Enigmatic Georgia

Enigmatic Georgia

Caucasus Culture and Archaeology

Archaeological

3rd - 15th April 2019
(13 Days)

Guide : Dr Paul Wordsworth

Tour price: £3,125

click here to book

Enigmatic Georgia

Caucasus Culture and Archaeology

Archaeological

Your Holiday Essentials

3rd - 15th April 2019
(13 Days)

Return flights from London, 3 & 4 star hotels, buffet breakfast, all lunches, 3 course dinner with drinks each evening, all entrance fees and expert guide throughout

Activity Level: 2

Guide: Dr Paul Wordsworth

Tour price: £3,125

Single supplement: £495
Deposit: £300
Price without flights: £2,775

Booking open

click here to book

Tour Introduction

Georgia is one of the great undiscovered tourist destinations of this century. See the fabulous monasteries and cathedrals that characterise the landscape, history and society of this mountainous country, from the recently finished Sameba Cathedral to the ancient Anchiskhati Basilica. Witness the steadfast forts of Nokalakevi, believed to be where Jason and the Argonauts stole the Golden Fleece and Khertvisi, destroyed by Alexander the Great and rebuilt in the 10th Century. Climb through the cave cities of Uplistsikhe and Vardzia, once the refuge of whole nations now the home of fabulous frescoes and wall carvings. Discover the isolated medieval communities of Svaneti and their curious tower houses, and wander the vibrant streets of Tbilisi and Kutaisi.

Background

Georgia’s history has a length and breadth that many countries cannot hope to compete with, from evidence of the earliest humans outside of Africa some 1.8 million years ago to the disturbingly violent clashes with separatist movements and fractious political protests throughout the last thirty years. Initially the two kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, Georgia has an ancient history full of legend: home to the Golden Fleece, ravaged briefly by Alexander the Great’s armies and the setting for countless wars between the Persians and the Byzantine Empire. The 10th – 13th centuries offered a reprieve and the birth of a Golden Age of culture and learning under the rule of King David the Builder and his granddaughter, King Tamar. Subsequent invasions by Mongol Hordes and the occupation by the Ottoman Empire destroyed this Golden Age, making Georgia a divided nation characterised by border squabbles and constant wars between the Ottomans and the Persians.

Initially encouraged in the early 19th Century as a means to gain independence, Russian suzerainty developed into the steady annexation of Georgian regions from the Ottomans. After a series of brutally suppressed nationalist uprisings, Georgia briefly gained independence, but the refusal of membership to the League of Nations in 1921 helped to drive the Georgians to the Bolshevik Red Army, who invaded and established a Soviet Regime shortly afterwards. Georgia declared independence in April 1991 after the fall of the USSR, beginning a long process of peaceful and violent protests, including the Rose Revolution of 2003.

Initially encouraged in the early 19th Century as a means to gain independence, Russian suzerainty developed into the steady annexation of Georgian regions from the Ottomans. After a series of brutally suppressed nationalist uprisings, Georgia briefly gained independence, but the refusal of membership to the League of Nations in 1921 helped to drive the Georgians to the Bolshevik Red Army, who invaded and established a Soviet Regime shortly afterwards. Georgia declared independence in April 1991 after the fall of the USSR, beginning a long process of peaceful and violent protests, including the Rose Revolution of 2003.

Highlights

  • With expert guide Dr Paul Wordsworth
  • Discover the isolated medieval communities of Svaneti
  • Explore Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Akhaltsikhe
  • Climb through the cave cities of Uplistsikhe and Vardzia

Itinerary

Day 1 - Outward Travel

Fly London to Tbilisi and check in to our hotel for two nights.

Day 2 - Tbilisi

We will spend the whole day in the capital, enjoying a walking tour which will include stops at the recently restored 4th Century Narikala Fortress, the sulphur streams that gave their name to the city and fed the famous baths, and the mysterious Anchiskhati Basilica, its oldest surviving religious structure. The afternoon will be spent at the Open Air Museum of Ethnography where we will experience traditional living from each region in Georgia and witness some of the practices that are still employed today.

Day 3 - Mtskheta

We will travel to the religious and spiritual centre of Georgia, starting with a brief walk to the ancient capital of Bagineti, before going into the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mtsheketa for lunch. Walk around the 11th Century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral which is rumoured to be so beautiful that King Giorgi supposedly amputated the architect’s hand so that he could never design a rival to it, and which is still the site of important Georgian ceremonies today. End the afternoon at the Jvari Monastery, set atop a hill overseeing this deceptively sleepy town. Travel onwards to the 12th Century sanctuary of Sighnahi for dinner before continuing on to our hotel in the enchantingly beautiful wine region of Kakheti.

Day 4 - Kakheti Province

Our first stop discovering Kakheti is the citadel of Gremi, capital of the region in the 16th-17th centuries, with the impressive and the church of the Archangels. We continue our tour of this picturesque province with the 10-11th Century Alaverdi Monastery, home to the second tallest tower in Georgia with great views and legendary frescoes. After a lunch break in the charismatic town of Telavi, we head to the sprawling estate of the winemaking Chavchavadze dynasty. A family with a chequered past, we will visit the house museum to learn about their history with Russian Tsars, savage attacks, and - most importantly – wine, before walking through the decorative gardens reminiscent of Georgian England. Return to Tbilisi for the night.

Day 5 - Kazbegi

Drive up the famous strategic “Georgian Military Road” through the mountains of the Great Caucasus to see the highest peak in the range, Mount Kazbegi. After lunch in the remote town of Stepantsminda we explore the monastery nearby for fantastic views of the great mountain. We drive to the limits of northern Georgia to see the mountain pass that controlled access to this region from Late Antiquity onwards and some of the fortifications associated with it. We return to Stepantsminda for dinner and for the night.

Day 6 - Gori and Uplistsikhe

Drive to Gori, birth place of Joseph Stalin and visit the ingratiating Stalin Museum, perusing through memorabilia that survived de-Stalinisation and learn about his life and history, including his darker moments of the gulags and purges. Travel on to the late Roman cave city of Uplistsikhe. See the Pagan and Christian temples side by side along with the famous Tamaris Darbazi, underground amphitheatre and wall carvings. Continue to Kutaisi for the night.

Day 7 - Svaneti Province

We spend the morning traveling to the intriguing isolated province of Svaneti, high up in the Caucasus Mountains. This remote collection of communities will take us completely off the tourist track to medieval villages where the building, living and land use practices of centuries past are still employed today. After admiring the spectacular scenery on the journey in, we make our way to the Mestia Museum of History and Ethnography to see some of the riches secreted away during the multiple invasions and conflicts of the lower country and the alien, non-progressive lifestyles of these captivating people. Take a short walk through the town to see the unique tower houses and intricate and personal painted churches before sitting down to a sumptuous traditional evening meal. Check in to our Mestia hotel for 2 nights.

Day 8 - Svaneti Province

Today we will travel through unparalleled landscapes to reach the highest settlement in Europe. Wonder along the scenic roads of Ushguli, another medieval settlement and explore the colourful 12th Century Lamaria Church nestled in this village against a stunning alpine backdrop. We will see and learn more about the rich, distinctive history of this region.

Day 9 - Samegrelo Province

An early start sees us at the impressive 19th century Dadiani Palace, home to one of the earliest museum collections in Georgia, complete with curiosities connected with the life of Napoleon including a rare original death mask of him. Housed in a unique mansion, this palace still displays several national treasures. In the mid-19th Century displayed archaeological finds in the house from his excavations at the major site of Nokalakevi, and it is to this ancient city we head next. The 4th Century fortress of Nokakalevi, is popularly believed to be the mythical town of Aya where Jason and the Argonauts stole the Golden Fleece. A working archaeological site, see the impact of each historical period up close in the architecture and artefacts of this impressive defensive ruin. Move on to Kutaisi.

Day 10 - Kutaisi

Spend the morning being guided around the busy streets of this regional hub, including the recently restored Bagrati Cathedral, exploring the complex mythical stone carvings and the remaining tiles of the fabulous floor mosaics. We will travel out of the city to Gelati Monastery, the final resting place of humble King David the Builder to see the fabulously restored, idealising frescoes and the glittering gold-gilded mosaic of the Virgin Mary, one of the largest and best in all of Georgia. We drive south to spend the night in Akhaltsikhe, through the impressive gorge of the Mtkvari River and countless cliftop fortresses such as that at Atskhuri.

Day 11 - Akhaltsiskhe, Khertvisi and Vardizia

We start the morning walking through Akhaltsikhe and its 9th Century castle, ravaged by Mongols, Ottomans and Russian-Georgian armies until its most recent rebirth as a cultural hub. Walk around the mosque, synagogue and darbazebi or traditional houses to see how the modern and the ancient have been blended together in this one place. Continue on to Khertvisi Fortress, one of the oldest surviving forts in Georgia. This picturesque ruin has seen battles from Alexander the Great all the way up to Russian and Ottoman forces in the 19th Century. We move onto the 12th Century cave city of Vardzia. Destroyed and exposed by an earthquake in 1283, some of these miraculous caves are still inhabited, with 600 intact dwellings along with a church, bell tower and frescoes of Queen Tamar, who took refuge here from the Mongol hordes. Stay in Vardzia overnight.

Day 12 - Tblisi

Drive back to Tbilisi through the spectacular upland provinces of Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli. Arrive in Tbilisi in time to visit the National Museum, complete with the national archaeological treasures, from some of the sites we have visited, and the thought-provoking exhibition on the history of the 20th century occupation of Georgia.

Day 13 - Home - Return to London.

Your Holiday Essentials

3rd - 15th April 2019
(13 Days)

Return flights from London, 3 & 4 star hotels, buffet breakfast, all lunches, 3 course dinner with drinks each evening, all entrance fees and expert guide throughout

Activity Level: 2

Guide: Dr Paul Wordsworth

Tour price: £3,125

Single supplement: £495
Deposit: £300
Price without flights: £2,775

Booking open

click here to book

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