AIA Tours: land

Origins of Humans & Wine: Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia

Tour Dates: October 10-25, 2021 (16 days)

Tour Leader(s): Ian Tattersall ,

NOTE: Waiting list now open please contact us at 800-748-6262 or email aia@studytours.org for more information. 

Join us for an exciting trip back in time to explore early humankind and the ‘cradle of wine’ in the southern Caucasus. Learn about ancient wine-making techniques and sample the bounty of the region’s vineyards. Explore medieval towns and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including prehistoric through early Christian complexes. Enjoy Georgia’s famed hospitality, wherein a ‘visitor is considered a gift from God.’ This is a region of extraordinary contrasts, deep history, and cultural diversity.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Travel and learn with AIA lecturer and host Ian Tattersall, who is both a paleoanthropologist and an oenophile; plus a professional tour manager and local guides
  • Visit impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Baku’s Old Town, Shirvan Shah Palace complex, and 98-foot-tall Maiden Tower, plus the ancient petroglyphs of Gobustan, in Azerbaijan; Georgia’s Mtskheta; and Armenia’s Haghbat monastery, Echmiadzin, and Zvartnots Cathedral
  • Learn about and sample wines at five different wineries: Azerbaijan’s ASPI Winery in the Savalan Valley; Georgia’s Tibaani Vineyards, cellar of French vigneron Vincent Jullien, and Chateau Mere winery; and Armenia’s Areni Winery near the ancient Areni-1 cave complex
  • Explore a variety of fascinating prehistoric through early Christian sites, including:
  • Dmanisi, a medieval town under which were found five 1.8-million-year-old Homo erectus skulls
  • The cave complex of Areni-1, where a 6,000-year-old winery was discovered
  • Several of Georgia’s oldest churches, including Bolnisi’s Sioni Church, Tbilisi’s 6th-century Anchiskhati Basilica, and Mtshketa’s 11th-century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
  • Impressive monasteries, including 6th-century Jvari, with one of the country’s earliest (and one of its finest) churches; and Haghbat, a fortified 10th-century literary, artistic, and education center as well as a monastic compound
  • Enjoy a large feast, known as a supra, by experiencing a Georgian Table covered with plates of delicacies balanced on top of each other plus countless toasts

Tour Prices per person:

$8,995 (12-14 participants) double occupancy
$9,395 (10-11 participants) double occupancy
$9,995 (8-9 participants) double occupancy
$1,495 Single Supplement

A single supplement will be charged when requested or required.
With fewer than 8 participants, a small-group surcharge may be added.

Khor Vira -Monastery, Armenia - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Haghbat Monastery, Armenia - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Cascade Complex, Yerevan, Armenia - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucausus region with Archaeological Institute of America

National Museum of Azerbaijani Carpets - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Zvartnot Cathedral, Armenia - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Petroglyphs in Gobustan, Azerbaijan - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Gobustan Nature Reserve, Azerbaijan - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Baku, Azerbaijan - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Maiden Tower at the Shirvan Shah Palace, Azerbaijan - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mkskheta - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Dmanisi, Georgia - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Fortress of Narikala and Church of St. Nicholas in Tbilisi, Georgia - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Bolnisi's Sioni Church, Georgia - AIA Tours: Travel to the Caucasus region with Archaeological Institute of America

Itinerary


Sunday, October 10, 2021 – Depart home on flights to Baku, AZERBAIJAN
Monday, October 11 – Arrive Baku | Transfer to hotel
Tuesday, October 12 – Baku walking tour: Old Town, Shirvan Shah Palace, Maiden Tower, Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, National Museum of Azerbaijani Carpets, Martyrs’ Lane | Welcome dinner
Wednesday, October 13 – Gobustan | ASPI Winery | Sheki
Thursday, October 14 – Sheki walking tour | Alaverdi Monastery and Cathedral, GEORGIA | Tsinandali
Friday, October 15 – Signagi | Tibaani Vineyards | Niko Pirosmani House-Museum | Lost Ridge Brewery | Tsinandali
Saturday, October 16 – Tsinandali: Alexander Chavchavadze Museum | Vincent Jullien’s wine cellar | Tbilisi
Sunday, October 17 – Tbilisi walking tour: Anchiskhati Basilica, sulfur baths, Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia, Sololaki District, Gallery 27
Monday, October 18 – Bolnisi | Dmanisi | Tbilisi
Tuesday, October 19 – Mtskheta | Svetitskhoveli Cathedral | Jvari Monastery | Dzalisi | Chateau Mere winery | Tbilisi
Wednesday, October 20 – Shulaveri Gora | Tbilisi | Georgian Table
Thursday, October 21 – Haghbat Monastery, ARMENIA | Yerevan
Friday, October 22 – Yerevan: Erebuni, History Museum of Armenia, Republic Square, Mother Armenia, Genocide Memorial
Saturday, October 23 – Areni-1 Cave | Areni Winery | Khor Virap monastery | Yerevan
Sunday, October 24 – Echmiadzin: Hripsimeh Church, Zvartnots Cathedral | Armenian Wind Instrument Studio | Farewell dinner
Monday, October 25 – Fly home

View Detailed Itinerary

 

(B)=Breakfast, (L)=Lunch, (D)=Dinner

Sunday, October 10, 2021 – Depart home on flights to Baku, AZERBAIJAN

Monday, October 11 – Arrive Baku | Transfer to hotel
Upon arrival at Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport (GYD), you will be met and transferred to our hotel. Gather this evening for dinner. Overnight at the 5-star Hilton Baku for two nights.(D)

Tuesday, October 12 – Baku walking tour: Old Town, Shirvan Shah Palace, Maiden Tower, Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, National Museum of Azerbaijani Carpets, Martyrs’ Lane | Welcome dinner
Get an early start on a walking tour of Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku. Explore Old Town (Icheri Sheher), which is completely encircled by old city walls with their medieval gates, in the company of a local architect (schedule permitting) who recounts Baku’s history and construction. On a hill above the Old Town, the 13th– to 15th-century Shirvan Shah Palace complex encompasses the royal residence, mosques, and tombs, and is a highlight of Azerbaijani architecture. The Old Town, Palace complex, and 98-foot-tall Maiden Tower are together a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the Old City we visit the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, whose two sections are devoted to Azerbaijan’s history from the Neolithic through the medieval periods and to the more recent cultural history of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Next we visit the National Museum of Azerbaijani Carpets, where vivid colors and bold designs of Azeri, Caucasian, and Iranian carpets are on display. In 2010, UNESCO added the traditional art of weaving Azerbaijani carpets to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Our last visit of the day is to Martyrs’ Lane, set on a terraced hill above the harbor, which pays homage to the 137 people killed during the Black January of 1990, which marked the turning point in the country’s drive toward independence. Return to our hotel and gather for a festive welcome dinner. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, October 13 – Gobustan | ASPI Winery | Sheki
This morning we check out of our hotel and drive to Gobustan, an important UNESCO World Heritage Site of ancient petroglyphs. The carvings, depicting men, women, animals, and artifacts, give insight into details of daily life such as hunting, recreation, culture, and economy. An excellent site museum adds to the experience. Continue on to the Savalan Valley for a wine tasting at ASPI Winery, which began in 2007 with the goal of reviving the art of winemaking in a region of the southern Caucasus known for wine since ancient times. Drive onward to Sheki, where we check-in to our hotel and then gather for dinner. Overnight at the 4-star Sheki Saray Hotel. (B,L,D)

Thursday, October 14 – Sheki walking tour | Alaverdi Monastery and Cathedral, GEORGIA | Tsinandali
Following an early breakfast, check out of our hotel and enjoy a brief walk around Sheki, one of the oldest towns in Azerbaijan, founded some 2,700 years ago. The town is renowned for its carpets and its special type of sweet halvah. See the exterior of the mosaic-covered khan’s summer palace with its brilliant stained glass work, called shebeke, and the fortress that surrounds the palace. Continue on to explore some of Sheki’s small gems, including the local crafts market and a local bakery where we can sample baklava or halvah. Drive across the Lagodekhi border into the Kakheti region of Georgia. Proceed through customs formalities, change over to a Georgian motor coach and, en route to Tsinandali, visit the Alaverdi Monastery complex and Alaverdi Cathedral, one of the tallest churches in Georgia and one of the most striking in its simplicity. Arrive in Tsinandali and check-in to our hotel. The balance of the day is at leisure, to enjoy on your own the hotel dining options, spa, and/or lounge areas. Overnight at the 4-star Tsinandali Estate Georgia hotel for two nights. (B,L)

Friday, October 15 – Signagi | Tibaani Vineyards | Niko Pirosmani House-Museum | Lost Ridge Brewery | Tsinandali
The Kakheti region is Georgia’s most important wine-growing area. Set out for a visit to the hill town of Signagi, around which King Erekle II constructed a defensive wall in the 18th century. Wander the narrow streets and admire the richly-carved balconies and the green valleys below. Continue on to Tibaani Vineyards, owned by the Pheasant’s Tears Winery, and enjoy a walk through the vineyards to see where the grapes are grown and to visit the cellars where the grapes are macerated and aged in huge ceramic vessels lined with beeswax. These vessels are called qvevri, and have been used for winemaking in this part of the world for more than 8,000 years. Also learn more about the production of organic wines from varietal grapes that grow well in the Kakhetian micro-region, and sample the region’s wines. For lunch, enjoy a meal of traditional Georgian favorites at the on-site restaurant headed by chef Ketavan Mindorashvili, one of the country’s rising female culinary stars, who is also a professional polyphonic singer! Visit the modest Niko Pirosmani House-Museum in Mirzaani, just outside of Signagi. Pirosmani was (posthumously) the most famous Georgian artist of the 20th century. Our last visit of the day is to Lost Ridge Brewery, Georgia’s first country craft brewery, where we enjoy a tasting of craft beers with snacks. Return to our hotel in Tsinandali for an evening at leisure. (B,L)

Saturday, October 16 – Tsinandali: Alexander Chavchavadze Museum | Vincent Jullien’s wine cellar | Tbilisi
Check out of our hotel and take a walk through the park to the House Museum of Alexander Chavchavadze, a 19th-century Georgian aristocrat and poet. Here, he and his father founded the first and foremost winery in Georgia, which still produces the dry white Tsinandali wine. On our drive to Tbilisi we stop to visit the cellar of French vigneron Vincent Jullien, who uses endemic Georgian grapes to make spectacular, natural, sparkling wines using qvevri (ceramic vessels) for natural fermentation. Enjoy a Pét-Nat (pétillant naturel, or naturally sparkling) tasting while sitting on the terrace and soaking in the bucolic views. Continuing on to Tbilisi, we stop just outside the city proper to enjoy a wonderful lunch of fresh Kakhetian cuisine sourced from local organic farms and combined in creative ways. Arriving in Tbilisi, we check-in to our hotel and get settled before gathering for dinner. Overnight at the 5-star Tbilisi Marriott Hotel for five nights. (B,L,D)

Sunday, October 17 – Tbilisi walking tour: Anchiskhati Basilica, sulfur baths, Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia, Sololaki District, Gallery 27
Enjoy a full day tour of Tbilisi, beginning in the red-roofed Old Town. Visit the 6th-century Anchiskhati Basilica, the city’s oldest church, and then walk to see the sulfur baths. Hot springs lie just under the surface in the Old Town. The earliest sulfur baths were probably built during Arab rule in the 7th or 8th centuries, but most of the baths in use today were built in the 17th century. Continue on to the Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia, part of Georgia’s National Museum, for a look at some of the country’s most significant archaeological finds. The most famous exhibit may be the 1.8-million-year-old Homo erectus skulls unearthed at Dmanisi, a site that we will visit tomorrow. Explore the art nouveau Sololaki District, built in the 19th and early 20th centuries by Georgian and European architects. In recent years, many of Sololaki’s beautifully-decorated façades have been renovated, and a growing number of hip cafés and restaurants has transformed it into the city’s up-and-coming restaurant district. Our last stop of the afternoon is at Gallery 27, set in a partially-restored, 18th-century building. Its owner, Nino Kvavilashvili, is an artist herself, and is committed to supporting local Georgian artists who incorporate natural materials and traditional techniques in their high quality, handcrafted goods. Dinner and the evening are at leisure to explore Tbilisi on your own. (B,L)

Monday, October 18 – Bolnisi | Dmanisi | Tbilisi
Spend a day in the countryside, stopping first at Bolnisi to visit what is probably the oldest Christian church in Georgia. Called Sioni (Zion), the square stone church shelters what may be the oldest example of Georgian script in the country. After lunch at local restaurant in Bolnisi we visit the archaeological site of Dmanisi, a 9th-century town overlooking the confluence of two rivers where Silk Road caravans used to pass. In the Middle Ages, townspeople dug cellars and storage pits through layers of strange bones and stone tools that in the 20th century were determined to belong to some of the earliest hominids found outside of Africa. The discovery here of five 1.8-million-year-old Homo erectus skulls has made Dmanisi crucial to the study of human evolution. Meet with a local archaeologist (schedule permitting) who will provide additional insights. Return to Tbilisi, where dinner and the evening are at leisure. (B,L)

Tuesday, October 19 – Mtskheta | Svetitskhoveli Cathedral | Jvari Monastery | Dzalisi | Chateau Mere winery | Tbilisi
This morning we visit Mtskheta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was the capital of the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century B.C. until the 5th century A.D. Georgia’s conversion to Christianity took place here in A.D. 337, and the Orthodox churches built during this period are considered among the finest in the country. Also visit the 11th-century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, considered a sacred pilgrimage destination, whose interior is decorated with frescoes and murals; and the 6th-century Jvari Monastery, with one of Georgia’s first Christian churches. We continue on to Dzalisi, a remarkably complex archaeological site from the period between the 5th and 8th centuries A.D., when it served as the capital of the Kartli Kingdom (also known as Iberia). Visible are the remains of four palaces, an acropolis, and barracks. Our final stop of the day is at the Chateau Mere winery, where we stroll through the vineyards and enjoy a sampling of the traditional and European-style wines produced here. Today’s tasting will be accompanied by a dinner of Georgian specialties. Return to our hotel in Tbilisi. (B,L,D)

Wednesday, October 20 – Shulaveri Gora | Tbilisi | Georgian Table
Set out for a visit to Shulaveri Gora, site of a Neolithic village undergoing excavation. Chemical testing in 2017 indicated that this is the earliest winemaking area in the world, some 8,000 years old. Archaeologists at Shulaveri Gora and nearby Gadachrili Gora (gora means “mound” or “hill”) have uncovered mud-brick houses and fragments of ceramic vessels (qvevri) decorated with bunches of grapes that bear residue from white wine. Accompanied by a local archaeologist (schedule permitting) we will learn more about Georgia’s Neolithic-era winemaking. Return to our hotel in Tbilisi, and then gather for a special dinner at a local restaurant. Enjoy a Georgian-Table-style meal of traditional dishes such as chicken in crushed walnut sauce, katchapouri (a savory cheese pie), puff pastries, little meat dumplings called khinkali, and marinated vegetables, just to name a few. (B,L,D)

Thursday, October 21 – Haghbat Monastery, ARMENIA | Yerevan
Following an early breakfast, check out of our hotel and depart for the Sadakhlo crossing at the Georgia/Armenia border. Proceed through customs formalities, change over to an Armenian motor coach, and drive to Haghbat Monastery. This fortified monastery complex was founded in the 10th century and, comprising atmospheric stone churches, bell towers, mausoleums, and numerous kachkar (carved stone crosses), Haghbat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Continue driving to Yerevan, where we check-in to our hotel and gather for a late dinner. Overnight at the 4-star Armenia Marriott Hotel Yerevan for four nights. (B,L,D)

Friday, October 22 – Yerevan: Erebuni, History Museum of Armenia, Republic Square, Mother Armenia, Genocide Memorial
Today we will explore Yerevan, a city older than Rome, founded as “Erebuni” in 782 B.C. In the 4th century, Armenia became the first country in Europe to adopt Christianity as its official religion. Start the day with a visit to the ruins of the citadel of Erebuni, built on a hill on the outskirts of present-day Yerevan. Its 36-foot-high stacked stone walls enclose the foundations of temples, dwellings, ceremonial courtyards, and storehouses. An excellent site museum houses many of its treasures, including splendid metalwork, cuneiform tablets, and weaponry. Return to central Yerevan and visit the History Museum of Armenia. Located in the central Republic Square, it features ancient models of Yerevan, thousands of original photographs and documents that chronicle Armenia’s history, and archaeological collections from the Neolithic period, including the world’s oldest known shoe from the Areni-1 cave complex.

We will also take a stroll in Republic Square, built of the characteristic pinkish tuff for which the city is known. Visit the giant “Cascade” stairway that links central Yerevan to the Mother Armenia Statue in Victory Park. Ride the escalators toward the top of the stairway, and walk the rest of the way up until you reach the Mother Armenia statue, designed so that its interior resembles the iconic Hripsemeh Church at Echmiadzin (which we visit on October 24th). We will also visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial, a stirring site in a park at the top of Tsitsernakaberd (“Swallow Castle”). According to scholarly estimates, more than one million Armenians perished between 1914 and 1918 as a result of policies of the last Ottoman government. Return to our hotel and then gather for dinner. (B,L,D)

Saturday, October 23 – Areni-1 Cave | Areni Winery | Khor Virap monastery | Yerevan
This morning we drive to the Areni-1 cave complex, best known for the discovery of the world’s oldest leather shoe, unearthed in 2010 by an international team. The cave is also the location of a 2007 discovery of an ancient winery, dating to around 4000 B.C. Continue on to the family-run Areni Winery for a tasting of red and white wines, flavored vodkas, and wines made from unusual fruits such as pomegranates. Afterward we visit Khor Virap, a small monastery set on a ridge above the flat Ararat Valley, behind which looms snow-covered Mt. Ararat, associated with the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. We return to Yerevan where, this evening, you may choose to join your guide for an optional walking tour of the open-air Vernissage Market, an excellent opportunity for shopping for locally-produced crafts and for people watching. Dinner is on your own. (B,L)

Sunday, October 24 – Echmiadzin: Hripsimeh Church, Zvartnots Cathedral | Armenian Wind Instrument Studio | Farewell dinner
This morning we explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Echmiadzin, founded as Vargarsapat in A.D. 117 and once the capital of Armenia. Also once the center of an agricultural area renowned for its fruit and wine, it is better known as the spiritual center of Armenia and the seat of its Catholicos, or Patriarch. Its 7th-century Hripsimeh Church sits on the foundations of the 4th-century mausoleum of martyred St. Hripsimeh, and its fabulous church treasury includes a piece of wood from Mt. Ararat said to be from Noah’s Ark. Also see the ruins of the 7th-century Zvartnots Cathedral, once the largest round church in the world and, today, jointly a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Echmiadzin. After lunch, enjoy tea or coffee in an Armenian wind instrument studio, where we listen to the double-reeded duduk, with a sound reminiscent of a clarinet, and other instruments. Return to our hotel and freshen up for our farewell dinner at a local restaurant with Armenian folk music. (B,L,D)

Monday, October 25 – Fly home
Transfer to Zvartnots International Airport (EVN) for flights homeward. (B)

 


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