Tbilisi, Georgia

Essential Georgia

Sail down the beautiful rivers
Sail down the beautiful rivers

Georgia has been featured heavily in recent travel news as one of the top emerging destinations.  AFAR magazine says ‘Visitors come here for the culture and for the diverse landscapes—arid desert, subtropical tea plantations, snow-covered peaks, rolling vineyards—packed into a country only slightly larger than West Virginia.’ 

The capital, Tbilisi is a glorious patchwork of romantic historic houses and modern structures like the Bridge of Peace. We recommend a minimum of three nights here. Sightseeing should include the History Museum, Metekhi Temple, the Paliashvili Opera House and Narikala Fortress. A stroll through Maidan (Old Town) should not be missed with visits to the Sulfur Baths, Anchiskhati Basilica and the Armenian Cathedral of St. George.

The city is also the ideal base for day trips -  to Gori, the birthplace of Stalin, and Mtskheta, the spiritual capital of the country. Georgia combines wonderfully with Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Day 1
Tbilisi – Borjomi | Tbilisi – Borjomi

Arrival in Tbilisi. You will be met by your private driver and guide and begin a two-hour journey to Borjomi.

Borjomi is a town located in the Borjomi Gorge, located in the south-central part of Georgia.  Here you will find the largest export of Georgia, Borjomi mineral water. This beautiful spa town was used as a recreation destination and summer residence for the Romanov royal dynasty as well as state and cultural figures like Maxim Gorky, Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Joseph Stalin.

Check in to your beautiful hotel and enjoy the remainder of your day at leisure or, time permitting, you may choose to take a walk to the Borjomi Park to sample their water from the source.

Exeter Services: Airport Transfer; Half-Day Guide

Hotel: Crowne Plaza Borjomi

Day 2
Borjomi – Vardzia – Borjomi | Borjomi – Vardzia – Borjomi

This morning, after meeting with your guide and driver, you will transfer south about an hour to Rabati Castle.  Destroyed and rebuilt many times since the 13th century, the fortress site received a major restoration in 2011.  Inclusive of an 18th century mosque, a 19th century Orthodox church, the Djakeli palace remains and a history museum, the top portion of Rabati fortress offers great viewing sites in the towers.

After lunch (payable locally), you’ll drive about an hour to Aspindza to tour the Vardzia Cave Monastery.

In the 12th century, as the kingdom of Georgia was trying to defend itself from the Mongols, Queen Tamar reportedly ordered construction of a sanctuary.  In 1185, digging began on the side of Erusheli mountain.  At completion, this underground fortress had more than 10 levels, a throne room, a church and nearly 6000 apartments.  Sadly, just 100 years later, an earthquake destroyed more than two-thirds of the city, exposing the inside of the mountain.  It remained in use by the monastery until 1551, when it was raided by Persian troops.  Today, about 300 rooms and halls remain open to visitors.

Before returning to Borjomi for the evening, you may also stop at Khertvisi fortress, situated on a rocky hill above the Mtkvari and Paravani Rivers.  The fortress was built in the 2nd century. The church dates to 985 and the present walls were built in 1354.

Transfer back to Borjomi for the remainder of the evening at your leisure.

Special Note: Much of today’s touring is on foot and involves both walking and light hiking. Please wear comfortable footwear.  

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Crowne Plaza Borjomi

Day 3
Borjomi - Gori - Mtskheta - Stepantsminda | Borjomi - Gori - Mtskheta - Stepantsminda

This morning, after a breakfast at your hotel, you will transfer East towards the town of Gori, best known for being the birthplace of the former Soviet dictator Josef Jughashvili - Stalin. Stalin’s modest home still stands and is set against the backdrop of the Stalin Museum’s buildings. The Stalin Museum is worth visiting and details his life from his youth all the way to the Yalta Conference after the Second World War.

Perched on a rock above the town, the medieval Gori citadel is still an impressive sight even though it was damaged in an earthquake in the 1920s. The easy walk to the top offers rewarding views over the town and the valley.

Just a few miles away from Gori, you will also stop in Uplistsikhe - a once-inhabited rock-hewn city. The impressive complex of halls, temples, passages, streets, wine pressers and tunnels cut in the rocky river bank was used in the 6th – 1st century BC when it was a pagan center before Georgia adopted Christianity. Later, when Tbilisi was taken by the Arabs, Uplistsikhe became the de-facto seat of the Georgian kings. In the following centuries, it gradually lost its importance but was still used by the local population as a shelter in times of foreign invasions. The town is fascinating as its architecture is a testimony to the ingenuity of the ancient builders from the period when the Hellenistic traditions strongly influenced the early-Christian culture.

You will then continue to Mtskheta, the spiritual heart of Georgia and a city that has an almost mythical significance to most Georgians as this was the first capital of the kingdom and the coronation and burial place for most Georgian kings. It was also where Christianity was proclaimed the state religion in 337. Mtskheta is still the religious center of the Georgian church.

Mtskheta contains some of the oldest churches in the country - monuments dating back to as early as the 6th Century such as the exquisite early-Georgian-style Jvari Church, the huge Sveti Tskhoveli Cathedral (the largest functioning cathedral in the country and the archbishop’s seat) from the 12th century, and the Samtavro Church. While in this area, you also can stop in and visit local craftsmen who are known in the region for their intricate basket-weaving and colorful pottery.

You will then continue north to the foot of Mount Kazbegi where you will stop in the little town of Stepantsminda. Locals of the village live at one of the highest inhabited points in the Caucasus, which leaves them somewhat isolated from the outside world. This however, has allowed them to preserve the uniqueness and authenticity of a bygone era. They are very hard-working, decent, and fearless peoples yet extremely hospitable at the same time. Checking in to your hotel you then have the remainder of your day at leisure.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Rooms Kazbegi

Day 4
Stepantsminda – Ananuri - Sighanghi | Stepantsminda – Ananuri - Sighanghi

This morning after breakfast you will meet your guide to continue with the exploration of the region. You will head slightly outside Stepantsminda, to the top of Gergeti Mountain via an off-road car. Here you will have the opportunity to visit a beautiful 14th century Trinity church. The astounding view from Gergeti Mountain on Stepantsminda and the surrounding area is truly unforgettable.

You will then begin your transfer to Sighnaghi, a breathtakingly beautiful journey of about four hours.  On your way you will stop at Ananuri Fortress. In use until the beginning of the 19th century, this fortress was built by the Dukes of Aragvi and dates to the 13th century. 

Then, continuing your trip into the Kakheti province, you will pass by quaint towns and vineyards.  Georgia is considered to be 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.

The Kakheti region is Georgia’s main wine-producing area. The valleys of the Alazani and Lori Rivers and the slopes of the Caucasus, combined with a mild climate, have provided ideal conditions for wine making for centuries.

Upon arrival in Sighanghi, check into your hotel and enjoy your evening at leisure.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Hotel Kabadoni

Day 5
Sighanghi – Kakheti Region | Sighanghi – Kakheti Region

This day will be dedicated to the exploration of the Kakheti Region and its tiny villages. 

You’ll meet your guide and driver and start your day by touring Sighanghi – 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. 

Next, you’ll visit the Gremi Fortress, a 16th century royal citadel and the Church of the Archangels before heading to Napareuli for lunch and wine tasting.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

Today for lunch, you will visit one of the best traditional wineries in the region.  Georgians are proud of their grapes, their wine, and their natural wine-making process. You will meet with a local wine expert and taste some regionally-produced wines.  Note: Lunch is included in the cost of the program this day. 

After lunch, you will be taken to Tsinandali, to tour the Tsinandali Estate, the House Museum of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze. Chavchavadze, known to be a linguist and poet, has been credited with bringing the piano, horse drawn carriage and billiards to Georgia.  After, you’ll head to another popular winery in the area to sample some of the other wine varieties the region has to offer.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

Tonight, you will be able to experience an evening full of Georgian traditions at a local Georgian home. A traditional Georgian dinner with wine and chacha will be accompanied by traditional singing and Georgian toasting.  

You will transfer back to Sighnaghi and your hotel for an evening at your leisure.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Hotel Kabadoni

Day 6
Sighanghi – Tbilisi | Sighanghi – Tbilisi

Today, after breakfast and checking-out from your hotel, you will meet your driver and guide to head back to the capital of Georgia - Tbilisi.

After checking in to your hotel, you will begin an overview walk of the Old Town. According to a legend, the city was founded in the 5th century on a spot abundant with hot sulfur springs. Later, it became an important stage stop on the Hellenistic and Roman trade routes with the East and on the Silk Road. Usually squeezed in between feuding powerful empires, Tbilisi was

often occupied, re-conquered, and its population was even forcefully converted to Islam. Nowadays, the city is remarkable with its turbulent history and elegant and remarkable architectural monuments.

You will explore Tbilisi’s Old Town and its numerous churches, museums, and historic sights. First, you will visit the 13th-century Metekhi church, which was built on top of an older church destroyed by the Mongols. Ruined again by the Persians in the 17th century, it was consecutively used as military barracks, a prison, and a theater before finally being re-constructed and returned to the Georgian church in the 1980s.

Continuing through the Old Town and along the river bank, you will see (and smell) some of Tbilisi’s famous sulfur bathhouses which were once frequented by celebrities like Pushkin and Dumas and are still social venues for locals and visitors alike. The hot mineral springs are believed to have curative properties for a variety of skin and rheumatic conditions. Most of the bathhouses are located underground with only the distinctive brick domes rising above street level.  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. 

Later, you will walk along the famous Sharden Street which is lined with restaurants, cafés, art galleries, and souvenir shops.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

Tonight, you will have the opportunity to take part in a special private boat trip on the Kura river (weather permitting).  What looks like a dock on the side of the river suddenly starts moving and you find yourself cruising along the river.  This is the perfect way to experience Tbilisi from a different perspective.  Private Kura Boat Cruise included in the program cost.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Mercure Old Town

Day 7
Tbilisi | Tbilisi

This morning you will meet your guide and driver to continue exploring Tbilisi. You’ll begin by exploring the Museum of Georgia, a modern and well curated museum covering all periods of Georgian history.

You’ll then explore the Sololaki district which was once the district of rich merchants and artists.  This area is filled with long balconies, hidden yards and buildings with once-lavish entrance halls. 

From Sololaki, you’ll head up Mount Mtatsminda via the funicular.  You will visit the 4th-century Narikala Fortress which is located on a forested hill east of the city and overlooks its historic center and the Mtkvari River. The Narikala fortification dates from different periods – Persian, Georgian, Arab, Mongol, and Russian, but most of the surviving walls are from the 16th – 17th centuries. The panoramic views from Narikala are not to be missed.

From the fortress, you can continue with a short walk to the Mother Georgia Monument. It was erected in the 1960’s and depicts a woman holding a sword in one hand and a cup of wine in the other, symbolizing the country’s readiness to welcome friends and fight off any enemies.

The remainder of your day today will allow you some time at your leisure. Your guide can take to the Dry Bridge Flea Market, enjoy the sulfur baths or simply soak up the atmosphere at a local cafe.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Mercure Old Town

Day 8
Departure from Tbilisi | Departure from Tbilisi

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).

Exeter Services: Departure transfer

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