Walking in the Caucasus

A Highlands Experience in the Tusheti and Khevsureti regions (East Georgia). Optional extension trip to the Kazbegi highlands.

Wed. August 28th to Tue. September 10th, 2019

(Max 15 participants)

Description:

  • Enjoy curated access to glorious hiking trails in the highlands of Tusheti, Khevsureti, and Kazbegi in East Georgia. The package tour includes 13 nights accommodation, 3 meals every day unless specified otherwise in the brochure, wine-beer with dinner, primary transportation in 4x4 vehicles with drivers, airport transfers, guides, entertainment, museum entrances, tips for local folks, and all snacks and coffee breaks. There are no hidden fees.
  • This tour is designed for those that enjoy walking in natural beauty, but want to conclude a day of walking with a hot shower, a cold beer or glass of local wine, good food, and a clean bed. We combine guided walks in the mountains (varying levels of difficulty) with cultural visits with local families and site visits to unique medieval churches and fortresses. We will be driving on dirt tracks in the mountains for a majority of the tour in order to arrive at the trailheads. The vistas, clean air, and unfettered access to local agrarian cultural life make the drives worth it. John and the guide team make every experience memorable with their good nature, attention to detail, cultural knowledge, and willingness to engage local people with expert translation.

Tour Leaders:

  • John Graham
  • Paul Stephens, Dato Beridze, Beso Elanidze

Tour Details:

  • Arrive-Depart Tbilisi (airport designation TBS)
  • 12 day overland travel itinerary (13 nights inclusive)
  • Visas: US or EU passport holders do not need a Georgian visa.

Accommodation:

  • 2 nights Tbilisi, Georgia
  • 1 night in Omalo, Tusheti
  • 1 night in Shenako, Tusheti
  • 2 nights in Dartlo, Tusheti
  • 1 night in Omalo, Tusheti
  • 2 nights in Babaneuri, Alazani valley wine region
  • 2 nights in Shatili, Khevsureti
  • 1 night in Roshka, Khevsureti
  • 1 night in Tbilisi

 Included:

  • Accommodation in high quality best-available boutique hotels or mountain lodges (family guesthouses)
  • All ground transportation including airport transfers
  • All meals with wine/beer as noted in itinerary
  • All entrances
  • Guides
  • Entertainment (traditional singers, a ballet or opera if performance dates match our itinerary)
  • Water on the bus, snacks (we pamper our guests!)

Not Included:

  • Airfare
  • Tips for primary guides and driver
  • Personal services (laundry)
  • Food-drink not specified in itinerary

Fees:

  • $3250 (book by Jan. 28th, 2019)
  • $3350 (book by March 28th, 2019)
  • $3450 (book after March 28th, 2019)
  • $390 Single supplement
  • 3-day extension: $760, $130 single supplement

Tamada Club

  • Gold: $325 discount
  • Silver: $200 discount

 

Payment Methods:

  • Bank transfer (preferred)
  • Personal check to Vermont address
  • Paypal (3% Paypal charge applies)

Mobility-Fitness:

  • Standard: 8/10 on the mobility scale (10 being the most demanding).
  • General fitness required, this is a trekking tour with some steep ascents and descents on rocky or uneven trails. The elevation gains/losses are indicated in all of the hike descriptions in the brochure.

Weather:

  • We will expect early fall weather in the mountains, which is generally the best possible. Prepare for temperatures between 50-75F, likely that we will have at least one rainy day. In higher elevation locations, the evenings will cool to 50F, while in the lowlands around Tbilisi (1500 feet), we will likely have warmer weather in the daytimes (75-90F).

Special Notes:

  • Beginning of the harvest season in the Alazani valley viticulture region
  • Fall foliage in the highlands!

Brochure:

Registration:

  • Submit registration form (sent at your request)
  • Deposit of $1000

Pre-Tour or Post-tour Options

  • Request private tour to Armenia

 

Sounds of the Tour

Travel Program...

We begin and end the tour in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia (airport designation TBS) and a beautiful city that featured prominently on trade routes from Asia to Europe. This is a tour of sites, sounds, and tastes to thrill even the most seasoned travelers. The focus of this unique itinerary will be the ancient, medieval, and modern architectural and cultural monuments in East Georgia.

Our first meeting will be a champagne toast at the hotel followed by a banquet of fresh local cuisine with Georgian wine. On our first day in the city, we'll visit the acclaimed national museums, then take a walking tour of the synagogue, mosque, Persian baths, churches, the botanical garden, and carpet shops of the Old Town. On the way from Tbilisi to the Alazani valley in East Georgia, we will stay a night or two near the city of Telavi before climbing the steep road to the Abano mountain pass into Tusheti. Read more about the program in the brochure.

 

About the Tour Leaders...

Ethnomusicologist and Georgian chant scholar, John A. Graham completed his Ph.D. at Princeton University, and has lectured at Princeton and Yale. The tours began in 2006 as a side business that has continued through the years by popular demand. John brings his developed organizational skills, knowledge of Georgia, and passion for music and history to our tour. John’s tours always involve singers who act as accomplices in bringing voice to the ancient stone cathedrals and monasteries of Georgia. If you also like to sing, we can teach songs, otherwise we hope you'll enjoy the singing of the leaders! For this tour, John will be joined by Paul Stephens and Beso Elanidze.

Request the full brochure! Email: admin@johngrahamtours.com

Tour Locations:

Tbilisi

+ 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

+ 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.

Tusheti Highlands

+ 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 Highlands

+ 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.

 

Request the full brochure! Email: admin@johngrahamtours.com

 

Request tour brochure

Dartlo historic town, Tusheti region
Keselo Fortress, Tusheti
Keselo fortress, Tusheti
Tusheti
Horsemen, Tusheti region
Jvari Church of the Cross, Georgia
Tbilisi Old Town, Georgia
Haystacks, Tusheti highland region
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Georgia
Monks at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Georgia
Gergeti Sameba Monastery, Kazbegi, Georgia
Tour leaders singing
Keselo fortress with Caucasian shepherd dog
Road to Tusheti highland region