“A two week, small group tour around Georgia , Armenia and the Caucasus Mountains combining a carefully thought out mix of the stupendous, the spiritual and the secluded.”
Tbilisi | High Caucasus | Mtskheta| Uplistsikhe | Gori | Svaneti | Yerevan | Khor Virap monastery | Lake Sevan | Molokan community | Echmiadzin churches | Geghard UNESCO site
Description of Georgia and Armenia small group tour
This two week Georgia and Armenia small group tour has an itinerary that is bursting with expert knowledge of two countries that have been beyond the reaches of tourism for many years. Travelling with a local guide who knows and understands not only their recent history as former Soviet states, but also their ancient history that includes Persian, Central Asian and Ottoman influences. Also known as the Caucasus region, they are home to the Caucasus Mountains and sandwiched between the Black and Caspian Seas, meaning that geographically and historically they offer dramatic land and culturescapes.
With equal time spent in both countries, this trip starts in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, followed quickly by its former ancient and still very much spiritual capital Mtskhehta, with ancient monasteries and monuments to explore in both. The mountains are always calling on this tour, and in Georgia we get a chance to drive up into the High Caucasus and, in particular, to the mythical peak of Mount Kazbek.
The remote mountains and valleys of Georgia are not only home to some of the most beautiful religious buildings and ancient sites, such as at Kutaisi or Uplistsikhe, but also to some of Europe’s most isolated and traditional communities. We have the honour of meeting the Svan people in the elevated, wilderness area of Svaneti. Georgian Orthodox Christians, they speak their own language, and still lead very traditional mountain lifestyles.
Our journey continues into Armenia, starting in its capital, Yerevan, a city with fine historic sites as well as a museum to commemorate the Armenian Genocide by Ottoman powers between 1915-23. Armenia is crammed full of ancient history, with monasteries dating back to the emergence of Christendom and in cities like Dilijan the ancient Molokan community also still thrives, a traditional ethnic group that is one of the smallest in Europe.
We meet other ethnic communities on our journey through this country’s remote, traditional landscapes, visiting Kurdish and Yazidi villages where we are always given a warm welcome. In Garni, we are hosted by a local family who prepare a wonderful, typically Armenian meal in a traditional setting. This is still a country that respects traditions, especially when it comes to the sacred and spiritual, and our journey around the likes of Echmiadzin’s magnificent churches, the UNESCO monastery of Geghard that is carved into the mountain or Sevanavank monastery on the shores of Lake Sevan are just a few of the places that best highlight these cultural aspects.
Note: Some of our guests choose to extend their trip to include the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, which claims independent republic status, but is considered by many to be part of Azerbaijan. A fascinating place in the South Caucasus, full of ancient secrets waiting to be discovered.
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Responsible tourism: Georgia and Armenia small group tour
A lot of the time on this tour is spent in towns and cities, but we do spend a significant proportion of the trip exploring the countryside and wilder areas of the region. We brief our travellers to stick to the trails so as not to disturb this unique landscape and leave it for others to enjoy. These countries were part of the Soviet Union and as such western European norms regarding the environment are not so well entrenched, therefore it is quite common for local people to dispose of rubbish simply by throwing it out of the window. We operate a strict no litter policy on our tours, and work to educate our drivers and other service providers so as to avoid contributing to this problem.
Similarly, in conjunction with our local team we work with hotels and guesthouses to implement best practices when it comes to environmental matters – in some places this is far behind what we might be used to in other parts of the world. This includes basic things like not replacing towels - small things but the Caucasus especially outside of the capital cities is not as used to tourism as countries in western Europe.
In Svaneti we stay in small guesthouses which make a point of using local produce for the meals it provides – local in the sense of being from the village and surrounding area, not from elsewhere. Not only is this a great introduction to the culinary culture of Georgia but it helps in a small way to cut down on food miles.
On all of tours we strive to include a strong focus on local communities and we are firm believers that tourism should have a positive impact on the places visited. On this tour we try to allow our travellers to gain a real insight into the traditional customs of the region; a good example of this is when we stop in a small village near Garni, where we have lunch in a village house and can help to prepare the food. Not only is this a great experience for travellers but it means that small scale community based tourism projects, often ignored by mainstream tourism, are able to benefit from our visit.
On this tour we spend time in the remote province of Svaneti, tucked away in the High Caucasus mountains. We stay at locally owned guesthouses and hotels and where appropriate employ the services of local people in order not only to gain a greater insight into the complex traditions here but to ensure that they gain financial benefit from our visit, rather than just being ‘exhibits’. The communities here do not have a wealth of opportunities to earn money, and tourism helps to bring vital income to the region. It also helps to ensure that there is employment for young people – a key problem with many of the more isolated communities in this part of the world is that younger generations migrate to the cities due to a lack of employment opportunities, and this has a negative impact upon such places, meaning that traditions start to die out. The presence of tourism helps, in a small way, to keep the traditional ways alive.
These are very traditional areas with certain codes of behaviour, and the people here are not that accustomed to outsiders. We ensure that our travellers are appropriately briefed in order so as not to offend local sensibilities. This can include appropriate behaviour in front of local shrines, and the customs of Georgian hospitality. This also applies to the numerous churches and monasteries that we visit on this trip; all three are deeply religious countries and it is important that we respect these traditions.
We also stop to visit communities of Armenia’s ethnic minorities including the Molokans, Kurds and Yazidis. We only visit villages that are pleased to receive us – it is important that we do not treat such communities just as ‘exhibits’, and we recognise that some traditional groups prefer to be left alone.
We visit a number of sites and monuments on this tour that do not necessarily receive much funding from other sources; the entrance fees that we include help to maintain the heritage of this country for future generations – not just western travellers but more importantly to local people to whom they have far more cultural and historical significance. We use locally owned suppliers and our partners here are deeply involved with the preservation of the culture and heritage of the country. Many of the region’s sites have been poorly maintained in the past and entrance fees play an important part in their restoration and conservation.