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 that have 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 the three present-day 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.
Arrive in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, on suggested flights and transfer to your hotel for check-in (transfer included in tour price). Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including travel insurance (a condition of travel), accommodation before or after the tour and a room category upgrade.
Join Iain and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing, followed by dinner.
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 the Palaeolith period 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.
The evening is at leisure with an opportunity to enjoy an optional concert at the Armenian National Opera & Ballet Theatre (not included in tour price).
This morning, explore the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex overlooking the city. Visit the impressive museum 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.
Then, discover the Martiros Saryan House Museum, presenting the life and works of one of Armenia’s most beloved painters. The remainder of the afternoon is free to explore the Vernissage open-air flea market, displaying a large range of traditional Armenian handicrafts, souvenirs and artworks.
In the evening, enjoy a reception at the Sergey Parajanov Museum, housed 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.
This morning, explore the Geghard Cave Monastery, built into towering basalt cliffs and founded in the 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.
Depart Yerevan and transfer to Khor Virap monastery, where Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned. Saint Gregory was responsible for Armenia becoming the first Christian nation in 301 AD. 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.
This morning, travel to ancient Karahunj (Armenian ‘Stonehenge’) with over 200 Menhirs (standing stones).
Continue to Halidzor and take a cable car across a spectacular deep gorge for a visit to the 9th century Tatev Monastery ensemble, located on a large basalt plateau. Enjoy some time at leisure in this peaceful complex, with views over the Canyon of the Vorotan River.
Return by cable car to Halidzor and then continue to Goris.
Depart Goris and drive through the Selim Pass, including a stop at the 14th century Caravanserai on the Armenian Silk Road.
Continue past Lake Sevan, the largest lake in the Caucasus, to Dzoraget located on the banks of the River Debed.
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).
Continue to the Armenian/Georgian border and checkpoint. Following visa and passport formalities, drive to Akhaltsikhe in Georgia.
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 frescoes 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.
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.
After lunch, drive along the Georgian Military Highway, through the spectacular High Caucasus Mountains to Kazbegi.
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, one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. 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 before dinner.
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.
Then, enjoy a walking tour through the Old City to see the Mosque, Orbeliani Baths and Synagogue. Explore the Old Town and 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 is at leisure to continue your exploration of Tbilisi at your own pace.
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.
Explore another art museum before visiting the National Gallery of Art. With a focus on Georgian art, the gallery includes the work of the renowned late 19th/early 20th century “primitivist” painter, Niko Pirosmani.
Depart Tbilisi for Kakheti, Georgia’s easternmost region. Visit 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.
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.
This morning, visit the 18th century Persian-style Summer Palace of the Sheki Khans, renowned for its colourful frescoes, stained glass and mosaic tiles. Then, 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, continue to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
Following a morning talk, 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.
In the afternoon, 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.
Enjoy a 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.
The afternoon is at leisure to continue your exploration of Baku at your own pace.
Visit the National Art Museum with its collection of European, Russian and Azerbaijani art. Continue to the recently rebuilt Azerbaijan 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.
Tonight, celebrate the conclusion of the tour with a special farewell dinner with Iain and fellow travellers in the Old City.
If you are returning home today, tour arrangements conclude with a transfer from the hotel to Baku International Airport for suggested flights to Australia or New Zealand. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including additional nights’ accommodation either before or after the tour and travel insurance (a condition of travel).
Per person, twin-share
Deposit per person (at time of booking)
Final payment due
08 July 2024
Room category upgrade available on request; please enquire with us.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in 3-star superior to 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
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure
- Lectures and talks with your tour leader, Iain Shearer
- 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, room service, mini-bar, room service, taxis etc.)
- Airport porterage
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Yerevan – Armenia Marriott Hotel Yerevan****+
Jermuk – Grand Resort Jermuk****
Goris – Mirhav Hotel***+
Dzoraget – Hotel Tufenkian Avan****
Akhaltsikhe – Hotel Gino Wellness Rabath****
Kazbegi – Rooms Hotel Kazbegi****
Tbilisi – Tbilisi Marriott*****
Sighnaghi – Hotel Kabadoni****
Sheki – Marxal Resort & Spa*****
Baku – Four Seasons*****
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.
Tour code: AG2411
Fitness level: Above Moderate
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions here.
Suggested airline: Emirates
Please contact Renaissance Tours for current airfares and flight reservations.
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.
Armenia and Georgia – No visa required for Australian and New Zealand passport holders.
Download booking form here.