THE CAUCASUS 2018
Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia
8 - 29 September 2018
Watch arid landscapes give way to verdant hillsides and majestic snow-capped mountains on this eye opening adventure through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Explore a land where the walls speak of centuries of rich history, where ancient traditions intersect with a modern way of life. Journey through forests and past tall mountain peaks to find medieval mosques and villages. Wander through cosmopolitan Baku and Tbilisi, and make friends with the friendly Georgian locals over a glass of Qvevri wine. Join us for this truly unconventional tour and conference.
SATURDAY 8 SEPTEMBER Depart Australia
Depart Australia on group flights via Dubai with Emirates
SUNDAY 9 SEPTEMBER BAKU Dinner
Arrive in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, and transfer to our hotel where we stay for 3 nights. Baku sits on the shore of the Caspian Sea and exudes Rome, London and Paris with a large dash of Communism. Join fellow delegates for dinner at the hotel tonight.
MONDAY 10 SEPTEMBER BAKU Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
This morning we start a Baku city tour. History lovers will have a feast in the old quarter of Baku visiting the faded stone Shemakha gate, the dome-styled Palace of the Shirvanshakhs Palace and hearing the engrossing narrative of the Maiden Tower. Enjoy the hustle and bustle of the caravanserai, a stopping point on the ancient silk road, and old market square.
After lunch we head to the Absheron Peninsula Tour to explore a Persian Temple devoted to fire worship and a “burning mountain” known as Yanardagh. Visit Mardakan medieval fortress before returning to Baku for the evening.
TUESDAY 11 SEPTEMBER BAKU B,L,D
Enjoy a day trip to Gobustan, located around 60 kilometres south of Baku. Visit one of the world's largest open-air archaeological museums and wander past ancient rock art dating back 40,000 years. The prehistoric carvings depict scenes of hunting, fishing and gathering. There will also be an opportunity to see the on-site archaeological museum before returning to Baku.
WEDNESDAY 12 SEPTEMBER SHEKI B,L,D
Today we depart Baku and head for the Caucasus Mountains in the northwest of Azerbaijan. Watch arid landscapes slowly give way to densely forested mountains. En route to Sheki there will be stops at an active mud volcano, in Maraza to discover the Diri Baba shrine, which is hewn into the cliff-face, to admire the architecture of Yeddi Gumbez Tomb, and to visit the Juma Mosque in Shemakha, dating from the 8th century. We also stop to visit a family to see how they make yoghurt the traditional way and enjoy some local snacks.
On arrival in Sheki, stop at a local craft workshop where the famous ‘shebeke’ – stained-glass windows with intricately carved frames – are made by hand. You will also visit the well-known Sheki Khan’s Palace to see its magnificent frescoes and stained glass. Tonight will be spent in Sheki.
THURSDAY 13 SEPTEMBER KVARELI B,L,D
Today we cross the border into Georgia. Visit a traditional bazaar in the small town of Lagodecki. From here travel to Georgia's Kakheti region, famous for its wine making and welcoming hospitality. We visit the Gremi Royal Architectural Complex and its museum, followed by lunch with a local family, which includes delicious homemade cuisine and wine.
In the afternoon, continue to a winery and sample different kinds of famous Georgian wines. Listen to unique Georgian polyphonic songs, a traditional style of music prevalent in the Kakheti region. Afterwards, travel to the hotel in Kvareli, located in a picturesque area on the bank of Ilia Lake.
FRIDAY 14 SEPTEMBER TBILISI B,L,D
En route to Tbilisi visit the beautiful 18th-century town of Sighnaghi, known for its quaint stone walls, small houses with terracotta roofs and decorated balconies. Admire the picturesque views of Alazani Valley and Great Caucasus mountains.
Arrive in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. We take a walking tour of the old districts of the city, which are structured like terraces, and wander through the narrow streets to appreciate the colourful houses, patterned balconies and revamped modern architecture. Visit the 13th-century Metekhi church, with its magnificent views over old Tbilisi.
Afternoon conference session.
SATURDAY 15 SEPTEMBER TBILISI B,L,D
This morning enjoy panoramic views of the whole town and through the ancient Narikala fortress. Then head to the remarkable sulphur bath area. Visit the stunning treasury of the Golden Fund at the historical museum, which will prove that Georgia is truly the land of the Golden Fleece. From here visit a local art studio and become acquainted with Georgian cloisonne enamel, also known as Minanqari, and see how it is made.
Afternoon conference session.
SUNDAY 16 SEPTEMBER AKHALTSIKHE B,L,D
Today visit Mtskheta, the ancient capital and religious centre of Georgia. See UNESCO Heritage Sites such as the 6th century Jvari Monastery and the impressive Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, where the Robe of Christ is purported to be buried.
Afterwards, visit a wine cellar in the village of Chardakhi and taste unique BIO wines, produced using traditional Georgian methods. Meet the owners of the wine cellar over a delicious lunch with freshly baked bread and "Qvevri" wines. In the afternoon, drive to the south western part of Georgia to visit the spa town of Borjomi. Spend the night in Akhaltsikhe.
MONDAY 17 SEPTEMBER AKHALTSIKHE B,L,D
This morning visit the strategically situated medieval fortress of Khertvisi.
Then proceed to the magnificent cave town of Vardzia, which stretches over half a kilometer along the river Mtkvari and has 19 tiers of winding cobbled streets. There is a church hewn out in rock with amazing 12th century frescos. The complex also includes dwellings quarters, small hall-type churches, refectories and wine cellars.
TUESDAY 18 SEPTEMBER GUDAURI B,L,D
Today visit the Stalin museum in Gori, his birth place. Witness firsthand, the contradictory nature of Georgians’ respect for Stalin (local boy made good!!!!!) and simultaneous hatred for Russia. Then explore Uplistsikhe, a town hewn into the rocks, founded in the late Bronze age. The caves have dwelling quarters, wine-cellars, bakeries, a basilica and even a theatre.
Drive up the Georgian Military Highway visiting the beautiful Ananuri architectural complex, set in lush forest. The two churches have carvings on the outer walls which are some of the best surviving examples of Georgian art. Enjoy a scenic drive through the spectacular Caucasus Mountains.
WEDNESDAY 19 SEPTEMBER GUDAURI B,L,D
Enjoy a stunning drive from Gudauri along the Tergi River before arriving in Kazbegi. From here it's a leisurely 2 hour walk each way through beautiful valleys and woodlands to Gergeti Trinity Church, located at 2170 metres above sea level. If the weather is good it's possible to catch a glimpse of Mt Kazbegi, one of the highest glaciers in the Caucasus.
Return to Kazbegi and then drive deep into the mountains through spectacular Sno Valley, where the exotic small village of Juta awaits. Surrounded by verdant mountains, it's completely cut off from the whole country six months of the year. Ancient ways of life survive here, and visiting the village is a truly unforgettable experience. Meet a local family and learn about their way of life over some tea and honey. Return to Gudauri.
THURSDAY 20 SEPTEMBER TBILISI B,L,D
Today return to Tbilisi and spend the rest of the day at leisure.
FRIDAY 21 - SUNDAY 23 SEPTEMBER TBILISI B,L
3 FULL DAYS CONFERENCE
MONDAY 24 SEPTEMBER DILIJAN B,L,D
After breakfast drive to the border crossing into Armenia. Visit Haghpat monastery, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, and an example of one of the most outstanding works of medieval Armenian architecture.
Later, travel to the monastery of Goshavank, comfortably nestled between two hills near the banks of the Getik River. The monastery was the educational, spiritual and crafts centre in medieval Armenia and is named after the celebrated Armenian scientist, author and lawgiver Mkhitar Gosh.
Afterwards, continue on to the picturesque resort town of Dilijan, often refered to as the “Little Switzerland of Armenia’’. Dilijan's central Sharambeyan Street has been preserved and maintained as a charming "old town", complete with craftsman`s workshops, a gallery and a museum.
TUESDAY 25 SEPTEMBER YEREVAN B,L,D
After breakfast drive to the reflective waters of Lake Sevan, nicknamed “The Pearl of Armenia”. Sevan is one of the largest fresh- water high-altitude lakes in the world. Visit the romantic Sevanavank Monastery, which overlooks the water on the Peninsula.
Move on to the village of Garni to visit the 1st century Garni Temple, built by the Armenian King Tiridates and dedicated to Mithra, the God of the Sun. Travel northeast of Garni, higher up the gorge of the Azat River, where there is a magnificent Geghard monastery. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is partly carved out of a mountain and surrounded by cliffs. In the afternoon, drive to the capital city of Armenia, Yerevan.
WEDNESDAY 26 SEPTEMBER YEREVAN B,L,D
Explore Yerevan, one of the oldest cities in the world, established in 782BC. Nowadays it's a lively city, where ancient culture is mixed with a modern lifestyle. Visit the Matenadaran, a repository of ancient manuscripts that contains historical documents from all over Europe and Asia. The building also holds the first copy of the Bible in Armenian. In the afternoon, depart for Echmiadzin, the spiritual centre for all Armenians. The legend goes that the Echmiadzin Cathedral was designated in a vision where Christ came to Earth and struck the plains with a golden hammer. Return to Yerevan with a stop at the ruins of Zvartnots Temple, a stunning example of 7th century Armenian architecture.
THURSDAY 27 SEPTEMBER YEREVAN B
Morning conference session.
The rest of your day and evening are free to explore on your own.
FRIDAY 28 SEPTEMBER B
Depart today on group flights with Emirates via Dubai
SATURDAY 29 SEPTEMBER Arrive in Australia
Group flights arrive back in Australia in the afternoon
End of arrangements
Please note that this itinerary and costs may be subject to change