Iran to Istanbul via Georgia and Armenia

tours / Adventure

Iran to Istanbul via Georgia and Armenia information and booking

from
$5190
  • Duration
    26 days
    Days
  • Group size
    6-16
    Persons
  • Difficulty
    Adventure touring
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Schedule Details

Summary
  • 26 day trip
  • 25 nights hotel/guesthouses

Highlights

  • Alborz Mountains and Assasins Castles
  • Picturesque city of Kandovan and cliff dwellings
  • Mount Ararat
  • Nemrut in Turkey
  • Lake Sevan, Geghard Cave Monastery and the holy city of Echmiadzin
  • Fascinating cities of Tehran, Tbilisi, Yerevan & Istanbul
  • Palaces & mosques of eastern Turkey
  • Cappadocia

Tour description provided by World Expeditions

This journey traces lands that have been occupied for more than 4000 years, which today simply brim with historical sites, scenic splendours and vibrant cultures. From Tehran we venture deep into the Alborz Mountains, home to the famous 'Assassins Castles' and continue via the village of Masuleh. We skirt the Caspian Sea and Lake Orumiyeh to Kandovan and Tabriz. Our journey then crosses into Armenia which was once one of the most powerful empires in Asia wielding control from the Caspian to the Mediterranean seas. We travel through the mountains passing by old churches, extinct volcanoes, deep canyons and the wine growing region of Areni enroute to the spectacular Mount Ararat. Lake Sevan, Garni Pagan Temple, Geghard Cave Monastery and the holy city of Echmiadzin fill our days before continuing to Georgia, where we explore Tbilisi, Mtskheta and Vardzia. In Eastern Turkey we discover biblical lands of ancient palaces, great mosques and cities with long and chequered histories. We then venture to spectacular Cappadocia to enjoy the rock hewn formations and onward to Istanbul where our journey is complete.

What's included

  • 25 breakfasts
  • Accommodation in 3 star hotels on a twin share basis, or best available hotels in remote towns
  • Local sightseeing & entrance fees to monuments
  • All internal transport by private vehicle
  • English speaking local tour guides
  • Airport transfers on days 1 & 26 only
  • Assistance on arranging visas
  • Internal flight from cappadocia (either kayseri or nevsehir) to istanbul

Itinerary

Day 1 Join Tehran
On arrival you will be transferred to the hotel. A group briefing will be arranged at lunchtime. The afternoon will be spent visiting the former Shah’s palace, and onto Darband, a delightful mountain area in North Tehran. Darband is accessed by chairlift, by foot or by donkey and time permitting you can climb further up to the flanks of Mount Tochal (3933m). The view, whilst often quite hazy, will nevertheless show the vastness of the Tehran sprawl and the culinary delights awaiting at the many cafes will make the hike up well worth it. **Please note that our itinerary in Tehran will depend on current opening times (and days) of the museums and therefore the order of sights visited may vary accordingly.
Day 2 In Tehran, sightseeing
Today we will spend the morning visiting the best museums of Tehran. The National Jewels Museum will impress with its ostentatious display of precious jewels, many of which are the largest of their kind (namely the Darya-ye-Nur which at 182 carats is the largest uncut diamond in the world). Also the jewelled globe which is covered in 51,363 precious stones. From here we will visit the Carpet Museum, essential for those planning to purchase a carpet during their visit, but also to illustrate the history of Iran, its poets and its myths. After lunch we plan to visit the National Museum (or Archaeological Museum) which begins with exhibits dating back to the 5th and 4th Millenium BC and provides a fascinating insight into Persian History.
Day 3 Transfer to Alborz Mountains and Assassins Castles
After breakfast we drive via the city of Qazvin to the Alborz mountains. Once we reach the picturesque cherry growing village of Gazor Khan we take a day walk to the Alamut Castle. Alamut Castle is a famous fortress site and the views from the top are unmissable.Our accommodation tonight is in the Zarabad village in a local house where we are fortunate to experience the warmth of the local hospitality.
Day 4 To Masuleh via Qal'eh Rudkhan village
Today we drive to Rudkhan village where we take a 4 hour hike to "Roodkhan Castle". The surrounds are certainly picturesque as we make our way up through pebble studded stairs and on to a trail head to access the castle. The ruins of the castle are relatively complete, with many architectural photo opportunities with its attractive towers and arches. After our hike we drive to Masuleh for overnight accommodation. Masuleh is one of Iran's most beautiful villages. Set into a steep hillside it is surrounded by forests and a favourite pass time is to take tea on the delightful tea terraces.
Day 5 To Lake Urumiyeh via Caspian Sea
Today we transfer to Urumiyeh via the Caspian Sea. We will overnight close by in Sareyn, a small hot springs resort which attracts Iranians during the summer for the healing properties of the mineral waters here. Mt Sabalan (4811m) sits on the plains above the village.
Day 6 To Tabriz
Tabriz is a large, sprawling city with a population of over 1 million. Once Persia's national capital, Tabriz came into its own in the mid 1400's when the city saw a remarkable growth in arts and architecture, culminating in the beautiful and impressive Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque). Afternoon is at leisure to wander the fascinating bazaar which covers 7 square kms with 24 separate caravanserais and 22 timches (domed halls).
Day 7 Day trip to Kandovan
Today we will visit Kandovan in East Azarbaijan – a volcanic region where rocks were formed from lava, known as Troglodyte. It is believed that wind over time formed the cylindrical shaped cones of rock that the area is well known for. Kandovan is also well known for it's cliff dwellings, some as old as 700 years and seven stories high, many of them are still inhabited. In the afternoon we will visit the Azarbaijan museum, Blue mosque, Jame mosque, and Bazar. Overnight in Tabriz.
Day 8 To Kapan in Armenia,(70km), drive approx. 1-2hrs.
After breakfast we make our way towards the Iranian-Armenian border at Meghri-Nordoz. We drive via Jolfa – a town which is split into 2 parts – one part is located in Iran and the other – in Azerbaijan. Visit St. Stephen’s church of 14c – which has been listed as a UNESCO site since 2008. On arrival to the border we will complete formalities and be met by our Armenian guide and driver. After border formalities continue to Armenia and to Kapan city. Overnight in Kapan. Note that the border of Iran and Armenia has a 1km stretch of no mans land, where you are required to walk with your luggage. We strongly recommend wheelie bags otherwise you will need to carry your luggage.
Day 9 To Jermuk (260km), drive approx. 5 hrs.
Serpentine road will bring us to Tatev village, en-route we drive through Vorotan canyon - the deepest canyon in Armenia reaching to almost 1 km depth. At the bottom of the canyon we will see the Devil’s Bridge – an amazing geological monument located on the Vorotan river. We then visit Tatev Monastery located on the edge of Vorotan Canyon. This was one of the most prominent religious, cultural and educational centers of medieval Armenia. We will also visit Karahunge – local Stone Henge, believed to be an ancient observatory (around 7500 yrs old) and a worship site for ancient people. Overnight in Jermuk.
Day 10 To Yerevan, (230kms), drive approx. 3.5hrs.
Today we will explore the famous spa and resort town of Jermuk, located at an altitude of approximately 2200m above sea level. Surrounded by mountains and rich forests, Jermuk attracts numerous tourists and holiday makers from abroad as well as from different parts of Armenia. It is considered a place to relax and improve health, drinking and taking baths with the special mineral waters found here. We also visit the Mineral Water Gallery and waterfall in Jermuk canyon. A winding road will bring us to Noravank monastery with its intricate carvings. The gorge of Noravank is a place of natural beauty, rich with beautiful multi-colored rocks. En route we will stop in Areni village, the wine capital of Armenia, and visit a family-owned winery to sample the local wine. We continue to the plains of Ararat to visit Khor Virap monastery located at the foot of biblical Mt. Ararat. Overnight Yerevan.
Day 11 Yerevan City Tour
Today we will have a familiarization tour of the Armenian capital visiting all the major sights. We will explore Erebuni fortress – the birthplace of Yerevan and the museum of Urartu period located nearby. We then continue to the Manuscript Museum, which hosts one of the biggest depositories of ancient manuscripts in the world. We will view the panorama of the city from the Victory Park, where Mother Armenia statue is located. Finally a visit to the Food Market where you can find a variety of organic fruits and vegetables. In the afternoon we will take a trip to the religious capital of Armenia, the town of Echmiadzin. We will first visit the archeological site of Zvartnots Cathedral, which is a masterpiece of Armenian architecture of the 7th century. The area is a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. We will then come to the main Cathedral of Echmiadzin – the residence of the Catholicos of Armenia. Overnight in Yerevan.
Day 12 Day trip to Garni and Geghard Yerevan (80kms), drive approx. 2hrs.
Today we drive east of Yerevan and visit Garni pagan temple, the only pagan temple remaining from the pre-Christian period. At one time this was the summer residence of the Armenian kings located in a picturesque place overlooking a deep canyon. We will then explore the medieval Armenian architecture – Geghard Cave Monastery is a UNESCO site and some chambers of the monastery were carved out of solid rock and possess exceptional acoustics. The monastic complex received its name after the Holy Lance which was kept here in the middle ages. Overnight in Yerevan.
Day 13 To Lake Sevan and Tbilisi in Georgia (290kms), drive approx. 4-5hrs.
In the morning we will head towards Lake Sevan - the “Pearl of Armenia”, which is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world located at 1900m. This fresh-water lake is surrounded with snow-covered mountains. Here we visit a 9th century Sevan monastery, perched on a cliff above the lake. From this point is a wonderful view of the lake and if we are lucky we will witness the changing colors of the water. We continue our journey to the beautiful rolling valley framed by the mountains of the Lesser Caucasus. We will explore the resort town of Dilijan located in the midst of the forests of Dilijan National Park. We take a walk in the old town, which still preserves 19-century housing, stopping at a ceramicist’s studio. We then head further to the north. Driving via the deep gorge of the Debed River, we reach the monastery of Haghpat - a UNESCO site. The fantastic scenery and the breathtaking position of this monastery make this visit a truly unforgettable experience. Afternoon transfer to Armenian-Georgian border at Sadakhlo where we meet our new guide and bus, and continue to Tbilisi. Overnight in the hotel in Tbilisi.
Day 14 In Tbilisi (50kms), drive approx. 3.5hrs.
Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia with a population of approx. 1.5 million. We visit the old city with its narrow streets and religious and secular architecture. Here we find a mix of buildings – churches, synagogues, mosques, as well as famous 19th century houses with wooden multi-colored balconies and the sulfur bath which made an unforgettable impression on Pushkin. Afterwards we visit the stunning treasury of the Georgian National Historical Museum. Overnight Tbilisi.
Day 15 To Bakuriana via Mtskheta (270km), drive approx. 5hrs.
Today we will visit the ancient capital and religious centre of Georgia – Mtskheta, which is 3000 years old. Here we will see Jvari church and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral where the Robe of Christ is buried. Both Jvari and Svetitskhoveli are UNESCO World Heritage sites. We continue to Kartli region, and visit Uplistsikhe – the ancient cave town,( 1st millennium BC), located on the legendary Silk Road. En-route to Bakuriani we visit the fascinating Stalin museum which provides insight into the dictator. Overnight Bakuriani.
Day 16 To Kars in Turkey (240kms), drive approx. 5.5hrs.
Here on the border of Turkey and Georgia, we find the monastery complex of Vardzia, carved out of a cliff-face. Vardzia was the main seminary for South-West Georgia from the 12th century. Queen Tamar lived here, and the complex is testament to the renaissance period in which she ruled. Continue to the Georgian – Turkish border – Vale ( Posof at Turkish side). After passport control and border formalities are complete we meet our new guide and bus and continue to Kars. Check in at the Hotel then tour of Kars if time permits. Please note that border formalities can take time and the speed at which the crossing takes place is beyond our control.
Day 17 To Dogubeyazit (190kms), drive approx. 3hrs.
We journey to the site of Ani, the former capital of the Armenian kingdom. In the mid 10th century, nothing in Europe could rival this capital of the Armenian kingdom in terms of either size or magnificence. The remains of the ruined city include several churches as well as the shell of the Cathedral of Ani, the citadel and a mosque. There are also some exciting remains of frescoes in the Church of St Gregory (Tigran Honentz) despite having been exposed to the elements for centuries. We spend the afternoon touring Kars with visits to the Twelve Apostles Church and Kars Castle. We then transfer to Dogubeyazit via Igdir.
Day 18 To Van (180kms), drive approx. 3hrs.
After breakfast we will visit the Ishak Pasha Palace, an Ottoman Palace which dates back to the 18th century. Continue to Van, stopping at Muradiye Waterfalls. In the afternoon visit the Castle of Tuspa.
Day 19 To Diyarbakir (377kms), drive approx. 6hrs.
Next stop on our journey is Diyarbakir. Diyarbakir, known in ancient times as Amida, has been a cradle of 26 civilizations during its 5000-year history. The city is spread across a basalt plateau close to the banks of the Tigris River. The black basalt triple walls, which encircle the old town, give the city a rather ominous appearance. Overnight Hotel.
Day 20 To Urfa(188kms), drive approx. 3hrs.
After having breakfast, we will visit Ulu Camii (the Great Mosque). This piece of history, which was built in 1179 by Melik Nasreddin Mehmet, is an Ottoman piece from the second half of 14th century, our sightseeing today also includes the Virgin Mary Church and Keldani Church. After lunch we will drive to Urfa where we will overnight. In the late afternoon we will take a short sightseeing tour in Urfa.
Day 21 To Adiyaman via Nemrut (110kms), drive approx. 2hrs.
Morning transfer to Harran. Harran is the ancient city mentioned in the Old Testament, legends surrounding the city go back to the beginning of man and it is said that Adam and Eve set foot here when they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Nowadays it is famous for its “beehive houses”. Afterwards we will drive to Nemrut Mountain. Nemrut is one of the most astounding sites in Turkey - A collection of colossal statues on a remote mountain 2150m high, adorning the temple and tomb of King Antiochus and was unknown until 1881. Nemrut has since been a significant attraction. Overnight at Hotel in Kahta.
Day 22 Kahta – via Kahramanmaras to Cappadocia (510kms), drive approx. 8/9hrs.
In the morning we will drive to Cappadocia area, along the way we will visit Kahramanmaras city which is known for quality of their ice cream and for its Salep, a hot drink made with flour from the tubers of the orchid. Afterwards we continue to Cappadocia. Cappadocia is undeniably a nature fantasy and it almost feels like another planet with its exceptional geological formations. In this creation of Nature, the curiosity of the landscapes is added to the historical richness. Wind, rain and frost have sculpted this superb scenery in the volcanic rock during millions of years. The region is largely underlain by sedimentary rocks formed in lakes and streams, and ignimbrite deposits erupted from ancient volcanoes. The rocks of Cappadocia eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and forms. We spend the next two nights in Cappadocia and explore the landscape of this wonder of nature.
Day 23 In Cappadocia
Cappadocia is an extraordinary geological area of central Turkey - reminiscent of a lunar landscape pitted with small volcanic craters, vast barren plateaus and steep jagged cliffs. Only an occasional oasis laying low in semi fertile valleys fed by mineral laden volcanic soil breaks its moonlike landscape. In the morning we start today’s first activity and walk out to explore one of the most beautiful valleys in Cappadocia. The Christian people at the heart of the Cappadocia realized that the soft rocks could be easily carved out to form houses, churches and monasteries. These Christian sanctuaries contain many examples of Byzantine art from the post iconoclastic period. The frescoes inside the Goreme Open Air Museum are a unique artistic achievement from this period. After visiting the Goreme open air Museum we start our walking in the Meskendir Valley. We follow the path which is full with old Cave houses and complexes from the old Christian civilization. From the Meskendir Valley we cross over to the Red Valley, the most beautiful valley in Cappadocia with its spectacular formations and colours. In Red Valley it is possible, depending on walking pace and time, to visit some hidden churches like the Uzumlu church (Grape church / Red Valley), the hidden Cross Church and the Church of the Three Crosses (Rose Valley). These churches have been carved out of the cliff face, although it is not definite, the common believe is that these churches date back to the 8/9th century. The decorative reliefs and frescoes are added in the 10/11th Century. After walking through the Red and Rose valleys we will arrive in Cavusin, where our vehicle is waiting to drive us to Avanos. Cavusin itself is one of the oldest settlements in Cappadocia Area; a small village made up of rock cut dwellings and elegantly carved stone houses. Walking time: 3/4 h; Walking Distance: 8 km; Ascent: 82m; Descent: 134m; (Meskendir Valley & Red Valley) (NOTE: it is possible very early this morning, weather permitting and subject to availability, to take a hot air balloon flight over the Cappadocia region. Additional cost applies; book locally) Optional Activity: Pottery shaping The most famous historical feature of Avanos, which is still relevant and very visible today, is its production of earthenware pottery; it is also the most economic activity in the town. The ceramic trade in this district and its countless pottery factories date right back to the Hittites, and the ceramic clay from the red silt of the Kizilirmak has always been used. We will take time to visit one of the Pottery studios and you will try to shape by your own. Optional Activity: Turkish bath (Hamam) In the late afternoon or in the evening it is optional possible to try a traditional Turkish bath, better known as Hamam. The Hamam combines the functionality and the structural elements of its predecessors in Anatolia, the Roman thermal and Eastern Roman baths, with the central Asian Turkish tradition of steam bathing, ritual cleansing and respect of water. It is also known that Arabs built versions of the Greek-Roman baths that they encountered following their conquest of Alexandria in Egypt. However, the Turkish bath has improved style and functionality that emerged as annex buildings of mosques or as re-use of the Eastern Roman baths.
Day 24 In Cappadocia, fly to Istanbul
This morning we explore one of the most beautiful valleys in Cappadocia on foot. The soft rocks of the region have been carved out to form houses, churches and monasteries. These sanctuaries contain many examples of Byzantine art and are displayed throughout the Goreme Open Air Museum. After visiting the Museum we start walking in the Meskendir Valley, crossing over to the beautiful Red Valley with its spectacular formations and colours. In the Red Valley it is possible, depending on walking pace and time, to visit some hidden churches that have been carved out of the cliff face and are thought to have originated in the 8/9th century. We continue walking via the Rose Valley back to Cavusin, where our vehicle will be waiting for us. We will drive to Avanos, well known for ts production of earthenware pottery. The ceramic trade in this district dates back several centuries. We will visit one of the pottery studios and if time permits we can try to shape our own sample. In the late afternoon we will drive to Kayseri or Nevsehir airport for our flight to Istanbul (schedule subject to change and availability). On arrival in Istanbul we will transfer to our hotel for overnight. After having breakfast we drive to the trailhead point at the beginning of the Akvadi (The White Valley). We will walk along this valley following an old river bed, used today for vineyards. Especially a special section at the beginning of the valley is worth seeing. At noon we will arrive in Uchisar village to visit the high viewpoint known as “The fortress”. Many rooms hollowed out into the Rock, are connected to each other with stairs, tunnels and passages. The top of the Citadel provides a magnificent panorama of the surrounding area. Afterwards we continue to Urgup where the afternoon is at leisure. Urgup is one of the most important centres in Cappadocia. Urgup was a bishopric of the rock cut churches and monasteries found in the villages, valleys and towns around Urgup. In the 11th century Urgup was an important citadel connection with Nigde and Konya, important towns of Seljuks. Today Urgup is known for its famous wines and cafes. In Urgup we will take time to relax a while and to taste traditional cup of Turkish tea. The afternoon is free to explore Urgup with its small shops and pleasant cafes on your own way. Walking time: 2 h; Walking Distance: 6 km; Ascent: 280m; Descent: 0m; (Akvadi White Valley) In the late afternoon we drive to the Kayseri airport and fly to Istanbul (approx. 1 hour, 80kms, Cappadocia – Kayseri). A transfer representative will welcome us at the airport and drive us to our hotel in Istanbul. (Transfer time approx. 30 min.; 18 kms, Istanbul Ataturk International airport - hotel.)
Day 25 In Istanbul
Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, was the hub of the Ottoman Empire, and many of the grand buildings of this period are present today. The markets too, have changed little from early times - a chaotic mix of goods and wares brought by people near and far to trade. The day is free to explore the city at your leisure. Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, hippodrome square (obelisks), Basilica Cistern all are located in the old part of town. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops. It is humming with activity and is definitely worth a visit.
Day 26 Trip concludes in Istanbul
After breakfast, trip concludes with a transfer to the airport for onward travel.