Discover Georgia Tours
Tao-Klarjeti and Svaneti
With seven years experience leading tours in the Caucasus, we aim to provide unique cultural experiences for our guests with the best possible comfort. Our guides do not recite guidebook entries, but rather fascilitate interaction with local Georgians, enliven sacred spaces with three-part traditional chanting, and lend nuance to discussions on local history, politics, and cultural preservation.
Itinerary: Please see our unique tour itinerary.
Impressions: Curious what former participants have to say about their experiences in Georgia with us? 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. Please fill out the application form and return it via the addresses listed below (electronic submission preferred).
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.
+ Tao-Klarjeti is the mountainous region in contemporary North-Eastern Turkey that was once the birth of the medieval Georgian "Golden Era" that lasted from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. We will enter Turkey via the border from Akhaltsikhe, map here, visas obtainable for $20 at the border for American citizens. The high-plateau topography is criss-crossed with deep canyons, which offered both fertile farmland and easily defensible positions against Georgia's numerous enemies. Evidence of the cultural and political importance of the area is seen in the ruins of more than three-hundred cathedrals, chapels, bridges, fortifications.
During the tenth century, ruler Davit Kuropalates assisted the Byzantine Emperor Basil II with auxiliary troops, an alliance which strengthened the position of Tao against a weak Persia. Read more on the history of the region here.
The Orthodox Church flourished, and the monasteries of Tao-Klarjeti became famous for their illuminated manuscripts, unique chanting schools, and deep connections with monasteries in Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and Greece.
Black Sea Coast
+ Emerging from the mountains of Tao, which plunge directly into the Black Sea, we will be only 30 minutes drive to the current Georgian border at Sarpi (visas free for American and European citizens for 365 days). This area has been populated for millenium by Georgian tribes who traded with Ancient Greeks, Romans, and later with caravans from the East traveling the Silk Route. We will visit the Roman fort of Gonio (2nd century AD), the bustling cosmopolitan port city of Batumi, as well as other sites according to our choosing.
+ Traveling up a narrow gorge from the plains of ancient Colchis, the hidden valleys of Svaneti reveal themselves among the snow-capped peaks of the Great Caucasus range. In the 19th century, famous explorers such as David Freshfield and Vittorio Sella recorded their travels through this area. Speaking an ancient relative of the Georgian language, 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 frescoe painting, while the newly renovated area museum boasts four gospels from the ninth and tenth centuries as well as many other precious artifacts from the early middle ages.
In each 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.
+ 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.
This summer, 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 this year.
A longtime friend and co-founder of the Monastery Tours in 2006, Luarsab is an enthusiastic and passionate ambassador of Georgia's many traditional arts. His company, Samoseli Pirveli, makes traditional Georgian garments; photos here. Luarsab has several publications on the history of Georgian monasticism on Mt. Athos, the preservation of church chant in the 19th century, and biographies on individual clergy members from the pre-Bolshevik era. His special hobby is collecting and identifying 19th century portrait photographs.
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 in 2011 ranged from $1200-$1400 roundtrip, from European destinations between $600-$700 roundtrip. Many guests found it convenient to route through Istanbul. Airline reservations before May 1st recommended.
The tour provides airport pickup to make your transition as comfortable as possible, and we can help with supplementary hotel reservations depending on the length of your overall visit to Georgia.