yazidis. The village is home to an ancient Yazidi cemetery with animal-shaped tombstones - unusual ancient stone carvings of horses and riders.
  • Most of the 100,000 Yazidis from the former Soviet Union consider Armenia to be their homeland. But in Armenia itself, the community faces a crisis of survival as economic hardship and rural poverty drive them out of the country. Originally a religious minority from northern Iraq, Yazidis came to Armenia in the 19th and early 20th centuries and today they represent 1.2 per cent of the Armenian population. We will learn about the challenges facing the Armenian Yazidis from Said Avdalyan, President of the Association of Young Yezidis, who will meet the group.
  • As we continue north pass through two Soviet-era urban constructs: Spitak, a small town rebuilt after an earthquake, and Vanadzor, a city home to several semi-abandoned industrial structures.
  • After a scenic drive along the Debed Canyon arrive at the copper-mining town of Alaverdi, a quintessentially Soviet mining town close to the Georgian border.  Pass through Vanadzor which is surrounded by extensive pine forests and was the site of an ancient settlement in 200 BC.
  • This afternoon visit the Mikoyan Museum, which is dedicated to the designer of the first Russian fighter jet and his brother, who became Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. Artyom, the younger brother, co-created (along with his partner Mikhail Gurevich, hence the abbreviation) the generation of MiG fighter aircraft which served the Soviet Union and its allies from World War II until the Cold War.
  • Overnight at the Tufenkian Avan Dzoraget Hotel. This simple hotel has been designed to evoke the historical romance and excitement associated with medieval Armenian castles.
  • Dinner is at the hotel this evening.

September 10: Tbilisi

B,L,D

  • Just before crossing the Georgian border stop at the monastic complex at Haghpat, which was founded in 976 and offers some of the best-preserved examples of Armenian architecture. It stands on a high plateau, rising sharply against a backdrop of steep forested slopes with magnificent views of the surrounding landscape. Enjoy the beautiful frescoes here and the stone manuscripts.
  • Drive 45 minutes to the Bagratashen-Sadakhlo border. Clear Armenian immigration before driving a short distance through “no man’s land”, where it will be necessary to walk through with your luggage before entering Georgia.
  • Tbilisi became Georgia's capital when it was moved from Mtskheta in 458. Since then it has always been the most important city in what is now Georgia, commanding the route between east and west Transcaucasia.
  • After lunch visit the Museum of Georgia, which houses an outstanding collection of archaeological finds including gold artifacts and jewelry from pre-Christian Georgia. These pieces were discovered in burial chambers between the 3rd millennium and the 4th century AD. Most stunning are the fabulously worked gold ornaments from the Colchis (western Georgia) from the 8th to 3rd centuries BC.
  • On the upper floor visit the Museum of the Soviet Occupation that brilliantly documents the seventy years of the Soviet rule in Georgia (1921–1991). The museum is dedicated to the anti-occupational, national-liberation movement of Georgia and to the victims of the Soviet political repressions of this time. Its most recent exhibits date to the five-day conflict of August 2008 when Georgian tanks attempted to seize back the rebel province of South Ossetia, prompting a punitive pan-Georgian Russian invasion with Russian troops getting as close to Tbilisi as Gori.
  • Check-in to the Courtyard Marriott Tbilisi (superior room with Freedom Square view).
  • Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant near the hotel.

September 11: Tbilisi

B,L,D

  • After breakfast begin the day in Old Tbilisi walking through the narrow streets. Stop in at Sioni Cathedral and Caravanserai. This is the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church and home to Georgia's holiest relic, a cross of vine stems and hair supposedly woven by St. Nino, a Roman general's daughter and the woman who brought Christianity to Georgia in the 4th century.
  • Stop at a traditional Georgian bakery which bakes the most delicious bread in open ovens.
  • Take the cable car to the Narikala Fort area and enjoy magnificent views over the city.
  • Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before meeting with staff from Georgia Today, an English language, independent weekly news provider. The paper is an informational bridge between Georgian society and the wider international community living and working in Georgia, aiming to provide objective and honest information about the political and business environment in Georgia, to exchange major values across cultures, and to increase the engagement of their readers in the social life of Georgia.
  • Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.

September 12: Tbilisi

B,L

  • Head north today from Tbilisi to visit the charming town of Mtskheta, Georgia’s former capital.
  • Drive to Ananuri along the Georgian Military Highway. It is a spectacular journey as the road climbs, crosses and descends the Caucasus.
  • Enjoy lunch and marvelous views at the Ananuri Restaurant
  • After lunch, visit the nearby fortress complex of Ananuri – a wonderful example of the architecture of the period. With its crenellated walls and defensive towers seen against the surrounding forested mountains, it is a memorable sight!
  • Return to Tbilisi, a drive of about 75 minutes.
  • Meet with staff at the Europe Foundation, a Georgian NGO which creates positive and lasting change through civic engagement. This organization is one of the most recognized development agencies in Eastern Europe, mobilizing civil society, business, university, government and the donor community to establish needed social infrastructure in the country of Georgia.
  • Dinner tonight is at leisure.

September 13: Tbilisi

B,L,D

  • This morning depart the hotel for a 75 minute drive to Gori, Stalin's birthplace. Visit the amazing time capsule Stalin Museum built around the modest home he was born in. At first glance, the museum, with its paintings and statues of the man, might seem to glorify one of the 20th century’s most notorious tyrants. However, it becomes apparent from the mug shots from his early arrests for bank robbery; the recreation of a KGB interrogation room; and the map of Georgia with markers representing victims of his murderous reign, that this is not the case. From his first desk in the Kremlin to his railroad car, the museum uses authentic items to tell the story of a dark time in history.
  • Drive 30 minutes to Ateni to enjoy lunch with a local family at a small winery owned by a former Minister of Culture for Georgia.
  • After lunch drive 30 minutes to Uplistsikhe, an extraordinary, abandoned rock-hewn town, which once played an important role in Georgian history. It is remarkable for the unique combination of styles from rock-cut cultures of the region, most notably from Cappadocia (in modern Turkey) and northern Iran. The town was founded in the late Bronze Age, around 1000 BC, and continued to be inhabited until the 13th century AD.
  • Before returning to the hotel meet with Marine Kapanadze, Civil and Political Rights Program Director for Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI), an independent non-profit- organization dedicated to research, analysis, and education to advance the country’s democratic development and Euro-Atlantic integration. They are committed to defending human rights and expanding inclusive society.
  • Dinner is at the Ethno Tsiskvili Restaurant this evening.

September 14: Sighnaghi

B,L

  • After breakfast meet with staff at the SOVLAB ((Soviet Past Research Laboratory), an NGO devoted to rethinking Georgia’s Soviet past. The organization was founded in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2010 by historians and writers to contribute to public debate about the history of Georgia in the Soviet Union.
  • Drive to Kakheti, which is one of the Georgian provinces richest in historic monuments. Georgia's economic decline during the 16th century did not affect Kakheti which, because of its proximity to the silk route at Astrakhan, was able to participate in trade of more international dimensions. During this period Jewish, Armenian, and Persian colonies sprang up in Kakheti and enlarged the market town. It is still possible to see this Persian influence in many of the buildings in Kakheti.
  • Stop at the Cathedral of Aaverdi, a holy spot since pagan times and the tallest church in Georgia. Continue driving 45 minutes to the dramatic site of Gremi which became the capital of Kakheti in the mid-15th century. For two centuries, Gremi was not only the political and economic center of the region but also its cultural and educational center. This picturesque, brick citadel stands proudly commanding a sweeping view over the surrounding terrain.
  • Depart Gremi and drive to Shilda winery for lunch. Kakheti is Georgia's chief grape-growing district with each village producing its own kind of wine.
  • Continue to the nearby Tsinandali Estate – the estate of the 19th century poet, public figure and Kakhetian Prince, Alexander Chavchavadze. Wander through the grounds that are laid out as a magnificent English park and the family’s home has been beautifully preserved.
  • Drive two hours to the famous fortified town of Sighnaghi and check-in to the Kabadoni Hotel.
  • Dinner is at leisure this evening

September 15: Sighnaghi

B,L,D

  • After breakfast begin exploring Sighnaghi with its 29 towers along the city wall. An important trade route, the ruins date back to the 12th century.  At customs houses tolls would be levied on the loads passing through and from these tolls towns along the route would accumulate their wealth and flourish.
  • Enjoy lunch in the tasting room of the Pheasant Tear’s Winery. This winery is run by the dynamic American artist and wine cultivator – John Wurdeman and his Georgian wife, Ketevan.
  • The afternoon is at your leisure before a celebratory farewell dinner this evening.

September 15: Depart for flights home

B

  • After breakfast transfer to Tbilisi airport for international flights.

Trip Price

Per person double occupancy: $7,950

Single supplement: $1,140

Included

  • Accommodation in hotels as listed based on double occupancy
  • Meals as listed in the program with wine at the welcome and farewell dinners
  • Airport transfers in Yerevan on designated arrival day and in Tbilisi on designated departure day
  • All sightseeing, activities and speakers (subject to their schedules) as listed with a private bus
  • Water on the bus
  • The services of local guides in Armenia and Georgia who will travel with the group
  • The services of a Distant Horizons tour manager who will travel with the group throughout
  • Basic gratuity to guide, drivers and tour manager

 

Not Included

  • International airfare to Armenia and from Tbilisi
  • Any meals not listed as included
  • Drinks with meals other than bottled water
  • Trip insurance
  • Excess luggage charges
  • Any item not listed as included

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