It’s no secret that at Regent Holidays we like to do things a little differently.
When it comes to exploring the world, it’s the off-the-beaten-track destinations that catch our eye. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a country. Some of our most intriguing destinations are the breakaway-states; regions that have declared independence but aren’t yet formally recognised as a country. Our brand new Pioneering Abkhazia Group Tour introduces curious travellers to Abkhazia.
This 12-day tour is a complete package from the UK, and spends 8 nights in Abkhazia. We will access Abkhazia via Georgia, and include a little time in Georgia at the beginning/end of the trip. Departing the UK from London Gatwick we will fly to Tbilisi on the new direct overnight service from Georgian Airways. After one night in Kutaisi (Georgia), we will head to the frontier and enter Abkhazia on day 3 of the tour. Once in Abkhazia we will tour the country in detail, spending nights in the capital Sokhumi, the second city of Gagra as well as in the lesser city of Novy Athon. This itinerary will strive to include as much variety as possible—giving the visitor an understanding of Abkhazia’s past, present and future, together with an insight into the culture and cuisine of the country. We will also strive to get off the beaten track to take in the incredible scenery of Abkhazia, with visits to remote settlements and mountain areas. After exploring the country we will return to Georgia for a final night in Tbilisi before flying back to London Gatwick, once more with Georgian Airways.
This varied itinerary has been crafted to give the visitor an understanding of Abkhazia’s past, present and future, whilst also exploring the remote scenery, culture and cuisine of the country.
This morning we will depart Kutaisi at around 0800 and head towards the Abkhazian border. After a journey of around 90 minutes we will arrive in Rukhi, the last settlement before the frontier. We will stop in Rukhi for a brief drink/toilet break (at your own expense) before driving the final few kilometres to the Enguri Bridge. After registering at the Georgian check-point (with the help of our Georgian guide) we will part with our Georgian guide and set off on foot over the Enguri Bridge (as mentioned, a horse and cart may be available for a small fee for those who wish, but this cannot be guaranteed.) After going through all Georgian exit and Abkhazian entry formalities (which can take some time) we will meet with our escort guide who will be with is for our entire time in Abkhazia.
Whilst we are getting ourselves all sorted after the border crossing we will take a break at the border in a basic café (if open) for a quick welcome drink before we set off to the town of Gal. Gal is a small place that is predominantly Georgian in ethnicity and here you can visit the market to purchase some local treats and wines. From Gal, we will move onto Ochamchire, a now nearly-deserted city that was a thriving city in the Soviet Era. After time in the area we will drive to the Abkhazian capital of Sokhumi. On arrival check into our hotel, the Leon Hotel for a three night stay. This evening we will head out on foot for a welcome dinner in the Ertsakh u Restaurant in central Sokhumi, where we will be able to enjoy traditional Abkhazian cuisine. (B,L,D)
Today we will spend the full day exploring in and around Sokhumi. Departing the hotel after breakfast we will enjoy all morning exploring the city on foot, taking in as many of the major sights and landmarks that we can possibly squeeze in. The route will be confirmed locally, but is expected to be Leon Hotel—Scotland Street— Gulia Street—Sokhumi Botanical Garden (entrance only) - Baratshvili Railway Station (disused) - Former Building Of The Council Of Ministers —Freedom Park— Sukhumi Central Post Office—Promenade. This will be over 5km of walking, but taken at a leisurely pace as we explore. We plan to have lunch at the Apra Restaurant on the main city pier. This afternoon (subject to reconfirmation locally) we hope to meet with a local speaker, giving the chance for the group to learn about Abkhazia’s chequered history. The speaker will be confirmed locally. Last year the group were lucky enough to have a fascinating talk from the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. Enjoy the rest of the day and evening completely free at your leisure to explore the small city of Sokhumi—all the central areas and hotel are very walkable. (B,L)
Today we will spend the full day exploring the Tkvarcheli Region of Abkhazia, centred around the town of the same name. Tkvarcheli town was one of the worst affected settlements of the war, with the population today around 1 /4 of what it was in the 1980s. On arrival in Tkvarcheli we will switch to basic jeeps to head to a spectacular (and only recently discovered) waterfall, before spending time exploring the tiny and almost completely abandoned settlement of Akarmara. Returning to the main town, enjoy a basic but delicious and very traditional lunch before we enjoy sightseeing in the town - which often includes meeting a few characters along the way! Pop into the local Palace of Culture along the way. After spending the bulk of the day exploring this Chernobyl-esque environment, return to Sokhumi, stopping en-route in Kindgi, for those who wish to soak in and lather up at the Kindgi hot springs/ mud baths here. Refreshments, at your own expense, are available here also. On arriving back into Sokhumi enjoy the evening at leisure. (B/L)
This morning we will depart the hotel at around 0730 and drive to Sokhumi Babushara Airport, about a 30 minute drive east of the capital. From here we will travel by a privately chartered aircraft to the small settlement of Pskhu. Today’s trip is as much about the journey as it is the destination—our aircraft will depend on the final size of the group, but will likely be a Soviet era AN-2 biplane. The short flight to Pskhu only takes around 30 minutes and on arrival we will enjoy a walk through the central street of this village of around 150 persons.
When flights arrive in Pskhu it is normally an event of note in this sleepy corner of Abkhazia—locals will likely come out to say hello and we will mingle and chat with them as we walk up to the main church. From the village we will travel to the home of Nikolai, a local resident. Nikolai lives around 5km from Pskhu, and we can split into smaller groups to travel to Nikolai’s home on horseback, foot or vehicle, dependent on the preference of group members. We will enjoy lunch prepared by Nikolai’s family before enjoying some leisure time to relax or walk/hike in the beautiful area. In the mid-afternoon we will return back to Pskhu (again, by horseback, foot or vehicle).
On arriving back into Pskhu we will return to our aircraft and fly back to Sokhumi. Return to the hotel and enjoy the evening free at your leisure. (B,L)
PLEASE NOTE: If horse riding on this day riding helmets cannot be provided. The road to Nikolai’s home is on a very rough dirt track that is not always passable. As a minimum therefore there may be some walking involved in order to reach Nikolai’s home. Also, as today is a lesser public holiday in Abkhazia, Day of the Holy Apostle Simon The Zealot, it is possible that some small services will be taking place in Pskhu’s small church or in Sokhumi - if possible we will try and witness any events that may take place.
Checking out of our hotel after breakfast walk to the nearby trolleybus station and en joy a short trolleybus ride to the Sokhumi Bazaar. Entering the bazaar enjoy time to explore this typical soviet style market. We will split into a couple of groups as we tour the bazaar, purchasing various items as we go in order to prepare a picnic lunch. Picking up our private vehicle outside the bazaar we head to west Sokhumi-stopping here to visit the capital's main Railway Station. Driving on, visit the Halo Trust in the western suburbs of the city. The Halo Trust is a British organisation specialising in the removal of the debris of war, such as mine clearing. They have been very active in Abkhazia over the years, and we will receive a brief insight and explanation into their activities in Abkhazia over the years. Please note that donations can not be given locally to the Halo Trust, but can be made online should you wish via www.halotrust.org/support-us/donate/.
From here we will visit a nearby vineyard; this vineyard is situated in a former minefield, now a cleared and thriving cottage industry thanks to the work of the HALO Trust. During our wine-tasting we can tu ck into our supplies from the market, enjoying a traditional Abkhazian style picnic. This afternoon we drive to Gagra, near the Russian border, making a stop or two along the way to stretch our legs. Our first stop in Gagra will be to visit one of Stalin's impressive dachas, this one well situated with an impressive view down to the Black Sea-if the sky is clear we should just about be able to see Russia's Fisht Olympic Stadium in the distance, just a few kilometres away. After touring Stalin's somewhat chilling dacha drive to the Abaata Hotel and check in for a two night stay. After checking in enjoy a brief walking tour of Old Gagra before we enjoy dinner in a famous local restaurant, Gagripsh. (B/UD)
Today head out from our base in Gagra to explore Ritsa and Pitsunda. This morning a couple of hours driving north into the mountains leads to the beautiful Ritsa Relict NationaI Park- we will break the journey at some sites en-route to stretch our legs. On arrival in Ritsa we will visit another of Stalin's Dachas before we enjoy lunch on the lakeshore beside the dacha. Weather permitting, take a boat trip on Lake Ritsa in Stalin's personal speedboat before we spend a little more time sightseeing in the area. From Ritsa we descend to the coast and visit Pitsunda, a Soviet era beach resort that caters to a large number of Russian tourists. Pitsunda, one time favourite resort of Nikita Khrushchev, is an interesting place to explore. It is all very walkable and the centre of the resort seems largely unchanged from its Soviet heyday. There will be time to swim or explore Pitsunda before we enjoy dinner. After dinner return to Gagra and the Abaata Hotel to spend the rest of the evening at leisure. (B/UD)
Checking out of the hotel at around 0730, we will drive to the train station and depart Gagra on a 38km train journey east to the small town of Guduata. Train times are subject to changes but current schedules have the train departing/arriving at 0815/0925. Upon arrival in Guduata we will drive north to the village of Achandara. Here enjoy brunch and wine tasting in the home of local resident Pavel, who lives a relatively traditional life and harvests grapes in a traditional Abkhaz method that is now almost obsolete. In the early afternoon drive to Novy Afon (New Athens) and check into our hotel, the Afon Black Sea Resort Hotel, for a two night stay. After some action packed days (and an early start), enjoy a few hours at leisure to relax in the hotel, explore the beach (beside the hotel) or the town at leisure. In the late afternoon those who wish can take an optional walk to the Anacopia Fortress, an ancient citadel high above the town. This evening enjoy dinner and wine tasting in the Guada Restaurant, a stone's throw from our hotel. (Brunch/D)
This morning, visit Novy Afon's famous New Athens Cave, a karst cave and one of the largest cave systems in the world. The cave has its own 1.3 km subway line to ferry travellers from the cave entrance to the first cave chamber. We will also visit the Novy Afon Monastery-hoping to enjoy a brief audience with a senior representative from the Abkhazian Orthodox Church, as we have done in the past. Our tour will continue with a visit to what is arguably the most beautiful train station in all of Abkhazia, if not the Caucasus, before we drive to Lykhny Village for lunch. We will spend the afternoon touring Lykhny Village, a historical settlement and one of the focal centres of paganism in the country - here meeting with a pagan leader to get an introduction into their beliefs and rituals. Return to Novy Afon for the rest of the afternoon and all evening at leisure. (BIL)
Departing Novy Afon we make the short drive to Sokhumi, where we will have a free hour or so for any fi naI sightseeing or last minute shopping. Heading further east, we drive 95km (60 miles) back to the Abkhazian / Georgian frontier, stopping near the broder for a farewell Mingrelian Lunch. On arrival at the border, at around 1400, we will have a quick toilet/refreshment stop (at your own expense) before parting with our local guide and going back through Abkhazian exit formalities, followed by the walk back to Georgia. Back in Georgia, we will meet with our Georgian guide and spend the afternoon driving to Kutaisi. On arrival in Kutaisi, check into the Best Western Hotel for an overnight stay, with the evening at your leisure. (B/L)
Check out of the hotel at around 0800 and spend the day slowly making our way back to Tbilisi for our 1925 flight back into London Gatwick. As Zestafoni, we will branch north east and drive to Chiatura, a mining town that boomed during the Soviet Era. It is well off the tourist trail but an enjoyable contrast to the busier main road. There is an extensive cable car network in the valley, and if they are working and you feel so inclined, you can enjoy a ride in a couple of the cars before enjoying a brief walk in the town. From Chiatura head south east via Korbouli and Ali before joining the main Kutaisi-Tbilisi highway and having lunch in Gori at the Nacharmagevi Restaurant. After lunch, visit the Joseph Stalin Museum, from where you will later transfer to the airport. Arrive back in London at 2150 local time. (B/L)
This itinerary will be subject to changes at short notice due to local conditions. Additionally, you must be able to carry your own luggage as there is a 1.5km walk across the Enguri Bridge between Georgia and Abkhazia where no transport is available, and many hotels / buildings do not have lifts or porters.