If you're keen to experience the highlights of the Caucasus region, this is the perfect Georgia and Armenia itinerary. With plenty of cultural and culinary attractions, the Caucasus region has it all, and we've included some optional hiking to get out into the spectacular mountains and landscapes.
Your adventurous and culture-filled Highlights of the Caucasus Georgia and Armenia itinerary begins with a flight to the Armenian capital Yerevan via Paris, which takes approximately six hours. On landing, you'll be met by our representative before a private transfer to your hotel, just a short drive away in the city centre. Spend the rest of the day relaxing. We can recommend a good restaurant and reserve you a table for dinner this evening.
Most trips to Armenia begin in the capital Yerevan, a buzzing town that perfectly complements the peaceful surrounding countryside. There is plenty to do here, with numerous art galleries and classical music venues, tree-lined shopping avenues, flower-filled parks and smoke-filled jazz bars and cafes. The central food market is also worth exploring, as are the excellent restaurants offering up typical Armenian specialities - we can recommend some lovely restaurants to choose from for your supper tonight after your tour.
Your driver and guide will meet you in the morning to begin your tour, starting in Republic Square and onto the Cascade Complex with fantastic views of the city spread out beneath you. Visit the Memorial Park - a poignant memorial to the victims of the Armenian Genocide - before driving onto Echmiadzin to visit the Treasury Museum. Echmiadzin is regarded as the spiritual hub for Armenians and many Christians worldwide.
Return to Yerevan to enjoy the rest of the evening at your leisure, stopping along the way at the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral, an architectural gem dating from the seventh century that is UNESCO-listed.
Continue your tour this morning with a visit to the Vayots Dzor region, the agricultural centre of Armenia.
First, you will stop at another of the highlights of the Caucasus region - the Khor Virap Monastery. Built in the reign of the Arshakids dynasty (from 54AD to 428AD), you can still venture down into the pit dungeon in the footsteps of the Christian saint Gregory the Illuminator, who introduced Christianity to Armenia and who was imprisoned here for 14 years. The monastery is in a wonderful location, situated in the Ararat Valley with Mount Ararat (of Noah's Ark fame) looming large behind it.
This morning, meet your guide and driver to transfer to the next stop on your Georgia and Armenia itinerary, the cave monastery of Geghard, an unusual and intriguing monument carved out of rocks.
Then it's onto Garni Temple - an impressive architectural building from Hellenistic times and set near an incredible gorge. The temple was originally dedicated to Helios, god of the sun, and sits on a bluff surrounded by mountains and blossom trees. You may like to take a short hike down into the gorge to see the extraordinary Symphony of Stones basalt rock formations.
Enjoy lunch at a local house in Garni where the women bake fresh lavash bread, then after lunch, transfer back to Yerevan to visit the famous depositary of ancient manuscripts at Matenadaran, containing historical documents from all over Europe and Asia.
This morning your highlights of the Caucasus trip to Armenia and Georgia continues as you depart the Armenian capital and head towards the border with Georgia. Your first stop on the way is Lake Sevan, one of the largest freshwater alpine lakes in the world, where you'll enjoy amazing sights and can even take a dip in the water if the weather's nice.
You'll also visit Dilijan - a popular spot with locals often referred to as Armenia's 'Little Switzerland' due to its lush woodlands, forest and gorges. Potter down Sharambeyan Street and browse the artisan craft shops. From here you can choose to take a hike to Parz Lich (meaning Clear Lake), a small, picturesque lake nestled in the Dilijan highlands. Walk through beautiful green valleys and dense woods coming out at Gosh village and finishing at Gosh Lake.
Continue on to your lovely hotel, which sits alongside a roaring river, where you'll stay for one night.
The last morning in Armenia is yours to spend as you wish. You can either relax and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before driving to the Georgian border or jump in the car to Sanahin village for a scenic hike up to Haghpat Monastery. This monastery-to-monastery walk follows the same historic route taken by medieval monks and pilgrims, passing through the rural village of Akher and crossing the old Haghpat Bridge. You'll have the beautiful scenery of the Lori region as a backdrop, and once you've finished, you can enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.
Now it's time to goodbye to your Armenian driver and guide and cross the border where your driver in Georgia will be waiting to meet you. You will then be privately transferred to your hotel - taking around 40 minutes - in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon at your leisure and we can recommend a lovely restaurant for supper for your first night in this bustling city.
While a visit to Georgia will inevitably focus on the dramatic landscapes away from the cities - which are reminiscent of New Zealand combined with the Pyrenees, with a smattering of Pembrokeshire thrown in for good measure - the capital Tbilisi is an absolute must for any visit. The city is bohemian in the extreme, with the Old Quarter in particular a charming maze of cobbled streets and alleyways, restaurants, bars, churches and cafes, a few synagogues and a mosque, plus antique and carpet shops galore.
The city is made even better by its beautiful surroundings. This city has mountains on three sides and the River Mtkvari meandering lazily through it, making it a beautiful and easy city to navigate your way around. While the neighbouring Armenians are big on glamour, the Georgians are more reserved and laid back, with a strong artistic flair.
For your first day in the capital, you will have a chance to explore the city with your local guide, including a walk through the Old Town and along Rustaveli Avenue. You'll be able to visit Metechi Church, the district of Sulfur bathhouses (built over hot springs) and Sioni Cathedral - the main church of Tbilisi. Other highlights include a visit to Narikhala Fortress, for great views overlooking the city, and a visit to the National and Art Museums.
The second day in the capital is yours to explore, revisit some of your favourite sights and enjoy the city at your own pace. We can make recommendations of further places to visit depending on your interests, as well as some excellent places to eat and enjoy the nightlife.
Your Georgia and Armenia itinerary continues as you head into the semi-desert area of south-eastern Georgia to visit David Gareja, an amazing rock-hewn monastery located in the southern Kakheti Region.
The monastery is cut into the majestic Mount Gareja, close to the Azerbaijan border in a region that's carpeted with wildflowers in spring. You can choose to hike to the Udabno Monastery Complex, home to dwellings adorned with frescoes dating from the ninth to the 14th century.
This two-hour walk is more than worth it for the spectacular views of the Azerbaijan Valley, and it's the perfect spot for a picnic lunch before returning to Tbilisi for the evening. The car ride and hike on this day are mostly on rough and uneven roads, so be prepared for a bumpy ride, but it's all worth the journey.
After your adventure, head back to Tbilisi in the late afternoon and spend the evening as you please.
Your driver will meet you this morning to set off west from the capital to explore Mtskheta, one of the oldest towns in Georgia, and the country's cultural and religious centre.
Located at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers, Mtskheta has been a crossroads of many trade routes since the third century BC. Today it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site because of its architectural and historical monuments, including the sixth century Jvari Church, a masterpiece of the early Medieval Period; the Svetitskoveli Cathedral and the Church of St Nino at Samtavro with the tombs of King Mirian and Queen Nana; and the 12th - 13th century monastery of Shiomghvine.
After exploring these historic sites, journey north up the Georgia Military Highway and into the centre of the Shida Kartli region where you'll stay in Kazbegi for two nights.
Arrive in the early evening and dine in your lovely hotel surrounded by mountains.
The Kazbegi region is one of the most beautiful and spectacular landscapes in Georgia, with a population of just 4,000 people. The area is known for its towering mountains, including Mount Kazbeg, and the fantastic nature reserve established in the late 1970s. From May onwards birders flock to the area for the incredible variety of bird species, and there are many types of wild alpine flower that bloom in the spring. Kazbegi is a place to retreat and relax, but if you're looking for something a little more active you can explore the stunning surroundings, visiting remote monasteries, waterfalls and gorges on horseback or out on a hike.
Today on your Georgia and Armenia itinerary you will explore the little town of Kazbegi with your guide and then go on an optional walk to the 14th century Gergeti Holy Trinity, which is one of Georgia's most iconic buildings. This hike takes two to three hours and is reasonably demanding, but vehicles can be arranged to the church for those who aren't feeling up to the walk. The church is located at an elevation of 7,120ft and it's lovely to take a picnic lunch when visiting so that you can take a moment to drink in the surrounding views.
After your mountain lunch, head back to your hotel and enjoy the rest of the day at a leisurely pace, either relaxing or enjoying another activity which we can arrange for you.
Today you'll depart Kazbegi and make your way back down the Old Georgian military highway, stopping at Khada Gorge just below the ski resort of Gaudari. Take some time to explore the historical landscape of this beautiful valley with its old towers, interesting cemeteries and beautiful waterfalls and springs.
Enjoy a picnic lunch (weather permitting) before continuing to Tbilisi, stopping at the Ananuri complex on route. The former residence of the Dukes of Aragvi, the complex has incredible architecture, featuring a 16th-century church and towers, plus you'll have a stunning view of the lake below.
After your journey through the countryside, arrive into Tbilisi in the early evening and check into your hotel for one night. You have the rest of the evening to enjoy as you wish and we can suggest a few great places to eat and fun activities such as music concerts.
The final week of your Georgia and Armenia itinerary begins with you bidding a fond farewell to Tbilisi as you make your way to Vardzia, via the church of Samtavisi.
From here, transfer on to Gori - the birthplace of Stalin - and visit the museum dedicated to the one time Soviet leader, and the house he grew up in.
Then continue to the seventh century Church of Atenis Sioni before reaching Vardzia, where you'll stay for one night.
This morning visit the medieval cave city of Vardzia, which overlooks the Mtkavari River. Vardzia is an extraordinary, labyrinthe cave city dramatically cut into the mountain side. The cave system is so complex, with narrow entrances that delve deep underground, that you'd be forgiven for thinking that you've stepped on to the set of the Hobbit. Built in 1185 on the order of Queen Tamara - whose frescoes adorn the complex - the entire site has 13 levels and approximately 6,000 apartments as well as a large tower with a bell tower.
All around the city, terraces were built with an intricate irrigation system to promote cultivation and settlement, but an earthquake unfortunately destroyed much of it in 1283 and further raids by the Persians decimated the site as a habitable city. Today it is maintained by a group of monks and there is still plenty to see and explore.
After your visit to this intriguing site, explore Kumurdo Cathedral, the Castle of Khertvisi, Akhaltsikhe and the Monastery of Sapara. Rest your explorer's feet during lunch before continuing on to Kutaisi, the capital of the Imreti region, where you'll stay for one night.
This morning you'll depart Kutaisi and make your way towards the beautiful monastery complex of Gelati - founded by Davit the Builder, one of the founding fathers of Georgia. This was once a main cultural centre in the country and still has a number of manuscripts dating from the 12th century.
Next, proceed to Zugdidi and start the drive up into the Svaneti region in western Georgia. Although you're in the car for five-and-a-half hours today, the views as you go are spectacular. The road narrows as you start to climb, driving through mountainside tunnels and crossing narrow vertiginous bridges over roaring rivers. It's the most incredible road and you will arrive into Mestia in the late afternoon, settling in for the next three nights.
The Svaneti region is an area in the High Caucasus mountains which has only really opened up in the last few years because of a new road. The town of Mestia, nestled beneath the jagged peaks of Mount Ushba, is dominated by a forest of ninth century defensive towers.
This small town is both the starting and finishing point for many hikes and treks into the mountains beyond, but it is also home to the Svan people who have cultivated this region since the Middle Ages. They are strong, hearty mountain people renowned for brewing a firewater called chacha and observing a number of semi-pagan rituals and festivals that date from Roman times, including animal sacrifices. Their specific dialect is still alive and well.
Today spend your time today exploring the small, mountainous town of Mestia, one of the highlights of any itinerary to the Caucasus region. Traverse the backstreets and alleyways to get a sense of the real town and how people live; visit some of the little museums, such as the excellent Ethnographical and History Museum; and head towards the Svan Tower and try the local khachapuri - the delicious hot cheesy bread that you'll never be able to get enough of! Much of the tour will be on foot (earn that khachapuri) and there are options to do some nice short walks in the area should you wish to, and weather permitting.
After a comfortable night's sleep, spend your second day here with a journey up to Ushguli - one of Europe's highest continuously-inhabited settlements. The drive is long and bumpy, and takes two hours each way, but it's well worth it as the views are spectacular.
Start your last full day of this Georgia and Armenia itinerary with a leisurely morning taking in the views before starting the journey back down the winding road towards Kutaisi. On the way, you'll pass through another of the highlights of the Caucasus: the Becho Valley - one of the most beautiful areas in Svaneti, where pigs and cows wander in the road in front of pretty houses. Enjoy a lunch en route, arriving in Kutaisi for your last night in Georgia.
This morning you will check out of your hotel then take your two-hour transfer to the airport in Batumi to fly home via Istanbul. The journey time will be around eight hours, and you will arrive back in the UK in the afternoon.