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Depart London Heathrow on a Georgian Airways overnight flight to Tbilisi.
Arrive in Tbilisi in the early morning. Transfer and check into the centrally located 5* Biltmore Hotel where two nights are spent. Rooms are ready for immediate occupation. Morning at leisure.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Afternoon orientational city tour of the vibrant Tbilisi Old Town. Hidden in its labyrinth streets are monuments, churches, art galleries, museums and theatres, sulphur bath houses and buildings with gaping holes in their facades that have their own stories to tell. Visit Metekhi Church of the Assumption, the Orthodox church which was built by the Georgian King St. Demetruis II in the 13th century. Visit one of the city’s historic sulphur bath houses for which Tbilisi is renowned. The city has abundance of hot springs, high in sulphurs and other minerals, with a constant temperature of 38C to 40C, and the waters have long been used as a therapeutic aid for a range of ailments including skin conditions and arthritis. Visit the Georgian National Museum, the largest museum complex in the country. Here visit the Museum of Georgia which contains a collection of magnificent medieval Christian art, including stunning gold and silver jewellery from the ancient land of Colchis, spectacular modern and contemporary paintings by Georgian artists and masterpieces of Oriental, Western European and Russian decorative arts. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Morning walking tour of Tbilisi. Begin with the Georgian Synagogue, a Jewish house which was built with bricks, in an eclectic style, between 1895 and 1903. Continue to Sioni Cathedral, which is one of the most remarkable examples of Georgian medieval architecture, richly decorated with frescoes and icons in gold and dark turquoise colours. This is followed by Anchiskhati Basilica, the oldest church in Tbilisi, dating back to the 6th century. End at Narikala Fortress, the main citadel of the city where you can enjoy the wonderful views of Tbilisi.
Lunch at a local restaurant followed by a visit to Rustaveli Avenue, the central avenue in Tbilisi named after the medieval Georgian poet, Shota Rustaveli. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Depart by coach for Kakheti (105 kms) and explore what locals call ‘the motherland of wine’, the fertile Alazani Valley with its medieval monasteries and unique wineries. The eastern region of Georgia is surrounded by picturesque mountains and filled with historical sights. Visit Bodbe Nunnery, just outside Sighnaghi. In the 4th century, after Georgia converted to Christianity, Saint Nino, the queen responsible for the conversion, withdrew to Bodbe Gorge where she died. She wanted to be buried in a church in Bodbe rather than being taken away to be buried elsewhere by the king. Legend has it that the king came with 200 horsemen but could not move her, so he ordered that a small monastery be built for her to be buried in. The monastery is now a convent for nuns. Visit Sighnaghi, located in the most easterly region of Georgia. It is unique for being surrounded by fortress walls which have been well preserved and is famous for its wine and carpet making culture. The houses within Sighnaghi’s walls date from the 18th and 19th centuries. Walk through the narrow, cobbled streets of the town in shadow of richly decorated wooden balconies and enjoy the breath-taking views of the Kizikhi area.
Lunch at local winery. Drive to Lopota and check into the Lopota Lake Resort for two nights. Dinner at the hotel.
Depart by coach for Nekresi Monastery Complex. Drive to Gremi architectural complex.
Proceed to Kakheti for a cooking demonstration, where you can learn how to prepare famous Georgian pork barbecue ‘Mtsvadi’ and participate in the making of Churchkhela. Churchkhela is a traditional Georgian sweet snack made of walnuts and grape juice. Lunch with wine tasting with a local family. Visit Tsinandali Family Estate which, once belonged to the 19th century aristocratic poet Alexander Chavchavadze. The complex comprises a memorial house, a landscape garden, a historical winery, wine cellar, hotel and a café. Drive back to Lopota. Dinner at the hotel.
Depart by coach for Alaverdi Monastery. The monastery was founded by the Assyrian monk Joseph (Yoseb, Amba) Alaverdeli, who came from Antioch and settled in Alaverdi, then a small village and former pagan religious centre dedicated to the Moon. At a height of over 55 metres, Alaverdi Cathedral is the second tallest religious building in Georgia, after Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi, which was consecrated in 2004. Visit Ikalto Monastery Complex. The monastery was the first in Kakheti region; it was built in the 6th century by a Christian preacher, Zenon of Ikalto, who was one of the Assyrian fathers settled in Georgia to preach Christianity. Zeno lived in the monastery, preached and healed. He had disciples and followers which led to the expansion of the monastery. Zenon Ikalto was buried under one of the churches of the complex.
Proceed to Kakheti for a cooking demonstration, where you can see how Georgian bread is baked. Lunch with wine tasting with a local family. Drive back to Tbilisi, check into the Biltmore Hotel where one night is spent. Evening at leisure. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Drive to Mtskheta, the ancient capital located at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers. See the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Jvari, a cross-shaped monastery which dates to the 6th century, located at the top of a hill.
Lunch at a local restaurant outside Tbilisi. Visit the grand 11th-century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, a masterpiece of medieval Georgian architecture with stunning views over the Kura and Aragvi Rivers, set on the southern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. Drive along the Georgian Military Highway and visit Ananuri Fortress, a former residence of the Dukes of the Aragvi region. This complex features churches and towers dating back to the 14th-18th centuries, overlooking the beautiful Jinvali lake, in a picturesque landscape. Continue your journey and explore Khevi Province, the heart of the country, known for its severe scenery and numerous architectural monuments and archaeological sites. Check into Hotel Kazbegi for two nights. Dinner at the hotel.
Morning visit Kazbegi, a small town with the views of Mt. Kazbek, the seventh highest peak in the Caucasus Mountains. Mt. Kazbek is associated with the myth of Prometheus. According to the legend he was chained on the mountain as a punishment for having stolen fire from the Gods and having given it to mortals. Take a four-wheel drive to 14th-century Gergeti Holy Trinity Church which is located at a height of 2170 metres under Mt. Kazbegi.
Experience making ‘Khinkali’, Georgian dumplings filled with minced meat in dough which originated in the Georgian mountain regions, followed by lunch with a local family. Drive towards the Russian border, enjoying the views of the dramatic Dariali Gorge followed by a hike to Gveleti Waterfall. Dinner at the hotel.
Drive to Gori (190 kms) and visit the Joseph Stalin Museum, devoted to the most famous native of the city, who became head of the government and led the Soviet Union from 1925 to 1953.
Lunch at a local restaurant in Gori. Visit Uplistsikhe, known as ‘God’s Fortress’ the remarkable ancient cave city, all hewn out of rock on the banks of the Kura River. The city played a significant role in Georgian history over a period of approximately 3,000 years. Archaeological excavations have revealed extraordinary artifacts dating from the late Bronze Age up to the late Middle Ages. The ancient cave city was built on a rocky bank of the Mtkvari River, approximately 15 kilometres east of the town of Gori. Between the 6th century BC and 11th century AD, it was one of the most important political, religious, and cultural centres of pre-Christian Kartli, one of the predecessors of the Georgian state and flourished until it was ravaged by the Mongols in the 13th century. Continue your journey to Kutaisi (170 kms) and check into the Gala Hotel where two nights are spent. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Visit Bagrati Cathedral, the 11th-century cathedral, built during the reign of King Bagrat III and known as ‘the symbol of united Georgia’. The Cathedral was officially rebuilt on 16 September 2012. Visit Gelati Monastery, founded in 1106, by the famous king of Georgia, Davit the Builder. Gelati Complex includes an academy and remained for a long time one of the main centres in the country for cultural enlightenment. The monastery has a great number of preserved manuscripts dating back to the 12th century and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit the Prometheus Caves located in the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region. This 1.2 km-long cave complex provides breath taking examples of stalactites, stalagmites, curtains, petrified waterfalls, cave pearls, underground rivers, and lakes. Its unique features include a variety of halls and a diversity of landscapes.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Afternoon at leisure. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Depart for Tbilisi (180 kms), with a visit enroute to Ubisi, home of the 9th-century St. George’s monastery famous for its beautiful frescos.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Check into a Biltmore Hotel where one night is spent. Afternoon at leisure. Farewell dinner at a local restaurant with Georgian a folk show.
Morning at leisure. Check out from hotel.
Lunch at a local restaurant. Return to the Georgian National museum complex to visit the National Gallery, established in 1920 by Dimitri Shevardnadze which houses various exhibitions of fine arts and Sameba Cathedral, the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church in the Armenian Quarter. Transfer to Tbilisi airport for a Georgian Airways evening flight to London Heathrow.
Once again, Neil did a fantastic job with our itinerary! He is so informative and efficient. Nothing seems too much trouble for him!- UP, Cambodia