Baku City Panorama Grape juice sweets, Tbilisi

Exeter Explorer – Caucasus Escorted Group Tour 2017

Sail down the beautiful rivers
Sail down the beautiful rivers

A Private, Historical and Cultural Tour of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan

‘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 Go Before You Die.

Ala Osmond,  Travel Director of Exeter International, will be leading this small group tour to this untouched and unique region.

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity, in the 4th century AD. It is this heritage which 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Baku is a city of huge contrasts, with minarets superseded by the iconic architectural landmark that is The Flame Towers.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 Yerevan, Tbilisi and Baku were not on the must do map before.

Day 1
Arrival | Arrival in Yerevan, Armenia

Friday, September 01

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. The earliest recorded settlement dates 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.

Exeter Services: Airport Transfer

Hotel: Tufenkian Historic Yerevan

Day 2
Yerevan | Yerevan

Saturday, September 02

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, the Mashtots Avenue, the Opera House, and the Mother Armenia statue. You will also enjoy a visit to Matenadaran, boasting the world’s largest collection of ancient manuscripts (over 16,000), including works by Aristotle and Eusebius.

Next, you will visit the Museum of Armenian History for an overview of this country’s complex history. An old Armenian proverb says that “The guest is God’s messenger and he is welcome in our home”. Hospitality is central to the Armenian people who have managed to maintain their own unique identity, their own alphabet and language, despite the country’s turbulent past. 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.

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. 

Next, 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. At the end of the day, back in the city, visit the Tsitsernakaberd memorial complex dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Tufenkian Historic Yerevan

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 3
Ararat Region | Ararat Region Day Trip

Sunday, September 03

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. According to the 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 located in a narrow gorge cut by the Gnishik River near the city of Yeghegnadzor.

On the way back to Yerevan, you will make a stop at a local winery in the Areni village to taste some local cheeses and fine wines. Winemaking is a centuries-old tradition in this region and archaeologists have discovered here ancient fermentation vats, a wine press, and storage jars believed to be over 6,000 years old.

The remainder of the day will be at leisure.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Tufenkian Historic Yerevan

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 4
Yerevan - Dilijan | Yerevan - Dilijan

Monday, September 04

This morning after check-out, meet your driver and guide for an exploration of the countryside.

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!

Later, you will continue 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. You will then drive 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, you will also 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.

Also in the afternoon you will visit the Sevan Monastery, located on the peninsula of Sevan Lake, where you will enjoy beautiful panoramic views.

Arrive at your charming and rustic hotel in Dilijan for an evening at your 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: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Tufenkian Old Dilijan

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 5
Dilijan - Tbilisi via Lori | Dilijan - Tbilisi via Lori

Tuesday, September 05

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

You will continue on to Lori and explore the UNESCO protected Sanahin and Haghpat monasteries before continuing on to the Georgian border where you will meet your Georgian driver and guide for the transfer to Tbilisi. Upon arrival in the Georgian capital, you will check-in at your hotel for an evening at your leisure.

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.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Radisson Blu Iveria

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 6
Tbilisi | Tbilisi

Wednesday, September 06

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. Those interested, may decide to enjoy an hour long visit to indulge in the baths (towels, slippers, shampoo, tea and water are included).

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 Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Radisson Blu Iveria

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 7
Mtskheta & Gori | Tbilisi - Mtskheta & Gori - Tbilisi

Thursday, September 07

First today, 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.

Next, your guide will take you a little outside the main city limits 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.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

Tonight enjoy a meal and an evening full of Georgian traditions at Iago’s winery and a master class and performance of Khridoli, Georgian martial arts, a centuries old tradition that has been now enjoying great revival and is even taught in the Georgian Army.

Next enjoy a special dinner and a culinary class of baking the Georgian bread Shoti, making veal Mtsvadi and distilling chacha. Dinner will be accompanied by traditional Didgori singers and a class of the traditional and very elaborate Georgian toasting.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Radisson Blu Iveria

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner      

Day 8
Tbilisi – Baku | Tbilisi – Baku

Friday, September 08

This morning enjoy at leisure. Your driver will meet you at your hotel and transfer you to the airport in Tbilisi for your flight to Baku departing at 1:40PM. The cost of this flight is not included in your program.

Upon arrival in Baku at 3:55PM, 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 Normal Foster. This is a city, indeed country, reborn with the oil wealth that for the first time is being spent at home.

This evening, take a walk though the Old Town. 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 climb to the top for a wonderful panoramic view.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

While you are at the Shirvanshah’s palace, you will be served a dinner 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).

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Four Seasons Baku

Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 9
Baku | Baku

Saturday, September 09

This morning, your guide and driver will take you outside of 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 that 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.

Later today you will 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.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Four Seasons Baku

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 10
Yanar Dag | Baku - Yanar Dag - Baku

Sunday, September 10

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: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Four Seasons Baku

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 11
Departure | Baku - Onward

Monday, September 11

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: Airport Transfer

Meals: Breakfast.

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