A Road Less Travelled

Explore the natural and cultural riches of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan to discover a complex mix of religion, art and architecture.

Nestled between the Black and Caspian Seas, and surrounded by the former Russian, Persian, Ottoman and Byzantine empires, the peoples of the Caucasus have developed proud, independent traditions of their own, with a rich and complex mix of religion, language and art that has fired the imagination of travellers for centuries. Discover the sacred Byzantine monasteries and churches of Armenia, wander the galleries and museums of Georgia, and explore the old palaces, mosques and markets of Azerbaijan. Visit today’s three capitals of Yerevan, Tbilisi and Baku and enjoy the fascinating blend of ancient tradition and contemporary cosmopolitan life.

 

This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.

Depart Australia or New Zealand on suggested Emirates or Qatar Airways flights to Yerevan. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.

Arrive in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and transfer to the hotel for check-in.

Join Iain and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing, followed by a special welcome dinner.

(D)

Following a morning talk by Iain, walk to the National History Museum for a guided tour. Founded in 1919, the museum displays a unique archaeological and ethnographical collection of 400,000 objects and presents the history and culture of Armenia from Palaeolith to the present day.

After lunch, visit the Matenadaran, a rich repository of medieval manuscripts. Continue to the Yerevan Cascade, with multiple levels including exhibition halls comprising the impressive Cafesjian Collection of international sculpture.

In the evening, enjoy an optional concert at the Armenian National Opera & Ballet Theatre.

(BL)

This morning, drive to the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex overlooking the city. Visit the impressive museum directly built into the side of a hill in 1995 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the genocide.

Continue to the National Art Gallery for a guided tour of the collection. Located on Republic Square, the gallery houses a significant collection of Armenian, Russian and Western European art and is considered the country’s major art gallery.

After some free time for lunch, continue to the Martiros Saryan House Museum presenting the life and works of one of Armenia’s most beloved painters.

In the evening, enjoy an evening reception at the Sergey Parajanov Museum in a traditional Caucasian-style noble house, with a unique collection of lively and diverse art forms created by Soviet Armenian film director and artist Sergey Parajanov.

(BD)

Enjoy a morning visit to the Geghard Cave Monastery, built into towering basalt cliffs and founded in 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator. Continue to the nearby 1st century Hellenistic Garni Temple, Armenia’s only surviving pagan temple.

After lunch, visit Etchmiadzin, the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church and then drive to the remains of the 7th century centrally planned Zvarnots Temple.

Return to Yerevan in the late afternoon.

(BL)

Depart Yerevan and drive to Khor Virap monastery, where Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned. Saint Gregory was responsible for Armenia becoming the first Christian nation in 301. Visit the monastery and enjoy the view to Armenia’s beloved Mt Ararat, located in Turkey.

Continue to the Dvin archaeological site, once a large commercial city and the capital of early medieval Armenia.

Enjoy a picnic lunch and then drive to the mountain spa town of Jermuk.

(BLD)

This morning, drive to ancient Karahunj (Armenian ‘Stonehenge’) with over 200 Menhirs (standing stones).

Continue to Vorotan and take a cable car across a spectacular deep gorge to the 9th century Tatev Monastery ensemble, located on a large basalt plateau. Enjoy time at leisure in this peaceful complex, with views over the Canyon of the Vorotan River.

Return by cable car to Vorotan and continue to Goris for a night at a charming local hotel.

(BLD)

Depart Goris in the early morning. After lunch by the Orpa River in Vayk, drive through the Selim Pass and stop at the 14th century Caravanserai on the Armenian Silk Road.

Continue past Lake Sevan, the largest lake in the Caucasus, to Dilijan.

(BLD)

This morning, discover the striking 10th century basalt Haghpat Monastery, a beautiful blend of Byzantine and traditional Caucasian architecture. Also see some impressive medieval Khachkars (Armenian cross stones).

Transfer to the Georgian border and continue to Akhaltsikhe, Georgia. Check in to the hotel, our base for the next two nights.

(B,L –picnic, D)

Today, travel to the extensive remains of the Vardzia cave monastery located on the Kura River. The highlight monastery is the 12th century Church of the Dormition with an outstanding series of frescos depicting aspects of the Golden Age of Georgia, including paintings of Georgia’s beloved Queen Tamar.

After lunch, return to Akhaltsikhe to explore the medieval Rabati Castle complex, once capital of the Georgian feudal principality of Samtskhe.

The evening is at leisure.

(BL)

This morning, depart Akhaltsikhe for the town of Gori, an important military stronghold in the Middle Ages and birthplace of Joseph Stalin. Following a brief visit to the Stalin museum, continue to the 17th century Ananuri architectural complex, overlooking the Zhinvali water reservoir. The carvings on the two Ananuri churches are some of the finest examples of Georgian art.

Enjoy a picnic lunch and then drive along the Georgian Military Highway, through the spectacular High Caucasus Mountains to Kazbegi. Dinner is at the hotel.

(BLD)

After breakfast, enjoy a 4-wheel drive up to the picturesque 14th century Gergeti Trinity Church (weather permitting), perched on top of a steep mountain looking up to Mount Kazbegi.

Drive back along the Georgian Military Highway to the ancient capital and religious centre of Georgia, Mtskheta (3,000 years old), one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. After free time for lunch, visit the 11th century fortified Svetitskhoveli Cathedral – the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church – and the nearby 6th century Jvari Monastery perched on a rocky mountaintop, overlooking the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers.

Continue to Tbilisi and check in to the hotel, our base for the next three nights. The evening is at leisure.

(BD)

Following a morning talk, begin your exploration of Tbilisi. Drive to the 13th century Metekhi Church and nearby equestrian monument of Tbilisi’s founder, King Vakhtang I Gorgasali.

After lunch, enjoy a walking tour through the Old City to see the Mosque, Orbeliani Baths and Synagogue. After lunch, explore the Old Town, with visits to the Sioni Cathedral housing the Cross of St Nina – who introduced Christianity to Georgia in 327 – and the 6th century Anchiskhati Basilica, the oldest surviving church in Tbilisi.

The remainder of the afternoon and the evening are at leisure to continue your exploration of Tbilisi at your own pace.

(BL)

Begin with a morning visit to the Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia to see its exquisite gold treasures. The Museum houses hundreds of thousands of artefacts from the Caucasus’ archaeological and ethnographic antiquity. Valuable exhibits include the Homo Ergaster fossils discovered at Dmanisi, and the 5th century BCE Akhalgori hoard which contains unique examples of jewellery blending Achaemenid and local styles.

In the afternoon, visit the Art Museum with its collection of precious religious objects, including the iconic 12th century cross of Queen Tamar, as well as a collection of Russian and European Art. Continue to the National Gallery of Art with a focus on Georgian art including the work of the renowned late 19th/early 20th century “primitivist” painter, Niko Pirosmani.

The remainder of the afternoon and evening are at leisure.

(B)

Enjoy a morning at leisure to further explore Tbilisi.

In the afternoon, depart Tbilisi for Kakheti, Georgia’s easternmost region. Drive to the charming hilltop town of Sighnaghi, which overlooks the Alazani Valley towards the snow-capped Greater Caucasus mountains.

Tonight, enjoy dinner and a wine tasting.

(BD)

This morning, drive to Alaverdi and visit the 11th century fortified Cathedral of St George, the tallest cathedral in Georgia. Continue for a photo stop at the 16th century royal citadel of Gremi, once capital of the Kingdom of Kakheti, and a lively trading town on the Silk Road.

Enjoy some famous Georgian wine with lunch in Kakheti’s Khareba Winery, located in the heart of the world’s oldest wine region.

Continue to the Georgia/Azerbaijan border crossing and checkpoint. Following visa and passport formalities, drive to Sheki in Azerbaijan. Sheki, once a famous city of craftsmen and merchants, is located in a picturesque mountain setting.

(BLD)

This morning, visit the 18th century Persian-style Summer Palace of the Sheki Khans, renowned for its colourful frescoes, stained glass and mosaic tiles. Following a short visit to an old caravanserai (now a hotel) and to the bustling local Sheki market, travel through the Muganly Mountain Pass to Shamakhi, an old royal seat and one of the key towns on the Silk Road through the Caucasus. See the recently rebuilt Friday Mosque – originally built in the 8th century – and a group of 19th century Islamic tomb towers, set amidst a field of much older gravestones.

After lunch, drive to Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, and check in to the hotel, our base for the next three nights.

(BLD)

Following a morning talk, visit the National Art Museum with its collection of European, Russian and Azerbaijani art. Continue to the new Azeri Carpet Museum, designed to resemble a rolled-up Azeri carpet.

After lunch, visit the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre, housed in a striking building designed by Iraqi/British architect Zaha Hadid.

The evening is at leisure to continue your exploration of Baku at your own pace.

(BL)

Today, depart for an early-morning drive to the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. View the excellent museum and the vast collection of prehistoric petroglyphs in situ, dating from 10,000 BCE.

Drive to the Ateshgah Fire Temple, originally built in the 17th and 18th centuries and restored during the 20th century. The temple has a complex history of religious use, including Hindu, Sikh and Zoroastrian.

Following free time for lunch, enjoy an afternoon walking tour of the old walled city constructed in local almond-coloured limestone. Visit the 15th century Shirvanshakh Palace with its divankhana, mausoleum, mosque and bath-house, and continue to the 12th century Maiden’s Tower, ancient hamam, bazaar and caravanserai.

Tonight, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner with Iain and fellow travellers in the Old City.

(BD)

If you are returning home today, tour arrangements conclude with a transfer from the hotel to Baku International Airport for the suggested afternoon flight on Emirates or Qatar Airways for Australia or New Zealand.

Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including any additional nights’ accommodation, either before or after the tour.

(B)

Per person, twin-share

AUD 10,950

Single supplement*

AUD 2,500

Deposit per person (at time of booking)

AUD 1,000

*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.

Final payment due

15 April 2020

Tour code

AG2023

Fitness level

Above moderate
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.

Visas

Azerbaijan – Australian and New Zealand passport holders require a tourist visa. Visas are obtained online prior to departure. Renaissance Tours will assist you with the application process.

Georgia and Armenia – No visa required for Australian and New Zealand passport holders.

Suggested airline

Emirates, Qatar Airways
Please contact Renaissance Tours for current airfares and flight reservations.

Tour price includes

  • Superior accommodation in 3-, 4- and 5-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
  • Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner), including wines with meals
  • Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
  • Transportation throughout on comfortable, air-conditioned coaches
  • Lectures and talks with your tour leader
  • Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure
  • Visa for Azerbaijan
  • Gratuities for local guides and drivers
  • Hotel porterage (one piece per person)

Tour price does not include

  • International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
  • Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, minibar etc.)
  • Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)

 

Your hotels
Yerevan – Hyatt Place Hotel ****
Jermuk – Hyatt Place Hotel ****
Goris – Mirhav ***+
Dilijan – Hotel Tufenkian ***+
Akhaltsikhe – Lomsia***
Kazbegi – Rooms Hotel Kazbegi****
Tbilisi – Tbilisi Marriott *****
Sighnaghi – Kabadoni ****
Sheki – Sheki Saray ****
Baku – Fairmont *****

N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.