Start Yerevan *Regineh Hotel or similar*
A short drive through the city takes us to the churches of Hripsime and Gayane followed by Echmiadzin. This was the capital of Armenia from 180 to 340 AD (when Christianity was first adopted by the Armenian people). The main cathedral sits amongst hedges and lawns, where bearded clergy in dark robes sit in theological debate. In the gardens, there are many fine khachkars (carved cross stones) and bell towers. After lunch, we visit the impressive 7th-century ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral and then the Genocide Memorial and museum, dedicated to the massacre of 1.5 million victims in 1915. The visit will help us understand how the huge Armenian diaspora community has developed across the world. *Regineh Hotel or similar*
In the morning we drive for an hour to Geghard Monastery (a UNESCO site) where on the hillside you can still see caves that housed monastic cells. A short drive takes us to the village of Garni where we explore the only pagan temple left in Armenia, and outside we're likely to meet friendly locals selling homemade honey and sweets. After lunch, we return to the city with free time to sample the thriving café culture of Yerevan. *Regineh Hotel or similar*
Today is a long but fascinating day. First, we visit the Matenadaran (Armenia’s ancient manuscripts library) which is an imposing building at the top of Yerevan’s grandest avenue. Leaving the capital we drive to the monastery of Khor Virap, one of the holiest sites in the country, with stunning views of Mount Ararat. Our second stop is in Areni village where the finest Armenian wine is produced. Here we visit a vineyard and have a tasting. The next stop is Noravank, where, after lunch we visit the monastery (a masterpiece of the 13th century architect Momik) dramatically located in the canyon. Afterwards we journey for approx. 3hrs to the small town of Goris where we stay the night. *Diana Hotel or similar*
The day starts with taking one of the world’s longest cable cars to visit the Tatev Monastery, perched on the edge of the Vorotan Canyon. On our return, it's a two-hour drive on part of the ancient Silk Road, where we stop for a lunch break then drive on for another hour up to the well-preserved 14th century Selim caravanserai. From here we continue to the top of the pass where the landscape changes, before descending to the blue water of Lake Sevan. We make a stop at Noraduz to see the 'forest' of khachkars (cross-stones which incorporate both Pagan and Christian symbols) before continuing to our hotel on the shores of the lake, the largest in the Caucasus and known as Armenia's 'seaside'. The lake is volcanic and lies at an altitude of 1950m reflecting the sky like a mirror and changing colour throughout the day. *Bohemian Resort Hotel or similar*
After breakfast, we visit Sevanavank, a famous monastery with commanding views of Lake Sevan. Our group then heads north to Lori, the lush alpine region of northern Armenia. After a short stop in Dilijan, a small town known for its arts and crafts, we visit the 12th-century Haghartsin Monastery, nestled in a forested valley. This beautiful site, whose name means ‘Dance of the Eagles’, was built by two brothers, princes of the Bagratuni kingdom. On the way to Haghpat, our final stop of the day, we pass through Molokan villages. Molokans (milk drinkers) are a sect of Russian Old Believers who broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 16th century. *Qefo Hotel or similar*
Our final morning in Armenia includes visits to the impressive UNESCO sites of Haghpat and Sanahin. After lunch in Alaverdi we will continue on to cross the border. Here we say goodbye to our Armenian leader and driver and walk approximately 10 minutes across the border into Georgia, where we will be met by our new guide, and travel onto the capital Tbilisi. Our hotel is a short walk to the wonderfully restored historical centre with its relaxing pavement cafes and bars. *Tbilisi Inn or similar*
Much of Tbilisi can be visited on foot and in the morning we will explore the old town. Here we see the ancient sulphur baths, Sioni Cathedral - the main church of Tbilisi and the beautifully decorated synagogue, built at the beginning of the 20th century. We will also visit Rustaveli Avenue, the main artery of the city and the Treasury of the State Museum, with its fantastic collection of pre-Christian gold artefacts and jewellery. The rest of the afternoon will be free, with time to explore the art galleries, handicraft and painting markets and the enormous new Holy Trinity Cathedral, all within a reasonable distance from our hotel. Or you may choose to just relax with a coffee in one of the many cafes that line the streets of the old town. *Tbilisi Inn or similar*
After breakfast, we will take a long drive up the Georgian Military Highway, through the great Caucasus Mountains via Ananuri Church. Our goal for the day is the town of Stepantsminda (formerly Kazbegi) where, after lunch, we walk up through the village of Gergeti to the landmark Holy Trinity church. The walk will take us about 2-3 hours in total. For those who don't want to walk, local jeeps can usually be rented for a reasonable cost. Hopefully we will have clear views of Mount Kazbek, the third highest of the Georgian Caucasus Mountains, soaring to 5047m. We will drive back to the ski resort of Gudauri, where we have dinner and spend the night in a cosy alpine hut style hotel. *Hotel Alpine Hut or similar*
Today is our longest day. We drive three hours to Uplistsikhe which was once an enormous cave town dating from the pre-Christian era. In times of siege, dead bodies were temporarily buried in jars until they could be peacefully re-buried and a large underground tunnel to the river for water collection still exists. Ancient temples and theatres can still be identified and we walk up sandstone steps for a winding view across the river and plains. We take a short drive to the town of Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. Visiting Stalin Square where a huge statue of him used to stand we take a guided tour of the fascinating museum of his life and the role he played in the Soviet Union. Stalin's bulletproof train carriage, which he used to travel to the Potsdam Conference in 1945, lies in the grounds of the museum. It is worth a visit for its simple but elegant interior. The small wooden house where he was born is also here in a temple-like structure – there are still people in Georgia who greatly admire Stalin. We then continue to Kutaisi where we spend the night. *Kutaisi guesthouse*
After breakfast we visit the ruins of the 11th century Bagrati Cathedral poised prominently above the river, and travel to the Gelati Academy and Monastery, founded by King David the Builder in the 12th century. It is no surprise to find he chose yet another superb location for this monastery, whose monks were members of the royal court. Both sites, Bagrati and Gelati, have been on the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list since 2010. From here we drive to the lovely Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park and take a guided walk. We then continue to the small ski village of Bakuriani where we will spend the night in an alpine hut-style hotel. *Hotel Apolon or similar*
Today we travel back to Tbilisi, stopping at Mtskheta, the former capital of Georgia where we will see the 11th-century Sveti-Tskhoveli Cathedral, the largest functioning cathedral in Georgia. However, the main reason people visit Mtskheta is to see Jvari church, perched on a hill overlooking the valley and built in the 6th century on the spot where St. Nino set up her cross in the 4th century which converted the town from paganism to Christianity. Continuing on to Tbilisi we will have some free time to enjoy this historic capital. *Tbilisi Inn or similar*
After breakfast we leave Tbilisi, driving east to the wine region of Kakheti, where we visit the recently renovated royal town of Signagi. Lunch will be taken at a local winery where we will enjoy traditional cuisine and have the opportunity to taste the wines. From here we continue to the citadel of Gremi on the banks of the Intsoba river and onto the 11th century Alaverdi Cathedral - the main spiritual centre of this region - surrounded by impressive defensive walls dating mainly from the beginning of the 18th century. We make our way back to Tbilisi for our final night in Georgia. *Tbilisi Inn or similar*
Our tour ends after breakfast.
* 11 nights hotels and 2 nights guesthouses (shared facilities in guest house) * Group normally 6 to 16, plus leader. Min age 16 yrs * Travel by private minibus
All breakfasts, 7 lunches and 3 dinners are included. Georgian specialities include Khachapuri (cheese pies), Khinkali (meat dumplings) and Lobio (bean stew with herbs and spices). There are many sauces made from walnuts to accompany cheese or meat dishes. Churchekhela - walnuts in solid grape juice is a typical local sweet. Armenian specialities feature a variety of local cheeses, flat Lavash bread, sweet Lavash made from fruits, Khoravats (barbecues), Dolma (stuffed vine leaves), Kartofel (raisin and apricot pilaf rice dish) and Kyufta (veal meatballs cooked with cognac). Local beer, wine, vodka and cognac are readily available in both countries as is fruit vodka, which is locally distilled and tastes more like grappa. Still and sparkling water is easy to find, as are other soft drinks. There is a huge variety of food in both countries. Vegetarians can easily be catered for, as there are lots of fruit and vegetables, cheese and other dairy products, various local breads and dumplings. Vegans or those with wheat or dairy intolerance will find there is far less variety but can be accommodated. Walnuts are ubiquitous in salads and sauces, so those with nut allergies should be aware. Please advice Exodus at the time of booking if this affects you.
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