Europe meets Asia in a remarkable corner of the globe and where both flowers and civilisations have intermingled for thousands of years. Here are wonderful plants, cultural sights and diverse landscapes. Among the steppe are extraordinary and flamboyant Oncocyclus irises, serpentine roads lead onto mountain passes with many delightful bulbs and tracts of mixed woodland harbour a rich variety of orchids. The landscape changes often, culminating in the remarkable canyons and emerald slopes. In combining these areas with there is not only a wide-ranging botanical pallet but a fascinating and broad cultural aspect too, with some fabulous old monasteries and a wonderful Hellenistic temple as well as some fine cuisine.
A 14 day tour with Tamar Galstyan
Day 1 To Yerevan (18 May)
Depending on arrival times we will have dinner and overnight in the city.
Day 2 Garni, Geghard and Noravank
On the first morning we will drive to the medieval superb Monastery of Geghard. Not so far from here is a restored pre-Christian temple at Garni, the only Hellenistic monument in the country and remarkable contrast to the other sites we will see. It is close to here that we find a thriving population of Iris iberica subsp. elegantissima growing with big clumps of Astragalus caraganae. Other interesting steppe flora we will see during the day include another variation of the species subsp. lycotis (season permitting). As well as these expect to find purple Gladiolus atroviolaceus, scented Matthiola odoratissima, Allium materculae, Bellevalia caucasica, Ornithogalum montanum, Roemeria hybrida, Polygala hohenackeriana, Euphorbia marschalliana, Onobrychis cornuta and the wispy plumes of Stachys lavandulifolia. We will finish the day visiting one of the most famous medieval monasteries of Armenia – Noravank. Overnight Hermon.
Day 3 Hermon to Kapan
Today we will continue our journey to the south of the country via picturesque mountain passes full of Iris caucasica, Scilla armena, Puschkinia scillioides and Colchicum bifolium. Lower reaches have the lovely Iris lineolata, stands of I. imbricata, big-leaved Allium akaka and orchids such as Orchis caucasica, Ophrys caucasica. Overnight Kapan.
Day 4 Meghri & Shikahogh State Reserve
Our route takes us to Iranian border, crossing Armenia’s highest pass on the way – the Kajaran pass (2535 meters). Near to the last snow patches we can find Corydalis erdelii and Anemone caucasica, whilst the fast-leafing and extensive woodlands have the greenish spires of Orchis punctulata and pink Neotinea tridentata. Drier slopes hold Iris groshemii and a large population of similar I. lineolate which at times grows with the showy purple of I. paradoxa. Upper rocky slopes have a wonderful swirl of tulips with bright red or yellow Tulipa sosnowskyi, alongside and another red, T. confusa .The road passes through Arevik National Park and the beautiful Shikahogh State Reserve, the latter a marvellous tract of oakwoods. Cliffs have the handsome Jurinea spectabilis. Overnight Kapan.
Day 5 Tatev Monastery
The famous medieval university of Armenia, the Tatev Monastery, an impressive complex of churches. It is accessed by a spectacular aerial tramway, the ''Wings of Tatev'', actually the longest reversible aerial tramway in the world and one which passes above spectacular forest-clad deep gorges, waterfalls and another tantalising historical monuments. Nearby gorges have stands of pale yellow Iris imbricata. Overnight in Sisian city.
Day 6 Zorats Karer & Yeghegis
Our experience of Armenia’s fascinating historical sites continues with a look at the ancient observatory at Zorats Karer, commonly called "Armenian Stonehenge''. The archaeological site consists of standing stones for observing the stars and Bronze Age tombs. Nearby gorges have Fritillaria kurdica, and F. hajastanica, whilst an interesting road branches off towards the Nakchivan border with fine stands of Dictamnus albus, rock crevices with Campanula bayerniana, dainty Linaria armeniaca and Tulipa julia. Rocky slopes near over hotel have stands of Phlomoides laciniata and tumbling masses of reddish-pink Lathyrus rotundifolia. Overnight in Hermon.
Day 7 Selim pass and Sevan Lake
Medieval Armenia by its geographical location was situated on the crossroads of the Great Silk road. There were numerous caravansaries one of which we will visit on our way to today. Just above here we may find the last flowers on Iris pseudocaucasica. Snow patches have Crocus adamii in various shades, which the wet flushes throng with pink Primula auriculate and pale yellow P. elatior subsp. pallasii. Overnight in the pleasant green city of Dilijan.
Day 8 Pushkin & Shirak Passes
A variety of subalpine plants are on offer today as we traverse two passes on route to the north of the country. The tessellated golden bells of Fritillaria collina grow near whitish-yellow Primula ruprechtii and with luck (if the sun is out) the deep blue of Gentiana verna, with golden Trollius ranunculinus. Endemic Viola somchentica grows in crevices lower down. A side valley has a rich array of plants with Centaurea armena, Fritillaria hadjastanica and F. kurdica with plenty of hybrids in between, as well as Tulipa julia and the sweet-scented onion Allium struzlianum. Shortly before Gyumri we hope to see the silvery spires of Asphodeline taurica and Iris paradoxa too. Overnight Gyumri.
Day 9 Akhalkalaki to Bakuriani
Today we cross the border into neighbouring Georgia. Our drive takes us along the beautiful, rocky banks of the Kura river. We will make several stops for taking pictures of the historical monuments located not far from the road, as well as enjoying plants, growing on the banks of the river home to Asphodeline lutea. Other flora today includes Colchicum szovitsii, Veronica liwanensis, Primula sibthorpi and Helleborus caucasicus. Overnight Bakuriani.
Day 10 Ktsia-Tabatskuri Managed Reserve
After spending the first night in Georgia we will take local four-wheel cars and drive one of the most beautiful sites of the country - Ktsia-Tabatskuri Managed Reserve. The highest slopes of the pass are covered with thick bushes of Rhododendrion caucasicum, which will hopefully be in flower in late May. We will also see thousands of elegant ice-blue Scilla rosenii and many other lovely flowers including Orchis pallens, Gentiana angulosa, Pulsatilla albana, Primula cordifolia, Anemone fasciculata, Ornithogalum balansae, Viola oreades and hopefully even the last snowdrops - Galanthus alpinus. Overnight Bakuriani.
Day 11 To Stepantsminda (Kazbegi)
The deep purple wands of Consolida orientalis will be in flower now mingling with intense red poppies. We will take the rural roads to see the many red and blue fields. After lunch we will explore the picturesque slopes of Kazbegi mountain to find the wonderful chocolate cubes of Fritillaria latifolia, similar shaped golden F. collina, Galanthus platyphyllus, Saxifraga caucasica and lower down stands of the burning bush - Dictamnus albus. Overnight in Stepantsminda.
Day 12 Gergeti Church & Dariali monastery
The second day in Stepantsminda (formerly Kazbegi) we will spend on the slopes of the Greater Caucasus mountain range. In the morning we will visit Gergeti Church, which stands in front of the second-highest volcanic summit in the Caucasus the towering Mount Kazbegi (5054 m). Then close to the Georgian - Russian border we will see Dariali monastery. Hundreds of flowers grow on the rocks around the Monastery and during the day expect to see Fritillaria collina, Muscari pallens, the creamy trumpets of Rhododendron caucasicum, Daphne glomerata, Iris furcata, Primula auriculata. In the afternoon we will head for the historical Sno village for botanising in the fields and slopes around the village. Overnight in Stepantsminda.
Day 13 Ananuri Castle, Mtskheta Cathedral & Jvari Monastery
During our final day the botany will take a back seat as we visit three of the most famous historical sites of Georgia. Overnight in Tbilisi.
Day 14 May Flights home