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Sitting at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the Caucasus – Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia (Hayastan) are one of the most exciting regions for cultural exploration.
Follow the footsteps of Silk Road traders and merchants, Crusader Knights and Ottoman Princes as you explore from the shores of the Caspian Sea, to the fascinating history of Baku, take in the stunning wine fields and spectacular High Caucasus mountains. Learn of the legends of the Golden Fleece, embrace the breathtaking scenery and welcoming hospitality of the local people. Still relatively unknown, this is the perfect trip for those who are well travelled seeking a more diverse experience in an often overlooked part of our world.
Welcome to Baku! Upon arrival you will be met by your guide and transferred to the hotel. The remainder of the day is yours at leisure.
Baku is the perfect combination of Dubai’s megalopolis and Paris’ chicness with a splash of Soviet history poking its head out. Here, both east and west blend seamlessly. Home to the UNESCO listed Old City surrounded by an ancient fortress wall. Tree lined streets, stone mansions and elegant boutiques are taking over the depressing Soviet apartment blocks bringing a romantic air to the city.
3 nights Hotel Boutique 19 or similar
Following breakfast, you will visit the ancient rock paintings of Gobustan (65km from Baku) which date back between 5,000 and 40,000 years. This UNESCO Heritage Site is one of the major and most ancient museums of rock engravings in the world. The site covers three areas of a plateau of rocky boulders rising out of the semi-desert and boasts an outstanding collection of more than 6,000 rock engravings. The site also features the remains of inhabited caves, settlements and burials, all reflecting an intensive human use by the inhabitants of the area during the wet period that followed the last Ice Age, from the Upper Paleolithic to the Middle Ages.
In the afternoon, enjoy a tour through Baku’s Old City which will include the funicular to Martyrs Alley where you can take in the panoramic city view. You will also visit Shirvanshah’s Palace which dates back to 15th century and is described as ‘one of the pearls’ of Azerbaijan’s architecture. You will also see the Maiden Tower (12th century) and Mohammed’s Mosque (11th century). Later you will walk along the interesting and picturesque sea front promenade. (B)
Today, you will visit the Fire Temple, a castle-like religious temple dating back to 17th century which was once a place of sacrifice founded above a natural gas vent. From there, you will travel to Yanar Dagh, also known as ‘Burning Mountain’. Yanar Dagh is a volcanic hill located on top of a pocket of natural gas that constantly erupts into flames and has been burning for as long as anyone can remember.
Following lunch, it is time to visit the must see Carpet Museum which has the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world. From there, you will then go to the Museum of History which houses more than 350,000 pieces displayed in its rooms recounting the history and culture of Azerbaijan from ancient times until 1920. (B)
After breakfast you will depart towards Gabala (approx. 220km). Along the way you will stop at Juma Mosque followed by Shirvan Domes, a mausoleum and graveyard from the 15th century Shirvan Dynasty. Your last stop is at Diri-Baba, a unique two-storied mausoleum-mosque also from the 15th century.
You will then travel onto the quaint village of Lahidj (also known as Lahij or Lahic) which has preserved its medieval image, with its stone houses and cobbled streets. Lahidj is a famous centre of the craft trade and you will visit the local workshops and meet and see the local skilled copper craftsmen ply their trade. You will have time to purchase some handicrafts, as well as walk the cobbled streets before continuing onto Gabala. (B)
Overnight Karvansaray or similar
This morning you will explore Gabala (also known as Qabala) which is a beautiful part of Azerbaijan with a rich and ancient history. Besides visiting the Historical Museum of Gabala which house many historic artefacts from the area, you also see the renowned ruins of the ancient walled city, Chukhur Gabala, which dates back to the 4th century BC.
From here, continue on to Nidj village and meet the native Udin people, direct descendants of ancient Caucasian Albanians. Later you will arrive in Sheki and visit Sheki Khans Palace, a magnificent work of Islamic architecture, known for its stunning frescoes and stained glass, as well as the House of Sheki Khans, famed for its beautiful internal decorations. You will also travel to the nearby picturesque mountain village of Kish (Kis) with its beautiful Albanian church.
At the end of the day, you will return back to Sheki with a visit to the local bazaar where there is an amazing display of goods on offer and is a great place to mingle with locals and see how they shop, barter and banter as well as gain an insight to their rural lifestyles. (B)
Overnight Sheki Palace or similar
Following breakfast, it is time to continue to the border. Here you will change guide and vehicles and then its time to continue on and explore Georgia.
For lunch you will visit a local family, where you will learn about local peasant life. You will see the locals gardens and vineyards, and then have lunch with delicious homemade food, wine and Georgian Chacha – a strong brandy like spirit.
It is then time to visit the 18th century beautiful, small town of Sighnaghi with its old fences and small houses with tiled roofs and decorated balconies. From here, you will see the picturesque views of Alazani Valley and the Great Caucasus Mountains. Afterwards drive to Tbilisi. (B,L)
2 nights Terrace Hotel Tblisi or similar
Today you will explore the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. Wander in the old districts of the city which are structured like terraces. Take a walk in the narrow streets to view the colourful houses, patterned balconies and wonderful samples of modern architecture. You will start from Metekhi Church (13th century) with magnificent views over old Tbilisi. A stroll along winding little streets takes you to the main sights of the city. Afterwards take a cable car up to the ancient Narikala fortress (4th century) to enjoy the panoramic views of the whole town and then walk down to the historical domed sulphur bath area.
Finally, the Golden Fund of the historical museum (closed on Mondays) will prove the fact that Georgia is truly the land of the Golden Fleece. (B)
This morning you will be driven to visit the ancient capital and religious centre of Georgia – Mtskheta (3,000 years old). Spend time visiting the cities historical sights including Jvari church (6th century) and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century) where the Robe of Christ is buried. Both Jvari and Svetitskhoveli are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Then drive to Borjomi Spa resort, famous for its mineral water ‘Borjomi’. Visit the small park and taste the fresh mineral water. Continue to Akhaltsikhe, where you will visit the multi-cultural complex of ‘Rabath’ (closed on Mondays). (B)
Overnight Hotel Lomsia or similar
Today you travel to Vardzia and along the way visit Khertvisi Fortress (10th century). Vardzia is a magnificent cave town from the 12th century and is one of the highlights of the trip. It stretches over half a kilometre along the river Mtkvari and has 19 tiers and used to house around 3000 caves. The complex also includes dwellings quarters, small hall-type churches, refectories, wine cellars, pharmacy, etc. There is also a church hewn out of rock with amazing 12th century frescoes. You will enjoy lunch with a local family and then continue on to Kutaisi. (B,L)
Overnight Boutique Hotel Argo or similar
In the morning you will visit a local farmers market and then continue to Okatse Canyon (closed on Mondays), which involves a 2-3 hour pedestrian route passing through Dadiani historical forest, 780 m length hanging trail and finishes with panoramic view. Here, you can explore 3 cascade Okatse waterfall, the Dadiani forest and river Satsiskvilo valley.
Afterwards, get ready for the most exciting part of your trip – a journey to Svaneti – the region of the highest mountains and glaciers and the most abiding ancient traditions. Arrive in Becho Village. (B,D)
Overnight Jena’s Family Hotel or similar
Today is all about getting back to nature. You start your walking from the guesthouse with the aim is to get closer to Mt. Ushba (4,700m) which proudly overlooks Svaneti. After crossing deep forest, you continue to the waterfalls. Both the beauty of the waterfalls and twin peaked Mt. Ushba will make you feel like a character out of a fairy tale. You will then walk back to Becho and drive to Mestia – the centre of Upper Svaneti region. Arrive in Mestia, where before dinner you will have the opportunity to take a part in a traditional ‘Kubdari’ and ‘Chvishtari’ making process. Kubdari is national dish of the Svans which is leavened bread containing chunks of meat, which can be lamb, kidney or pork, Georgian spices and onions. Chvishtari which is also local to the Svaneti region, is a cornbread with cheese. Walking time today is approx 5-6 hours. (B, Picnic L,D)
Overnight Kala Hotel or similar
In the morning, set off for Mulakhi by car, where even today centuries-old towers stand, whose history of construction is shrouded in mystery. From afar, the village is reminiscent of a drawing. Svans selected an ideal place to build a village. Here, one can behold amazing landscapes any time throughout the year.
Ushguli, which is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, is located at 2200m and is the highest continuously inhabited village in Europe. The village is most famous for its abundance of watchtowers and this is where you get the view of the highest mountain in Georgia – Mt. Shkhara (5068m). Walking time today is approx 4-5hr. (B,Picnic L,D)
Overnight Family Hotel Koshki or similar
Depart from your guesthouse this morning bound for the base of Georgia’s highest mountain, Shkhara (5068m) and the glacier which is the main water source of the Enguri river. After reaching the glacier (2,500m) you will return to Ushguli. Todays trek will take you through beautiful meadows filled with rich alpine flowers and will finish in Mestia. (B, Picnic L,D)
Overnight Kala Hotel or similar
Today you will leave the beautiful Svaneti region and drive back to Zugdidi. Visit Gelati Cathedral (12th century) – one of the earliest academies in Europe and UNESCO World Heritage site and then drive to Kutaisi. (B)
Overnight Boutique Hotel Argo or similar
In the morning drive to Gori and visit the historical place of Uplistsikhe Cave Town (1st millennium BC). Uplistsikhe is the place where the Great Silk Road used to pass. This is an old and interesting complex with dwelling quarters, wine-cellars, bakeries, a three-nave basilica church hewn out in rock and even an antique theatre. There is a photo stop at Stalin`s house and museum. Afterwards drive towards Tbilisi. On the way you will stop to visit a local family where you will taste unique BIO wines produced by the traditional Georgian method in Kvevri. This method is inscribed in UNESCO intangible heritage list. It’s noteworthy that this wine can be found on the list of unique wines of the Ritz Hotel in London. Arrive in Tbilisi. (B)
Overnight Terrace Hotel Tblisi or similar
This morning you will transfer to the Georgian-Armenian border. After border formalities, you will continue to Makaravank. At 1.30pm, enjoy lunch at Anahit’s private house in Ijevan where you will enjoy a pork BBQ masterclass and learn how to make pork the Armenian way!
Pork BBQ is one of the traditional feasts of Armenian culture.
Ancient Armenians wrapped their pork in lavash (bread) and this is known as Khorovats which is still a popular dish today. Khorovats is great to eat in any season. In the summertime, Khorovats is usually served with tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers baked on skewers over hot coals.
Continue to Goshavank Monastery (12-13th century) located in picturesque surroundings.
From here, make your way to Dilijan, one of the most important resorts in Armenia, often referred to as the ‘Little Switzerland’ of Armenia, with magnificent views to the forested surroundings. (B,L,D)
2 nights Old Dilijan Hotel or similar
Following breakfast at your hotel, explore Sharambeyan Street before you will drive to Haghartsin Monastery (13th century) a stunning example of the medieval Armenian architecture nestled in lush woods. You will then enjoy lunch with a local Armenian family tasting homemade local food, before You can also take a photo stop at Old Dilijan, complete with craftsman`s workshops, gallery and a museum.
Lunch today is at Amalya’s house – a local home where you will enjoy learning how to make Gata.
Gata is an Armenian pastry or sweet bread, similar to a coffee cake. There are many variations of gata and typically specific towns or regions will have their own version. It can be found in a variety of shapes, sizes and may be decorated or left unadorned. Long ago, gata was baked in a tonir but is now baked in ovens. The bread is often baked to coincide with the feast of Candlemas (known as Tiarn’ndaraj in Armenian), but is not limited to the holiday and is eaten year around.
One popular variety is gata with koritz (khoriz), a filling that consists of flour, butter and sugar. Gata can have other fillings such as nuts, most commonly walnuts. Some variations include placing a coin inside the dough before the gata is baked, and it is said that whoever receives the piece with the coin is to be blessed with good fortune. (B,L,D)
After breakfast, drive to Lake Sevan, the second largest alpine lake in the world and known as the ‘Emerald of Armenia’. You will visit Sevanavank, a beautiful monastery on the peninsula, once a strategic shelter for Armenian Kings and then continue to Noratus Village to visit Noratus Cemetery, known as ‘Forest of Khachkars’. ‘Khachkar’ (cross stone) is a typical monument of Armenian sculpture representing an ornamented stone with a cross in the centre.
Continue to the southern town of Goris via Selim Caravanserai, an important trading post on the Great Silk Road which has welcomed travellers along the highway through the mountains of Selim (Sulema). You will then travel to Karahunj (Armenia’s Stonehenge – also known as Carahunge), an ancient observatory 6,000 B.C. The site is rich with stone settings, burial cists and standing stones, consisting of around 223 stone basalt slabs. You will then drive to Goris. (B,L,D)
Overnight Mirhav Hotel or similar
You will start your day exploring the complex of Tatev Monastery which is an architectural masterpiece dating from the 10th century and is often referred to as a ‘monastery built on the edge of nothing’. You will reach the Monastery via the world’s longest aerial tramway called ‘Wings of Tatev’. Afterwards, you will be driven to the Vayots Dzor region, the agricultural heart of the country, inhabited since the Bronze Age. The region also prides its old wine making traditions with history starting from the times of Noah. You will visit Areni Winery for a wine degustation with Armenia’s best wines coming from this region.
Lunch today is in a local home, where you will have opportunity to see how to distil vodka, enjoy homemade vodka and wine, and also see how to bury Armenian cheese.
Finally, you will visit Noravank monastery – a great religious and cultural centre of 12th century which is located in a seemingly inaccessible location amidst impressive red cliffs and stunning mountains. You will then continue to the capital city of Yerevan. (B)
3 nights Ani Central Inn or similar
Your day will begin exploring the vibrant city of Yerevan with your guide. Originally established in 782 BC, Yerevan is a thriving city with the excitement, hustle and bustle of a modern capital.
You will start your exploration from the Republic Square, the masterpiece of the architect Alexander Tamanian, and then continue to the Opera House, a stunning architectural piece and the hub of Yerevan. You will then visit Cascade Complex, an open-air museum of modern art with a massive stairway. The complex links the historic residential and cultural centres of the city with a vast area of waterfalls and outdoor gardens.
Depart for Echmiadzin, the spiritual centre of all Armenians and the seat of the Armenian Catholicos. Echmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest standing church in Christendom built in 303 AD over a pagan fire altar. This landmark is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. You will then enjoy lunch at the local community and art school, where you will sample the national food and the traditional Armenian dish ‘Tolma’.
As you return to Yerevan, you will stop at the ruins of Zvartnots – the pearl of 7th century architecture, inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage list. You will then return to Yerevan and visit the History Museum of Armenia. (B,L)
After your hotel breakfast, you will depart for Garni Village to visit Garni Temple dating back to the 1st century. The citadel and pagan temple of Garni is a picturesque monument of the Hellenistic period and an impressive piece of ancient Armenian architecture. Here you will have an opportunity to enjoy the charming melodies of Armenian ‘duduk’ by a local performer. Duduk and its music are inscribed in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The architectural peculiarities of the temple were designed in a way to produce an authentically holy and mysterious reverberation of sound, almost a divine echo.
Lunch will be at a local house with the presentation of the Armenian flatbread ‘lavish’ baking process in an underground stove called ‘tonir’. After a good meal, you will visit Geghard Monastery. The spectacular towering cliffs surrounding the monastery are part of the Azat River Gorge, and are included together with the monastery in the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. Some of the chambers within the monastery complex are entirely dug out of the cliff rocks, others are little more than caves, while others are elaborate structures, with both architecturally complex walled sections and rooms deep inside the cliff. You will then return to Yerevan where the afternoon is at leisure. (B,L)
Today is yours at leisure until it is time to transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (B)
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 2 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
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This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.