A Silk Road Adventure: Georgia and Azerbaijan

Code: JLSRA/GEAZ/JUN/19
13 Days
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Fixed Departure: 3rd – 15th June 2019

Have you watched Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure on ITV and been inspired to follow in her footsteps?

Do you want to get away from it all and immerse yourself in two of the Silk Road’s most diverse and fascinating countries?

Then join us on this expertly crafted two-week journey across the enthralling nations of Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Curated with a journalist’s eye for the interesting and unusual, this unique itinerary will take you away from the beaten trail and into the homes, villages, wineries and workshops of some truly wonderful people. You’ll meet the custodians of tiny 1000-year churches, visit cliff-top monasteries, learn the secrets of Azeri silk, stroll through flower-filled mountain meadows and feast on a mouth-watering array of local, seasonal foods. And you’ll have the rare chance to meet the real stars of the Silk Road, the silkworms themselves.

The trip will be led by one of our directors, Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent – an award-winning travel writer and a producer of Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure – and fantastic local guides.  Thanks to months of specialist research, this is a completely unique opportunity to travel to the places featured you’ve seen on TV and have dreamed of visiting. No other company can give you this same experience.

This, though we say so ourselves, is a humdinger of a journey. Feasting, mountains, wilderness, wine, art, beauty, glamour and lashings of Silk Road history – it has it all!

DEPARTURE/RETURN LOCATION The trip will depart from Kutaisi International Airport and end at Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport
DEPARTURE TIME Please ensure you arrive in good time for our scheduled departure from Kutaisi
INCLUDED
  • Accommodation on a twin-shared basis throughout
  • All meals
  • Local airport transfers
  • All land travel costs
  • A professional guiding team including Silk Road Adventures’ Director Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent plus English-speaking local guides.
  • Fresh filtered water + a Water 2 Go water filtration bottle, in order to reduce plastic waste
  • Professional route planning and logistics, backed by risk assessments, emergency procedures, satellite communications (where necessary) and medical support. We don’t take risks lightly and we plan for all eventualities, believing it is better to have prepared and not require a procedure than not to plan at all. We also carry a very well stocked First Aid and Trauma medical kit and have been First Aid and Trauma trained by the excellent team at Crux Medical.
NOT INCLUDED
  • International Flights to Kutaisi and from Baku. We can organise these for you as part of the package – please advise us if you need this.
  • Guide gratuities
  • Personal spending money for alcohol or souvenirs
  • Your personal travel insurance
  • Your Azerbaijan visa

From the back-alleys of charming Tbilisi to the glitz of booming Baku, this culture-rich journey will fire your soul, mind and taste-buds and leave you wanting more.

Follow the Silk Road in Joanna Lumley’s Footsteps : Georgia and Azerbaijan

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Day 1: Monday 3rd June 2019

Arrive in Kutaisi, Georgia. Most flights to Kutaisi arrive in the middle of the night, so we’ll pick you up and whisk you to the hotel to get some rest. After a late breakfast, we’ll spend the day exploring Kutaisi, a city that boasts 3500 years of history and was the capital of ancient Colchis, where King Aeetes kept the legendary Golden Fleece. We’ll stroll around the town centre and local market, have lunch in a delightful local restaurant and visit both Gelati monastery and the gorgeous Motsameta, an 11th century monastery spectacularly positioned on a cliff-top above the Tskaltsitela River. We’ll spend tonight in a comfortable hotel in Kutaisi.

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Day 2: Tuesday 4th June

Kutaisi – Becho (Svaneti)
After breakfast we’ll head north to Svaneti, a remote, mountainous region famous for its unique 6th century dialect, strange medieval watchtowers and pagan-tinged Christianity. A skein of the Silk Road, this was also where the Georgian treasury was carried to in times of invasion – something that happened a great deal. Around lunchtime we’ll arrive at a tiny, 1000-year old Svan hamlet featured in Joanna’s ITV series, where you’ll get the chance to help make cheese and experience a slice of rural Svan life. That night we’ll stay at a cosy hotel in the beautiful Becho Valley, surrounded by flowed-filled meadows and snow-streaked Caucasian peaks.

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Day 3: Wednesday 5th June

Becho – Mestia
After a delicious home-cooked breakfast on the balcony we’ll spend a few hours walking through the stunning Becho Valley, before driving to a nearby village. Here, amid winding lanes flanked by old stone houses and Svan watchtowers, we’ll be shown around a very special 10th century Svan church by the local artist whose family have looked after it for its entire 1000-year history. Joanna adored this church and, whether you’re an art buff or not, we think you’ll love this jewel of a building too. After a late lunch we’ll visit the impressive local museum, then (weather allowing) take a cable car ride up to the Zuruldi Pass. Tonight will be in a family-run hotel in the pretty, watchtower-filled town of Mestia.

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Day 4: Thursday 6th June

Mestia – Tbilisi
It’s a long drive to the capital today (8 hours), but, have no fear, we’ll be breaking it up with wine tasting and a visit to an extremely memorable museum. After a few hours winding down through the beautiful Caucasus Mountains, we’ll stop for a spot of lunch at a charming family-run winery. Afterwards, we’ll drive on to Gori, the birthplace of Stalin, where we’ll visit the museum dedicated to Georgia’s most infamous export. Among the items on show are the house where he was born and his personal train carriage. It’s a few hours’ drive from here to Tbilisi, where we’ll check in to our stylish 5* hotel and dine at a classy restaurant.

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Day 5: Friday 7th June

Tbilisi
Today it’s all about Tbilisi, Georgia’s charming, buzzy capital – a vital stop on the Silk Road and one of our favourite cities on earth. We’ll explore the atmospheric lanes of the Old City and bath-house area, ogle the array of goods on sale at the amazing Dry Bridge Bazaar and stroll up to the 4th century Persian citadel, Narikala Fortress, to enjoy panoramic views over the city. From here you can see the golden domes of Orthodox churches, the spires of Armenian cathedrals and the circular roofs of old Azeri bath houses – reminders of Tbilisi’s place at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. After lunch at a top notch restaurant we’ll visit the fascinating 19th century Silk Museum and learn about the little-known history of silk production in Georgia. In the evening we’ll visit a famous natural wine bar and dine at yet another delicious restaurant. By this point, you’ll understand why everyone who visits Georgia raves about the food and wine! Tonight will again be at our uber-stylish 5* hotel.

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Day 6: Saturday 8th June

Tbilisi – Kakheti
We’ll leave Tbilisi after breakfast and drive for two hours into the lush, rolling hills of Kakheti, Georgia’s wine-growing region. Here we’ll visit the stunning vineyard of the famous young wine-maker featured in Joanna’s series, and try some of his much talked about natural wine. Lunch will be at the vineyard – yet another delectable Georgian feast! After lunch we’ll drive 1.5 hours to the fantastically scenic hilltop town of Signaghi, where we’ll spend the night in a small, comfortable hotel.

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Day 7: Sunday 9th June

Signaghi
It’s so lovely here, we can’t leave quite yet! After a few hours exploring the town’s cobbled streets, we’ll drive to nearby Bodbe Monastery to see the tomb of St Nino – the young woman who Christianised Georgia way back in the 4th century. From here, it’s a short hop down the road to the home of the remarkable silkworm farmer featured in Joanna’s series. You’ll meet the worms, feed them fresh mulberry leaves and then enjoy a spectacular meal in the garden, replete with homemade wine and chacha. This is a fascinating experience with a truly wonderful woman. Full and happy, we’ll return to our hotel in Signaghi.

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Day 8: Monday 10th June

Signaghi – Sheki (Azerbaijan)
By now, you’ll have fallen hook, line and sinker for this gem of a country. But the wonders of Azerbaijan await. It’s just over an hour’s drive to the Lagodekhi border crossing, where we’ll say goodbye to our Georgian team and cross into the ‘Land of Fire.’ By teatime, after a short drive through the pistachio and hazel orchards of this verdant region, we’ll be in the important Silk Road town of Sheki, enjoying some of its famous sweets in a medieval Caravanserai.

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Day 9: Tuesday 11th June

Sheki – Ismaili
Sheki’s name and history goes back to 7th century BC, when the Scythians ruled the roost in these parts. Since then this important arts, silk and trade centre has been variously ruled by the Mongols, Ottomans, Persians and Russians, to name just a few. This morning we’ll see the legacy of one of these conquerors, the fantastically intricate UNESCO listed 18th century Khan’s Palace – a building that took two years to build and eight to decorate! After some time to explore the town’s cobbled streets and buy a souvenir or two, we’ll drive several hours east to the lush Ismaili region. Here, in the shadow of the mighty Caucasus range, we’ll visit a world-class vineyard that’s putting Azeri wine firmly on the map. Tonight will be in the vineyard’s luxury hotel, replete with swimming pool and mountain views.

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Day 10: Wednesday 12th June

Ismaili – Shamakhi
After tearing ourselves away from breakfast and the pool, we’ll drive to the village of Baskal, where traditional Azeri silk scarves, kelagayi, have been made for more than a thousand years. Hand-printed with designs rooted in the country’s pre-Islamic Zoroastrian traditions, these colourful scarves are said to have been worn in battle by female Scythian warriors. The workshop featured in Joanna’s series, and we’ll be meeting men whose ancestors have worked here for untold centuries before them. The rest of the day will be spent exploring the surrounding range of thickly forested hills – walking between small, traditional mountain villages inhabited by Azerbaijani Turk and Tat people. It’s about 1500 metres above sea level here, and we’ll be walking a fairly easy 7 km through some truly lovely scenery. Tonight we’ll be staying in a 4* hotel in Shamakhi.

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Day 11: Thursday 13th June

Shamakhi – Baku
After a look around Azerbaijan’s oldest mosque, we’ll drive two hours east to the capital Baku. Dubbed the ‘Dubai of the Caucasus’, this is a glitzy, booming city on the shores of the oil rich Caspian Sea – a world away from the villages we explored yesterday! There’s so much to see and experience here, but we’ll start with the Old City, a UNESCO listed walled citadel inhabited since the Palaeolithic period. Walking through the ancient, winding alleys, past carpet sellers and samovars, it’s easy to forget about the modern city beyond the walls. Tonight will be in our boutique hotel in the Old City.

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Day 12: Friday 14th June

Baku
Today we’ll spend the whole day exploring Baku and the surrounding Absheron Peninsular. We’ll visit the incredible Carpet Museum, marvel at the famous Flame Towers, stroll around Zaha Hadid’s iconic Heydar Aliyev Centre, meet a famous local artist and see the oil fields where the first mechanical oil drill was built in 1871. As well as being featured in the Bond film, The World is Not Enough, these also still fuel much of the country’s wealth. In the afternoon we’ll head to the Absheron Peninsular to visit an unusual shrine and see the Atasgeh Fire Temple, a reminder of the Land of Fire’s Zoroastrian roots. Tonight we’ll have a goodbye dinner at our favourite Baku restaurant.

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Day 13: Saturday 15th June

Baku – Home
Most flights from Baku to the UK (and elsewhere) leave in the afternoon or evening, so this morning is yours to do as you wish. We suspect this might involve visiting some of the irresistible shops in the Old City! We’ll then transfer you to the airport and wave you on your merry way.
Where will we be staying? We’ll be staying in a mix of places - from four and five star hotels in Baku and Tbilisi to cosy, family-run guesthouses and hotels in the smaller towns and villages. There’ll always be hot showers, proper loos and delicious breakfasts! What size of group will it be? Our group sizes are always small, allowing for an intimate experience of the cultures we meet along our path. On this trip we won’t have more than ten guests, plus Antonia and the local guides and drivers. We usually find groups are made of like-minded people, both male and female, from a wide age range. How is this different to other ‘Silk Road’ expeditions I’ve seen? We have been living, breathing, reading, researching and travelling the Silk Road for the past five years and  - with this trip - are in the unique position that one of our directors, Antonia, who is an award-winning travel writer as well as a TV producer and expedition leader, spent a year researching and designing this route. This expedition gives you a completely unique opportunity to travel to the places you’ve seen on TV. Antonia also produced the BBCs World’s Most Dangerous Roads in Georgia in 2012 (with Hugh Bonneville and Jessica Hynes). No other company can give you this unique insight and experience. What does the prince include? Included: All your food and accommodation. All cars, petrol etc. The guiding services of Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent, plus excellent local teams in both countries. A Water 2 Go filter bottle (to save on plastic pollution). All museum entrances and extras. Some wine and beer with dinners. All wine and food at private wine tastings. Not included: International flights. Personal insurance. Tips. Visa for Azerbaijan (Georgia does not require a visa). Personal spending money for souvenirs and extra booze. What will the weather be like? It’s early summer, when the Caucasus region can be very hot in places. Expect up to 30 degrees in Baku and Tbilisi, but down to around ten degrees at night in the mountains of Svaneti. But have no fear, we will supply you with a detailed packing list after you’ve signed up. I’m a solo traveller – is this for me? Yes. More than 85% of our expedition clients travel alone as part of our group. We don’t charge single supplements to solo travellers – see below. Do you charge single supplements – I can’t see them in your information? No. We don’t believe that solo travellers should be penalised with extra charges.  It goes against our ethos, so unless totally unavoidable or astronomically expensive,  all costs are included in the expedition price. Please note that in most of the yurt camps we are staying in, single rooms are simply not available. What kit do I need to bring? We will provide you with an information pack after signing up to this trip, and this will detail any particular equipment we think either necessary or useful. What vehicles will we be travelling in? We will be travelling in a smart, new Mercedes Sprinter Minibus in both countries. How much are flights? This is a moving feast! It depends on where you are travelling from and how you want to get there. From London Luton it can be as little as £20 one way to Kutaisi with Wizz Air, while from Baku it’s nearer £250 one way back to the UK. We can offer flight inclusive packages also though. Again, we’ll send you an information pack containing all the information you need when you book your place. What will the food be like? Amazing! Georgian food is a feast for the palate; a tasty array of (largely home-produced) meat and vegetarian dishes infused with the tastes of Persia, the Middle East and Europe. And Azeri fayre is delicious too – if a little more on the meaty side. This is definitely one of our more gastronomic (and vegetarian friendly) trips. Will I have to share a room? Yes, at times. There will be hotels and guest houses where we will have separate rooms and wherever possible we will arrange this, but there will also be times where we are staying in small family-run guesthouses when there is scant option but to share rooms. This is all part of the adventure, and a reason we love to travel here. Will I be affected by altitude? No – we are only going up to 1600 metres above sea level on this trip, so you won’t notice a thing. Do you perform proper risk management on your expeditions? Yes. We are members of TRIP – the Travel Risk and Incident Prevention Group – and perform detailed country risk assessments prior to departure, in line with the ISO 31000 international standard for risk assessment. We also maintain close contact with the relevant Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for countries we plan to visit, in addition to making use of the Australian Smart Traveller assessment tool, and the US State Department’s OSAC service. Beyond this, we have a full set of risk management and disaster contingency plans for each expedition and are expedition first aid trained by Crux Medical. For final back up we also use the services of Remote Medical Support that allows us to have a UK expedition doctor on the end of a telephone line wherever we may be. And we always carry a satellite phone. We really don’t mess around when it comes to safety. I can’t do your dates but love the sound of your expedition – can you be flexible? Yes. We offer set group dates for many of our expeditions, but we can organise and deliver bespoke expeditions to groups and individuals to suit your itinerary and budget. More information is available on our tailor made tours page. Is it a guaranteed departure? As with any new, pioneering itinerary we need to reach a minimum number of guests to make this viable. For this trip, we need a minimum of 6 guests. When you express interest in this expedition, we will send you a deposit invoice to hold your place. This is refundable according to our terms and conditions if we do not reach the minimum numbers. We recommend that you do not book your flights or other arrangements until we have communicated that the expedition is definitely departing as planned and will aim to do this in order to give you at least 3 months prior to the scheduled departure in which to make your travel arrangements. How fit do I need to be? You don’t need to be ready to run a marathon, but you do need to be able to walk a short distance. We’ll be walking around Baku and Tbilisi quite a bit, and also spending a morning and afternoon walking through the hills in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Of course, this isn’t a boot camp and there’s always the option not to walk, but it would be shame to miss out. Is this trip for me? If you love adventure, new places, friendly people, wild landscapes, history and culture then yes! However, if you're the sort of person who is going to be moaning about the lack of 4G, complaining that the road to Svaneti is too bumpy (it isn't!) or fretting about missing the football, then this probably isn't your bag.

Price:£3,650.00