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Contrasts of the Caucasus

  • Overview
  • Accommodation
  • Itinerary
  • Fares

A journey overview

  • Baku
  • Gobustan
  • Tbilisi
  • Borjomi
  • Mtskheta
  • Kakheti
  • Dilijan
  • Yerevan

10 Days Explorations
  • Departing:
  • 10 Sep 2021

A fascinating postscript to the Captain’s Choice Black Sea charter, this journey, for just 20 guests, takes us to three countries that emerged after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Their Caucasus geography may define Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, yet they are strikingly different. Each is unique in alphabet, language, culture and history.

Land Only Caucasus Land Tour map 2021

Itinerary

Depart from your home city or join from the Empires, Tsars & The Black Sea journey. We tumble straight into Azeri life with kebabs at a caravanserai in Baku’s Old Town followed by a visit to the 15th-century Shirvanshah Palace. After settling into our luxurious accommodation, the Four Seasons Hotel Baku, we head out for dinner at the Mugam Club Restaurant, another eating place located in an old caravanserai, with traditional music and dance.

Gobustan is in the arid region southwest of Baku, and reveals 40,000 years of human habitation in its rock art, highlighted at the Petroglyphs Museum. We also visit the Heydar Aliyev Centre, a cultural hub notable for the wave-like peaks and troughs of its stunning contemporary design by Zaha Hadid, and the Nobel Brothers Museum at Villa Petrolea, where we indulge in a wine and black caviar reception before dinner at Shirvanshah Restaurant.

Cosmopolitan Tbilisi tempts us with its dramatic setting on the banks of the Mtkvari River and the character of the narrow, winding streets of its Old Town. We visit the 13th-century Metekhi Church high above the city, and Tbilisi’s ancient citadel, the Narikhala Fortress, which dates to the 4th century. Much is in ruins, but Narikhala’s mighty walls are largely intact, and provide a spectacular vantage point for views over the city.

Georgia’s spiritual and historic heart is Mtskheta, a pretty town at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers. Both Javari church, which has overlooked Mtskheta from its hilltop eyrie since the 6th century, and stone-carved Svetitskhoveli cathedral, which is believed to contain Christ’s robe, are World Heritage listed. We also visit Uplistsikhe, a city hewn from rock 3000 years ago, and stay in Borjomi, a town famed for its mineral water.

Another subterranean world beckons. The Vardzia Cave Complex was built as a refuge from marauding Mongols, but later succumbed to an earthquake. Before natural disaster struck it became a centre of Christian worship, and we still see a myriad frescoed walls, caves and tunnels. Returning to Tbilisi we visit Paravani Lake, whose surface changes colour with the weather, and Phoka Nunnery, where resident nuns produce cheese and confectionery.

Food and wine are today’s focus, with a stop at Bodbe Nunnery, a pilgrimage centre as the final resting place of St Nino, a 4th-century female evangelist. Kakheti, close by the Great Caucasus range, is Georgia’s prime wine region. Winemaking has a long history – fragments of wine amphorae have been found dated to 8000 years ago. At masterclasses we learn about Georgian breadmaking and pork barbecue, and make a traditional sweet named Churchkhela.

The haunting sound of the duduk, a traditional woodwind instrument, welcomes us to Armenia. We cross the border to Dilijan and venture to Sharambeyan Street in the Old Town to visit artisans’ workshops and hear a duduk performance. After lunch we explore Lake Sevan, the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, and its medieval monasteries, before checking into our Yerevan hotel and enjoying a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

Spectacular Geghard Cave Monastery is carved from a rock face, and the complex is known for its acoustics, so we enjoy a choir concert before visiting the Hellenic-style Garni Temple, a pagan structure dating to the 1st century. We dine in Garni and learn how to make lavash, traditional Armenian bread. The afternoon is devoted to the capital, with visits to the impressive History Museum, as well as the moving Genocide Museum and memorial.

We join the pilgrims at Khor Virap Monastery, located at the foot of Mt Ararat. Gregory the Illuminator, Armenia’s patron saint, was jailed here in the 4th century. Echmiadzin Cathedral, the Armenian Apostolic Church’s heart, leads us to lunch at the Cross of Armenian Unity, an NGO that teaches art to children, especially with disabilities. We view 7th-century Zvarnots Temple before returning to Yerevan for a Farewell Dinner with music and dance.

We head to the airport to fly home, having been given a privileged opportunity to visit countries opening like a chrysalis before us.

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