DISCOVERING THE CAUCASUS: AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA & ARMENIA
The Caucasus, home for millennia to ancient mountain clans, is one of the world’s most complex regions, whose geographical location as a land bridge between Europe and Asia has determined its eventful history.
Our journey takes us through the Southern Caucasus, to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Independent since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, these three ancient and beautiful lands are finding their feet in the modern world. Today, local economies are beginning to recover from Sovietisation and people are rediscovering their own traditions and arts and forging a peaceful melting pot of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Islam.
Azerbaijan, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, is a secular Muslim state with massive oil reserves. The cosmopolitan glamour of the capital Baku captivates us; futuristic architecture soars above the crenellated walls of the Old City with its 15th century palace, cafés and carpet shops.
The medieval villages of rural Georgia complement bohemian Tbilisi. Towering over the old city and its churches is a 17th century clifftop fortress. Long famed for its superb cuisine, Georgia boasts ancient wine-making traditions whose organic descendants still flourish today.
Landlocked Armenia has its own unique language and was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion, closely followed by Georgia. Hundreds of churches and monasteries of great antiquity, many in spectacular mountain locations, attest to this remarkable history.
YOUR TOUR LEADER: Christina Sumner OAM was formerly principal curator design and society at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum where she worked with the decorative arts and design collections for 28 years. She has curated numerous exhibitions for the Museum and written and lectured widely about the textiles and other arts of the Asian region in particular. Christina studied ancient history, archaeology and anthropology at Macquarie University and her research interests continue to span the history and breadth of traditional material cultures. She has participated in archaeological excavations in Western Asia and Australia and has travelled extensively. An experienced tour leader, Christina has led several tours to India and Bhutan, as well as to Central Asia and the Caucasus for Alumni Travel.
TUE 25 MAY ARRIVE BAKU
We arrive into Baku, the cosmopolitan capital of Azerbaijan, on the shores of the Caspian Sea and famous for its oil and caviar. Transfer to our hotel in Baku’s old city and settle in before dinner. (Meals in flight, D)
WED 26 MAY BAKU
This morning we explore UNESCO World Heritage-listed ancient Baku, the Icheri Sheher, on foot. We visit the 12th century Maiden’s Tower and 15th century Palace of the Shirvanshahs as well as taking in the charm of the old city’s walls, mosques and bathhouses. We have a welcome lunch in the historic 15th century Bukhara Caravanserai and visit the small archaeological museum near our hotel. (B,L,D)
THU 27 MAY BAKU
An early morning start to drive to Gobustan, where we visit the World Heritage-listed petroglyphs and superb new rock art museum. We also visit the remarkable mud volcanoes nearby, returning after lunch to Baku in time to explore the Azerbaijan History Museum. (B,L,D)
FRI 28 MAY BAKU
Today we drive east of Baku into the Absheron Peninsula, home to the spectacular ‘fire mountain’, Yanar Dag, and the restored Zoroastrian fire temple at Suraxani. After lunch by the Caspian Sea we visit the Qala Ethnographic Museum Complex, whose range of archaeological and open air displays portray Azerbaijani life in earlier times (B,L,D)
SAT 29 MAY BAKU
Today we explore Baku’s more recent history. The city is home to some remarkable architecture, ranging from elegant neo-classical to cutting edge 21st century. We visit the exquisite Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre, designed by the late Zaha Hadid, and the new Azerbaijani Carpet Museum shaped like a rolled-up carpet. We take in great views of Baku Bay and the futuristic architecture of Crystal Hall, the National Stadium and the three Flame Towers that now dominate the city skyline. We stroll the Bulvar, Baku’s wide and lively sweep of waterfront park. (B,L,D)
SUN 30 MAY BAKU – SHEKI
Early departure for the drive to Sheki, one of Azerbaijan’s loveliest towns with its mountain setting and rich history. Silk was formerly one of Sheki’s main industries.
On the way we stop at Shamakha, once a major trading centre, to visit the Grand Mosque and the Hill of the Seven Tombs. We also visit the small stone Jotari Church of ancient Albanian origin at Gabala. (B,L,D)
MON 31 MAY SHEKI
We explore historic Sheki, including the 18th century Khan’s Palace, an artistic masterpiece decorated with Sheki’s unique stained glass, shebaka. Nearby are small history museums and local crafts. We walk through the old town and visit the 18th century Caravanserai, as well as the lovely Albanian church in the village of Kish, now a museum. We have afternoon tea at a private home. (B,L,D)
TUE 01 JUNE SHEKI – SIGNAGI – KVARELI
Leaving Sheki, and Azerbaijan, we drive to the border with Georgia. After clearing formalities we enter the lush green Kakheti region, birthplace of the acclaimed Georgian viticulture. Wine is a symbol of Georgian hospitality, friendship and tolerance. In the hill town of Sighnaghi, famous for its surrounding defensive wall with 23 towers, we have lunch and a wine tasting at the Pheasant’s Tears restaurant. Afterwards, we take a walking tour in the narrow streets of the town under the shadow of balconies richly decorated with carved wooden lace. Drive to Kvareli for an overnight stay. (B,L,D)
WED 02 JUNE TELAVI – TBILISI
Today we drive to Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, passing through fertile Kakheti which is bordered by the Greater Caucasus mountain range. On the way we visit Gremi, former capital and a fabulous elevated site on a rocky outcrop. We also visit the 11th century Alaverdi Cathedral with its soaring arches, and Telavi, another early capital, where we walk around the ancient wish-fulfilling tree. In Tbilisi we take an early evening walk along Rustaveli Ave, the city’s main street and site of the Rose Revolution of 2003. (B,L,D)
THU 03 JUNE TBILISI – BOLNISI – DMANISI – TBILISI
Beginning with a visit to the Janashia State Museum of History, including its excellent Treasury. Today we explore Lower Kartli, one of the most fertile and beautiful regions of Georgia, known for its agriculture and its rich architectural and archaeological heritage. We visit one of the oldest churches in Georgia, Bolnisi Sioni, a Georgian orthodox basilica built in the late 5th century. And we explore Dmanisi, an archaeological site whose finds range from 1.8 million year old skulls to Medieval remains. (B,PL,D)
FRI 04 JUNE TBILISI – MTSKHETA – UPLISTSIKHE – KUTAISI
Heading west across Kartli province along the River Mtkvari, we visit the ancient capital of eastern Georgia, sacred Mtskheta where Georgia’s conversion to Christianity occurred, thanks to St Nino, in 337 CE. We visit the 6th-7th century Jvari Church, perched on a cliff overlooking Mtskheta, and the enormous 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral which is viewed as the second Jerusalem by Georgians. In Gori, we visit the large Stalin Museum and on the way to Kutaisi we explore on foot Uplistsikhe, a spectacular cave town dating back to 1st millennium BCE. (B,L,D)
SAT 05 JUNE KUTAISI – GELATI – MOTSAMETA – KUTAISI
Georgia’s second largest city Inhabited since ancient times, Kutaisi was capital of western Georgia, known as Colchis in antiquity and home of mythical Medea and the Golden Fleece. We visit the extensive Gelati monastery complex, founded by King David the Builder in the 11th century, as well as Motsameta Church, Bagrati Cathedral and Kutaisi’s Museum of Georgian History. (B,L,D)
SUN 06 JUNE KUTAISI – ANANURI – TBILISI
Returning to Kartli province, we stop to see the 9th century St George’s Church in Ubisa and its impressive 14th century frescoes. Turning north along the Military Highway we reach Zhinvali Reservoir and the spectacularly-sited Ananuri Fortress complex. On the way back to Tbilisi, we visit the archaeological site of ancient Dzalisi. (B,L,D)
MON 07 JUNE TBILISI
Today we explore Tbilisi, which was founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali. We take a walk through the charming Old Town or Kala, which lies around the base of the imposing Narikhala Fortress and along the banks of the River Mtkvari. A cable car takes us up to the Fortress and the ‘Mother of Georgia’ monument, and we visit Tbilisi’s famous Sulphur Baths district. We see the restored 12th-13th century Metekhi Church, built over an earlier 5th century church by order of King Demetre II, ’The Devoted’, and also the magnificent Tsminda Sameba or Holy Trinity Cathedral, which was consecrated in 2004. (B,L,D)
TUE 08 JUNE TBILISI
Morning free. This afternoon we continue to explore Tbilisi, with a walk past the Clock Tower to the Old Town where we visit the 6th-18th century, built and rebuilt, Anchiskhati basilica, and the mostly 13th century Sioni Cathedral. We walk across the Peace Bridge and visit Tbilisi’s Flea Market at Dry Bridge. (B,D)
WED 09 JUNE TBILISI – SADAKHLO – DILIJAN
We have an early start today and drive to the Georgia-Armenia border at Sadakhlo where, after clearing border formalities, we meet our Armenian guide.
En route we visit the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage-listed Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries in the Debed Valley. Both monuments are built of dark grey local stone and have their origins in the 10th century; together they represent the highest point of Armenian religious architecture. We continue through beautiful country to Dilijan. (B,L,D)
THU 10 JUNE DILIJAN – LAKE SEVAN – GARNI – GEGHARD – YEREVAN
After breakfast we explore the craft shops and newly-opened art and history museum of alpine Dilijan before driving to beautiful Lake Sevan, set 1900 m above sea level and surrounded by stark volcanic highlands and plains. We visit the monastic complex of Sevanavank, perched on a promontary overlooking the lake. Skirting suburban Yerevan, we then visit the classical temple at Garni, the remains of whose surrounding buildings point to it being an important defensive site in antiquity. A few kilometers away in a rocky cul de sac, is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Geghard Monastery which dates back to pre-Christian times and is today revered as one of Armenia’s greatest spiritual and cultural centres. (B,L,D)
FRI 11 JUNE YEREVAN
Today we explore the sights and museums of Yerevan, starting with a visit to the Mother of Armenia statue, from which we have a panoramic view of the city and Mount Ararat. We go to Matenadaran, the Museum of Ancient Manuscripts, and the excellent History Museum to see their fine collections. Later we visit the Ararat Cognac Factory for a tour and tasting. (B,L,D)
SAT 12 JUNE ECHMIATSIN – SARDARAPAT – METSAMOR – ZVARTNOST – YEREVAN
East of Yerevan are the ruins of UNESCO-listed Zvartnots Cathedral, a stepped circular structure that once stood three stories high. From there we visit the extensive complex of holy Echmiatzin, founded in the early 4th century and the most ancient place of Christian worship in Armenia. Afterwards we visit the WWI Memorial and State Ethnographic Museum at Sardarapat. (B,L,D)
SUN 13 JUNE YEREVAN
Today we visit Cascade and its sculpture-filled park and Modern Art Musuem. Later, we visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum in which the story of the 1915-22 massacre of Armenians is told. Free afternoon with optional visit to the Vernissage weekend market where you can buy reproduction illuminated manuscripts, Russian dolls, Communist medals, embroideries and carpets. (B,L,D)
MON 14 JUNE DEPART YEREVAN
Free time this morning to explore Yerevan further before our tour and farewell lunch at the Megarian Carpet Factory. Afternoon transfer to the airport for our onward flights. (B,L, Meals in flight)
GENERAL INFORMATION AND SPECIAL BOOKING CONDITIONS
Land Only per person, twin-share $8,250.00
Single Supplement $2,200.00
LAND ONLY TOUR PRICE INCLUDES:
• Twin-share accommodation in comfortable hotels with private facilities
• Transfers, touring and entry fees as indicated in the itinerary
• Transport in comfortable air conditioned coaches
• Breakfast daily and other meals as indicated in the itinerary
• Service of a Tour Leader throughout the itinerary
• Service of English speaking guides through the itinerary
• All applicable tipping and gratuities for group arrangements
• Alumni Travel tour booklet and wallet
LAND ONLY TOUR PRICE DOES NOT INCLUDE:
• International air travel from Australia
• Applicable passenger airport taxes
• Meals not listed in itinerary
• Beverages with meals
• Airport to hotel transfers if not travelling on suggested flights
• Visa requirements of the tour member
• Travel Insurance
• Items of personal nature (telephone, laundry, etc)
Please contact Tony (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the best fares available at the time of booking.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY:
Please note that as the itinerary suggests, this tour is quite strenuous. Therefore tour members must be able to keep up with the pace of the tour and have a reasonable level of fitness. There will be lots of early morning starts and a few long bus journeys. Many of the places visited are on uneven ground and attractions may have deep and irregular steps. Please note that there are no railings! Use your judgement about how much you can do here. A stick might be useful if you need additional support.
I’m Interested…How Do I Book?
Fill in the online Booking Form, read and agree with our Terms & Conditions, select your payment option for your deposit of $450.00 per person to Alumni Travel and Submit. Upon receipt of your Booking Form and deposit, you will receive a confirmation of your place in writing.
DEPOSIT AND FINAL PAYMENT:
The deposit is accepted as a first installment of the tour cost and will be fully refunded if the arrangements can not be confirmed or the tour is cancelled by Alumni Travel. Final payment for the tour needs to be received at least 60 days prior to tour departure. An invoice will be sent to you about a fortnight before the final payment becomes due.
CANCELLATION AND REFUNDS:
Any cancellation from the tour needs to be done in writing. The cancellation date will be taken from the day your written cancellation is received by Alumni Travel. Because of the tour cancellation charges imposed by our various suppliers, the following cancellation charges apply, per person:
Over 60 days $100.00 – Administration Fee
59 – 40 days 25% of tour cost
39 – 10 days 50% of tour cost
Within 10 days 100% of tour cost
If a difference occurs between these cancellation conditions and those imposed by our suppliers, then the conditions of the supplier shall apply.
There is no refund before or after travel has commenced or for any unused portion of the tour, either in regard to the standard group arrangements or separate independent arrangements.
CREDIT CARD PAYMENTS:
Any payment by credit card will be subject to a 2% non-refundable Merchant Administration Fee.
It is now standard policy with our company that all our international travellers have some type of international travel insurance, so that you are covered for any unforeseen circumstances that may arise. A comprehensive Insurance brochure is available from Alumni Travel. The insurance brochure contains the terms and conditions under which insurance cover will be offered to you.
ADDITIONAL TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS:
If you would like Alumni Travel to assist you with any additional arrangements pre or post tour, please contact our office for assistance at time of booking. All arrangements need to be finalised at least 30 days prior to your departure.
An administration fee of $30.00 per amendment will be charged for any changes made to any reservation within 30 days prior to your departure. Any additional charges imposed by our suppliers will also be payable.
PASSPORT AND VISAS:
It is the traveller’s responsibility to ensure that they possess the necessary travel documentation for the tour, such as a valid passport and any required visas. Your passport should be valid at least 6 months beyond the end of your journey and have two clear pages for each country to be visited in your journey.
In the event that passenger numbers do not reach the minimum number of tour participants (approximately 12, excluding the tour leader) required for the tour, it may be necessary to either surcharge or cancel the tour. If such an event does occur, you will be notified at least 60 days prior to the tour departure.
This tour price has been calculated on the basis of exchange rates and tariffs at time of print and is subject to change up until final payment has been received. At the time of final invoicing (approximately two months prior to the tour departure date), Alumni Travel reserves the right to re-cost the tour based on actual exchange rates. This could mean an increase or decrease to the above listed prices. Should you decide to cancel your arrangements on the basis of a change in the tour price, normal cancellation charges will apply.