Mount Ararat, Armenia Waitress, Chateau Mukhrani, Georgia Zaha Hadid Building - Baku, Azerbaijan

Small Group Tour of the Caucasus Region 2020

Sail down the beautiful rivers
Sail down the beautiful rivers

At Exeter International we have been creating memories and crafting our trademark extraordinary journeys to Central Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, and Central Asia for over 25 years. Our specialty is to distill the best of the best in iconic places that are on so many people’s travel must-do list.

Our group tours are special.  These are not your every-day tour programs just ticking off the highlights.  You and our Director of the Caucasus, Jody Ricottone, take a deep dive into the destination, discovering its history, its cuisine and, most rewarding, its people.

Most people will know the three nations as former Soviet Blocs – but they are so much more. After the fall of the Soviet Union, each newly independent country chose a different path which has created three very distinct countries today. From Azerbaijan’s leaps into the modern age though vast oil wealth, to Georgia’s staunch desire to separate itself from Russia and its Soviet past, to Armenia’s struggle to match its wealthier neighbors in the modern age – each country offers a unique atmosphere.

Sitting at the cross-roads of East and West along the Caucasus Mountains, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan pivotal location have made them the target for growing empires. As each empire came and went from the region, they made a mark creating a unique culture, food, and history.  Today the region is an amalgamation of ancient and new, Roman temples and modern skyscrapers, traditional cuisine and New York trained chefs, modern businesses built on traditional craftsmanship.

Along your journey, some of your most memorable moments will be the people you meet.  Three outstanding local guides will introduce you to their countries.  In Georgia, you will meet local vintners who are helping to revive the traditional Georgian wine making process, and the Georgian wine-making name.  

A lot goes into our travel program design and we have chosen the best these three distinct countries have to offer. Please join Jody and discover one of Europe’s hidden gems.

Day 1
Arrival | Yerevan Yerevan, Armenia

Upon your 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 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 are a centuries-old Armenian tradition.

Enjoy your afternoon at leisure.  Today is the perfect opportunity to do some shopping at local stores and markets, or explore museums independently. We recommend a visit to the Vernissage open-air market.  Here you can find souvenirs starting from Soviet times to the modern days; hand-made crafts of all themes and colors. The State History Museum of Armenia is a great stop for an overview of this country’s complex history.

For those interested, early this evening we will have an excursion to the famed Yerevan brandy factory (now under French ownership) for a tasting of the national drink! A little pre-dinner cocktail.

Afterwards, we will have a welcome dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. The perfect opportunity for participants to get to know one another.

Exeter Services: Group Airport Transfers

Hotel: Alexander

Meals: Welcome Dinner

Day 2
Yerevan | Yerevan Armenia

After breakfast, we will meet at 9AM and head out for an exploration of the Kotayk region where we 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. We will then drive to Garni village where you will enjoy a late lunch at a local villager’s house.  You will see watch lavash being baked (traditional Armenian bread).

After lunch, we will 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.

We will return to the city in the early evening to begin our exploration of Armenia’s capital city starting with a visit the Tsitsernakaberd memorial complex dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. We will continue with a walking tour that includes the Republic Square, the Mashtots Avenue, the Opera House, and the Mother Armenia statue. You will also have the opportunity to see the statue of Alexander Tamanyan, a prominent Armenian architect whose works include the Academy of Sciences, the President’s Residence and the Parliament building. 

The remainder of the evening is at leisure.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Alexander (or Similar)

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 3
Ararat | Ararat Mount Ararat, Armenia

This morning, our driver and guide will meet us at 8AM for a day excursion in the Ararat Region, where We will see the biblical Mount Ararat and the Khor Virap Monastery. It is important to start this day early in order to allow for best views of Mount Ararat, the mountain is often covered in clouds by early afternoon.

Start with a stop at Khor Virap is a monastic complex and a pilgrimage site with a beautiful location at the foot of Mount Ararat. According to 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.

We’ll enjoy lunch today at a traditional local restaurant in the countryside.

Next, we head to the Vayots Dzor province where we 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.

The evening will be at leisure to explore Yerevan independently.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Alexander

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 4
Yerevan - Tbilisi | Yerevan - Tbilisi View of Tbilisi, Georgia

After checking out, meet our guide around 9:30AM for our final exploration of Yerevan. First, we 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.

We 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.

We will enjoy lunch in the city today.

Later this afternoon, head to the airport for our flight to Tbilisi. The cost of this flight is included in our program.

Upon arrival in Tbilisi, we will be met by our driver and transferred to our hotel.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide (Yerevan); Airport Transfer (Tbilisi)

Hotel: Marriott Tbilisi

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 5
Tbilisi | Tbilisi Georgian Food

This morning at 9AM, our guide will take us to visit the Narikala Fortress, dating back to the Persians of the 4th century. Spend the remainder of the morning exploring the Maidan or the Old Town. The guide will show us the Abanotubani, the sulfur baths, which were frequented by Pushkin and Dumas.

One of the most prominent structures in the Maidan is the Armenian Cathedral of St. George. As we walk up Leselidzes Kucha, the main thoroughfare, we 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.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience This afternoon we 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. We can learn about the different styles and traditions of making khachapuri while watching our creations baking in the brick ovens. An afternoon feast that We will never forget will follow!

This afternoon we continue the overview tour of some of the city’s highlights including elegant Rustaveli Avenue, the Governor’s Palace and the Parliament Building. We will also see the Paliashvili Opera House, with its dramatic Moorish architecture, while continuing down towards Vera Park.

For those interested, we will also have a visit to 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.

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: Marriott Tbilisi (or Similar)

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 6
Sighnaghi | Sighnaghi Georgia

This morning at 9AM, we will meet the 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.

We 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, we will visit one of the best traditional wineries in the region. Georgia is considered the cradle of winemaking 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. We will meet with a local wine expert and taste some regionally produced wines.

Early evening arrival back in Tbilisi and transfer to the hotel.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Marriott Tbilisi

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 7
Mtskheta & Gori | Mtskheta & Gori Gori, Georgia

This morning, after meeting the group at 9AM, We 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 became 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 A light lunch will be served at the Chateau Mukhrani along with a brief wine tasting. We 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, our guide will take us 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, we will enjoy an evening full of Georgian traditions at Iago’s winery. We will have the opportunity to take part in a Shoti (Georgian bread) baking class and distilling chacha. Dinner will be accompanied by traditional Didgori singers and dancers and a class of the traditional and very elaborate Georgian toasting.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Marriott Tbilisi

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8
Tbilisi - Baku | Tbilisi - Baku Baku Flame Towers - Baku, Azerbaijan

This morning is at leisure. Our driver will meet the group at the hotel and transfer us to the airport in Tbilisi for our flight to Baku. The cost of this flight is included in the program.

Upon arrival in Baku, our guide will be waiting for us just outside of baggage claim and customs to transfer us to our hotel. We will be staying in one of the most beautiful hotels in Europe, the stunning Four Seasons 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 afternoon, take a walk through 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.’ We’ll see carpet shops and cafes and we shouldn’t miss a stop into a tea house to sample hot lavash bread pulled straight from the clay oven.

Later, our guide will take us 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, we 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, we’ll also see the Maiden Tower, hear its sad history, and climb to the top for a wonderful panoramic view.

Please note the tour this afternoon is a walking tour.

Exeter Services: Airport Transfers in Tbilisi and Baku; Guide (4 hours)

Hotel: Four Seasons Baku

Meals: Breakfast

Day 9
Gobustan & Baku | Gobustan & Baku Petroglyphs Gobustan, Azerbaijan

This morning at around 9:30AM, our guide and driver will take us 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 our way back to Baku, we can stop to see some 2,000-year old Latin graffiti, left by Caesar’s troops!

Once back in Baku, we will stop for lunch at a local restaurant.

Later, our guide will take us 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.

Tonight, we will have a farewell dinner with the group at local restaurant.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Four Seasons Baku

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 10
Yanar Dag | Yanar Dag Zaorastrian Fire Temple, Azerbaijan

Meet our guide and driver this morning around 9:30AM. 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, we 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”.

We will have a lunch nearby the temple.

We 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.

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 International Extraordinary Experience Following our tour, we will enjoy a decadent caviar and champagne tasting in the lovely gardens outside, where we can raise a glass to the end of the tour.

The remainder of the evening is at leisure, many guests will have early flights tomorrow.

Exeter Services: Full-Day Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Four Seasons Baku

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 11
Departure | Baku Old Town Carpet Store - 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).

Exeter Services: Group Airport Transfers

Meals: Breakfast

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