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Expat Explore has released an incredible new tour! This time we're discovering a part of the world that offers unrivalled and authentic travel experiences. On the border of Europe and Asia lies the Caucasus region. This mountainous area lies between the Caspian and Black seas. It's home to Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia. Each country promises untapped travel experiences and adventure. Stroll through picturesque old towns, historic capitals, and into Orthodox monasteries in the most lush valleys. Taste Georgian wine in the Kakheti province, made using the oldest method in the world. Even sit down for a traditional meal with an Armenian family, and tke an off-road drive to the hidden Gergeti monastery - one of the world’s most beautiful churches.
We use a variety of hotels in each destination, so you may stay in a hotel different to that listed here. Hotels are selected closer to departure date; you will receive a confirmed list one week prior to your departure date.
Start in Baku, the largest city on the Caspian Sea and capital of Azerbaijan. Today you have time to settle in and explore at leisure. Think of the city as a combination of Paris and Dubai, a place that offers both history and contemporary culture, and an intriguing blend of east meets west. The heart of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, surrounded by a fortified wall and pleasant pedestrianised boulevards that offer fantastic shopping opportunities. Attractions include the local Carpet Museum and the National Museum of History and Azerbaijan.
After breakfast, dive straight into exploring the history of Azerbaijan! Head south from Baku to Gobustan National Park. This archaeological reserve is home to mud volcanoes and over 600,000 ancient rock engravings and paintings. After exploring this national historical landmark of Azerbaijan, we make our way back to Baku city and embark on a sightseeing tour. Then, it’s onto the iconic Icheri Sheher, the Old (or Inner) City of Baku. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower. Wind down after a day of exploring by walking along the flower-lined central boulevards of the city. Finally, make a stop at the updated Fountains Square, an area famous for it’s dozens of fountains and numerous shopping boutiques.
First sight of the day is Shamakhi, an ancient city of Azerbaijan, to see where the first dynasty of the state of Shirvan was founded. Visit Yeddi Gumbez, the mausoleum known as the Seven Domes, where the remains of the last of the Shamakhi Dynasty lies. We'll then visit Dzhuma Mosque, the oldest and largest mosque in Azerbaijan. Our next stop for the day is Kish, one of the oldest villages in Azerbaijan. We visit the Mother of Alban church and ancient cemetery that dates back all the way to the 6th Century. Once we reach our final destination, Sheki, you will have the evening to explore at your leisure.
Today, we cross the border into the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia. Our first stop is the Khareba winery for a local wine tasting experience. Georgia has a wine history that dates back more than 8,000 years! Continue to Gremi, the once glorious capital of the kingdom of Kakheti to see the church and castles erected in the 16th Century. Soak in the views of the Alazan valley before heading to Signagi, Georgia’s city of love. This royal town is surrounded by a wall of 23 towers and 6 gates that used to connect it with Europe and Asia. Take time this afternoon to stroll the cobbled streets, see the rustic buildings and shop from local vendors.
Venture to the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi! While exploring the city a memorable stop is the 13th Century Metekhi Church. Other sights to explore include the Sulfur Baths and the 4th Century Narikala Fortress. Why not wander through Sioni cathedral, and follow the history in the Tbilisi National Museum.
This morning we drive along one of the most intriguing roads in the Caucasus! The Georgian Military Highway is the historic route that connects Georgia to Russia. On your way, you will pass the most incredible scenery. From remote villages, to castles and other sights that are steeped in history. Stop and take in the significant Ananuri fortress complex, built in the late Feudal times, and the remarkably scenic location on the foreland by the Aragvi River. Next, we make our way to the Ananuri Fortress. This 13th Century church complex was once the castle and seat of the eristavis (Dukes) of Aragvi. Dine with locals in their home. The last part of the day is a scenic adventure. We drive uphill in four-wheel drive vehicles, through narrow gorges and unspoiled mountains, until we find the prize of Georgia's isolated Gergeti Trinity church.
Mtskheta is our first stop of the day. Inhabited since before 1,000 BC, Mtskheta was once the capital of the early Kingdom of Iberia (Eastern Georgia today). Drive up to Jvari monastery, a Georgian Orthodox monastery built on a hill. Shortly after the adoption of Christianity, an enormous wooden cross was erected on this site. In the second half of the 6th Century, a small church was built beside the Holy Cross. The church complex has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Next up, is a visit to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. This religious centre dates back to the 6th Century and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Learn more about Georgian architecture and the tombs of Tbilisi's founder located inside. Continue to Inner Kartli province, to the town of Gori. This Georgian town is famous for being the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. See and explore the Joseph Stalin Museum and the house he was born in.
Armenia is on the cards after breakfast today! First stop after we cross the border is the Akhtala Monastery, known for its 13th Century artistic frescoes. After exploring, we continue to our lunch stop of the day - Odzun, a historic village located on the Debed river bank. Enjoy an included traditional lunch served by a local family in their home. Also take the chance learn more about the family's bee hives and how they make honey.
Start the day with a gentle walk to explore the UNESCO World Heritage site of Haghpat, visiting a WWII war memorial along the way. The medieval monastery complex overlooks the Debed river gorge, and provides incredible views of the surrounding hills. Travel through the region inhabited by the Molokan people. Molokans are the largest minority in Armenia, exiled from Russia in the 19th Century. Dine with locals in a traditional Molokan home. Journey through the Dilijan National Park to make it to the spa town of Dilijan. Known for its spas and traditional craft workshops, Dilijan is surrounded by forests and located in the Argstev gorge. With marvellous views, it’s no wonder its known as the Armenian Switzerland!
This morning, it’s a short drive to Lake Sevan. This is the highest freshwater lake in the Caucasus. Visit the Sevanavank Monastery, from where you can enjoy the breathtaking scenery of Sevan and surrounds. Drive to the UNESCO-protected Geghard Monastery. This ancient chapel was originally founded as a small cave chapel as early as the 4th Century! We'll make a photo stop near to the border with Turkey for incredible views of Mount Ararat, the place where Noah's Ark is said to rest. Continue to the Garni Pagan Temple, located in the State Khosrov Reserve. This is the only temple that remained after the adoption of Christianity. Take the opportunity to listen to the Duduk - an Armenian instrument made of apricot wood. Its sound is said to have human-voice quality.
Today we'll explore Yerevan. Here, a city tour will reveal all the main places of interest. See the sights of Yerevan Cascade, a giant stairway made of limestone and the Matenadaran museum. See the likes of Abovyan Street, the Republic Square and Cafesjian centre of Arts. The last stop is the Yerevanian food market, also the best place to sample some fresh Armenian fruits and sweets. For the last night on tour, sit down for a traditional Armenian meal accompanied by traditional Armenian music and dancing.
After breakfast, your 12 day Caucasus adventure comes to an end. It’s time to say goodbye to your fellow travelers and remember to share your contact details, so that the memories live on through shared photos.
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