Saga Holidays has introduced a Caucasus Calling! tour exploring the former soviet republics of Georgia and Armenia, expanding its programmes in Central Asia.
The tour includes 26 excursions in 13 nights.
The tour starts Tbilisi, in eastern Georgia, and highlights include the wine-growing region of Kakheti and the Tsinandali estate, home to the country’s first European winery.
After a drive along the Georgian Military Road, an ancient route into the Caucasus Mountains connecting the south Caucasus countries with Russia, there’s a 90-minute hike to 14th-century Gergeti Trinity Church on a 2,180-metre peak with views of Mount Kazbek.
On descent to Gergeti, guests visit a family home for a cookery demonstration of Mokhevian recipes, before driving to the Dariali Canyon to view the Gweleti waterfalls.
The history of Tbilisi is revealed during a tour of the city, which has endured turbulent times, to see 13th century Metekhi church and the Sulphur Baths, and take the cable car to a reconstruction of the 4th-century Narikala fortress. The tour also passes 18th century Caravanserai, roadside rest stops used by traders, the Sioni cathedral and Anchiskhati Basilica.
The tour continues into Armenia, travelling to the UNESCO-listed Haghpat Monastery before exploring ‘Armenian Switzerland’ and the Dilijan spa and resort, in the Tavoush region.
After driving on the Silk Road in Selim PassDepart, Southern Armenia, there’s a call to the mountain spa town of Jermuk, plus a visit to Karahunge, where the 7,500-year-old stone circle is believed to be an ancient astronomical observatory.
In Areni, there’s a call to a winery believed to be the world’s oldest at 6,100 years old, and en route to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, guests pause at the Khor Virap Monastery, on the slopes of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark was said to have beached after the great flood.
Guests can discover the spiritual centre for Armenians in Echmiadzin, and see the cathedral that is considered the oldest in the world.
As the tour nears an end, 4X4 vehicles are the mode of transport to the Pagan Temple of Garni and the Garni Gorg where basalt columns carved by the river are known as the ‘Symphony of the Stones’.
The holiday closes with a visit to the Ararat Brandy Factory for tastings of the Armenian brandy.