Exploring the Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, October 01 to 16, 2017
We invite you to join us, October 1 - 16, 2017 to discover the Caucasus, bordered by the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east, comprising the independent republics of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. Situated at the crossroads of East and West, along the western end of the ancient Silk Road, the Caucasus has been a meeting place of cultures, ethnicities, and religions, giving birth to one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse regions on Earth. Travel with us to experience incredibly varied landscapes, breathtaking scenery, ancient archeological sites, churches, monasteries, and museums. As we explore the secrets of this hidden land from Baku to Yerevan, we will enjoy Caucasian hospitality at its best: visiting local wineries, attending cooking demonstrations, watching folk dances, and listening to duduk performances and choral polyphony. We have planned the tour so we are in each of the capital cities at a time most likely to offer ballet, opera, and concerts but schedules are set only a few weeks in advance.
CONTENTS AND COSTS

Prices per person
sharing a double room

  $4,250

Supplement
for single occupancy
$725

Package prices include:

Accommodation in well-located,
four or five star hotels

Breakfast each day

Lunch or dinner every day
(beverages included)

All meals in Armenia
(beverages included)

Airport transfers on
arrival and departure

Ground transport
by private coach

  Folklore performances
as indicated in the itinerary

  A minimum of three
concerts, opera, ballet
and/or festival performances,
as available*

  Tours with expert guides


* if fewer suitable performances are available, you will receive a rebate
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GROUP FLIGHTS

We have a group contract with Lufthansa, on
the most convenient route,
from Houston to Baku
and from Yerevan to Houston.

The schedule and fares,
in economy, premium economy, and business class,
are available on request.

Please indicate your preference on your reservation form.
 
Advantages of Group Air

♦ Best available prices
♦ Advance payment
not required
♦ Prices locked in
♦ In case of delayed or cancelled flights,
the group is rebooked together



OUR HOTELS
(with links)

Shah Palace, Baku

Marxal Resort & Spa, Sheki
Kabadoni Hotel, Sighnaghi
Royal Batoni Hotel, Kvareli
Mercure, Tbilisi Old Town
Paradise Hotel, Dilijan
Tufenkian Historic Yerevan Hotel



You may tentatively reserve space by submitting the online reservation form, accessed via the button below; we will contact you about the deposit, which will guarantee your place on the tour.


 
YOUR ITINERARY

If you would like to print this text or see the itinerary in a day-by-day format, 
please click on the button marked "Text-only Version" to download those documents.

Sunday, October 1: Depart Houston, arriving in Baku the following evening.  We recommend that you take advantage of our group air arrangements, via Lufthansa. See additional information in the column to the left; exact schedule and prices are available on request. Your Azeri guide and tour hosts will meet you at the airport and accompany you to our hotel in the old city of Baku.

Azerbaijan: October 2 - 6

Azerbaijan, situated on the shore of the Caspian Sea, is one of the most ancient sites of civilization. With more than 6,000 historical sites across the country, you never have to go far to experience what this fascinating country has to offer. We will visit the Stone-Age settlement of Gobustan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with amazing rock art petroglyphs left by humans as much as 40,000 years ago; Atashgah, a Zoriastrian Fire Temple, where ancient worshippers watched eternal flames fed by underground natural gas. “Azerbaijan” is thought to derive from two Persian words, “Azer,” meaning “fire,” and baijan, “protector or keeper” – a reference to fire-worshippers of the once-dominant Zoroastrian religion. To wander through Azerbaijan’s capital city, Baku, is to wander through centuries of history. At the center is the "Old City," with its aging palaces, high walls, and beautiful mosques, some dating back to the 11th century. Our Baku program will include a private tour of the National Carpet Museum, with the largest collection of Azerbaijan carpets in the world.  We will also do a boat tour of the Baku Bay.
 
On our way north to Georgia, we sojourn in Sheki, a beautiful and ancient city set against a gorgeous backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains. The architectural treasure and a “true travel gem” on the historic trade route of the Silk Road, Sheki boasts the magnificent palace of the Sheki Khans (1762), constructed without a single nail and decorated with magnificent frescos and exquisite stained glass called “shebeke.”

Georgia: October 6 - 11

Georgia is home to some of the most glorious landscapes anywhere in Eurasia. The high snow-capped Caucasus Mountains descend to the subtropical Black Sea coast; fertile valleys and rushing rivers give contrast with dramatic semi-deserts. We make our way to the capital city of Tbilisi through Georgia's wine country.  The most fertile part of Georgia, Kakheti is a step back in time – horse-drawn carts on the quiet country roads, fields dotted with haystacks, rivers winding through green pastures, and sweet grapes harvested by hand. On arrival in the beautiful hill-town, Sighnaghi, we'll be treated to a supra dinner, complete with polyphonic singing and a multitude of toasts.  One day will be dedicated to exploring that area, including the Alaverdi Cathedral, a wine tasting at the Chavchavadze estate, a walk through Telavi, the 16th-century Gremi architectural complex, ending up in Kvareli, the heart of the Kakhetian wine region, where we'll enjoy yet another tasting and dinner at the Khareba winery.

A multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious city on the crossroads of history, Tbilisi is neither European nor Asian but a blend of both East and West. Highlights of our visit will include the 4th-century Narikala Fortress, the 13th-century Metekhi Church, and the 7th-century Sioni Cathedral, considered one of the most sacred places in the country since it houses the holy cross of St. Nino, the young woman who converted Georgia to Christianity in the early 4th century. A number of lovely Art Nouveau structures, many sadly deteriorating, stand as a reminder of Tbilisi's economic well-being early in the 20th century. The National Art Museum houses a stunning treasury of medieval jeweled icons, inlaid crosses, and some of the finest cloisonné. Khakhuli triptych, one of the highlights of the museum, is the largest piece of cloisonné in the world.

We will take a day-trip to Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia, and Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Vissarionovich Jughashvili, better known as Joseph Stalin. The historic churches of Mtskheta, including the 11th-century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and 6th-century Jvari Monastery, are outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture in the Caucasus and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is considered one of the holiest places in Georgia, since the Robe of Christ is reputedly buried here, having been brought to Georgia in the 1st century by a Jew from Mtskheta named Elias. In Gori, we have arranged for a special lecture on Stalin over lunch. After lunch, we drive to another UNESCO World Heritage site, Uplistsikhe, an ancient Silk Road cave city and former center of pagan worship, dating back to the first millennium BC.

Armenia: October 11 - 16

Armenia is a country that remains relatively untouched by commercial tourism. Proud of its unique cultural heritage, rich with historical churches, monasteries, monuments, and magnificent masonry, it was the first country to proclaim Christianity its state religion, in 301 AD. At the crossroads of East and West, Armenia has always been a buffer state between competing empires and centers of power. As Christians in an Empire of Muslim Ottomans from the 15th century on, Armenians suffered persecution, which culminated in the Ottoman government's systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects during first World War – when 1-1.5 million Armenians were driven out of their homes and either massacred or force-marched into the desert until they died. We visit the Genocide memorial and hear a lecture on the Armenian Genocide at the Genocide Museum in the capital city of Yerevan.

One is often reminded that Armenia was the world's first Christianized nation: the country boasts countless monasteries, some dating back as early as the 10th century. Many are UNESCO-protected and built in places of incredible natural beauty, making the sites of monasteries we visit on our way to Yerevan, such as Noravank, Goshavank, Haghpat,  and Sevanavank, well worth a visit even without the impressive, millennia-old monasteries found there.

Lake Sevan is the largest lake of the Caucasus, located about 6,500 feet above sea level, making it one of the world’s highest fresh water lakes. Maxim Gorky once said that the waters were like “a piece of the sky that had descended to the earth among the mountains.” On the shore of the lake stands the village of Noratus with its field of khachkars (intricately carved memorial stones), some of which date back 2,000 years. We will take a boat tour to the monastery of Hayravank, and follow the ancient route of the Silk Road, stopping at the Selim Pass to enjoy views of Lake Sevan below and to see the amazingly intact Caravanserai, an important trading post on the Great Silk Road where little has changed since the 14th century. We make our way to Khor Virap Monastery, set against the snow-capped peaks of the majestic biblical Mount Ararat – and offering a spectacular view of the mountain.

Art-lovers will not be disappointed with Yerevan, home to dozens of museums. We will visit Matenadaran – one of the world's richest depositories of medieval manuscripts and books, boasting 17,000 illuminated Armenian manuscripts and ancient Arabic, Assyrian, Hebrew, Russian and Persian texts from the 5th to the 15th century. The History Museum is the largest in the region, housing over 400,000 artifacts, including archeological and ethnographical exhibits as well as decorative-applied art.

Outside Yerevan, Garni and Geghard are must-sees. The former, located on the edge of a picturesque gorge, is the only remaining pagan temple in Armenia dating back to the 1st century AD, which seems out of place here on the upland plateau of Armenia, so far from the Hellenistic world. The latter, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a 4th-century monastery set carved into the mountain among soaring cliffs, which was founded by Saint Gregory the Illuminator, revered for converting Armenia to Christianity. Another UNESCO World Heritage site we visit is the Echmiadzin complex, seat of the Armenian Catholicos (the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church). Near Echmiadzin are the ruins of the 7th-century Zvartnots, once Armenia’s imposing main Cathedral. A unique example of Armenian architecture of the early Christian period, the Cathedral collapsed in a 10th-century earthquake and was never rebuilt.

We cap off our days in Yerevan with a visit to the famous Ararat brandy factory.  Ararat brandies boast a variety and a broad spectrum of taste, distinguished by their rich, lasting flavor and amber color. The story goes that during the Yalta Conference in 1945, Winston Churchill was so impressed with the Armenian brandy given to him by Stalin that he asked that several cases be shipped to him each year!

Monday, October 16: Depart Yerevan early morning, arriving home the same afternoon

Our Caucasus tour wouldn’t be complete without cultural programs.
Here are some highlights:

  • Lunches and dinners with folk songs and dances
  • Lavash (Armenian national bread) demonstration
  • By special arrangement, a private performance on the duduk, a traditional woodwind instrument indigenous to Armenia
  • Georgian polyhphonic singing and Armenian spiritual songs
  • Performances, as available, at the Autumn Tbilisi International Music Festival and at the Yerevan International Music Festival, underway during our visits
  • Operas, concerts, and ballets in each capital city, as available
  • We hope that Nina Ananiashvili will again give us an exclusive visit to the recently-restored National Opera and Ballet Theater in Tbilisi.
Noravank Monastery
Noravank Monastery
Heydar Aliyev Center
Heydar Aliyev Center
Petroglyphs at Gabustan
Petroglyphs at Gabustan
Baku New and Old
Baku New and Old
Flame Center
Flame Center
Azerbaijan Opera and Ballet Theater
Azerbaijan Opera and Ballet Theater
Sheki Palace
Sheki Palace
Sighnaghi
Sighnaghi
Old Tbilisi
Old Tbilisi
Nina Ananiashvili shows us the Nationa Theater in 2014, then under restoration
Nina Ananiashvili shows us the Nationa Theater in 2014, then under restoration
Cliff City
Cliff City
Haghpat
Haghpat
Ancient dome
Ancient dome
Lake Sevan
Lake Sevan
Field of Crosses
Field of Crosses
Illuminated Manuscript
Illuminated Manuscript
Geghard
Geghard
Garni Temple
Garni Temple
Armenian Crucifix
Armenian Crucifix
 
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