Culture

Gorgeous Georgia

6 to 18/22 June, 2020
Georgia, Armenia

Imagine a land almost as old as time itself, and from where, according to anthropologists, the Caucasian race began.  It’s a land where mountains higher than the Alps tumble into a warm blue sea, and where also, those verdant lower slopes were the birthplace of fine wine.  A land whose contours house many charming Orthodox Monasteries adorned with frescos of former monarch David the Builder, and patron saint St George.  That land is of course Georgia, once a vassal of the Soviet Union, and now a country paving its own way, whilst looking westward to Europe for its future.  This is the land where Jason and his Argonauts once sailed in search of the Golden Fleece and also where Joseph Stalin began his early revolutionary life.

There are attractive valleys between the mountains and, many of these valleys, together with the sea-shore are graced with railway tracks of the Russian five-foot gauge.  Passenger services are Spartan, but we will aim to travel on every piece of the Georgian Railway that offers a service using both traditional slow trains and also on modern Stadler speedy connections.  There is one snaking narrow gauge mountain train to a ski resort at Bakuriani, which we will ride and also photograph on Gustave Eiffel’s dramatic bridge.  We will also ride one funicular railway and provide opportunities for the adventurous to use some of the nation’s cable cars.  There are no operating steam locomotives but the six or so preserved specimens will be able to be seen.  Tbilisi the capital has a rather spacious but crowded metro which can be sampled as desired.

Examine our itinerary and come with us to this charming land where the Georgian language and alphabet may be undecipherable, but the food, wine and beer are delectable and equal to anything found anywhere.  Our prime transport will be rail but with an optional paralleling transfer bus containing our luggage.

We also offer an optional extension to adjacent Armenia for a little more of the same.

Highlights

  • Comprehensive rail travel over the Georgian network
  • Ride and photograph the snaking narrow-gauge Borjormi – Bakuriani mountain line
  • World Heritage sites at Gelati and Mtskheta
  • Unique culture with spectacular landscape and friendly peoples
  • Monasteries and castles in the mountains
  • Most meals included and based on unrivalled local cuisine

Tour Manager: Ray email ray@ptg.co.uk

From: Gatwick, Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh

Georgia Itinerary

Day 1 Saturday 6 June We plan to take daytime flights from London Gatwick to Tbilisi via Istanbul. For those wanting to fly direct with Georgian Airways there is a direct flight at 22:55 arriving into Tbilisi at 06:35 local time on the Sunday.

Day 2 Sunday 7 June (B,D) We will start our day with a visit to Mt. Mtatsminda by funicular railway to take views of the city.  We then return from the heights to spend some time in the Old City where lunch may be taken.  In mid-afternoon we will visit Mushtaidi Garden, close to the main station where a preserved diesel offers a train ride.  An early dinner will be taken nearby followed by either a return to our hotel or an evening hour-long rail journey on the daily train to Gardabani on the Azerbaijan border.

Mtskheta view

Day 3 Monday 8 June (B,L,D) It’s a relaxed start today taking the modern cable car to the Narikala Fortress overlooking the dramatic riverside cliffs to the south of the city.  We then transfer north to Mtskheta to where Svetitkhoveli Cathedral sits at the confluence of two rivers, overlooked by Javari Church.  We will return to Tbilisi for the solitary 2.5hr. tea-time train to Sadaxlo, high on the plateau on the Armenian border.  Our return by road will only take an hour for a late dinner.

Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi (also called Sameba), Tbilisi, Georgia

Day 4 Tuesday 9 June (B,D) The day commences with a return to Tbilisi station to take a 1-hour train to Gori.  Here, in the morning, we visit the fascinating Stalin Museum followed by the grim War Museum housing some exhibits from the 2008 war.  There will then be free time with the possibility to walk up to the 17th century citadel and after have some lunch.  In the afternoon, we will visit the nearby 6th century cave city of Uplistsikhe.  Dinner will be in Gori, after which those stoic enough can ride the daily 1.5 hour evening train along the branch to Nikozi on the border with South Ossetia.

 

Day 5 Wednesday 10 June (B,L,D) It’s a brisk transfer today to Gori station for the 2.5-hour slow train to Borjormi where we immediately transfer to the narrow gauge mountain train to Bakuriani for another 2.5 hour ride.  We need to take packed lunches as we will follow the train by road down the mountain, watching its progress over the Eiffel Bridge and through Daba station before a tea-time arrival at our Borjormi hotel.  There may be time to visit the monastery at Tsagveri on our descent of the mountain.

Day 6 Thursday 11 June (B,L,D) For our programme today we follow the Mtkvari river valley with its freight only railway to Akhaltsikhe near the Turkish border and visit the Rabati Castle.  We continue upstream with the river to the Cave City of Vardzia and the Khertvisi Fortress.

Vardzia cave monastery and ancient city in mountain rocks, Georgia

Day 7 Friday 12 June (B,D) Again we make a brisk start to transfer north to Sachkhere for a train which takes a 3-hour ride along the branch to Zestafoni, the main line to Rioni and finally the branch to Kutaisi, Georgia’s second city.  We will pause for an hour here in the city centre where some lunch may be taken before a transfer to Kutaisi’s second station to take the mid-afternoon branch train for the spa town at Tskaltubo, where we stay for a relaxing evening.

Day 8 Saturday 13 June (B,L,D) After breakfast, we transfer back to Kutaisi’s main station for a 3-hour scenic branch line journey to the old coal mining town of Tkibuli in the foothills.  After lunch we visit monasteries at Gelati and Motsameta in spectacular settings, followed by the Cathedral and Citadel in Kutaisi before our return to Tskaltubo.

Gelati Monastery , Georgia.

Day 9 Sunday 14 June (B,D) We can have some free time in Kutaisi where the large market can be visited, cable car ridden, and a snack lunch taken, prior to a transfer to the main-line at Rioni for a fast 1.5-hour midday train to the Poti beach.  Poti is a seaport which will not need to detain us too long after rail facilities have been viewed, before we transfer to our base at Zugdidi on the border with breakaway Abkhazia.  We have a late afternoon visit to the Dadiani Palace.

Dadiani palace in Georgia

Day 10 Monday 15 June (B,L,D) We will depart from Zugdidi on the 8:00 train and alight at Samtredia Junction where we can view some of the rail facilities before taking lunch.  We leave on an afternoon train southward along the coast which will take the Ozurgeti branch, from where we will transfer to the coastal resort of Batumi to arrive early evening.

Batumi Sea Port, Adjara, Georgia

Day 11 Tuesday 16 June (B,L,D) Today we will take an inland mountain road journey to Khulo via attractive scenery and over old stone bridges.  Lunch will be taken at Khulo, from where a cable car may be taken over the valley to the village of Tago.  We will return to Batumi in time for a seafront promenade and the opportunity for a cable-car ride to Anuria Hill overlooking the harbour.

Day 12 Wednesday 17 (B,L,D) Our departure from Batumi is planned for the fast 8:00 5-hour Stadler train to Tbilisi in first class.  We will take a late lunch on arrival and after visit the Folklore Centre.  In the evening will be our final dinner.

Day 13 Thursday 18 June (B) For those who may wish to complete their rail-track coverage there is a 7:50 train to the airport station.  If you are leaving us, there will be some free time before an early afternoon transfer to the airport for our tea-time flights back to London – or on to Armenia.

Armenia Add-on

The mountain landscape of Alaverdi, located at the bottom of the Debed river gorge with the Somkheti Mountains on the background

Day 13 Thursday 18 June (L,D) Hopefully you can join us in Armenia, with our journey commencing by road immediately after the airport train arrival.  After an hour we will cross the border to follow the route of rail and river along the historic Debed Canyon stopping as necessary for photos.  We travel by road but will return along here by rail.  In the canyon, the heritage-listed monastery at Haghpat is visited then we continue to Dilijan in the ‘Switzerland of Armenia’ for our hotel.

Picturesque panorama of Haghpat Monastery in Armenia

Day 14 Friday 19 June (B,L,D) We will cross the Sevan Pass and descend to the 80km Lake Sevan at almost 2000m above sea level.  We will visit 2 monasteries on the lakeside then to Shorza on the north bank to take the 3-hour weekend late pm train to Yerevan.

Panorama of the churches of Sevanavank Monastery, with the medieval cemetery between them and the wide Sevan Lake on background

Day 15 Saturday 20 June (B,L,D) Track riders might wish to take our early morning transfer to Yeraskh on the Iranian border to return to the city via a 2-hour daily train.  We spend the remainder of the day in Yerevan with visits to the Garni Temple, another monastery, the Children’s Railway and the Genocide Museum.

The Government of the Republic of Armenia at night, it is located on Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia.

Day 16 Sunday 21 June (B,L,D) The morning train is taken to Gyumri for lunch, a look at rail operation, the city and Marmashen Monastery close to the Turkish Border.  We take the evening train to Georgia via the Debed Canyon and alight at Sadakhlo (Georgia) for a transfer to our hotel in Tbilisi.

Day 17 Monday 22 June (B,L,D) There is free time in Tbilisi in the morning before an early afternoon transfer to the airport for our tea-time flights back to London. There is a direct Georgian Airways flight at 19:25.

Place(s) available
Holiday Prices (per person)
  • From London Gatwick: £2,650 (via Riga), £2,695 (via Istanbul), £2,850 (direct)
  • From London Heathrow: £2,775 (via Istanbul)
  • From Birmingham: £2,750 (via Istanbul)
  • From Manchester: £2,750 (via Istanbul)
  • From Edinburgh: £2,750 (via Istanbul)
  • Georgia, joining in Tbilisi: £2,250

Options

  • 4-night extension in Armenia: £1,250
  • Single room supplement: Georgia £675, Armenia £190

Deposit

  • Georgia: £400 plus any flight costs
  • Armenia: £200
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