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I have the enjoyable role of

selecting some of the new

and exciting destinations that

our groups will be visiting in

the months and years ahead.

Georgia and Armenia were

one of first itineraries that

I put forward and we had a

small and adventurous group

of ten eager guests which

was enough to get this tour

off the ground.

Landing in Yerevan late on

a brisk Saturday evening,

I think the first impression

that struck many of the

group was the lack of

vehicles on the road, even

right in the middle of a

Francophonic summit. This

initial impression was further

developed upon the next morning, when strolling

through the streets of downtown Yerevan we noticed

a lack of traffic and also of pollution. This is a capital

city with grandiose architecture, a soviet grid system

and a quiet provincial atmosphere. Yerevan boasted a

very unique character.

After sampling the delights of the Yerevan Vernissage

(open-air market), literally a few steps from our hotel

entrance, we were then whisked through the streets

to the Yerevan countryside to visit two very special

highlights in one day.

Firstly we were brought to the steps of the Greco-

Roman temple of Garni, the best-known structure

and symbol of pre-Christian Armenia. This temple

famed to have been built by Tiridates I after his

visit to Rome in AD66. I presume that the styles he

witnessed impressed him deeply, as the temple did

for me. This compact collection of ionic columns

could either be considered ‘Armenian-Hellenic’ or

perhaps a foreign structure on Armenian soil. Either

way, it is a striking contrast to the land by which it is

surrounded. This Roman temple cradled by the arid

rolling hills and shrouded in a fog of smoke from

local fires, really did convey an atmosphere.

Thinking that the day could not contain any more

breathtaking experiences, we were then driven a

short distance to the temple of Geghard. This place

was incredible! A medieval monastery half hewn out

of the bare rock, begging to be explored. Darkened

chambers with shafts of light and hidden springs

trickling away in the gloom, Geghard really did

invoke my inner Indiana Jones, and this was just the

first day!

From Yerevan we traversed across almost sweltering

desert landscape, to a barren plateau on the Georgian

border (spying eagles and hawks as we went) and

ended up at the roof of Europe, under the shadow of

Mt. Ushba in the chilly mountain region of Svaneti.

All of this encompassed within 48 hours and just shy

of 800km.

En-route to the town of Mestia in Svaneti, we were

treated to another absolute highlight and a location

that I will not forget anytime soon; the 12th

century cave settlement of Vardzia. Constructed

by the national hero of Georgia, Queen Tamar,

this warren of seemingly unfathomable cave

settlements, corridors, steps and alleyways, lets

your imagination run wild. Originally intended

as an impregnable fortress to keep the Mongols

at bay, this now UNESCO wonder later became

a monastery and still has an active (if small)

community of monks. Again, what a treat this

visit proved to be for our guests.

As hinted at earlier however, this distraction was

en-route to the peak of excitement for our time

in Armenia and Georgia. The land of Svaneti


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