Sulfur Baths Tbilisi Yerevan, Armenia Baku carpet museum

Essential Caucasus

Sail down the beautiful rivers
Sail down the beautiful rivers

Why Go?

‘The South Caucasus is among the most culturally genuine, historically rich and religiously diverse --not to mention under the radar -- parts of the world. they share a timeless and deep-rooted tradition of hospitality, family and food’.

--Patricia Schultz, 1001 Places to See Before You Die.

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity, in the 4th Century AD. It is this heritage that gives Armenia its distinctive character. The country is a tapestry of churches and monasteries, with a kaleidoscope of frescoes and murals. You will enjoy local hospitality, delicious national cuisine and stunning scenery.

Tbilisi is not only the capital of Georgia, but the capital of food and wine in the entire region. With neoclassical and Art Nouveau architecture, stunning countryside and mountain ranges close by, this city is a revelation. Baku is a city of huge contrasts, with minarets superseded by the iconic architectural landmark that is The Flame Towers. Flames, signifying the power of natural energy, have been a part of local history since Zoroastrian times. Incredible museums and a Mediterranean climate complete the picture. Once you have been, you will wonder why Tbilisi & Baku were not on the must do map before.

The following is just a suggested daily touring schedule. You will have complete control over your daily schedule and may change your plans at any time by simply telling your guide. Your time in Europe is yours to enjoy as you like!

Highlights

  • Cognac tasting in Armenia
  • Private khachapuri-making class
  • VIP wine tasting at Georgia’s leading vineyard
  • Private Tour of Zaha Hadid’s extraordinary new Aliyev Cultural Center in Baku
  • Private Tour of the futuristic new Baku Carpet Museum
  • Exclusive Tour of the Nobel Family Mansion, Villa Petrolea
  • Private Tour of Ateshgah Temple, also known as the Temple of the Fire Worshippers

For custom luxury travel and tours to the Caucasus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, please contact one of our travel experts.

Download PDF itinerary here.

ITINERARY

PRICING FROM

$6,600 per person, based on two guests traveling together. Please contact Exeter International for exact pricing and specific availability. 

Day 1
Arrival | Yerevan, Armenia

Upon arrival in Yerevan today, you will be met by your driver and guide and transferred to your hotel.

Yerevan, the capital, is one of the oldest cities in the world, with the earliest recorded settlement dating back to 782 BC. The city today has a vibrant café society, and a host of arts and crafts markets selling woodcarving, fine lace, and the hand-knotted carpets and kilims that are a Caucasus specialty. Obsidian and gold jewelry is a centuries-old Armenian tradition.

Optional: Depending upon your time of arrival, you may choose to have a half-day overview walking tour of the Yerevan city center, including the impressive Republic Square.

 

Exeter Services: Airport Transfer; Half-Day Guide (Optional)

Hotel: Tufenkian Historic Yerevan

Day 2
Yerevan | Yerevan, Armenia

Today after breakfast, meet your guide to begin your exploration of Armenia’s capital city. You will start with an introductory tour that includes the Republic Square, Mashtots Avenue, the Opera House, and the Mother Armenia statue.

Continue on to the State History Museum of Armenia. This museum represents an integral picture of the history and culture of Armenia from the prehistoric times until the present day. An old Armenian proverb says that “The guest is God’s messenger and he is welcome in our home.” Hospitality is at the core of who the Armenian people are. For almost its entire history, Armenia has been trampled by one empire after another: Parthian (Iranian), Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Mongol, Ottoman, Persian, Russian and Soviet. Yet in spite of the country’s turbulent past, they have managed to maintain their own unique identity, their own alphabet and language.

Afterwards you will visit the Tsitsernakaberd memorial complex, dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. The stele rises 44 meters in the air, symbolizing the national rebirth of Armenians.

After lunch, you will continue to Etchmiadzin – the holy city of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the country’s spiritual center. It is believed that St. Gregory the Illuminator saw a beam of light fall on this spot and built the original church – a basilica that was later reconstructed and enlarged several times. Nowadays, the Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On the way back to Yerevan, you will visit the remains of the 7th Century Zvartnots Temple with its distinct circular architecture with fine pillars, carved column heads, and arches suggesting a Hellenistic style that was frequent in many early-Christian churches.

Return to the city for an evening at your leisure.

 

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide for Full Day

Hotel: Tufenkian Historic Yerevan

Day 3
Yerevan | Yerevan, Armenia

This morning, your driver and guide will meet you for a day excursion in the Ararat Region, where you will see the biblical Mount Ararat and the Khor Virap Monastery.

Khor Virap is a monastic complex and a pilgrimage site with a beautiful location at the foot of Mount Ararat. Per legend, it is here that Armenia’s patron saint, St. Gregory the Illuminator, was imprisoned for 12 years by the pagan king before curing him of a disease and converting him to Christianity.

Later today, you will continue to the Vayots Dzor province where you will visit the Noravank Monastery. This masterpiece of Armenian medieval architecture is in a narrow gorge cut by the Gnishik River near the city of Yeghegnadzor.

You may wish to visit the Vernissage open-air market this afternoon - here you can find souvenirs starting from Soviet times to the modern days - hand-made crafts of all themes and colors.

The remainder of the day will be at leisure to explore Yerevan on your own.

 

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide for Full Day

Hotel: Tufenkian Historic Yerevan

Day 4
Dilijan | Dilijan, Armenia

This morning after check-out, meet your driver and guide for further exploration of the city and then on to the countryside.

Begin with a visit to the Matenadaran, boasting the world’s largest collection of ancient manuscripts (over 16,000), including works by Aristotle and Eusebius.

Before you leave the city, you will also have the opportunity to visit the famed Yerevan brandy factory (now under French ownership) for a tasting of the national drink! Here you can also tour the Ararat Museum to learn the history of the brandy and the modern-day production process.

After, you will drive to the Kotayk region where you will first tour the 4th Century cave monastery of the Holy Lance in Geghard – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is considered by many to be superior to Petra. Continue to Garni village, where you will enjoy a late lunch at a local villager’s house. You will also bake your own lavash (traditional Armenian bread).

After lunch, visit the Temple of the Sun, set on a cliff above the River Azat. The famous peristyle temple was constructed in the 1st Century in the Greco-Roman style by the Armenian King Tiridates I and was probably funded by the Roman Emperor Nero. The temple was dedicated to the ancient god Mithras and its roof was supported by 24 Ionic columns. The bathhouse nearby has a well-preserved hypocaust system and some original floor mosaics.

On your way to Dilijan, you will stop at the Sevan Monastery, located on the peninsula of Sevan Lake, where you will enjoy beautiful panoramic views. After arriving at your charming and rustic hotel in Dilijan, the rest of your evening is at leisure. The Tufenkian Old Dilijan Hotel is a wonderful step back in time, set in the green mountain valley of Armenia’s mountainous region.

 

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide for Full Day

Hotel: Tufenkian Old Dilijan

Day 5
Tbilisi via Lori | Tbilisi, Georgia

This morning, after meeting with your guide, you will tour Dilijan, historically a spa town known as the “Armenian Switzerland”. Composers Shostakovich and Britten both spent their summers here, and it is in this area that you will visit the Haghartsin monastic complex, hidden in the forest.

You will then drive to Lori and explore the UNESCO protected Haghpat monastery. Here you will also stop near the Sanahin bridge, which is one of the most famous engineering constructions of medieval Armenia. You will have lunch at a local restaurant before continuing on to the Georgian border where you will meet your Georgian driver and guide for the transfer to Tbilisi. Although Tbilisi is a capital city, it is surrounded by mountains, has a river at its heart and is green and verdant, giving it an air of leisure that is unusual in a major city.

Upon arrival in the Georgian capital, you will check-in at your hotel for an evening at your leisure.

 

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide for Full Day

Hotel: Mercure Tbilisi Old Town

Day 6
Tbilisi | Tbilisi, Georgia

Your guide will meet you this morning for an overview tour of some of the city’s highlights including elegant Rustaveli Avenue, the Governor’s Palace and the Parliament Building. You will also see the Paliashvili Opera House, with its dramatic Moorish architecture, while you continue down towards Vera Park. Later, tour the Museum of Georgia, a modern and well curated museum covering all periods of Georgian history. Of particular interest is the moving museum of the Soviet occupation, located on the fourth floor.

You also will visit some of the city’s many religious highlights, including the Anchiskhati Basilica, the oldest church in Tbilisi and Metekhi Temple, a major landmark that can be seen from many vantage points in the city. Your guide will take you to visit the Narikala Fortress, dating back to the Persians of the 4th century. While exploring the fortress, you may visit the Church of St. Nicholas and the Folk-Art Museum.

Spend the remainder of the afternoon exploring the Maidan or the Old Town. Your guide will show you the Abanotubani, the sulfur baths, which were frequented by Pushkin and Dumas. Optional: If you are interested, you may enjoy an hour long visit to indulge in the baths. You will be given towels and slippers, as well as tea and water to sip on as you take part in the sulfur bath experience. Please note sulfur baths are not included in program cost.

One of the most prominent structures in the Maidan is the Armenian Cathedral of St. George. As you walk up Leselidzes Kucha, the main thoroughfare, you will see Tbilisi’s main synagogue, right next door to the 16th century Jvari Georgian Church and the Norashen Armenian Church. Ancient and fascinating Tbilisi is at its finest in this district.

Apart from visiting the historical sites, one of the most enjoyable things to do in Tbilisi is to experience Georgian café culture relaxing over a tea and soaking up the local atmosphere.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience (Optional)

This afternoon you will be invited into one of the leading restaurants of the city for a khachapuri making class. Khachapuri is the national dish of Georgia and it is delicious- a hot, freshly baked bread filled with warm cheese. You can learn about the different styles and traditions of making khachapuri while you watch your creation baking in the brick ovens. An afternoon feast that you will never forget will follow! Please note khachapuri making class is not included in program cost.

Tonight, you will be able to experience a few Georgian traditions (as well as observe and learn the processes) at Guramishvili’s Marani, located near Mtskheta. This winery is owned by Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking, which is one of the largest wine and spirits producing companies in the entire Caucasus’ region, however the property features historic buildings belonging to a Georgian prince. This evening you will participate in shoti (bread) master classes, churchkhela (Georgian sweets), khinkali and chacha distilling. Dinner will be accompanied by traditional Didgori singers. Please note this dinner experience is not included in program cost.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Mercure Tbilisi Old Town

Day 7
Mtskheta & Gori | Mtskheta & Gori, Georgia

This morning you will travel through the Georgian countryside to the town of Gori, best known for being the birthplace of Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, better known as Stalin. Georgian people were understandably proud that one of their own rose to be the leader of the Politburo, but Stalin’s success only brought misery to his homeland when he was Soviet leader. His original modest home still stands and is set against the backdrop of the Stalin Museum’s buildings and carriages from his private train.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

Later, you will experience an introduction into Georgian wine at Chateau Mukhrani. We have selected this unique winery for its history, beautiful vineyards and restored castle. In 1875 Prince Mukhranbatoni visited Champagne and Bordeaux to learn about European winemaking. He returned to Georgia and combined traditional Georgian winemaking methods with European methods, creating a successful and internationally recognized quality wine. Today, you will tour the vineyards, cellars and castle and taste some delicious wine.

Light lunch will be served at Chateau Mukhrani along with a brief wine tasting. You will experience a performance of Khridoli, Georgian martial arts, a centuries old tradition that has been now enjoying a great revival and is even taught in the Georgian Army.

Next, your guide will take you to visit Mtskheta, the spiritual heart of Georgia. Mtskheta has an almost mythical significance to many Georgians as this was the first capital of the nation, and was also where Christianity was first introduced into the country. Mtskheta’s monuments date back to the 6th Century including the Jvari Monastery, the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and the Samtavro Church.

Return to the city for an evening of leisure.

 

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Radisson Blu Iveria

Day 8
Signaghi | Signaghi, Georgia

This morning, you will meet your guide and driver for the transfer east of the capital city. This historic region, called Kakheti, is famous for its stunning landscape, independent spirit, rich fertile soil, and tiny villages specializing in wine making.

You will reach Sighnaghi – a small but extremely charming town which is a must-see in this part of the country. The perfectly preserved Old Town with narrow streets and the 18th Century fortifications that once had 23 towers and several gates, makes for a wonderful place to stroll around and take in the relaxed ambiance and gorgeous views of the Greater Caucasus mountains.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

For lunch, you will visit one of the best traditional wineries in the region. Georgia is considered the cradle of wine-making as archaeological finds suggest that wine production may have begun here as early as 6,000 BC, long before it reached the Mediterranean and Western Europe. You will meet with a local wine expert and taste some regionally-produced wines.

Afternoon arrival back in Tbilisi and transfer to your hotel.

 

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Mercure Tbilisi Old Town

Day 9
Baku | Baku, Azerbaijan

This morning is at leisure. Your driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport in Tbilisi for your flight to Baku. The cost of this flight is not included in your program.

Upon arrival in Baku, your guide will be waiting for you just outside of baggage claim and customs to transfer you to your hotel. You will be staying in one of the most beautiful hotels in Europe, the stunning Four Seasons Hotel Baku, perfectly located at the edge of Old Town and directly on the Caspian Sea.

Baku is a city of huge contrasts; minarets have been superseded by the iconic architectural landmark that is The Flame Towers, which against all the odds works well in this city that has always been about old and new. While Old Baku had a reputation of a city blighted by oil extraction, it has recently been completely transformed into a 21st Century capital with seaside promenades and extraordinary architecture by such luminaries as Zaha Hadid and Sir Norman Foster. This is a city, indeed country, reborn with oil wealth that for the first time is being spent at home.

This evening, take a walk through the Old Town with your guide. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Old Town is one of the oldest continuously inhabited parts in the region. Archaeological digs have revealed Bronze Age burial chambers, dating back 1,500 years.

This is the most popular area of the city, a maze of alleys, winding streets and caravanserais sometimes called the ‘Acropolis of Baku.’ You’ll see carpet shops and cafes and you shouldn’t miss a stop into a tea house to sample hot lavash bread pulled straight from the clay oven.

Later, your guide will take you to the Walled City of Baku and the Shirvanshah’s Palace. The walls are well preserved and date from the 12th century whilst the Palace was built in the 15th century. While many of the treasures that were once the pride of Baku were taken by the Ottomans to Istanbul, you can still feel the history of the palace when wandering from the residential areas to the baths, through the mosque and beyond. Here in Old Town, you’ll also see the Maiden Tower, hear its sad history, and if still open for the day, climb to the top for a wonderful panoramic view.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience (Optional)

This evening you will be served a dinner at a local authentic restaurant and enjoy a private show of belly dancing. You may opt to join in and try on some of the national costumes or participate in a master class of Galyan preparation (hookah). Please note dinner is not included in program cost.

 

Exeter Services: Transfer Only (Tbilisi); Half-Day Car, Driver & Guide (Baku)

Hotel: Four Seasons Hotel Baku

Day 10
Baku | Baku, Azerbaijan

This morning, your guide and driver will take you outside the city center to Gobustan, approximately 90 minutes away. Gobustan is an open-air museum overflowing with Neolithic rock drawings. There are over 4,000 inscriptions that go back 12,000 years. New to Gobustan is a state-of-the-art, interactive museum that brings to life the time that created these extraordinary drawings. On your way back to Baku, you can stop to see some 2,000-year old Latin graffiti, left by Caesar’s troops!

Later, your guide will take you to the Baku Carpet Museum which boasts one of the greatest carpet collections in the world. The collection is so vast that only 10% of it used to be displayed in its former home. This unique museum was recently built in the center of the city by an Austrian architect who designed the building to resemble a rolled carpet! It’s an impressive institution that tells the fascinating history of carpet making in this region.

Afterwards, enjoy a private visit to the former house of the Nobel family. Ludwig, Robert and Emmanuel Nobel moved from St. Petersburg to Baku in the 1870s, originally to develop business in wood. The first industrial output of oil in the world was in Baku in 1848 - five years before Pennsylvania. The Nobel brothers ended up in the oil business and they became the catalyst for the Russian tsar to decree that the development of oil was no longer a monopoly, and so the first oil boom started.

Early this evening, you may enjoy a boat tour in Baku’s perfect harbor and take in the city from another perspective. Please note the boat ride is optional and not included in program cost.

 

Exeter Services: Car, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Four Seasons Hotel Baku

Day 11
Yanar Dag | Yanar Dag, Azerbaijan

To experience some local color and flavor, we suggest an early visit to the Bazaar (market) to see the famous Baku tomatoes, citrus and nuts, sold as they have been for centuries by local traders.

Later, you will see the fascinating eternal burning hill - Yanar Dag is fueled by natural gas escaping from the rocks and earth. This area, 30 minutes from Baku, has been endlessly burning for five decades, flames sprouting straight from the earth. The Ateshgah Temple, a 15-minute drive away is a must see. Also known as the Temple of the Fire Worshippers, this has been a center of worship for thousands of years and is one of the finest preserved temples of its kind.

The temple is built on the site of a natural gas vent believed to have been sacred to the Zoroastrians since the 6th Century. The area is so saturated with natural gas and oil that flames spontaneously erupt from the ground - hence the country’s other name, Odlar Yurdu, or “Land of Fires”, and the name of the temple, which means “Home of Fire”.

You will then return to the city center to visit a top Baku highlight. Zaha Hadid, the world-famous architect and Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, saved one of her greatest triumphs for Baku in the Aliyev Cultural Center. Stunning inside and out, this building houses temporary exhibitions as well as a museum dedicated to Heydar Aliyev, the founder and first president of modern day Azerbaijan.

The remainder of the day will be at your leisure.

 

Exeter Services: Car, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Four Seasons Hotel Baku

Day 12
Departure | Baku, Azerbaijan

Check-out of the hotel and meet your driver for the transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (Please note the cost of your flight is not included in your program).

Optional:

If time allows this morning, you will certainly not want to miss the Azerbaijan Art Museum, housed in the Rothschild family mansion in the city center. This fine collection is particularly strong in Russian paintings, including Aivazovsky, Repin, and Kandinsky, three of the greatest.

OR:

Alternatively, your guide can take you to the History Museum of Azerbaijan, one of Baku’s most beautiful orientalist mansions: the Taghiyev Mansion. The Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited parts in the region. This is the most popular area of the city, a maze of alleys, winding streets and caravanserais sometimes called the “Acropolis of Baku”.

Please note touring on this day is optional and cost is not included in program cost.

You will then be transferred to the airport for your onward flight. (Please note the cost of your flight is not included in program cost).

 

Exeter Services: Airport Transfer; Half-Day Guide (Optional)

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