Discover Georgia Tours
Monastery Tour 2013
June 19th - 30th
In our eighth season, join us for an exploration of Georgia's oldest monasteries, founded in the sixth century by Christian ascetics from Assyria. Be among the first westerners to rediscover the frescoes and acoustics of these ancient houses of worship set amidst rolling vineyards, towering peaks, and the desert vistas of the Caspian basin. Taste the exquisite Saperavi and Mtsvane home-made wines, grape varietals found only in the cradle of wine civilization.
The Monastery Tour was originally founded by friends Luarsab Togonidze and John A. Graham, the current incarnation of this unique tour is led by John with other professional guides. Our aim, in brief, is to share with you the sounds and wonders of medieval Georgia, while presenting the world-famous hospitality and charm of modern Georgia.
Read more about the program below.
Seeking: World travelers, medievalists, musicians, self-educators, spiritual pilgrims, and adventurers of all varieties for an immersion experience at the crossroads of Europe and Asia: welcome to Caucasus Georgia!
2013 Itinerary : With the success of our new 2011 itinerary we will continue to visit south and central Georgia including Vardzia, Sapara, Bagrati, and Gelati (see photos, left on this page). Full itinerary available as a downloadable Word doc.
Reduced Cost! $1900 per person, or $3600 for friends or spouses rooming together; Covers all expenses in Georgia including lodging (11 nights), all meals (entertained feasts), transportation, and guided tours. Discount incentives available for groups, contact for more details.
Impressions: Curious what former participants have to say about their experiences in Georgia? See our Impressions link at the top left of this page.
Deposit: The tour is limited to fifteen participants on a first come, first serve basis. A $300 deposit per person is required to secure a place. In the event of cancellation, requests for a deposit refund will be accepted through February 19th, 2013, no refunds after this date.
Contact and reservations:
John A Graham
145 Windsor Dr.
White River Jct.
VT 05001 USA
jagraham [at] princeton.edu
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 is 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 33 AD. Further up the Mtkvari, we will stay overnight in summer resort of Borjomi, famous for its mineral waters and Soviet-era spa houses. But our real destination lies far up-river, near the Turkish plateau where the Mtkvari river originates, where the 12th century Vardzia cave complex awaits your exploration. Along the way, we pass many abandoned fortresses defending the common invasion route of the Turkic tribes into the Southern Caucasus, with stops at the Khertvisi Fortress and the cliff-hanging Sapara Monastery.
+ Sighnaghi, a hilltop fortress town built by King Erekle in the 18th century; boasts twenty seven towers and a four kilometer defensive wall overlooking the broad Alezani valley, commanding a 180 degree view of the Great Caucasus Range. Once an artisan capital, Sighnaghi is quickly re-establishing itself as a center of the artistic renaissance of 21st century Georgia, hosting three dance troupes, folk and sacred choirs, painting, music, carpet-making, and wood-working studios, as well as a regional branch of the State University. We will make ourselves at home in this charming town for the first half of the tour while we visit the incredible treasures of medieval architecture in the region including the Bodbe, Alaverdi, Ghirsa, and Iqalto monasteries.
+ Telavi, regional capital of the Kakheti region. Telavi is situated at the top of the long Alezani wine-growing valley, at the base of the Great Caucasus range, and has been the seat of kings for several centuries. In the Telavi region there are many famous monasteries and castles, including the 8th century double domed Kvelatsminda church, the 11th and 12th masterpieces of Alaverdi Cathedral and Iqalto Academy, the 16th century Gremi fortress and Shuamta Convent, and the 19th century Tsinandali palace and winery.
+ 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."
+ Mount Qazbegi, the mythical mountain hold of Prometheus' epic torture, elevates to an impressive snowcap, 15,000 feet above sea level. Against this backdrop, the small hamlet of St. Stephens and the hauntingly silhouetted Gergeti Trinity Monastery (13th century) strikes an indelibly austere frame, and has become the ultimate destination for Caucasian alpinist-adventurer and Christian pilgrim alike.
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.