Transfer to airport and departure
In the late morning we visit the spiritual heart of Georgia-Mtskheta- the first capital of Georgian empire from 3rd c B.C to 5th c A.D . First we drive up to the mountains to visit one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Mtskheta – 6th century Jvari (Holy Cross) monastery-one of the best samples of the early-medieval Georgian ecclesiastical art and enjoy spectacular views of Mtskheta and the confluence of two rivers below.
Then, we drive down to the town dominated by the impressive cathedral called “Svetitskhoveli (11th c.)- “Life-Giving Pillar” .According to the legend, the first church (4th c) here was built on the burial site of Christ’s robe. As the church was being constructed, the wooden pillar rose into the air and magic chrism started to flow from it, healing all the diseases which gave name to the church.
We drive back to Tbilisi and enjoy free time
Our morning starts with adventurous visit to the largest man made cave-city in Europe-Vardzia, fully cut into a towering cliff face. Founded by King George III in the 12th century as a support point for Georgian army against different enemies , Vardzia as a monastic complex mainly developed by his daughter and successor Tamar. Damaged after a devastating earthquake in the 15th century, complex features over 600 caves -refectories ,churches and halls.
Afterwards, we continue to drive to Javakheti region famous for its alpine meadows and volcanic lakes.
As well as places for prayer and ascetic inspiration, monasteries have historically been associated with crafts, scientific research, farming and winemaking. On our way to Tbilisi we will drop in a Poka Nunnery where local nuns make different type of cheese, jams, soaps, traditional candies as well as paint on porcelain.
We arrive in Tbilisi and check in a hotel
In the morning we explore Georgia’s southernmost frontiers as we drive down to the town of Akhaltsikhe. First we make a detour to visit beautiful Sapara monastery which emerges on the trees behind the horizon’s verge with all of its ancient glory. Built on a sloping hillside overlooking forested meadows, Sapara unites over 6 different churches and belfries. We will be welcomed by local monks who will introduce us monastery life and show us around.
After lunch we follow the upstream of Mtkvari river, pass vigorously-looking Khertvisi fortress erected on the top of the cliff and via small countryside roads we reach one of the most impressive landmarks of Georgia-Vardzia cave-city
We overnight in a hotel in Vardzia
We leave the mountains this morning and start to drive to South Georgia. En-route we visit Ulistsikhe-ancient town with palaces, hallways, streets and amphitheatres carved into the massive mountain slope. Established in the 2nd millennium B.C as a pagan temple-town, it later became an important base for the Silk Road traders on their way from China to Europe.
We reach the small spa-town of Borjomi in the early evening and take a gentle walk in its mineral water park dating back to 1850.
Overnight in Borjomi
In the morning we enjoy our leisure walk up to Gergeti trinity church from were opens spectacular views of different snow-capped glaciers and canyons. We take small village backstreets to walk down back to the town and continue to take a short, pleasant walk up to Gveleti waterfalls and then head to a local hunter’s house to enjoy home –made dishes as well as well as to learn and observe the secrets of the Georgian cuisine as we will be shown cooking and baking process of local delicacies : Khinkali and Khachapuri.
In the late afternoon we visit Sno canyon famous for its towers, roaring rivers, small villages sheltered under the feet of the hills and enjoy a gentle walk along the hidden paths of the mountain idyll.
Overnight in Stepantsminda
In the morning we leave our hotel to visit glorious ruins of Ikalto academy complex. Established as a monastery by Assyrian missionary Zenon in the 6th century, it grew as an important educational-scholastic center in the 12th century where, according to a legend famous Georgian poet and author of epic “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin” Shota Rustaveli (12th c.) studied.
Afterwards, we follow a less traveled route towards the foothills of the Great Caucasus Mountains and continue our trip though beautiful forests and rustic landscapes where nature’s benevolence can truly make human happiness possible. On our way to the mountains we stop to take a leisure walk up along the forested pathways to the ruins of Kvetera- early Medieval period complex of different palaces, towers and a central domed church famous for its exquisite look.
In the afternoon we start to drive along Georgia’s famous Military highway which was first times mentioned as a major route linking Roman Empire to the Caucasus by Strabo as early as the 1st c A.D. En-route , En-route we visit Ananuri Architectural Complex overlooking a water-reservoir. This 17th -18th c complex includes several churches, bell-towers and well-preserved defensive wall with its built-in towers.
In the evening we reach the town of Stepantsminda nestled in the heart of the mountains which is our base for two nights.
Overnight in Stepantsminda.
The best opportunity to acknowledge the ancient traditional culture and enjoy the harmonious infusion of art and wine is to explore East Georgia’s Kakheti region famous for its fertile valleys, endless lines of vineyards, ancient fortified monasteries, castles and delicious cuisine.
This morning we start to travel around East Georgian countryside and enjoy enchanting charm of simplicity of pastoral life-style and breathtaking views of forested foothills. Our destination is central-domed church of Khirsa established by one of the Assyrian monks, St. Stephan in the 6th century which served as Georgia’s one of the important missionary centers. Then we continue to visit world’s one of the only two two-domed churches-All Saints church of Gurjaani of the 7th c.(Kvelatsminda)
In the afternoon we are welcomed at a local peasant’s old wine-cellar where we get familiar with Kakhetian way of wine-making which in 2016 was enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Intangible Site. Here, the wine-maker will tell us the way his ancestors preserved this tradition after which we will have a chance to taste red and white wines straight from the clay jars buried into ground.
Our lunch will be hosted by a honorary teacher of the local gymnasium and then we continue our way to duke Alexander Chavchavadze’s estate in Tsinandali which used to be the hub of 19th c. European ,Russian and Georgian poets, writers, composers, travelers.
We arrive in Telavi and check in a hotel.
Dinner with Georgian traditional polyphonic songs
Today we explore country’s largest and most fertile region-Kakheti(East Georgia). Our first destination in David-Gareja cave city in a semi-desert. Such a stark, remote, steppe-like environment always attracted different hermits to seek solitude and spiritual peace here.
In the sixth century, a small group of Assyrian monks arrived in Georgia. They split up when they reached Georgia, one of them, David, drawn to the desolation and purity of Kakheti, decided to build a monastery there, high up on a bluff overlooking present-day Azerbaijan. For three centuries, it grew slowly – the few devotees who kept up the site lived very simply in small hollows dug into the rock.
The 9th century wall paintings are especially important because of where they are and what they have endured – nearly one thousand years of graffiti has taken its toll on some of the images, not to mention the wind and sand. Most of the frescoes lie just a few meters within cave walls, unprotected by doors .The biggest threat, though, came not from exposure, but from Russian artillery fire.
Out of 19 ruins and caves of once glorious monastery first we visit Lavra and its seven-storey cave and church of Transfiguration where David was buried, then we take a 3 hrs walk up to Udabno caves and visit those great frescoes etched on the top of the cliff side.(The walk is quite rough and) as well as dramatic views over Azerbaijan.
Later, we reach a small, Late-Medieval period town of Sighnaghi and stay here for one night .Popularly considered the place of romance and love, the town has a well-preserved city-wall, small, twisted streets and offers great views of Alazani valley capped by the Caucasus mountains.
We visit Sighnaghi national museum which displays different Archaeological artifacts as well as the rich collection of Georgia’s best known artist Niko Pirosmani (19th c.)
Overnight in a hotel in Sighnaghi.
Today we will explore the tremendous heritage of Georgia’s capital city as we walk through its narrow, cobbled streets, ancient twisted pathways and boulevards, marvelling at the 1500 year history of this great city.
Throughout its history, Tbilisi has been a crucial location for many different trade routes and has been famous for its multi religious and multicultural character. Its diversity and cultural richness can be seen in the magnificence of Tbilisi’s architecture which been influenced by Byzantine, European and Oriental art. In the heart of the old town we will find churches, synagogues, mosques, Caravanserai, and even a Zoroastrian temple as well as the famous Sulphur Baths and glorious ruins of Narikala castle – which was the main fortification of Tbilisi.
After lunch we will continue to visit the treasury of Georgian State museum which displays artefacts in gold and silver from the 2nd millennium B.C. Later, we will take a walk along Rustaveli Avenue – one of the major arterial streets of Tbilisi and we will wonder at elegance of 19th century palaces, secular and spiritual buildings. We will then be able to enjoy some free time in this lovely and relaxed city.
Overnight in our hotel in Tbilisi.