Early AM arrival to Tbilisi and hotel check-in
Rest and explore Tbilisi (previously Tiflis), a city of 1.6 million that has been the capital of Georgia since the 6th century. Historically a multicultural melting pot and trading station along the Silk Road, Tbilisi is known for its hilly cobblestone streets with a kaleidoscope of balconies and staircases in “Italian yards” in the Old City and imperial architecture and elaborate Arts Nouveau entranceways in the “Russian” part of the city around the central Rustaveli Avenue.
Dinner at a local restaurant
Review of itinerary
Tbilisi city tour and visit to Narikala Fortress
Narikala Fortress is an ancient fortress overlooking Tbilisi and the Kura River. The fortress consists of two walled sections on a steep hill between the sulphur baths and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi.
Lunch at Georgian restaurant
Welcome session at American Councils Georgia
Alumni panel and reception
Georgian National Museum
The Georgian National Museum presents internationally significant collections of art and dynamic, changing exhibitions, providing audiences with inspiration and knowledge of Georgia's wonderful world of culture, art, science, and education. The traces of the oldest humans in Eurasia are displayed together with magnificent Medieval Christian art and masterpieces of Oriental, Western European, and Russian decorative arts. The “Gold Fond” holds remarkable treasures from the Shuleveri and Kura-Araxes cultures as well as from the Sythians. The “Museum of Soviet Occupation” permanent exhibition gives the Georgian perspective on recent political history.
Lunch at “Samikitno”
Tbilisi City Museum
Founded in 1910 as the City Municipal Museum, the current Tbilisi History Museum has been located since 1984 in a restored “caravanserai”, representing the city's historic role as a Silk Road trading outpost.
One of the oldest standing structures in Tbilisi, the Anchiskhati Basilica of St. Marie was built in the early 6th century during the reign of King Dachi of Iberia. It is named after an Icon of the Savior that was made in the Ancha Monastary in what is now Turkey and moved to Tbilisi to protect it from an Ottoman invasion in 1675. The church’s brick belfry was constructed in that same year. The Anchiskhati Choir is one of the most famous in Georgia.
Dinner at Funicular Restaurant
Constructed in the early 1900s by a Belgian engineer, the 500-meter-long Tbilisi funicular connects the city with the Mtatsminda Pantheon and a park at the top of the mountain. The Funicular restaurant building at the top of Mtatsminda (which means Holy Mountain) was constructed in 1938 but destroyed during the ‘Tbilisi War” in 1992 as the Soviet Union collapsed. It was reconstructed and reopened in 2012. It currently houses four different restaurants and cafes.
Drive to Gori (1 hour)
Gori is a city in eastern Georgia, which serves as the regional capital of the Shida Kartli region. As of 2002, it had a population of 49,500. Gori is also known as the birthplace of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, ballistic missile designer Alexander Nadiradze, and philosopher Merab Mamardashvili.
Stalin House Museum
The Stalin House Museum complex consists of the memorial house, where Stalin was born, exposition building with tower and Stalin’s personal train coach with interior, by which he traveled to Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam. This museum houses Stalin’s personal items, his study room from the Kremlin, manuscripts, and gifts from all over the world.
Lunch at Georgian Restaurant
Explore the city center and Gori Fortress
The Gori Fortress has watched over the city since at least since the Middle Ages and placed a key role in wars with the Turks and Persians in the 15-17th centuries.
Drive to Akhaltsikhe (1.5 hours)
Meaning “new castle” in Georgian, Akhaltsikhe was formerly called “Lomsia” and is the historical capital of the Samtkhe region. For several hundred years from the 16th to the 19th centuries, it was part of the Ottoman Empire (as the Pashalik of Akhazik) and was re-incorporated into the Georgian lands under the Russian tsars with the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829, following the Turkish defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829.
Check-in and dinner at Hotel Lomsia
Khertvisi fortress is one of the oldest in Georgia and was functional throughout the Georgian feudal period. According to legend, Khertvisi was once sacked by Alexander the Great.
Vardzia is a cave monastery site in southern Georgia, excavated since the Middle Ages from the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain on the left bank of the Mtkvari River, 30 kilometers from Aspindza.
Return to Akhaltsikhe
Visit to School No. 1 and dance performance
Dinner at Hotel Lomsia
Rabati Castle Complex and Museum
The Rabati Castle located above the Akhaltsikhe dates from the 9th century and was rebuilt under the Otttomans in the 17th and 18th century. It was again renovated under the government of Mikheil Saakashvili in the 2000s, restoring the Akhmediya Mosque and an Orthodox church and relocating the Akhaltsikhe city museum there, as well as installing a restaurant and café.
Depart Akhaltsikhe for Borjomi (1 hour)
Located at the source of the eponymous spring water that became famous all over the Russian Empire and the USSR. Borjomi developed as a resort town in the late Tsarist period, and many aristocrats, including the Russian royal family took treatments or built dachas there. It currently has a population of about 14,500 and remains a popular tourist destination, especially for relaxation and hiking. Together with the nearby ski-resort town of Bakuriani, Borjomi unsuccessfully applied to be the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Lunch at FLEX alumna’s house
Borjomi National Park
The Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is one of the largest national parks in Georgia and covers 851 kilometers of native forest and alpine meadows. Although there are many trails and tourists can spend days or weeks exploring the park, the National Park Information Trail is 3 km and takes approximately 90 minutes, passing the St. Nino Church and offering stunning views of the Borjomi spa-resort.
Depart for Tbilisi (2.5 hours)
Depart for Kazbeki (Stepansminda) via the Georgian Military Highway (3 hours)
Ananuri is a castle complex on the Aragvi River, about 45 miles (72 km) from Tbilisi. The Ananuri castle was the seat of the Eristavis (Dukes) of Aragvi, a feudal dynasty which ruled the area from the 13th century.
Lunch and khinkali-making lesson
A meat-filled dumpling, most likely brought to the region by the Mongols and a relative of the Turkic “manty”, Russian “pelmeni”, and Central European “pierogi”, khinkali in Georgia are associated with the mountainous regions, and especially the northern parts around Kazbegi and the Georgian military highway. In the mountains, khinkali are often made with lamb, though more typically they are made of beef or pork (or some combination thereof). More recently vegetarian khinakali, filled with mushrooms, potatoes, or cheese, have started to become popular in the cities.
Walk or drive up to Gergeti Trinity Church
Immortalized in Pushkin’s poem “The Cloister on Kazbek”, the Holy Trinity Church (Tsminda Sameba in Georgian) was built in the 14th century on the top of a steep mountain, with Mt. Kazbeki itself rising up behind it. The striking view has become a symbol of Georgia.
Dinner in Pasanauri
Return to Tbilisi (2.5 hours)
Depart for Mtskheta (30 min)
Mtskheta was the former capital of Georgia (up to the 5th century) and was a major political and trade center of the Kingdom of Iberia at the convergence of the Mtkvari (Kura) and the Aragvi rivers, and it boasts archeological finds going back 3,000 years to the Bronze Age. It is considered to be the place Georgia adopted Christianity in the early 4th century.
Literally meaning “Cathedral of the Living Pillar”, Svetitskhoveli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built in the early 11th century and has served as the seat of the Georgian Orthodox Church as well as was a burial place of Georgian kings. Its name derives from the legend that a Georgian Jew from Mtskheta brought the robe of Jesus from Jerusalem, and when his sister Sidonia touched it, she was overcome with emotion and died on the spot. She would not let go of the robe, and was buried together with it, and a cedar tree grew on the spot of her grave. When St. Nino brought Christianity to Georgia, she had the tree chopped down to make seven pillars that would serve as the foundation for the cathedral. The 7th column was so holy that it floated in the air and returned to the ground only after St. Nino prayed all night.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jvari Monastery was built in the 6th century on the spot where supposedly St. Nino of Cappadocia converted King Merian III of Iberia to Christianity in the early 4th century. “Jvari” means “cross” in Georgian, as here St. Nino erected a cross on the spot of the previous pagan temple to mark the conversion. The structure remains little changed since its construction and is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world.
Lunch at the “Salobie” restaurant
Return to Tbilisi
Dinner at Gabriadze Cafe
Departure for Kakheti Region (2 hours)
Kakheti is a mountainous region in the east of Georgia, and the country’s largest wine-producing district, especially in the micro-regions of Telavi and Kvareli.
Tsinandali is a village in the Kakheti region and the 19th century palace and historic winery-estate of the Georgian noble Chavchavadze family. It was sacked during a raid by forces loyal to mountaineer leader Imam Shamil in 1854 during the Caucasus War, who also abducted a number of the Chavchavadze family members, together with their French maid, whose later memoirs became a sensation in 19th century Europe.
Lunch and walking tour in Telavi
With a population of some 20,000, Telavi is the capital of the Kakheti region and the historical seat of the medieval kingdom of Kakheti, whose royal palace is still preserved in the city center. Archeological findings here date back to the Bronze Age, and Telavi was mentioned in Greek and Arab sources even prior to the emergence of the Kakhetian Kingdom in the 10th-12th centuries. It has recently become a popular tourist destination, as many come to visit the old and new wineries in the region.
The Alaverdi Monastery was founded by an Assyrian monk from Antioch in the 6th century and was rebuilt during the 11th century. Still an active monastery (whose monks are known for their wine making), it is one of the largest churches in Georgia.
Return to Tbilisi (2.5 hours)
FREE day in Tbilisi
Dinner at “Tsiskvili” (“The Old Mill”)
Pack up your souvenirs and depart in the early morning. Farewell!