colchis & svaneti
Featuring highland Svaneti and Racha
July 1 - 12, 2015
Imagine, if you will, the time of the ancient kingdom of Colchis, a time when Greek and Roman traders bartered for Svanetian gold along the jungle-covered slopes of the Black Sea coast. For the sea-faring traders, the interior lands of Colchis were as mysterious as the Sea was to the highlanders.
On this tour, we'll be visiting, discussing, and imagining the reality of the kingdom of Colchis, and its tenuous relationship with the highland Svans and Rachans. Join us for this unique journey, it will be an adventure.tour leader for the tour brochure and full itinerary.
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 Tbilisi we stay in the quiet, perfectly located VIP Hotel; in Kutaisi we also stay in the heart of old town at the Aeetes hotel; in Batumi we stay in the Era Palace hotel; in Mestia we stay at Svaneti Hotel.
Curious what former participants have to say about their experiences in Georgia? See our Impressions link at the top left of this page.
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 us for the Registration form.
Mtkvari River Valley
+ Starting in Tbilisi (named for the hot springs along the river), we journey upstream to the ancient capital Mtskheta. Dominated by the 11th century Cathedral of the "Living Cross," Mtskheta was once the thriving trade capital of East Georgia but is now a quaint little hamlet at the confluence of Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. 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, converting the Iberian King Mirian and his queen Nana to Christianity in 337 AD. Further up the Mtkvari River, we visit the Ateni Sioni Church (7th c.), before leaving the valley to venture past the Surami Fortress and over the pass into Imereti-Samegrelo in West Georgia.
Imereti - Samegrelo
+ Historic Georgia was divided by the Surami mountain range into two kingdoms: Iberia in the East with its capital in Tbilisi, and Colchis in the West with its capital in Kutaisi. This historic region has also been variously called Egrisi, Lazika, and today is called Samegrelo. According to legend, Jason and the Argonauts sailed to the ends of the known (Greek) world, Colchis, to steal the princess of the land and its wealth of gold. Indeed, exquisite jewelry and weaponry was created by a cadre of artisans given access to the valuable mines in the high Caucasus, some of which is visible in museums today. Our visit will include two nights in Kutaisi and two nights in Batumi, the coastal port city once inhabited by Roman traders. Sites include the ancient Georgian-Greek fortress city of Archaeopolis, the Roman fortress at Gonio (2nd c.), and the Kutaisi National Museum. From the Christian era we will visit the Martvili and Ubisa monasteries (7th-9th c.), the Bagrat cathedral (10th c.), the Gelati academy and monastery (12th c.), and the cathedral of Khobi.
Svaneti - Racha
+ Traveling up a narrow gorge from the plains of ancient Colchis, the hidden valleys of Svaneti eventually reveal themselves among the snow-capped peaks of the Great Caucasus range. In the 19th century, famous alpinist-explorers such as David Freshfield and Vittorio Sella recorded their travels through the area. Speaking an ancient language only distantly related to the Georgian of the lowlanders, the Svans are a fierce and proud people who have preserved aspects of their ancient rituals and traditions to the modern day. Certainly their three-voiced polyphony is intoxicating, preserving a unique tuning system without parallel in the world.
Christianity spread to the region in the tenth century, where it thrived alongside animist traditions that remain in syncretism today. From this era, several chapels reveal a unique school of fresco painting, while the newly renovated National Museum boasts gold and silver icons from the 10th-14th centuries, four illuminated gospels from the ninth and tenth centuries, as well as priceless objects from many regions of Georgia spirited up to the mountains in times of war and protected there ever since.
In each Svan village, defensive towers (10-11th centuries) protected each family from attack. These iconic towers dominate the hamlets, which seem frozen in time. But the capital city has been renovated to accommodate growing tourist demand, and now features modern hotel facilities and a ski resort. On our trip, we will visit several museums in towers, and stay in Mestia and Ushguli, two of the centers featuring some of the most historic towers in Svaneti.
The neighboring region of Racha is the jewel of the Caucasus. Its topography is dominated by massive limestone cliffs interspersed with clean rivers and lakes. Our main cultural destination is the unique, 12th c. Nikortsminda cathedral which has the finest exterior stone-carving in all of Georgia. In one of the farthest villages in Racha, we encounter a synagogue, a remnant of the pre-emmigration Jewish community that thrived in this highland reach until the late 1970s.
+ 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 of this unique country. As we tour monasteries in the ancient capital region, a comfortable downtown Tbilisi hotel will serve as our home-base, affording a chance to sample the best of Tbilisi's dining and evening entertainment, and visit the wealth of museums, spas, and cultural delights in the "Old Town."
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.
Occasionally, we are joined by the lovely Ekaterine Diasamidze, a passionate music promoter for Georgia's only classical music station, Radio Muza, and a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at the Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University. Eka holds a BA from the Tbilisi Conservatory in 2003 and a Masters in Musicology from the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 2005. She has studied Georgian history, is a church chanter, and brings her deep love and knowledge of the Georgian language and culture to our guide team.
Born and raised in the highland region of Svaneti, Shergil's first language, and first musical influences stem from the archaic traditions he grew up in. Now a soloist in the Zedashe Ensemble and resident in East Georgia, Shergil performs and teaches traditional music both in Georgia and abroad. He has toured in the USA, Holland, Latvia, and the UK on several occasions, and brings his passion for music and fine sense of humor and poise to the guide team at Georgianchant.org.
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.
Where is Georgia?
Georgia is a country nestled in the South Caucasus along the eastern coast of the Black Sea and is bordered by Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Daghestan, and Russia. Ancient names for Georgia include Kolchis, Egrisi, Lazika, Iberia, and Urartu, and is attested to in the histories by Strabo, Xenophon, and Herodotus. Georgians call themselves "Karts" and their land "Sa-kart-vel-o".
Information on the region can be found on the web. Please see our recommendations on the resources page of this website, or click here.
Airfare to and from Georgia is reliable, with hub airports in London, 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. Many guests find it convenient to route through Istanbul. 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.