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Colchis & Svaneti Tour, July 1-12
Highlands Culture, July 17-Aug. 2
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Yerevan and Mount Ararat

Tour leaders chanting Shen khar venakhi in the Ananuri Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos

Garni Temple

Khor Virap Monastery, Mt. Ararat Valley

Tatev Monastery

Khatchkar cross-stone, Goshavank monastery

Sevanavank Monastery, Lake Sevan

Lake Sevan

Haghpat Monastery Cloister

Haghpat Monastery Tbilisi Old Town

Tbilisi, Georgia, 19th c. district Tbilisi Old Town

Tbilisi Bath District (17th c.) svetitsxoveli

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, 12th century, UNESCO Jvari Church

Jvari church, 6th century, Mtskheta, UNESCO

Tour Participants chanting Ghvtismshobelo kaltsulo in the Sapara Monastery, 2011

Road to Tusheti highlands

Tusheti haystacks

Caucasus Mountains, Tusheti, Georgia

Shepherd, Tusheti Omalo Towers, shepherd dog, Tusheti

Keselo towers, Tusheti Dartlo towers, Tusheti

Tour participants singing traditional song, 2011

Ancient Qevries, wine-making vessels

Vineyards, Kakheti region, Georgia

Horse and cart, Georgia

Alaverdi Cathedral

Martqopi Monastery

Sighnaghi above the Alazani Valley

The Highlands Tour

A Cultural Journey to:
Armenia & Georgia
July 17 - August 2, 2015

Join us for this extraordinary adventure, featuring an exciting new itinerary to the rugged highlands of Armenia and Georgia. Led by trust-worthy and knowledgable local guides, and managed by John A. Graham, you are in good hands.

Brochure & Itinerary:

This 16-night program begins in Yerevan, Armenia on the evening of Friday, July 17th, and ends in Tbilisi, Georgia on Sunday morning, August 2nd. For those needing to fly round-trip to Tbilisi, no problem. We will arrange ground transportation to Yerevan (6 hours drive) on the morning of Friday, July 17th.


This tour is designed to take advantage of comfort where offered! For a sampling of the top-rated hotels and guesthouses selected, please visit the following links: In Yerevan, we stay at the Tufenkian Heritage Hotel; in Dzoraget another Tufenkian. In Tbilisi, Georgia we stay in the quiet, perfectly located VIP Hotel; in Tusheti the Omalo Shina ("Sun") guesthouse; and in Telavi the Savaneti Hotel.


Curious what former tour participants have to say about their experiences with Tours? Please visit this page.

Tour Fee and Registration:

To reserve your place on the tour, please fill out and return the 2015 Registration form along with the specified deposit to the address listed below. Prices are based on double occupancy with a limited number of single supplements also available. The tour fee covers all expenses for the 11-night tour including chauffeured coach, extra 4x4 transportation, airport transfers, accommodation in high quality boutique hotels, guide services, musical entertainment, and most importantly all-you-can eat delicious seasonal meals + table wines! Airfare not included. Please contact us for the registration form.

Contact and reservations:



Visas are not required for US and most European passport holders in Georgia or Armenia. Your passport will be stampted upon entry and exit, tourists do not need visas. The law has recently changed (Jan. 1st, 2015) in Armenia such that American citizens can enter for a period of 180 days without visa. Click here for more details.

Tour Locations:


+ The tour begins in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. Once a village hamlet, Yerevan was completely redesigned on a radial plan in the early twentieth century, focused around the Opera house and several prominent museums and monuments. With boulevards oriented towards the imposing extinct volcano of Mount Ararat, pedestrians wandering between sheik boutique shops and open air cafes might be startled by impressive views of the Ararat valley. The Matenadaran Institute of Manuscripts contains a world-class exhibit of medieval illuminated manuscripts from around the world, augmented by a map-room of ancient maps of the Caucasus region, and beautifully calligraphic Persian and Arabic official documents. Another museum of exceptional quality is the house museum of the avant-garde film-maker Sergei Parazhanov, which contains much of his little-known production in ceramics, collage, and costume.

Lake sevan, dilijan

+ The lake is one of the largest high-altitude fresh water lakes in the world at over 6000 feet above sea level. Interestingly, while the lake is fed by as many as 28 different rivers and streams, evaporation accounts for over 90% of its outflow. Human intervention in the ecosystem of the lake has taken its toll. In 1933, Stalin approved a plan to lower the level of the lake by 55 meters to increase arable land, produce hydro-electricity, and create fisheries. After just seven years in operation, nearly half the volume of the lake had been drained. Ever since, the Lake Sevan Commission has been attempting to stabilize the lake level by diverting other rivers through tunnels and other schemes. Historically, the lake has been highly significant, attested to in Persian, Greek, Georgian, and Armenian sources. Several medieval monuments surround the lake including the Noraduz khatchkar (cross-stones) field and the ninth century Hayravank and Sevanavank monasteries.

Debed canyon, lori

+ The Lori region, in the border marchlands between Armenia and Georgia, is dominated by a high-walled basalt canyon that follows the snaking contours of the Debed River. One of the primary trade routes between lowland Georgia and upland Armenia, the canyon served as an important gateway for travelers along the northern Silk Road. The scriptoria of its famous monasteries at Haghpat, Sanahin, and Akhtala grew in prominence especially in the 12th-13th centuries, when King David the Restorer of Georgia liberated the area from Arab and Seljuk control. In modern times, the region is known for industrial cities such as Vanadzor, Spitak, and Alaverdi, and was the epicenter of an earthquake in 1988 that unfortunately coincided with the economic collapse of the Soviet economy. Tourism has brought some life to Lori, as visitors flock to see the majestic grandeur of medieval monasteries perched on canyon plateaus far above the river below.

Tbilisi and Mtskheta

+ Tbilisi, capital city of Georgia, founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali. A center of trade and conflict for centuries, Tbilisi has been sacked forty times by various invaders but survives today as the modern hub of the South Caucasus. Nevertheless, the downtown area is full of winding cobblestone streets, small shops and restaurants, as well as the churches, synagogues, and mosques that celebrate the diversity and history of this unique capital city. Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Iberia (East Georgia), lies at the confluence of two rivers just 20 miles upstream from Tbilisi. Dominated by the 11th c. Cathedral of the "Living Cross," Mtskheta was once the thriving trade capital of East Georgia. The Romans reached Mtskheta in 65 AD, as evidenced by the remains of a bridge left behind, and in the early Christian era, St. Nino the Enlightener worked miracles that converted King Mirian and Queen Nana to Christianity in 337 AD.


+ The remote highland region of Tusheti, now a National Park protected by the Georgian government, is a pristine mountain landscape featuring broad terraced meadows, dense forests, and river canyons. The area is inhabited by the Tush people, who speak a dialect of Georgian, and are semi-nomadic herdsmen who winter their flocks in the Kakhetian lowlands and produce highly-prized Tushetian cheeses. According to various competing historical accounts, the various groups of Tush (or Batsbi) fled the Christianization of the lowland Georgian kings, maintaining their animist traditions in the highlands. In a census of 1876, more than 5000 people lived in Tusheti, but in recent times this number has dwindled to just 500 year-round residents. Historically, the highlanders were feared warriors and were responsible for several key victories over Persian forces in East Georgia. This militaristic culture is reflected in the medieval defensive towers that dominate Tush villages, similar to those found in highland Chechnya and Daghestan directly across the border. Tush culture is also famous for its folk songs and dances, which maintain consistent popularity in Georgian mainstream media. The access road to Tusheti is open to 4x4 jeep traffic only six months of the year and has been included on numerous "most dangerous roads in the world" lists. It must be said, however, that in the hands of our capable drivers they're not that extreme, and they spend more time cursing the migrating flocks of sheep than worrying about road conditions.

Telavi, Alazani Valley

+ Telavi, the regional capital of the Kakheti region in East Georgia, was the historical seat of the lowland Georgian kings allied with the highland tribes in Tusheti, Khevsureti, and Pshavi. In the Telavi region, at the head of the rich Alazani valley, there are many famous monasteries and castles set amidst long rows of cultivated vineyards. These include the 8th c. double-domed Kvelatsminda church, the 11th-12th monumental Alaverdi Cathedral and secluded Iqalto Academy, as well as the 16th c. Gremi fortress and Shuamta Convent. Our visits to the region always include local wine-tastings, song, and feasting!


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Leader Profiles:

John A Graham

Ethnomusicologist and Georgian chant scholar, John is a Ph. D. candidate at Princeton University, where he is pursuing research for a dissertation titled "The Transmission and Transcription of Georgian Liturgical Music, 1880-1910." Co-founder of the Monastery tour in 2006, John had already been studying music and language in Georgian since 2003, including on a Fulbright research grant in 2004, and dissertation research in 2009-2011. In 2005, he organized a US-based tour for the world-renowned Anchiskhati Church Choir, and promoted the energetic Zedashe Ensemble to the States in 2007. John brings his developed organizational skills, knowledge of Georgia, and passion for music and history to the Monastery Tour.

Asqanaz Hambardzumyan

Asqanaz (pronounced Ahs-kah-nahz) is a native of Yerevan, Armenia, the youngest of three sons to professor parents. After completing a bachelor’s in economics, Asqanaz has traveled widely. This engagement led to a job with the international organization, Birthright Armenia, where Asqanaz organized the placement and activities of young volunteers from America in villages around Armenia. Asqanaz has also worked with Halo Trust, a British de-mining organization. Asqanaz has a strong bent towards social justice and volunteerism, but also uses his considerable organizational capacity and charisma for sharing his favorite places in Armenia with his friends and guests.

Soso Kopaleishvili

Soso Kopaleishvili is a dynamic performer and educator of Georgian traditional folk and sacred music. As a soloist in the Sakhioba Ensemble, Soso has performed in the UK, Croatia, Ukraine, Poland, and the US, as well as in concerts throughout Georgia. Soso studied in the Tbilisi Seminary and the Patriarchate College of Chant Studies, and worked as a radio host in Folk Radio Tbilisi. He is accomplished on many instruments including the doli (drum), chiboni (bagpipe), chonguri (lute), and guitar. His energy and enthusiasm, combined with a skill for ordering the most delicious foods, make him an invaluable asset to our guide team.


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Flights to Georgia/Armenia:

Airfare to and from Tbilisi, Georgia and/or Yerevan, Armenia is reliable and regular, with typical hub airports in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Rome, Vienna, Paris, and Istanbul. We recommend avoiding hub routes through Moscow.

From New York and Boston, prices range from $1000-$1400 roundtrip, from European destinations between $500-$800 roundtrip depending on the season. Many guests find it convenient to route through Istanbul flying to Georgia, or Paris flying to Armenia. Airline reservations before May 1st recommended.

The tour provides airport transfers to make your transition as comfortable as possible, and also makes additional hotel bookings per your requirements.

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Contact and reservations: