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Gems of the Trans-Caucasus: Armenia, Georgia & Azerbaijan

May 18 – June 02, 2018

Journey through more than five millennia of history of the Armenian Plateau, the legendary landing place of Noah’s Ark, where you will learn about one of the earliest civilizations in the world, referred to by many as one of the cradles of civilization. Visit monasteries precariously perched on mountains; ruins of once imposing castles and fortresses; the largest collection of khachkars or stone crosses, and vishaps, ancient megaliths dating from 1500 BC unique to the Armenian Plateau. Traverse part of the ancient Silk Road and see the only surviving intact caravansary in Armenia. Explore archaeological excavation sites and watch as the past, undisturbed for thousands of years, emerges before your eyes. Georgia will mesmerize you with its magnificent history and unparalleled natural beauty, from the shores of the Black Sea to the soaring peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, from the rich vineyards to the arid deserts. The Georgians have built a modern country on the foundation of their rich and ancient culture, a perfect blend. Georgia’s world-famous wine, unique and tantalizing cuisine and legendary hospitality make this a favorite destination for the curious and sophisticated traveler. You will be accompanied on your voyage of discovery by archaeologists and other scholars who were selected for their expertise and their eagerness to share their passion for learning. Azerbaijan is a magnificent country with rich natural resources, ancient culture and history. The lifestyle of the people represents a harmonious blending of the traditions of many different cultures and civilizations, with a very strong Persian influence. A visit to this fascinating country with its unique culture, history and traditions will round out your journey to the land of the Trans-Caucasus.

It was a very interesting trip and well organized, I enjoyed the experience
– Barbara Friedell


Tour Escort: Led by Dr. Veronica Kalas, Archaeologist and Art Historian

Tour cost (Air and Land) : $6,995.00 per person sharing in double occupancy

Single Supplement: $995.00

Credit for not using our included airfare $800.00

Price based on a minimum of 6 participants and maximum of 14 participants

Your tour Includes:

  • Roundtrip air from/to JFK via Istanbul.
  • All transfers and transportation by A/C minibus.
  • Accommodation in superior, boutique and 4* (First Class) hotels.
  • English speaking guides in each country.
  • Meals as per program (B: Breakfast, L: Lunch and D: dinner).
  • Mineral water during touring days on vehicle.
  • Entrance fees to the museums and historical sites.
  • 1 wine tasting in Gurjaani – Georgia.
  • Porterage of luggage (except at border crossings).
  • Gratuities to local guides, drivers and restaurant staff for included meals.
  • Azerbaijan visa invitation letter.

Your tour Does Not Include:

  • Georgia does not require visas from US citizens. Azeri visa ($50 obtainable electronically prior to arrival) and Armenian visa (currently free on arrival) – all costs are subject to change.
  • Airport taxes, fuel surcharges and security charges (Est. $485.00) – subject to change.
  • Alcoholic beverages and any soft drinks.
  • Trip surcharge to operate below required minimum participants.
  • Transfers if not arriving/departing on scheduled dates
  • Dayroom or overnights necessitated by changes in airline schedules.
  • Items of a personal nature (laundry, phone calls, emails, excess luggage charges, etc.).
  • Travel insurance.

Tour Notes

Your host lecturer: Dr. Veronica Kalas, PhD

Holds a BA, MA, and PhD in art history and archaeology with a specialization in ancient and medieval (Byzantine) architecture. She has worked for many year in Turkey, especially on the rock carved monuments of Cappadocia that resemble some of the sites we will see in Georgia, and has studied with the world’s experts on medieval Armenian architecture. She speaks some Turkish, which is similar to the language of Azerbaijan, has studied Islamic art, and has worked on a restoration and preservation project for the medieval Byzantine, Georgian, Armenian, and Islamic buildings of Ani in Northeastern Turkey. Bordering Armenia, and known as the site of 1001 Churches, Ani was once the prosperous capital of the medieval Armenian Bagratid Kingdom, and is now a ghost town.

Trip Grade

Trip Grade: II Active – Some hikes, slightly more demanding walks at or to sites, few elevations, comfortable but busy schedule and some long drives.

Lodging Level: Superior – Lodges and hotels with additional amenities, refined service and comfort level acceptable to western standards. (3 or 4 stars)

View Tour Itinerary

Friday to Saturday, May 18 to 19
USA to Azerbaijan

Depart your hometown arriving the next day at Baku’s International Airport. After passing through customs and collecting your luggage you will be met by the guide and taken to the hotel for your overnight.

Sunday, May 20
Baku to Absheron peninsula

After breakfast, meet your guide in the lobby and begin your sightseeing tour with a visit to Memory Alley, “Shehidler Khiyabany”, for a panoramic view of Baku city from Martyrs Lane. Visit Ichari Shahar the medieval fortress of Old Baku (15-17th) and the Complex of Shirvan Shahs Palace. The low stonewalls of the palace built in the 15th and 16th centuries belie the grandeur of the masonry and inscriptions on the royal chambers, mosques, and mausoleums within the compound. Continue to Baku’s Old Town to see the Synyk Kala Minaret, the city’s oldest building and the 12th century Lezgi Mosque that stands near the center of Old Town. Head to the Medieval Caravan Saray and Market Square where you will see workshops that produce handmade carpets. Stop to see the legendary Maiden’s Tower that commands a sweeping view of the bay. Depart for Absheron Peninsula an extension of the Caucasus Mountains. Tour the Ateshgyakh Fire-Worshippers’ Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historical roots of the monument date back to the days when Azerbaijan statehood was just beginning to take shape and Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in the country. People worshipped fire, seeking its protection against adversity and oppression and begging it for happiness and wellbeing. Tour Yanar Dagh which translates to Fire Mountain, an ancient and visually stunning fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Monday, May 21
Gobustan /Shamakha /Sheki

Depart for Gobustan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its archeological monuments. Travel to the volcanic desert to see rocks covered with drawings left by artists of the Neolithic period. The more than 4,000 drawings depict the scenes from everyday life, the customs of ancient tribes, hunting and dancing rituals. Keep an eye (and ear) open for the Gaval-Dashy, a resonant stone that rings like a gong when struck. Depart for the town of Sheki stopping en route in Maraza village to see the Diri Baba Mausoleum.

In Shamakha visit the historical Juma (Friday) Mosque, the mausoleum of Yeddi Gumbez and the graveyard of the Shirvan Shahs. Continue towards Sheki via Muganly with photo stops for the most picturesque views of the mountains. Visit Basqal village to quench your thirst with the local medicinal mineral water. Pass through Ven Dam village in Gabala province, to tour the ruins of the capital of ancient Caucasian Albania. Check into the hotel in Sheki, freshen up, and head out on a tour of the town. Visit the local medieval fortress, Sheki Khans’ Palace, the Museum of History, a handicrafts’ workshop and a madrassah. Enjoy a panoramic view of the town then return to the hotel for your overnight. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, May 22
Azerbaijan to Georgia

After breakfast, visit the Central Bazaar and then head to the Azerbaijan/Georgian border. Once you have crossed, continue to the picturesque Kakheti wine region. Explore this most fertile part of Georgia bordering the Great Caucasus range all the way north to the Alazani Valley. Tour the citadel and the royal residence in the Gremi Architectural Complex. Proceed to a small, family owned wine cellar in Gurjaani and centuries old Marani, a special house for wine storage. Feast at a traditional "Georgian Table," laden with rich culinary treats. After lunch, drive to Sighnaghi. Explore Sighnaghi fortified town famous for its wine and carpet making culture. Enjoy breathtaking views of Kizikhi area and unusual Charm of Sighnaghi Royal Town. Have a walk in narrow streets of the town in shadow of wooden balconies richly decorated with the lace of carved ornaments. Dinner and wine tasting in Sighnaghi. overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, May 23
Sighnaghi – David Gareja – Tbilisi

We drive to the semi-desert area, where we explore David Gareja rock-hewn town monastery. David Gareja is a Christian monastery located in south-eastern part of Georgia in Kakheti Region. The monastery is cut in Mountain Udabno, overlooking Azerbaijan border. David Gareja is in the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. An optional hike to Udabno (1.5-2h.) Monastery Complex, which houses dwellings with unique frescos from 9-14th c. From the top of the hill there is a wonderful view of Azerbaijan valley. Drive to Tbilisi. overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Thursday, May 24
Tbilisi sightseeing tour

After breakfast enjoy sightseeing tour of Tbilisi, with visits to Metechi church (12th-13th cc) – cross cupola church, part of the Royal residential complex; District of Sulfur bathhouses; Sioni Cathedral – the main church of Tbilisi dated to7 th-19th cc; Walking tour in the Old town and along Rustaveli Avenue, visit to recently built Holly Trinity Cathedral, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. Among the treasures of the city are its two major museums – the Museum of Georgian Fine Arts and the Janashia Museum of Georgia – one of which we will visit. The Museum of Fine Arts houses a unique collection of works by Georgian painters and sculptors as well as an exquisite treasury of ancient icons, cloisonné, and jewelry from the medieval period. The Janashia Museum of Georgia houses an extraordinary collection of gold filigree work dating from the 6th century BC among other items of repoussé work and jewelry. Lunch and dinner at local restaurants; overnight in Tbilisi. (B,L,D)

Friday, May 25
Georgia to Armenia

After very early breakfast depart for Armenia by bus. After custom formalities at the Georgia/Armenia border you will change vehicle and continue touring. Drive to the Haghpat Monastery, perched on the edge of the Debed Canyon. The monastery has UNESCO World Heritage status and the view alone with worth the visit. Built by Queen Khosrvanuch in 976, it is a splendid architectural monument in a spectacular natural setting. Also visit another UNESCO site; the Sanahin Monastery. Continue your Armenia trip from Alaverdi, Vanadzor to Dilijan (time permitting visit Haghartsin or Goshavank Monastery in Dilijan – both magnificent and beautiful ecclesiastic monuments which are the highlight of the medieval Armenian architecture. Afterwards transfer to Hotel Best Western Paradise. (B,L,D)

Saturday, May 26
Dilijan – Lake Sevan – Vardenyats or Selima Pass – Noravank – Khor Virap – Yerevan

After breakfast, continue your Armenia discovery onto Lake Sevan. Visit the peninsula and spend some time exploring the wild nature and sunshine as well as visit 9th c AD Sevan Monastery. Head to the Selima Pass, one of the main junctions on the Great Silk Route. Then head to visit the caravanserai recorded as best preserved of its kind, the gather place for travelers along the Silk Road where they could re-supply, exchange news and information, and rest from their long journey. Continue via the Great Silk Route and visit Monastery of Noravank (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Picnic lunch nearby the Monastery of Noravank, known for its architecture and dramatic setting. Continue on to Yerevan with an optional visit to a local winery en-route to the capital and the Monastery of Khor Virap Arrive in Yerevan; transfer to your hotel for check in and overnight. (B,L)

Sunday, May 27
Yerevan – Etchmiatsin – Yerevan

Begin your full day tour of Yerevan in Republic Square, the heart of the city. A significant site for all major celebrations it is also the location of the History Museum, National Art Gallery and the House of Government. There are dozens of theaters, museums, concert halls, galleries, and live music clubs. People are relaxed and go at a relaxed pace. The city itself has a history dating back to 782 BC, and its past is as diverse as the present. Continue to visit the Matenadaran – a UNESCO World Heritage site and the home of over 17, 000 illuminated manuscripts, continue to Panorama Ground affording a dramatic view of Yerevan with Mount Ararat in the background (weather permitting). Visit the Genocide Memorial and continue to the South - West to visit Etchmiatsin Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Church of St Hripsimeh Martyria and the ruins of 7th c Zvartnots Cathedral. Overnight at the hotel. (B,L,D)

Monday, May 28
Yerevan – Garni & Gueghard– Yerevan

After breakfast, head to the Fortress and Temple of Garni, representing the Greco-Roman / Hellenistic culture in Armenia. Next visit the medieval monastery of Gueghard, an architectural treasure carved into a cliff that is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Return to Yerevan and Free time before dinner. Overnight at your hotel in Yerevan. (B,L,D)

Tuesday, May 29
Yerevan to Gyumri

After breakfast, head to the North of Armenia. Begin your day with a visit to one of the 13th century monastic complexes (Saghmosavank (1215) or Ohannavank (1216-1221) precariously perched on the Kasakh River gorge and offering dramatic views of the surrounding mountains. Tour Amberd Fortress before lunch at the home of a family in Ashtarak. Continue to the hotel in Gyumri. Time permitting, set out on a walking tour of the town. Have dinner and overnight at the Hotel in Gyumri. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, May 30
Armenia to Georgia

After breakfast at the hotel check out and proceed to the border town of Bavra to cross into Georgia. After custom formalities at the Georgia/Armenia border you will change vehicle and continue touring. Explore the cave town of Vardzia, carved out of rock during the reign of Queen Tamar in the 12th century, the golden age in Georgian history. Stop to visit Khertvisi fortress located on the confluence of the Mt Kvari and Paravani Rivers. Built in the 2nd century BC, it was destroyed by Alexander the Great. The present complex dates back to the 10th to 14th centuries. Drive to Bakuriani via Akhalt Sikhe. Welcome dinner and overnight at the hotel in Bakuriani. (B,L,D)

Thursday, May 31
Bakuriani, Gori & Uplistsikhe, Tbilisi

Explore Kartli province, the heart of the country, known for its fertile lands, numerous architectural monuments and archaeological sites. Begin in Gori, birthplace of Joseph Stalin to visit the museum that traces his life. Continue to nearby Uplistsikhe, an ancient cave town dating from the first half of the 1st millennium BC. The entire town is a complex of rock- cut streets, residences, churches, secret tunnels, water passages, markets and the oldest theater in Georgia. Of the 700 existing caves, visitors have access to a mere Have lunch at a local restaurant near Gori, before departing for Tbilisi, arriving at the hotel in the evening. Have dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight at the hotel in Tbilisi. (B, L, D)

Friday, June 01
Day trip to Khevi Province

Explore Mtskheta, the capital of the Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC and the cultural and religious center of Georgia. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was also at the crossroad of many trade routes. Visit the 7th century Jvari Church, a masterpiece of the early Medieval Period and a fine example of classic tetra conch design. Head to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral the main church of Mtskheta. Have lunch on the way to Ananuri Fortress. This complex guarded the northern borders of the country. It also houses two churches and several civic buildings. Travel towards Mtiuleti and Khevi provinces via one of the oldest roads in Georgia, which the Russian Tsar Alexander I named the Georgian Military Highway. If weather conditions permit you may see the ice covered Mount Kazbek, the third highest and one of the best- known peaks in the Caucasus. This white pristine beauty is actually an extinct volcano that soars to height of 16,558 feet. Grand and dignified, it is at times capricious, even savage. Residents of the area have dubbed this giant volcano looming over their homes ‘the bride of the Khevi.’ Lunch with a local family then visit Gergeti Trinity Church located on the slope of Mount Kazbek. The stone decorations on the façade of the church represent the ancient rituals and beliefs. Return to Tbilisi, for a farewell dinner with live music and dance at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)

Saturday, June 02
Georgia to the USA

Transfer to the airport for your flight back home. (B)

“We (STS) reserve the right to change hotels, restaurants or the order of activities if/as needed”