This short trip into the Caucasus region of Eurasia discovers one of the fascinating former states of the USSR. We combine sightseeing of cultural towns and cities, walks in stunning countryside along with exploration of fascinating historical sites.
Day 1 Join tour in Tbilisi
Arrive in Tbilisi and transfer to the hotel. There are no planned activities for today, as most flights from London are scheduled to arrive in the very early hours of tomorrow morning.
If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive into Tbilisi International Airport (TBS), which is 25 minutes’ from the hotel.
Day 2 In Tbilisi, full day sightseeing
Today our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 8:30am for the welcome meeting and to take us to explore both the Old and New Towns of Georgia’s cosmopolitan capital city, on foot. We start our visit in the old part at the Church of Metekhi, before continuing through narrow lanes past cafes and restaurants to the Synagogue, Sioni Cathedral and Anchiskhati Church – which marks the end of the Old Town. We continue on to the fascinating Georgian National museum of History, before taking a stroll along Rustaveli Avenue, where we can admire the architecture of many grand buildings that line Tbilisi’s main street. This afternoon we take the cable car to Narikala Fort, which dominates the skyline of the Old Town, from there we walk down to the brick-domed Sulphur baths.
Day 3 Drive to Kakheti wine region; wine tasting and local hospitality
This morning we leave Tbilisi as we head east to Kakheti, Georgia’s wine region. We drive through stunning countryside with mountain views. Our first stop is at the tiny fortified town Sighnaghi, known locally as the Paris of Georgia! Here we visit a local winery and have the opportunity to sample the vintage. We then continue on to Kondoli winery where we can try two types of ‘bio wine’. Biodynamic wine uses organic farming methods both to grow the grapes and in the creation of the wine, along with following a schedule aligned with astronomical events. We learn about the fascinating process for making this type of wine and alongside a local master we are shown how ‘Qvevris’ are made, the vessels containing the wine which are buried underground. We’ll also have the chance to try some of the local firewater known as chacha! Later in the afternoon we continue on to our family hotel in Telavi.
Day 4 Explore wine region further; drive back to Tbilisi
This morning we visit the UNESCO Alaverdi Cathedral, an 11th century Georgian Orthodox monastery. Once Georgia’s highest at around 50 m, it dominates the surrounding countryside; however it was superseded in 2004 by Sameba, Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, which stands at a magnificent 100 m! Nearby Alaverdi we visit a local master craftsman who will show us how ‘Qvevri’ are made. Qvevri are large earthenware vessels that are buried underground to allow for the fermentation of grapes as part of the traditional Georgian wine making method.
We return to Telavi where we have time for lunch. Here we also visit a food market where stalls are loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, spices and drinks. And we would not be able to leave the wine region behind without the chance of a final tipple! We head to the Tsinandali Duke’s heritage to take a tour of the museum and enjoy a glass of wine afterwards. Driving over Gombori Pass we enjoy the views of rolling hills as we return to Tbilisi for the night.
Day 5 Drive via Uplitsikhe cave town to Akhaltsikhe
Leaving the capital again this morning, we drive to picturesque Mtskheta, the spiritual heart of Georgia. Here we visit the hilltop 6th century Jvari Monastery, from where we have spectacular views of Mtskheta and the confluence of two rivers below. We make our way down into the town where we visit Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. The 9th century basilica contains the grave of Sidonia, who was said to have been buried holding Christ’s robe.
We continue through villages to the Silk Road cave town of Uplistsikhe. Here an entire town of streets, churches, palaces and residential buildings has been carved into the mountainside. Dating from the first millennium BC, it gradually grew to be an important city on the trade route linking Byzantium with India and China. After exploring this unusual place we drive on to Akhaltsikhe for a two night stay at a guesthouse.
Day 6 From Akhaltsikhe, visit Vardzia cave town
Our destination today is one of Georgia’s most significant sites, the cave town of Vardzia. Bigger and more dramatic than Uplitsikhe, Vardia is cut into a towering cliff and is in remote location reached by a drive through a beautiful rolling landscape. Established by King Giorgi III in the 12th century as a stronghold against the Turkish Sultanate (the Turkish border is only 10km away). Vardzia was subsequently developed by his daughter, Tamar (later to become Queen Tamar), who created a cave monastery that became a centre of Georgian culture. This network of caves above the Mtkvari (Kura) river once numbered 3000, with up to 19 tiers in some places. Much of it was destroyed after a huge earthquake in 1456 and only 550 caves have been since discovered. There are numerous churches, meeting halls, refectories and wine cellars, all interconnected by tunnels and stairways. We have time to explore and navigate our way around this fascinating place before returning to Akhaltsikhe and time permitting we may visit Rabath Castle.
Day 7 Drive via Gori to Kazbegi in the Greater Caucasus Mountains
Today is mainly spent on the road as we head north to the mountains. We stop at the Soviet style town of Gori, where Georgia’s most famous son, Stalin, was born. Here there is time to visit the Stalin museum, if you wish, and learn much about his life. Interestingly he initially began training as a priest in the Georgian Seminary, before abandoning religion to become a brigand and join the new Bolshevik movement. It has been suggested too that Georgia escaped the worst horrors of Stalin’s regime because he was afraid of his conservative Christian mother! Those who prefer to explore the town have time to observe a little of local life.
Further into our journey we pay a visit to Ananuri Fortress overlooking a reservoir on the Aragvi River. As we head further north the scenery becomes more dramatic as we ascend along the Georgian Military Highway. We drive through the spectacular and breathtaking mountain scenery of the Greater Caucasus as we make our way to through Gudauri (2196 m), a winter ski resort overlooking an epic gorge and on to the mountain village of Kazbegi. This evening we enjoy the hospitality of a local family for dinner. We can enjoy more of the local firewater as well as the fresh mountain air.
Day 8 In Kazbegi, walk in mountains up to Gergeti Church; drive back to Tbilisi
This morning we walk from Kazbegi through Gergeti village and up to the Gergeti Holy Trinity church, stunningly located on a hilltop both overshadowed and overlooking the surrounding snowy peaks of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. The walk is a round trip of 3-4 hours.
The area is a treasure trove of mythology – it was to the majestic Mount Kazbegi (5047 m), the highest peak in this region, that Prometheus was chained. This part of the Caucasus is a protected area, and is home to a variety of flora and fauna. Georgia has over 100 different mammals, and although the European bison and Caucasian leopard have become extinct, there are still wolves and bears in the mountains. This afternoon we drive back to Tbilisi for our final night – we have the option of taking our farewell dinner at a local restaurant which features a folk dance show, no doubt with more Georgian wine and ‘Chacha’ to toast our adventure.
Day 9 Tour ends in Tbilisi
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Tblisi.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Tbilisi at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Tbilisi International Airport (TBS), which is 25 minutes from the hotel.