Fam Trip to Armenia - March 2020

With extensions to Georgia and Nagorno Karabakh

Tuesday 10 March -
Sunday 15 March 2020


6 days with several extension options  

Cost of trip: Free of charge for genuine product decision-makers but please allow £315 to cover international flights

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Explore the vibrant capital city of Yerevan
     

  • See Mount Ararat - fabled resting place of Noah’s Ark
     

  • Have a taste Armenia’s traditions - make tolma and lavash and drink fine Armenian brandy
     

  • Discover ancient monasteries from the very beginnings of Christianity 
     

  • Visit Etchmiadzin, the religious center for all the Armenians in the world
     

  • Explore the spectacular Khor Virap monastery
     

  • Visit Areni Cave to see the world’s oldest winery (6100 years old)
     

  • Explore stunning mountains, remote villages and lakes of the Caucasus 
     

Main itinerary

Day 1 Tuesday 10 March. Arrive Yerevan


Arrive at Zvartnots International Airport in Yerevan. Transfer to hotel. It is likely that your flight will arrive in the early hours of the following morning (Wed 11 March) but your hotel is booked for the night of Tue 10 March. Overnight in Ani Grand hotel, Yerevan.




Day 3. Thursday 12 March. Visit Khor Virap, Arpa Protected Landscape, Noravank Monastery, Areni Cave and Vernissage Market


We’ll start the day with a visit to the stunning site of Khor Virap, the closest point in Armenia to Mount Ararat and one of the country’s most iconic landmarks. Now a monastery, Khor Virap was built as a prison and once served to imprison one of the most famous figures in Armenian history - Gregory the Illuminator, who tried to spread the word about Christianity in pagan Armenia. After 14 years of imprisonment, he was freed and Armenia then become the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion. You’ll continue to the village of Amaghu, from where we will take 4x4 cars and drive in the Arpa Protected Landscape seeing the stunning nature and wildlife of the Vayots Dzor region. Reaching the first viewpoint we will admire not only breathtaking views of nature, but also see the unique species of bezoar goats (registered in the Red Book). As Arpa is renowned for its untouched natural beauty, it is considered to be one of the most important walking areas of Armenia. Next we’ll visit Noravank Monastery – a complex with a two-floor church, which stands between red cliffs.The complex dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries. We’ll enjoy lunch in Noravank and begin to appreciate the amazing variety of types of food and the seemingly amplified tastes of organically grown Armenian produce - a feast for the senses. In the afternoon you’ll visit Areni Cave to see the oldest winery (6100 years old) and the oldest leather shoe in the world. This puts us in mind of the beginnings of agriculture and the spread of early man through this region. We’ll drive back to Yerevan and visit Vernissage Market, an open-air market (mainly operating at weekends) offering traditional Armenian handicrafts, jewellery, souvenirs and many other wares. Dinner in a local restaurant accompanied by folk music. Overnight: Ani Grand Hotel, Yerevan Included meals: Breakfast, Lunch Dinner




Day 4. Friday 13 March. Geghard monastery, Garni Temple, the Symphony of Stones, Lake Sevan and Dilijan


After breakfast, we’ll visit one of the most spiritual of places in all of Armenia – Geghard Monastery, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also known as Ayrivank, which means ‘church carved from the rock’ (similar in many ways to the famous rock-cut churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia). There is a legend about a healing source inside the church here, according to which the water can cure any sickness when you drink a sip. Geghard Monastery is the best place to hear spiritual songs, because of its excellent acoustics. Hopefully, we’ll hear some wonderful chorus singing during our visit. Next we’ll head to Garni Temple, the only remaining Hellenistic temple in the Caucasus region. It has Parthenon-type structure with 24 pillars signifying the 24 hours of the day. After visiting the temple, we’ll drive to the stunning ‘Symphony of Stones’ by 4WD vehicle to enjoy views of this natural formation - also the setting for walks in the area. During our lunch in Garni we’ll see another master-class of making lavash, a unique and delicious type of Armenian bread which is still made traditionally (also recognised by UNESCO). After lunch we’ll drive north through the mountains to Dilijan, making a short stop at Lake Sevan, the blue pearl of Armenia. We’ll visit a local house for a coffee break and the chance of tasting gata - one of the famous sweets of Armenia - and to witness its preparation process. We’ll also have time for local hotel inspections in Dilijan. Evening meal and presentation This evening, we’ll have a short presentation by the directors of Caucasus Holidays, Arsen and Ruben, to provide a better insight into the company and the various niche products offered. Overnight: Hotel BW Paradise in Dilijan Included meals: Breakfast, lunch, dinner




Day 5. Saturday 14 March. Dilijan, Goshavank, Gosh Lake, Sanahin & Haghpat


Leaving Dilijan, we start our day with a visit to Goshavank monastery, situated on a verdant hillside in the village of Gosh. It was founded in the 12th century and was used as an educational center. Here, under the wall of the church, is a unique khachkar (the famous stone crosses of Armenia) which was created long ago using only simple instruments. Next we’ll use 4WD vehicles to reach the impressive Gosh Lake for a taste of one of the walking trails of the wooded Tavush region. Then, depending on weather conditions, a short but impressive walk will take us through breathtaking landscapes back to Saint Gevorg Church (part of the Goshavank complex). Then we drive to Haghpat in the Lori region for lunch and in the afternoon visit Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries, two of the most emblematic monasteries of Armenia, dating back to the 10th century and listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Important note: At this point in the Fam Trip, those who are not taking any of the extensions will return to Yerevan for the night.

If taking extensions, please see further below. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Overnight: Ani Grand Hotel, Yerevan Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner




Optional extensions:


  1. Georgia
  2. Nagorno Karabakh
  3. Hiking Extension
Details available below




Day 2. Wednesday 11 March. Explore Yerevan & Etchmiadzin


A full day to explore this vibrant old city which has a fascinating mix of chic modern and traditional styles. On your city tour you’ll see the Republic Square, the Opera and Ballet Theatre reflecting both the early Russian and Soviet eras of occupation of Armenia. Yerevan experiences an extraordinarily high number of days of sunshine so you should catch a glimpse of Mount Ararat towering above the city - perhaps from the top of Cascade Monument. You’ll also visit the Cafesjian Museum of Modern Art and the Mother Armenia monument presiding over the city. Anyone interested in the fascinating early history of this region - the ‘crossroads of civilisation’ - will enjoy our visit to Matenadaran, the depository of one of the oldest and richest manuscript collections in the world (about 17,000 manuscripts and approximately 3,000,000 other archived documents). No visit to Yerevan is complete without a visit to Tsitsernakaberd, the Genocide Memorial, a sombre reminder of a very sad part of Armenia’s history (barely recognised by the outside world). Then we’ll enjoy a lunch and have take part in a master-class to make tolma (one of the traditional dishes of Armenia, made of ground beef and spices wrapped in vine leaves). Following lunch we’ll head to the important pilgrimage site of Etchmiadzin, the religious centre for all Armenians in the world.
A day is rounded off with a visit to the famous Ararat Brandy factory, which offers exclusive degustation of Armenian brandy (said to be Churchill's favorite brandy). It is strong, smooth and absolutely delicious! We’ll also have time for hotel inspections to see the range of accommodation options available in Yerevan.
Overnight: Ani Grand Hotel, Yerevan Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner




Day 6 Sunday 15 March. Depart Yerevan for return flight home


If not taking any of our extensions, you will be transferred to Yerevan airport for your flight back to the UK.




Included:


  • Transportation and accommodation as stated in each itinerary
  • Transfers from the airport to hotel and back to the airport
  • Professional English-speaking guide throughout the programme
  • All breakfasts, lunches and dinners
  • Master classes of preparing lavash, tolma and gata
  • Entrance tickets to sights listed in itinerary




Not included:


  • International flight costs
  • Visa fees
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Insurance
  • Tips and portage
  • Services not mentioned as included




Flight recommendation:


The flight cost to Armenia is based on the Ukraine Airlines flights as follows (price estimated at £315 on 23 Dec 2019): Tue 10 March 2020 London Gatwick/Kiev 1220/1740 Tue 10 March 2020 Kiev/Yerevan 2010/0055* Sun 15 March 2020 Yerevan/Kiev 0640/0750 Sun 15 March 2020 Kiev/London Gatwick 0950/1125 Other flight options are available if taking the Georgia Extension.





Georgia Extension (no supplement)

Day 5 Saturday 14 March. As above plus drive to Tbilisi, Georgia


You’ll will be driven north to the border for what is usually a quick and seamless crossing into Georgia and continue through the mountains to the atmospheric old capital of Tbilisi. Overnight: Tbilisi Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner




Day 7. Monday 16 March. Drive to Kazbegi National Park, Mtskheta, Mukhrani winery, Gori & Uphlitsikhe


Leaving Tbilisi early, we’ll drive north through stunning scenery to Stephantsminda in the mountainous province of Khevi. We’ll be following an historic route through the Caucasus between Georgia and Russia. The town of Stepantsminda (also called Kazbegi) itself is charming and a great base for exploring the region. The views of the mountains here (in Kazbegi National Park) are incredible and the picturesque Gergeti Trinity Church is a must-see for visitors to the area. En route, we’ll stop at the interesting town of Mtskheta, ancient capital of the old Georgian kingdom of Iberia. We visit the historic Jvari Monastery (6th century), one of the most outstanding examples of medieval sacral architecture in the Caucasus, and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century), known as the ‘Cathedral of the Living Pillar’. We’ll also visit Chateau Mukhrani winery, where we’ll visit Prince Ivane Mukhranbatoni’s XIX century estate and unique underground cellars. You’ll learn about the history of the Georgian royal family and discover the chateau’s art of wine-making. Continuing to Gori we’ll take lunch there before visiting the Joseph Stalin Museum Complex - a memorial house where Stalin was born (a small wooden hut) and Stalin’s personal railway carriage. Then we’ll drive to Uplistsikhe, ‘the ord’s fortress’ which is an ancient rock-hewn town in eastern Georgia. Built on the high rocky left bank of Mtkvari River, it contains various structures dating from the second millenium BC to the late Middle Ages, and is notable for the unique combination of various styles of rock-cut cultures. Here we will have a short guided walk (1hr). Finally we drive back to Tbilisi. Overnight: Tbilisi. Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner




Day 8. Tuesday 17 March. Explore the Kakheti wine region and explore Telavi, Tsinandali, Kvareli, Bodbe and Sighnaghi


Today we’ll drive to the wonderful Kakheti wine region. We’ll take a tour of the city of Telavi and also visit the atmospheric Telavi Bazaar where organically produced goods and produce are sold by local farmers. Enjoy the scene and take the opportunity to haggle with traders for a few gifts to take back home or to the office. Continuing to Tsinandali you’ll visit a beautiful 19th century museum, famous for its beautiful garden. Then, after lunch we’ll continue to Kvareli to visit the Khareba winery and learn something of their time-honoured wine-making traditions. Then you’ll head towards the ‘city of love’. On the way you’ll visit a Georgian Orthodox monastic complex and the seat of the bishops of Bodbe, one of the most important religious sites in Georgia.
St. George’s Cathedral, part of the monastery, holds the remains of St. Nino. This female heroine is believed to be ‘Equal to the Apostles’ and the ‘Enlightener of Georgia’ in the third century AD. She preached Christianity throughout Georgia and it is believed that this partly resulted in the Christianization of Iberia. Continuing our journey, we arrive at Sighnaghi - the ‘city of love’. We’ll explore this beautiful city and explore its fortress walls with stunning views overlooking Alazani valley. Finally, we drive back to Tbilisi for a dinner and a masterclass in the traditional Georgian cuisine of churchkhela - a candle-shaped sweet made from grapes, nuts and flour. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, chocolate and sometimes raisins are threaded onto a string, dipped into thickened grape juice and dried in the shape of a sausage. Also, a great souvenir. Overnight: Tbilisi. Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner




Day 9. Wednesday 18 March. Depart Tbilisi for return flight home


You will be transferred to the airport for your return flight to the UK.




Day 6. Sunday 15 March. Tour of Old Tbilisi


Tbilisi is full of wonders to discover. Our tour includes Metekhi Church, erected on a cliff overlooking the Mtkvari River; Narikala fortress, established in the 4th century (we’ll take the cable car) and a walk through the Botanic Gardens to visit a waterfall. Then, after enjoying some wonderful views over the city, you’ll descend into the old town, passing the old Sulphur Baths below Narikala fortress. You’ll visit the Anchiskhati Basilica of St Mary, the oldest surviving church in Tbilisi, which belongs to the Georgian Orthodox church and dates back to the sixth century. As we wander through the capital’s atmospheric streets, you’ll visit the Sioni Cathedral, a Georgian Orthodox cathedral on the banks of the river. Following a medieval Georgian tradition of naming churches after particular places in the Holy Land, the Sioni Cathedral bears the name of Mount Zion in Jerusalem. We continue on foot, visiting Shardeni Street with its fashionable, cozy cafes, restaurants and art galleries and visit the famous Bridge of Peace. After lunch, you’ll visit the Georgian National Museum whose collection contains ancient human remains which tell the story of ancient man’s development in the region. Also here are ethnographic relics reflecting Georgia’s rich heritage of Christian culture - painted icons, crosses, embroidery, enamel and a variety of Georgian and European painters and other great works. There will also be time for hotel inspections before our evening dinner and an introduction to some local music. Overnight: Tbilisi Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner with folklore show





Those opting for our extension to Georgia will continue from Dilijan after visiting Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries as outlined above. 

Nagorno Karabakh Extension (£250)

Day 5. Sat 14 Mar. Night in Dilijan


Those opting for our Walking & Trekking Extension will spend a further night in the mountain village of Dilijan after visiting Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries as outlined in the main itinerary further above. Please note that due to the time of year and limited time available, this extension purely provides a taste of the walking and trekking available in Armenia.




Day 7. Mon 16 Mar. Smbataberd, Tsakhats Qar and Yerevan


After breakfast we’ll walk to Smbataberd fortress dating back to the 5th century. Smbataberd holds a naturally advantageous position at the end of a ridge and surrounded by steep cliffs on three of its sides. Its large ramparts and towers are well preserved although inside there is little intact other than the foundations. After stopping to see the fortress, we’ll continue our walk to the medieval monastery of Tsakhats Kar. Within the complex here, lies Surb Hovhannes church and Surb Karapet church from the 10th century. Numerous khachkars can be seen around the monastery as well. After lunch, we’ll drive to Yerevan where you’ll have some free time and a chance to explore more of this vibrant city. Overnight: Ani Grand Hotel, Yerevan Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner




Day 6. Sun 15 Mar. Mt. Artanish, Noratus, Selim Pass & Yeghegis


First we’ll head to the mountain village of Artanish to start our walk to Mt. Artanish (2,461m). Starting from the village, we will climb around 400 meters to ascend the peak. During the walk, which will take about two hours, we can take in the beauty of the mountain landscapes around Lake Sevan and your guide will explain some of the routes available for walking and trekking groups. After our walk, we’ll drive to the peninsula of Lake Sevan and have lunch by the lake. Continuing to Noratus cemetery, we will find the highest concentration of khachkars (iconic and unique cross-stones) in Armenia. Then we’ll head to the Selim Pass, following what was once the Great Silk Road, stopping to visit Orbelian's Caravanserai. Built in 1332 at a height of 2410 meters above sea level it was used to accommodate weary travellers, merchants, traders and their animals as they crossed the mountains and is the best preserved caravanserai in the country. After our visit, we’ll drive to Yeghegis for the night. Overnight: Yeghegis Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner




Day 8. Tue 17 Mar. Depart Yerevan for return flight home


You will be transferred to the airport for your return flight to the UK





Day 5. Sat 14 Mar. Night in Dilijan


Those opting for our Walking & Trekking Extension will spend a further night in the mountain village of Dilijan after visiting Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries as outlined in the main itinerary further above. Please note that due to the time of year and limited time available, this extension purely provides a taste of the walking and trekking available in Armenia.




Day 7. Mon 16 Mar. Smbataberd, Tsakhats Qar and Yerevan


After breakfast we’ll walk to Smbataberd fortress dating back to the 5th century. Smbataberd holds a naturally advantageous position at the end of a ridge and surrounded by steep cliffs on three of its sides. Its large ramparts and towers are well preserved although inside there is little intact other than the foundations. After stopping to see the fortress, we’ll continue our walk to the medieval monastery of Tsakhats Kar. Within the complex here, lies Surb Hovhannes church and Surb Karapet church from the 10th century. Numerous khachkars can be seen around the monastery as well. After lunch, we’ll drive to Yerevan where you’ll have some free time and a chance to explore more of this vibrant city. Overnight: Ani Grand Hotel, Yerevan Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner




Day 6. Sun 15 Mar. Mt. Artanish, Noratus, Selim Pass & Yeghegis


First we’ll head to the mountain village of Artanish to start our walk to Mt. Artanish (2,461m). Starting from the village, we will climb around 400 meters to ascend the peak. During the walk, which will take about two hours, we can take in the beauty of the mountain landscapes around Lake Sevan and your guide will explain some of the routes available for walking and trekking groups. After our walk, we’ll drive to the peninsula of Lake Sevan and have lunch by the lake. Continuing to Noratus cemetery, we will find the highest concentration of khachkars (iconic and unique cross-stones) in Armenia. Then we’ll head to the Selim Pass, following what was once the Great Silk Road, stopping to visit Orbelian's Caravanserai. Built in 1332 at a height of 2410 meters above sea level it was used to accommodate weary travellers, merchants, traders and their animals as they crossed the mountains and is the best preserved caravanserai in the country. After our visit, we’ll drive to Yeghegis for the night. Overnight: Yeghegis Included meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner




Day 8. Tue 17 Mar. Depart Yerevan for return flight home


You will be transferred to the airport for your return flight to the UK





Walking & Trekking Extension (£150)

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