Since leaving my job in HR I have never looked back. I have had the privilege to lead tours all over the world for Ramblers Walking Holidays for the past 7 years. I love leading in Austria, Spain and Madeira but last year I had the opportunity to lead in Georgia and Armenia, two countries emerging from being part of the Soviet Republic and proud to show their history, culture and beautiful landscapes to ever increasing numbers of visitors. It's not hard to see why.
Armenia and Georgia are both ex-Soviet Republics, with an early history of Christianity that has left a legacy of picturesque mountaintop churches and monasteries. However, despite these similarities, they are two very distinct, and fascinating, countries.
We started with a walking tour of Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, taking in the National Museum, Metekhi Church, the sulphur baths followed by a wonderful lunch in a local restaurant. Afterwards a ride on the cable car to Narikala Fortress with its imposing views over the city before strolling through small streets packed with interesting architecture, craft shops and bars and restaurants. Side by side is an interesting mix of ancient buildings and newer grandiose steel and glass government buildings.
Next morning we checked out and headed into Caucasus Mountains, visiting Jvari monastery, the town of Mtskheta with it famous cathedral and after a walk above the town of Gudauri we crossed a high pass to reach Kasbegi, now known as Stepantsmida and our hotel overlooking Mt Kasbegi at 3653m, our base for the next two nights.
Our first walk in the area took us to the spectacularly situated Gergeti Trinity Church, built in the 14th century. The climb was certainly worth the effort.
For our second walk in the area we were transported in 4x4 vehicles to Juta village. A pleasant climb took us up towards the Chaukhi mountains to a beautiful picnic lunch spot by a lake.
Later we returned to Tbilisi for our final day there visiting Davit Gareja monastery. We walked the path above the complex past cave churches with interesting frescoes, alongside the Georgia / Azerbaijan border.
Our guide Tamar provided a wealth of knowledge and history of the area.
Next we left Georgia and travelled to the Armenian border. After some straightforward border procedures we joined our new coach and guide Saro. Continuing into Armenia we visited two famous monasteries – Haghphat and Sanahin with a pleasant walk between the two. In the evening we arrived at our beautifully situated hotel by a river in Dzoraget for two nights.
For our walk here we drove to Odzun. After a pleasant visit to a honey farm for morning tea and cake and a short tour of the 6th century monastery we started our walk along a contouring path above the gorge. We took our picnic lunch at the ruins of Horomayr monastery.
Leaving Dzoraget he headed to the Armenian capital – Yerevan. The days drive was broken up with a few spectacular stops. Driving along Lake Sevan we stopped to view the Khachkars (cross stones) at Noratus.
We took our picnic lunch at the Selim pass beside an ancient Caravanserai on the Sil Road, built in 1332, by prince Chesar Orbelian to accommodate weary travellers and their animals as they crossed from, or into, the mountainous Vayots Dzor region
Next stop was the 13th century Novarank Monastery, another spectacular location at the end of a pink rock gorge.
After some wine tasting at the local winery near Areni we continued to Yerevan, stopping for photos of Mt Ararat on the way.
We spent 4 nights in Yervevan, the Armenian capital. There is much to see and do in Yerevan. The Institute of Ancient Manuscripts houses books dating back to the 9th century. We much enjoyed walking from Victory Square (celebrating Armenia’s part in WW2), down the Cascade, a giant limestone staircase with multiple levels adorned with modern sculptures whilst also housing the Cafesjian Center for the Arts. Its hard not to love Republic Square at night with its spectacular and colourful fountains.
From Yerevan we took a day out to walk on the slopes of Mount Aragats, around Lake Kari at 3200m. Another day we went to Gegard rock church and heard some sacred music inside the rock church and listened to a Duduk player at Garni Pagan temple, watched some lavash bread making and walked into the gorge to see some splendid examples of basalt columns, reminding me of the Giants Causeway near my own home.
Leaving Yerevan we had a final walk at Parz Lake in Dilijan National Park before continuing to our final hotel back at Dzoraget before crossing the border back to Georgia for the journey home.
The tour provided a nice mix of walking alongside learning about the history and culture of these two countries.