About our Company
Welcome! John Graham Tours is a small company, built over many years on the principle that cultural travel can and should involve meaningful contact with local people, remain current on the ways that tourism can positively and negatively impact local natural environments and economies, and above all provide genuine and extraordinary experiences for our tour participants. This is a family style operation begun in 2006, and operating tours every year since. Everyone gets to know John's family, and many participants return for subsequent trips, and/or maintain long term friendships with the Graham-Diasamidze family.
Our main clientele are private groups of recently retired folks who enjoy high quality tours. We cater to alumni groups, corporate travel groups such as the World Bank, and groups of traveling friends.
Over the years the company has evolved. First we began with pilgrimage tours in Georgia, later branching into all areas of cultural tourism including packages focused around wine/cuisine, artisan visits to unique local people, and tours on specific historical areas such as Ancient Colchis in West Georgia, the Tao-Klarjeti kingdom (in Turkey), archeology tours focused on neolithic sites in Samtskhe-Javakheti, and Ancient Christianity tours spanning eastern Georgia and northern Armenia. In recent years, we have also expanded our programmatic offerings to include botany tours, birding tours, and general trekking tours for older folks. Our geographical coverage has also expanded to include Ethiopia, John's most recent fascination. 2020 marks the beginning of a new chapter as new itineraries for both cultural trips and hiking trips are offered to all regions of Ethiopia.
The inclusion of traditional polyphony in our itineraries makes our tours unique. Originally, we called the company Georgian Chant Tours precisely because of the emphasis on experiencing liturgical churches and monasteries by sounding the acoustics of the space.
John's co-leaders are always excellent musicians. In each monastery church and cathedral that we visit, the sounds of medieval Georgian polyphonic singing resonate through the stone colonnades and soaring apses as visitors reflect on the fading frescoes, centuries of troubled history, the endurance of the Orthodox faith, and the austere architecture of Georgia's Christian monuments.
Later, finding our places around a typical Georgian banquet table laden with dishes like grilled lamb in tomato sauce, fresh baked bread with a layer of melted salty cheese inside, and grilled aubergine with walnut and garlic sauce, the guests hear the kinds of folk songs sung in the region that we're visiting with texts: "May God glorify our meeting today, blessing the hosts, and blessing the guests!"
In the first couple of years, our clientele consisted mostly of John's friends and relatives and their friends. Over time, our business has attracted a wide range of audiences including members of professional associations, alumni groups, professors and those with academic interests, Orthodox pilgrims, and adventurous cultural travelers keen to understand the Caucasus at depth. John's natural discipline lends itself to meticulous pre-tour organization, while his affable easy going manner inspires confidence and conviviality among tour group members.
The tour schedules reflect John's respect for client's interests: ample time is given to exploring each site, to eating and drinking well, and to meeting local people. The itineraries are designed to prevent excessive driving between sites, and emphasis is on comfort-and-culture rather than rush-rush-see-everything schedules. These features distinguish our tours from much of the competition, as reflected in dozens of positive testimonials from John's tour participants over the years. Today, we are offering a variety of different itineraries, with slight changes every year to reflect changing conditions with roads, hotels, and other infrastructure. In the future, the business looks to expand by offering even more unique itineraries. John personally vets all of the locations in advance of designing the itineraries and assigning suitable guides and specialists to each group tour.
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John Graham holds a PhD in historical musicology from Princeton University, where his dissertation became the first major international study of the audio and written sources for Georgian liturgical chant. Graham has started several successful choirs in the United States, and has also brought several Georgian professional choirs on tour to the United States. He has lectured at numerous conferences around the globe, and in 2016 held a one-year fellowship at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music where he was also appointed as a lecturer in the Yale Music Department. He continues to publish on topics related to Georgian folk and sacred music. For more on Graham's academic record and publications, see here.