Caucasus

The area of the ‘Greater Caucasus’ mountain range is generally thought of as the dividing line between Asia and Europe.  For the purposes of this website, I’m putting the destinations of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan into the Europe section, but there is an overlap with Asia!  The highest peak in the Caucasus range is Mount Elbrus (5,642m) which is actually in Russia but is considered as the highest point in Europe.

The Caucasus is an area of great importance for Natural History and holidays to the Caucasus region are popular to see the wildlife in the mountains which includes brown bears, wolves, bison, maral, leopards and golden eagles.  There are 6400 plant species of which 1600 are endemic to the region. The landscape is made up of mixed forest areas with huge rocky areas beyond the treeline.  There is also a native breed of dog, the Caucasian Shepherd Dog.

The three countries covered on this page occupy a stunningly beautiful strip of mountains which are wedged between the Black and the Caspian Seas. They all border the other two but are completely different! Three unrelated languages are spoken and there are two different main religions, Muslims in Azerbajan and Christians in Armenia and Georgia.  All three countries have strong pagan routes and are lovely hospitable people who will welcome you to their country and homes. In the heart of the Caucasus is the start of the ancient Silk Road through Asia into China.

Armenia has a cosmopolitan capital city of Yerevan and windswept mountain villages where you will find shepherds, monasteries and churches in stunning locations. There are influences from early Christians and centuries of rule by Ottoman and Persian empires. Medieval monasteries, stone churches in green gorges and fortresses are dotted around the land. You must taste the local brandy which apparently was the favourite tipple of Winston Churchill! Take a picnic lunch overlooking the changing colours of Lake Sevan (one of the highest altitude lakes in the world), wine taste at the Areni Winery in Vayots Dzor and visit the field of Khachkars (cross stones).

Azerbaijan is a contrasting country within itself – the mansions built by oil magnates and the gleaming skyscrapers of the capital city Baku, sit next to the Soviet era architecture and beautifully preserved walls of the old city. Out in the country enjoy a slow pace of live where you will find fortresses hidden in dense forests and the countryside dominated by the Caspian Sea.

Georgia will welcome you with open arms – a particularly friendly country and very proud of their land.  There are family run guesthouses and local homes that tourists can stay in. Wander the narrow streets of the capital, Tbilisi where balconies almost touch and enjoy the shops, restaurants and bars here. Through the Caucasus Mountains you can travel along the Georgian Military Highway where there are stone watchtowers and villages little changed in centuries and to the west visit the Black Sea. You will find delicious food and wines here including the golden vineyards of the Kakheti region. Visit Gori with it’s museum devoted to it’s most famous son – Stalin. At the Abastumani Observatory you can view the night sky through several large telescopes.

There is a good choice now of holidays to the Caucasus countries, including several adventure tours, cycling, hiking and wildlife holidays.  You can join an escorted tour or ask me to tailor make a trip to suit you.  Below are a couple of suggestions for private tours:

Classic Armenia: This is a great introduction tour to Armenia and offers sightseeing with a private guide and car.

Fly to Yerevan for 3 nights with sightseeing and free time. Excursion to Etchmiadzin (religious centre of Armenia including cathedral and museum), St Hripsime and Zvarnots with views of Mount Ararat and Mount Aragats. Drive south east to Sisian via Khor Virap and Norvank. Spectacular views and dramatic gorges. Visit mountain top monastery at Tatev. Overnight Sisian. Visit to Karahunge (Armenia’s Stonehenge!), drive to Lake Sevan, dramatic scenery of the Selim Pass (part of the old Silk Road) and explore 14th century Selim Caravanserai. See the ancient cemetery of Khachkars, two nights at Dilijan. Visit the Haghartsin Monastery which took about 300 years to build. Lunch in a private house, visit ceramics and woodcarvers studios. Into the Lori Province with forested mountains, rivers and gorges. Visit Odzun church from the 6th century and UNESCO sites. Lunch at a local restaurant with traditional Armenian barbeque and back to Yerevan for two nights. Excursions to temples and monasteries from the 1st century AD. Walk to the Geghard Cave Monastery cut into the cliff side. Fly back to the UK.

Prices from £1965 per person based on two sharing and includes return flights, 3 star hotels and B&Bs, all transfers and transport, sightseeing with English speaking guide and entrance fees.

Classic Georgia: This is a must do tour for first time visitors with a private car and driver with many generous meals includes – slacken your waistband!

Fly to Tbilisi and overnight with city tour. Through Mtskheta you head p the Georgian Military Highway to Gudauri visiting several churches on the way. Overnight Gudauri. Drive to Gori, birthplace of Stalin, visit the cave town of Uplistsikhe and stop in Borjomi then overnight at the amazing Abastumani Observatory. Evening excursion to the museum and to see the sky at night. Head south towards the Turkish border to Vardizia, a cave town in the Erusheli Mountain, built in 1185 by Queen Tamar. Overnight in Kutaisi, the anicent capital of Colchis. Visit famous sights including Barati Temple and Gelati Monastery. Back to Tbilisi and overnight. On to the David Gareja Monastery Complex and the Larva Monastery, then to Telavi through vineyards of Kakheti. Explore this region with it’s wines and cathedrals. Transfer back to airport and fly home.

Prices from £1745 per person based of two sharing and includes return flights, 3 star hotels and B&Bs, some meals, all transfers, sightseeing with English speaking guide and entry fees.

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The Silk Road

An amazing journey through ancient China, taking in historic sites such as Xi'an and Beijing and traversing mountains, plains and the Gobi Desert, following the oldest trading routes and links between Eastern Europe and Asia.

Culture of Georgia & Armenia

A small group cultural holiday through the mountains and villages of Armenia and Georgia in the Caucasus. Walks and tours of monasteries, churches, museums, vineyards and craft villages. Two week escorted tour.