The the Southern Caucasus boast amazing monasteries, stunning mountains and plenty of wines to taste.
This 26 day itinerary in late June to early July of 2022 included 3 days in Istanbul, Turkey to acclimate to the time zone and get into travel mode. We then spent 2 weeks road tripping around Georgia. Highlights included the cave monastery sites of Vardzia and Uplistsikhe outside of Gori, the Svaneti mountain towns of Mestia and Ushguli, Mt Kazbek in Stepantminda and wine tasting in Kakheti. From Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia we flew to Yerevan, Armenia and did a week-long road trip in Armenia, beginning and ending in Yerevan. Highlights included the last light on the Noravank Monastery, The cave monastery and rock formations around Goris, The forest monasteries and green hills of Dilijan and white water rafting in the Debed Canyon. Having to fly back to Tbilisi on our journey home, we explored the capital of Georgia at the end of the trip, enjoying its hillside views, museums and great restaurants.
Another Helpful Blog for Planning Your Itinerary
In addition to the Lonely Planet guidebooks and a friend’s recommendations I also used the Wander Lust Kitchen blog to plan our itinerary.
Istanbul, Turkey – 3 Nights
Gori – 1 Night
Sights of Gori
With a morning flight into Tbilisi we were able to visit the Stalin Museum in the afternoon and Uplistsikhe, a cave monastery site, the next morning before heading to Vardzia.
Vardzia – 1 Night
Vardzia Cave Monestary
Carved into the cliff face high above the Kura River the site affords sublime views of the surrounding valley and a glimpse into medieval monastic life.
Kutaisi – 1 Night
Unfortunately the Gelati Monastery famed for it’s impressive frescos was under construction at the time of our visit in May of 2022. After the restoration is complete it should be a must see.
Black Sea – 1 Night
Shekvetili, Black Sea
The Black Sea is on most itineraries of the region. I, however, was disappointed in the quality of the beach and infrastructure.
Mestia – 2 Nights
Mestia, Gateway to Svaneti
Mestia is the gateway to the Svaneti, Georgia’s highest mountain region located in the Caucasus Mountains. The town, really a cluster of smaller villages, surrounded by lush green mountains and snow-capped peaks has a stunning setting.
Ushguli – 2 Nights
Located in Svaneti, with Shkhara (the highest peak in Georgia) towering above, Ushguli was the most photogenic destination we visited in Georgia.
Gori – 1 Night
We spent the night in Gori to break up the long drive between Ushguli and Stepantsminda.
Stepantsminda – 1 Night
Mt Kazbek and the Gergeti Trinity Church
Stepantsminda, a high mountain town in the Caucasus Mountains near the Russian border, has fantastic views of Mt Kazbek and is a great base for visiting the Gergeti Trinity Church.
Telavi – 2 Nights
Wine Tasting in Telavi
Kakheti in western Georgia is the country’s most prominent wine making region with Telavi the largest urban center. They are known for their Qvevri wines that are fermented with their skins and seeds in large clay jars buried in the ground to maintain constant temperature.
Davit Gareja – Stopped on the Way to Tbilisi
Davit Gareja Monastery
Davit Gareja, founded in the 6th century, is a remote monastery complex on the Azerbaijan border in far eastern Georgia.
Tbilisi – 3 Nights
Sights of Tbilisi
The capital city’s small old town and broad modern avenues are a pleasant place to spend a couple of days getting acquainted with Georgian food and culture.
Sleeping and Dining in Tbilisi
Noravank Monastery – 1 Night
Past the town of Areni and through a canyon is the impressive Noravank Monastery perched on a hilltop surrounded by red rocks. Both the church and surrounding red rocks are best lit in the afternoon and glow red-gold as the sun starts to set.
Goris – 2 Nights
Sights of Goris
A medium-sized town in the rolling hills of southeastern Armenia, Goris makes a good base for exploring the regions monasteries and the abandoned cave city of Old Khndzoresk.
Dilijan – 2 Nights
Dilijan, a resort town of sorts, is centrally located in the northwestern mountains of Armenia and makes a good base for exploring the region’s monasteries and green hills.
Day Trip to Debed Canyon
A white water raft trip on the Debed River followed by an afternoon visit of some of the regions fascinating monasteries was one of the highlights of the trip and my favorite day in Armenia.
Yerevan – 2 Nights
Note that since you can’t fly to Istanbul from Yerevan we actually flew from Yerevan back to Tbilisi and visited Tbilisi at the end of our trip before returning home via Istanbul. If you do this you will need to add a day in Tbilisi before flying to Yerevan.