Azerbaijan’s cosmopolitan capital of Baku is often referred to as the ‘new Dubai’. Enjoy a guided walking tour around the city’s World Heritage-listed Old Town.. Mud volcanoes, ancient mosques, lush forests and tall peaks – the Caucasus Mountains will take your breath away.. Navigate the organised chaos of the farmers markets in Telavi. Your leader will be there to help you order as much fresh fruit, nuts or pigs heads as you desire. . Journey to the Svaneti region of Georgia, the remote and alluring land of snow-capped mountains, medieval-style tower-houses and a fascinating local dialect.
Visit two countries that have taken a big leap into the 21st century, where historical old towns and monasteries sit comfortably alongside towering skyscrapers. Stop by one of Europe’s largest open-air rock museums, warm your hands against a mountain that is forever on fire, walk through the gardens of a local Kakheti family and talk about provincial life over a hearty lunch. Uncover the centuries-old recipe for producing Georgian wine and learn how to make your own yogurt. Reconnect with nature on hikes through wooded forests and past the Chaladi glacier. Indulge your inner history buff as wander the ramparts of the Narikala Fortress and learn the secrets of Georgian cheese making. This all-encompassing trip takes you from eccentric Baku, to the lush green slopes of Georgia’s Mestia valley and ancient alleyways of Tbilisi
Breakfast Included: 19 Lunches Included: 4 Dinner Included: 9
Welcome to Azerbaijan! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 1 pm. After the formalities are out of the way, head out on a walking tour of Baku with your leader. Take a wander through the Old City, entering through the Shemakha Gate and heading to the cylindrical Maiden Tower and the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, an impressive complex made even more spectacular by the fact that it’s framed by a modern skyline. Finish in the Old Market Square. Enjoy a free evening to do as you please. If you’re searching for somewhere to eat, ask your leader to point you in the direction of Nizami Street, where local restaurants line this busy boulevard. Perhaps order some lavangi – walnuts, dried fruit and onions stuffed inside chicken and roasted to create a tantalising fusion of flavours.
Baku / Qobustan
Drive to Qobustan in the morning, a national reserve and World Heritage site that functions as an open-air archaeological museum. Here lie some well-preserved rock petroglyphs dating back as far as BC 12th century, as well as a Roman inscription notable as the easternmost of its kind. Spend some time wondering at the etched figures of humans and beasts, as well as the bubbling mud volcanoes the area is also known for, before returning to Baku for a free afternoon and evening. You might want to use your free time to stroll along the three-and-a-half-kilometre boulevard that separates the city from the Caspian Sea.
Caucasus Mountains / Lahij
Grab some breakfast then head to the Absheron Peninsula for a tour of the local attractions. Visit the Ateshgah fire temple, a walled complex used (most recently) as a place of worship by Zoroastrians until 1883. Continue the theme of flames with a visit to Yanardagh Fire Mountain, where the ever-burning natural fire that billow from the hillside are said to have influenced the creation of Zoroastrianism. Stop by the medieval Mardakan Castle before continuing to the Caucasus Mountains by car. Drive through a dry landscape that gives way to a densely forested mountain area, stopping en route in Shamakhi for a yoghurt-making lesson in a local’s home. Taste some of this Azerbaijan staple, then continue to Lahij. Visit a copper workshop on arrival and get to know some local folk over a cup of tea. Tonight, enjoy dinner with your group and bunk down in a guesthouse or homestay in Lahij.
After breakfast, head to Nij village, a settlement of the Udi people who are the direct descendants of ancient Caucasian Albanians. Most the world’s surviving Udi people call Nij home, giving the community a unique culture. Arrive and take a stroll through the local bazaar, stopping for tea and perhaps a chat with the locals. Suitably refreshed, head to the unassuming site of a significant church. The Albanian Church (as it’s known colloquially) is a source of pride and heritage for the local Udi community. Continue to Shaki and visit the Palace of Shaki Khans. The facade of the palace is painted with scenes of hunting and war and features impressive stained glass.
Travel to nearby Kish to visit the pointed spires of a church that is among the oldest in Christendom, believed to be around 1700 years old. Return to Sheki and check out a workshop where shebeke – stained glass windows made with no glue or nails – are produced by masters. The afternoon is free for you to discover Sheki. Luckily, it’s the kind of place that’s made to wander. Why not explore the impressive traditional architecture on foot. It’s easy enough to stop for tea and some local halva (made with sugar, hazelnuts, coriander and rice flour grinned in a watermill) if you get tired. Sheki has a proud silk making tradition, so ask your leader if you’re interested in visiting a master’s workshop. Don’t forget to ask your leader where to get the best local piti – this stew made of lamb, sheep fat, chickpeas, onions, chestnuts, saffron and spices is renowned throughout Azerbaijan.
After breakfast at the hotel, take a walk with your leader through the Sheki market. It’s a good idea to stock up on snacks for the journey to come, so maybe grab some halva, nuts and dried fruit. Continue to Lagodekhi on the Azerbaijan-Georgia border. Say goodbye to your Azerbaijani leader and to Azerbaijan and meet the leader for the Georgian leg of your tour. Travel through the beautiful green valleys of the Kakheti region to Gremi, a complex that includes a castle and church from the 16th century. Spend some time here and then hit the road again, stopping at a traditional Georgian wine producer where the ancient, UNESCO-listed qvevri method is still used. Continue to Telavi to your accommodation for the evening – a locally-owned family hotel where you will be welcomed with a classic meal.
In the morning, wander through the raucous local farmers market in Telavi, where butchers carve up fresh meat and vendors offload piles of spices, then visit Alaverdi Cathedral. Continue to Tsinandalia, a historic estate and winery once owned by noted Georgian poet Alexander Chavchavadze. In 1814, aristocrat Chavchavadze was the first to bottle wine produced using the qvevri method. Tour the complex, which consists of a memorial house, European-style landscaped garden, a traditional winery, wine cellar, hotel and cafe. Continue into the mountains to Gudauri via the evergreen Gombori Pass. Eat an included dinner and spend the night in lofty Gudauri.
Gudauri / Stepansminda
Follow the Tergi River on a drive to Stepansminda (formerly known as Kazbegi). Explore this mountain village then take a 2.5-hour walk through beautiful valleys and woodlands to Gergeti Trinity Church (2170 m). This 14th-century church sits at the base of the second-highest volcanic summit in the Caucasus – Mt Kazgbegi (5047 m) – and weather permitting you may catch a glimpse of this frosty behemoth. The image of the pointed spires of the isolated church against the mountains is truly breathtaking, and a great place to practice your photography skills. Drive back to Gudauri for an included dinner.
Make the drive to the capital of Tbilisi, sure to be a slight shock to the system after the peace of the mountains. Get into the swing of things with an orientation walk with your leader. Spend the rest of the daytime as you wish, perhaps grabbing a khachapuri (bread stuffed with salty cheese) to snack on while you wander. In the evening, regroup and head out for dinner with your fellow travellers and leader. This is a good chance to munch down on Khinkali, Georgia’s famous dumplings. Make sure to ask your leader about the polite way to eat them – it involves sucking out the juice and leaving the pinched bit of dough where the edges of the delicious parcel have joined on the plate.
Welcome to Georgia! Your tour leader will leave you a note at reception detailing on what time you will be meeting with the rest of your group. Tonight is free for an optional dinner – there are plenty of restaurants and cafes within a short walking distance of our hotel.
After breakfast take part in a sightseeing tour of Tbilisi. The locals like to call their capital the "Balcony of Europe", placing it on par with many of Europe's graceful old cities. All the sights in the Old Town are very close to each other and within a few minutes’ walk. We start our visit to Old Tbilisi from Metekhi Church, and then walk to the Synagogue, Sioni Cathedral and Anchiskhati Basilica. From here, visit Narikala Fortress and the Sulphur Baths. Afterwards, you'll have free time to further explore the capital. The evening is also free for you to enjoy. Perhaps indulge in Tbilisi's lively theater scene and witness some of the energetic and acrobatic dance that Georgia is known for.
Mtskheta - Kutaisi
Today, drive approximately 1 hour to Georgia's ancient capital and religious centre – the town of Mtskheta, which is over 3000 years old. Visit Mtskheta's top historical sights: Jvari church (6th century) and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century), where the Robe of Christ is said to be buried. Both Jvari and Svetitskhoveli are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Afterwards, continue to the pretty city of Kutaisi, the second largest in the country (approximately 3 hours). Kutaisi is more than 3000 years old, connected to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts, along with his mythical (or is it?) Golden Fleece. Here we visit another significant historical site, the Gelati Cathedral. There may also be time to explore the cobbled streets of the town as you make your way up to the ruins of Bagrati palace and citadel.