Viticulture and Highlands - East
A cultural tour to East Georgia: Kakheti and the highlands of Tusheti
Dates: TBA (by private tour group request)
Registration: OPEN (Max 15 participants)
This tour explores the viticulture region of Kakheti and the Tusheti National Park region in the high Caucasus, both in Eastern Georgia. In Kakheti, we will visit vineyards and taste unique local varietals such as rkatsiteli and kisi. We learn how thousands of years of cultivation yielded unique technologies for fermentation and storage in subterranean clay pots called kvevri. These have been rediscovered by the wine world, and are increasingly used by natural wine vintners in Europe and America. For the second half of the tour, we travel into the high Caucasus to explore the culture of the mountaineers, whose distant ancestors built striking defensive fortresses out of dry-stack slate blocks. These incredible buildings dot the historic landscape, which we will explore by jeep and on foot, meeting cheese makers and carpet weavers in local villages.
- Arrive-Depart Tbilisi (airport designation TBS)
- 11 day overland travel itinerary (12 nights inclusive)
- Visas: US or EU passport holders do not need a Georgian visa. For other nationalities, check the country listings
- Maximum 15 guests (only a deposit secures a place on tour)
- John Graham
- Paul Stephens
- Invited specialists and guest musicians
- Best available boutique hotels and guesthouses.
- Contact us for the invitational tour brochure and registration form. Email: email@example.com
- Submit registration form (sent at your request)
- Send deposit of $1000 to secure your place (details in registration form)
- $3550 (book after June 4th, 2020)
- $530 Single supplement
- Gold: 10% discount
- Silver: 5% discount
- Bank transfer (preferred)
- Personal check to Vermont address
- Credit card via Paypal (3% Paypal charge applies)
- Add a 3-day extension trip up the Russian Military Highway to the highland region of Kazbegi (June 16-19). Includes 2 nights in Kazbegi, 1 night in Tbilisi
- Registration form for details.
- Accommodation in high quality best-available boutique hotels and guesthouses
- All ground transportation including airport transfers
- All meals with wine/beer as noted in itinerary
- All entrances
- Entertainment (traditional singers, a ballet or opera if performance dates match our itinerary)
- Water on the bus, snacks (we pamper our guests!)
- Tips for primary guides and driver
- Personal services (laundry)
- Food-drink not specified in itinerary
- Standard: 5/10 on the mobility scale (10 being the most demanding).
- General fitness required. There are stairs to the churches. We will have some walks, but nothing strenuous. Walks are on uneven rocky terrain, sturdy footwear required. If walks are too demanding there is always an option to skip the walk.
- Flagship itinerary, most popular destinations
- This will be flower season!
- Top quality hotels on this itinerary
- Lots of arts and music on this itinerary
- Plenty of walks. Optional vigorous walks.
- Transportation in 4x4 jeeps. The road to Tusheti is a dirt road without guard rails. Our drivers are very safe and very experienced, but if this presents an issue, please consider another tour itinerary.
- We will expect late summer weather, which means it could be anything. Prepare for temperatures between 65-85F, likely that we will have at least one thunderstorm day. Otherwise, we'll have many gorgeous days!
Tour Videos (Kakheti, Tusheti)
+ Tbilisi, capital city of Georgia, founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali. A center of trade and conflict for centuries, Tbilisi has been sacked forty times by various invaders but survives today as the modern hub of the South Caucasus. Nevertheless, the downtown area is full of winding cobblestone streets, small shops and restaurants, as well as the churches, synagogues, and mosques that celebrate the diversity of this unique country. As we tour monasteries in the ancient capital region, a comfortable downtown Tbilisi hotel will serve as our home-base, affording a chance to sample the best of Tbilisi's dining and evening entertainment, and visit the wealth of museums, spas, and cultural delights in the "Old Town."
Mtkvari River Valley
+ Starting in Tbilisi (named for the hot springs along the river), we journey upstream to the ancient capital Mtskheta. Dominated by the 11th century Cathedral of the "Living Cross," Mtskheta was once the thriving trade capital of East Georgia but is now a quaint little hamlet at the confluence of Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. The Romans reached Mtskheta in 65 AD, as evidenced by the remains of a bridge left behind, and in the early Christian era, St. Nino the Enlightener worked miracles, converting the Iberian King Mirian and his queen Nana to Christianity in 337 AD. Further up the Mtkvari River, we visit the Ateni Sioni Church (7th c.).
+ Sighnaghi, a hilltop fortress town built by King Erekle in the 18th century; boasts twenty seven towers and a four kilometer defensive wall overlooking the broad Alezani valley, commanding a 180 degree view of the Great Caucasus Range. Once an artisan capital, Sighnaghi is quickly re-establishing itself as a center of the artistic renaissance of 21st century Georgia, hosting three dance troupes, folk and sacred choirs, painting, music, carpet-making, and wood-working studios, as well as a regional branch of the State University. We will make ourselves at home in this charming town for the first half of the tour while we visit the incredible treasures of medieval architecture in the region including the Bodbe, Alaverdi, Ghirsa, and Iqalto monasteries.
+ The remote highland region of Tusheti, now a National Park protected by the Georgian government, is a pristine mountain landscape featuring broad terraced meadows, dense forests, and river canyons. The area is inhabited by the Tush people, who speak a dialect of Georgian, and are semi-nomadic herdsmen who winter their flocks in the Kakhetian lowlands and produce highly-prized Tushetian cheeses. According to various competing historical accounts, the various groups of Tush (or Batsbi) fled the Christianization of the lowland Georgian kings, maintaining their animist traditions in the highlands. In a census of 1876, more than 5000 people lived in Tusheti, but in recent times this number has dwindled to just 500 year-round residents. Historically, the highlanders were feared warriors and were responsible for several key victories over Persian forces in East Georgia. This militaristic culture is reflected in the medieval defensive towers that dominate Tush villages, similar to those found in highland Chechnya and Daghestan directly across the border. Tush culture is also famous for its folk songs and dances, which maintain consistent popularity in Georgian mainstream media. The access road to Tusheti is open to 4x4 jeep traffic only six months of the year and has been included on numerous "most dangerous roads in the world" lists. It must be said, however, that in the hands of our capable drivers they're not that extreme, and they spend more time cursing the migrating flocks of sheep than worrying about road conditions.
Telavi, Alazani Valley
+ Telavi, the regional capital of the Kakheti region in East Georgia, was the historical seat of the lowland Georgian kings allied with the highland tribes in Tusheti, Khevsureti, and Pshavi. In the Telavi region, at the head of the rich Alazani valley, there are many famous monasteries and castles set amidst long rows of cultivated vineyards. These include the 8th c. double-domed Kvelatsminda church, the 11th-12th monumental Alaverdi Cathedral and secluded Iqalto Academy, as well as the 16th c. Gremi fortress and Shuamta Convent. Our visits to the region always include local wine-tastings, song, and feasting!
+ Kazbegi is a mountain valley region directly north of Tbilisi accessible by the “Russian Military Highway” (built during the early 19th century). For many centuries, it has been the main trade and traffic route through the high Caucasus mountain passes from north to south. On our visit, we will tour the picturesque Ananuri Fortress with its intact Rusian iconostasis in the main church; we will hike to the 13th c. Gergeti Sameba monastery with 5000m Mount Kazbegi looming behind; and we’ll hike in the side valleys towards glaciers and peaks. The scenery is stunning; a fitting finale to this exquisite trip.
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