Caucasus XXL Tour 2018 – Detailed program

Friday July 13 – Tbilisi
Departure to Tbilisi, Georgia. Your room will be available after 14.00 hours. Therefore arriving the 13th in the afternoon or early morning on the 14th are both OK.

Saturday July 14 – Tbilisi and National Museum
Briefing and welcome will be at your hotel. We will stay at hotel Irmeni (and if needed additionally in Hotel Oriental), both are very centrally located, at close distance from each other and just 15 minutes’ walk from the old city center. To get acquainted with Tbilisi half of the group will have a guided tour of the old center on foot, while the other half will visit the National Museum. We will meet for lunch (incl.) in the center. After lunch we will switch the program for each group. The National Historical Museum has an extensive collection of fabulous antique jewelry and national costumes. We will meet with both groups in the old city to have dinner (incl). We will go back to the hotel on foot. It will take about 15 minutes.

Sunday July 15- Ananuri castle, Stepantsminda, Tbilisi
After an early departure at 8.00 o’clock we will get acquainted with the northern part of Georgia travelling the Military Highway towards the Russian border. We will make a stop in Gudauri to buy yourself a lunch in a supermarket.
During our tour we will make a stop at Ananuri castle to have a guided tour prior to arriving in Stepantsminda. There we will change our bus for smaller 4 wheel drive cars to continue another 8 kilometer on a non-paved road to the Gergeti Monastery. It is the most famous sightseeing spot in Georgia, depicted on many post cards for the fabulous view on the surrounding Kazbeki mountains with a height of 5047 meters. Enjoy this stunning view in the dim sunlight of the late afternoon and hike in this impressive landscape. We will have dinner (incl.) on our way back to Tbilisi.

Monday July 16 – K’ asletitla ensemble in Udabno, David Gareja monastery, Tbilisi
We will leave at 8.30 and will partly travel on unpaved roads amid an impressive landscape to the village of Udabno, located a little over 50 kilometers from Tblisi. Georgia is famous for its polyphonic songs and we will meet K’asletitla, the local choir. It is particularly interesting to meet them because the population of Udabno originates from the very remote and wild region of Svaneti near the border of Cherkessia and Kabardino. Even nowadays this region is very isolated and difficult to reach. As a result of this isolation and its harsh winters people have kept their own culture. There is a nice small restaurant in Udabno where we will meet with the choir and have lunch (incl). Udabno is not far from David Gareja Monastery, nominated as UNESCO World heritage, and dating from the 6th century. This Monastery is partly build inside the mountain and it is the eldest monastery in Georgia. Archeologists have found objects from the Bronze and Stone Age. After visiting the monastery with a guide there is a beautiful hike to caves, ancient monk dwellings on the other side of the mountain. The hike is not easy and partly steep and uneven. Part of the group might like to do this challenging hike and will be rewarded reaching a complete town of caves decorated with fresco's overseeing the plains of Azerbaijan. The alternative is to visit the monastery and walk back on the main road for about 3-4 kilometers where the bus will pick you up and bring you back to Udabno. Hikers will return later by bus. We will have dinner (incl.) together in Udabno before returning to our hotel in Tbilisi.

Tuesday July 17 –Dance classes, Mtskheta cathedral, Tbilisi
Departure: 9.15 hours. to have dance class will take place in the studios of the Georgian National Ballet (Sukhishvili). We will also try to visit the main studio of this ensemble to see the training, led by artistic director Ilia Sukhishvili. You have time to have lunch in this part of Tbilisi before our guided visit to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, located in the historic town of Mtskheta, Georgia. A masterpiece of the Early Middle Ages, Svetitskhoveli is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Known as the burial site of Christ's mantle, Svetitskhoveli has long been one of the principal Georgian Orthodox churches and is among the most honored places of worship in the region. After returning to Tbilisi you have free time to stroll around the city. No dinner provided.

Wednesday July 18 – dance classes, Sighnagi village, Tbilisi
Prior to leaving for our dance classes there will be time to buy yourself a lunch in the nearby supermarket or market. After dance classes the bus will drive to the eastern part of Georgia to visit Sighnagi, a small town in the middle of the wine district at a distance of 110 kilometers from Tbilisi. There will be some free time for a walk in this beautiful town, situated on a hill and surrounded by a big defense wall. Dinner (incl.) will be in Sighnagi and we will enjoy the company of a dance group and musicians and of course you can taste the local wine. After dinner we will drive back to Tbilisi.

Thursday July 19 - travel to Armenia, Lake Sevan
8.30 hours: check out. Today we will leave Tbilisi to leave for Armenia and pass the border at Sadakhlo. At the border we need to take all our luggage from the bus, pass on foot and have our luggage inspected. Then we will change to an Armenian bus and you will be able to change (a small sum of) money. Today´s destination is Sevan Lake, a big sweet water lake at an altitude of around 2000 meters surrounded by mountains. Reaching the lake there will be time to enjoy lunch. It will be included because travelling with a large group will make it necessary to preorder. Near the restaurant you can hike 200 steps up to reach the top of Aghtamar peninsula which offers a beautiful view on the mountains surrounding the lake. On top of the peninsula there are two small churches and decorated cross stones. Our guide will provide us with information about their history. We will have dinner at the hotel and will stay overnight at the lakeshore.

Friday July 20 - Noratus cemetery, Selim Karavanserai, dance party and stay at Hermon village
Check-out around 9.00 o’clock. Our tour leads us further along the shore of Lake Sevan. We will visit Noratus cemetery with the biggest collection of khatchkars (decorated cross stones) and ancient grave stones with inscriptions depicting the life of the deceased person. Our guide will be present to offer some interesting information. Lunch (incl.) will be in a small village at a private house. Here we can visit an ancient house dating back to the first half of the 19th century and our host can tell us some stories about life in those days. Crossing the mountain range with striking views, we will see the remains of an ancient Karavansarai where we will make a stop, Not long after we will reach Lucy Resort, a resort in the mountains, where we will spend 2 nights. It has its own (covered) swimming pool and we will be staying in cottages. Dinner (incl.).

Saturday July 21 – day off, alternative hike to Smbataberd fortress
Free day. If you enjoy hiking: there is a beautiful fortress which can be reached after about 2-3 hours hiking. The bus can take us for about 8 kilometers to the start of the hike. Lunch will be provided either as a lunch package or as a buffet for the people that want to relax (incl.) . Dinner will be at our complex (incl.) After dinner there will be a dance party with a local dance group.

Sunday July 22nd- Noravank monastery, Yerevan
Today we will depart to Yerevan at 9.00 o’clock and during our journey we will visit Noravank Monastery and have a guided tour. It is located at the end of a gorge with stunning views on the surrounding mountains. It is a real gem among the great number of ancient monuments in Armenia. You have time to eat your lunch package (incl.) here before we will continue to Yerevan and have a brief stop at Areni, famous for its wine production. In Yerevan we will stay in the center of the city at IBIS hotel. There will be no dinner provided, but many restaurants can be found in close vicinity of the hotel or at the hotel. Enjoy the rest of your evening in this bustling city or watch the Sound and Light show near the fountains in front of the National Museum in the company of numerous Armenian families. There might be an opportunity to see a dance performance in the theatre of a professional dance ensemble. We will keep you informed (tickets will be around 5000 Armenian Dram, about €10, $12).

Monday July 23 - Dance class, Geghard monastery, Megerian, dance party in Yerevan
This morning we will have a dance class with a local teacher from 9.00-11.00 o’clock. It is about 10-15 minutes’ walk to the dance hall. There will be time to have lunch (not incl.) before we make an excursion in the afternoon. Departure at 12.30 to Geghard monastery, which is quite unique because part of the monastery is carved out of natural rocks and also its outside walls are decorated with carvings. It is on the UNESCO World heritage list. We will drive back to Yerevan and visit the Megerian Carpet Factory. Actually the word factory doesn’t do justice to this company because all carpets are handmade and dyed with natural plants. They offer a very interesting guided tour in which the process of weaving and all operations necessary to produce a traditional carpet are explained. It also has a small museum, where you can learn about hidden symbols in the carpets. You will be surprised to learn that the famous Persian carpets derive from the skills of Armenian carpet weavers some centuries ago! We will enjoy dinner (included) here, because the cook made it his mission to serve traditional Armenian food based on old recipes. After dinner Liudvig Garibian and his band will join us to have a great dance party. Even if his name doesn’t sound familiar to you: he has been playing on many of the recordings of Tineke’s dance CDs.

Tuesday July 24 Dance class, visit to Sasnashen dance group, Gyumri
Check out. In the morning we will have dance classes from 9.00-11.30 o’clock and there will be time to have lunch (not incl.). In the afternoon we will travel to Talin to meet with a dance group from Sasnashen. In a small bakery you can see how lavash, the traditional bread, is baked according to old traditions. Many immigrants from the former West Armenian region of Sasoun (nowadays in Turkish Anatolia) settled around the city of Talin after the genocide. The local dance group has managed to keep its dance heritage alive for almost a century. This visit will not only offer us the chance to dance in the company of the villagers, but also to get familiar with Armenian toasting habits. Besides freshly baked lavash we will undoubtedly enjoy other locally made products and have dinner (incl.) here as well. After saying goodbye to our dance friends we will travel further north to Gyumri closer to the border of Georgia, where we will stay overnight in hotel Gyumri.

Wednesday July 25 Travel to Georgia, Vardzia complex
Check out at 8.30. In the morning we will pass the border of Georgia again, but now at Bavra, in the direction of the cave city of Vardzia. The road in Georgia is in very bad condition and although we don’t cover many kilometers, this will cause a big delay. Upon arrival in Vardzia we will have a relaxed lunch (incl.) at a scenic spot near the river and with our stomachs filled we will visit Vardzia complex, an ancient cave city carved in the mountain slope. Late afternoon we will arrive at Hotel Lomsia in Akhaltsikhe where we will have a (late) dinner (incl).

Thursday July 26 Akhaltsikhe -Saphara monastery, arrival in Turkey, overnight stay in Kars
Early departure! Check out at 8.00. Today we will cover about 165 km. to our final destination in Turkey, the city of Kars. But before we start this journey we will visit Saphara Monastery where monks still reside, located about 15 kilometres from Akhaltsikhe. It is not meant as a touristic site, so we have to respect their privacy and admire its beautiful frescos in silence. The Turkish border is not far from Akhaltsikhe and we will pass the border at Türközü where we will be picked up by a Turkish bus and will meet with our new guides. Our 1st visit in Turkey will lead to scenic Lake Çıldır located at a height of 2000 meters. It will be an excellent choice to have a nice fish lunch in one of the local restaurants (not included). After lunch we will proceed our travel to today’s final destination, the city of Kars. Dinner (incl.) will be at our hotel, the Kars Sim-er Hotel.

Friday July 27 – from Kars to Hopa, visit to the ruins of Ani
Check out. After breakfast we will travel to the ruins of Ani, capital of Armenia in the 10th century, and nicknamed City of 1001 Churches. Our guides will be present to give us information visiting these extensive ruins. There will be time to eat a packed lunch before we proceed to Hopa, where we will where we will stay two nights Hopa Sarp Hotel and have dinner as well.

Saturday July 28 – Macahel village, Maral Falls, village of Camili, Hopa
After breakfast there will be time to shop to make your lunch package and then we are ready for a drive of about 3 hours via Borçka to Macahel village. Our journey will offer us a stunning view from Karçal dağları moutain. We will start our 2 hour hike from Macahel village to finish at the 63 meters high Maral Falls. If you don´t want to join the hike you have free time to look around in the area, but the path is of good quality and fit for everybody. It is possible to have a view on the falls from underneath to have an even more intense experience and to hear the ear deafening sound of falling water. There will be opportunty to relax, eat your lunch and have a swim before returning to the village and stroll around Macahel.
Macahel can be translated from Georgian language as ´wrist with 5 split fingers’ referring to the valleys surrouding it: Macahel, Maral, Camili, Efeler, Düzenli, Kayalar. The Turkish name is Camili Merkez village. Nature here is impressive and often described as a true paradise. It is home to Georgian ethnic minorities and is situated close to the Georgian border. Macahel wilderness is almost unaccesible during the long and harsh winters. Therefore its landscape has remained untouched, offers views on vast woods and has an abundance of wildlife. Water in creeks is pure and potable.
Dinner (incl.) will be at our hotel in Hopa.

Sunday July 29 - Mençuna waterval and Ayder Plateau.
Check out. After breakfast we will travel to Arhavi which is about half an hour drive. We will try to meet and dance with a local teacher. You can have lunch  in the local restaurant. We will continue and have a stop at Mençuna Falls where we will have a stop.The water of the falls and river look tempting and you might want to have a swim. Other sightseeing sites will be determined later. Our final destination today will be Ayder. Actually it is a plateau and part of the Pontic Mountains, near to its highest peak Kaçkar Dağı. In wintertime nobody lives there. It was used by nomadic tribes to herd their animals in the summer, but nowadays it serves almost exclusively as a resort.
Dinner (incl.) will be at our new accommodations, the Ayder Kervansaray Otel and Ayder Paradise Otel where we will stay two nights.

Monday July 30 - Ayder Plateau, Palovit and Zilkale to Rize
Today will be relaxed day with dancing and sightseeing in this beautiful area. We will check the possibility to bring lunch packages (not incl.) from the hotel, because there are not many shopping facilities. There will be some free time in the afternoon to enjoy the beautiful scenery while we pass through Zilkale and Ortan, villages once located on the Silkroad. Ancient Hemşin mansions of merchants in Ortan are the silent witnesses of this era. Dinner will be at our hotels (incl.)

Tuesday July 31 -Rize, Uzungöl, Sümela Manastırı to Trabzon.
Check out. Our 1 ½ hour tour will lead to Uzungöl (Tall lake) formed by river Haldızen. It is located between Soğanlı , a region with rain forests and Kaçkar mountain range. Have a relaxed time at the lake or browse around in the shops at the lakefront. There you will find many small restaurants and cafés to have a lunch (not incl). After continuing to Sürmene we will visit a merchant’s house dating from 1800 in Memişağa. It can easily be mistaken for a castle. On our way we will visit Mehmet Kumbasar, where hand made worldwide exported Sürmene knifes are produced. A visit to the monastery of Sümela is high on the wish list, but for the past two years renovations are in progress. Due to renovations the monastery cannot be visited yet , but if that will change, we will certainly include a visit. After reaching our final destination, the city of Trabzon, we will check in Trabzon Konak Park Ote and have dinner there (incl). We will stay here for a total of five nights.

Wednesday August 1 - Trabzon
Trabzon has enough to offer. Besides dancing with the local group, it is worth to bring a visit to the Ayasofya museum - one out of three Ayasofya in Turkey. This particular Ayasofya was built by the Kamenos dynasty, which settled in Trabzon after the conquere of Istanbul. At the Atatürk Pavillion we can see furniture, porcelain, carpets and sculptures of Atatürk, founder of modern Turky, dating back to 1900 as well as ethnographic items. Of course dancing will not be forgotten.
Dinner (incl.)will be at our hotels.

Thursday August 2 – free time in Trabzon.
Today we have free time to explore Trabzon.
Returning in the evening of a relaxed day, dinner will be served at our hotels (incl.)

Friday August 3 - Tonya, Şal pazarı, Trabzon
Today’s destination, the small town of Tonya, can be considered as the centre of the Black Sea region’s dance tradition. It is located in the mountains and the approximately one hour drive from Trabzon offers spectacular views. In Tonya we will meet with local people for some spontaneous dancing in nature. Small restaurants can serve you a nice lunch (not incl.) or you can bring your own. Late afternoon we will drive back to our hotels to have dinner (incl.).

Saturday August 4 - Departure.
It is time to say goodbye and everybody will need to leave to the airport to catch their flights.
Take home all the impressions of the Caucasus XXL tour and the variety in cultures.
Have a good journey back!

Included
- lodging in double/twin room
- dance classes
- guides
- bus transportation
- breakfast and dinner (incl. water, coffee/tea)
For practical reasons dinner is sometimes excluded, but will be compensated with lunches on other days
- entrance fees at sightseeing locations

Excluded
- flight
- surcharge single room: € 450
- travel and cancellation insurance
- lunches
For practical reasons lunches are sometimes included
- tips for driver and guide
(Indication: € 1 p. person p. day)
- additional drinks
- CD and/or DVD of classes and tour
- visa