Day 1. Baku: Skyline on the Caspian Sea
On your first day, you arrive in Baku, the capital of Azerbeijan, known as the City of Winds. In the evening, you take in views of the city’s breathtaking skyline on the Caspian Sea, which includes the spectacular Flame Towers, a symbol of the city’s modernity. Overnight: Hotel Sapphire Inn (or similar) (D)
Day 2. Baku: The Old City
In the morning, you set out to explore the historical center of Baku, where you see gorgeous mosques, the Maiden Tower, and the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You marvel at the ornate Art Nouveau buildings from the city’s first oil boom and the futuristic architecture from its second oil boom. In the afternoon, you have free time to spend as you wish. Either take a dip in the Caspian Sea or to go on a shopping spree in Baku’s upscale pedestrian retail district. Overnight: Hotel Sapphire Inn (or similar) (BL)
Day 3. Gobustan: Rock Art, Mud Volcanos and Fire
In the morning, you head toward Gobustan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can admire the thousand-year-old rock carvings situated near the country’s famous mud volcanos.
In the afternoon, you can enjoy free time in Baku, or join an excursion to the Absheron Peninsula, where you see a Zoroastrian fire temple and Yanar Dag, a flame that burns continuously due to a seepage of natural gas. In the evening, the friendly crew of your private train gives you a hearty welcome at the station, where your train sets off westward by starlight through the Azerbaijani steppes. Overnight: On board (BD)
Day 4. Shaki and Goygol: From the Khan’s Palace to the Georgian Border
The city of Shaki lies at foot of the forest-covered Caucasus Mountains and doubles as a unique open-air museum. You see the city’s many caravanserai, trading posts that served as stops along historic trade routes, like the Silk Road. Later, you visit the Khan’s Palace, where brilliant decorative carvings, stained glass and frescoes take you back to a fantastic medieval world. In your free time, you can go shopping for bargains at an artisanal handicrafts center and at a local bazaar.
On the train route south from Sheki, the Azerbaijani landscape begins to turn green. In the afternoon, you reach the city of Ganja, from which you travel to the nearby city of Goygol, known for its nineteeth-century German settlements. Here you see carefully restored villas, the Lutheran church of St. John and the home of the last German settler, Viktor Klein, who passed away in 2007. Later you head to the Azerbaijan–Georgia border, where the ochre, earthy steppes gradually transform into green hills. Next stop: Georgia’s vibrant metropolis Tbilisi. Overnight: On board (BLD)
Day 5. Tbilisi: From the Capital to Stepantsminda
Sturdy churches, colorful wooden houses on the banks of the Kura River, classical villas—this is Tbilisi, capital of Georgia and straight out of a fairy tale. From here, you take a ride along the historic Georgian Military Road, which reaches an altitude of approximately 7,800 feet/2,300 meters. The view of the Ananuri Castle complex from such heights just takes your breath away. In the horizon, snow-capped mountain peaks come into view, each one higher than the last. However, the view of the 16,000-foot/5,000-meter Mount Kazbek from your hotel terrace in Stepantsminda tops them all! On a green ridge just in front of this immense peak sits the comparatively small Gergeti Trinity Church, which you can visit via Jeep excursion upon request. Overnight: Hotel Porta Caucaisa (or similar) (BLD)