POST-SOVIET WOE AND CULTURAL KALEIDOSCOPES
AZERBAIJAN – DAGESTAN – Kalmykia – Astrakhan – Kazakhstan
This tour is offered on a regular monthly basis from March through May and again from September through November. Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the learn-more button below: we will match your preferences with the next relevant scheduled group departure. If you are still unsure about your desired departure date, then simply tell us a period or a season of the year and we will provide you a range of scheduled group departures: just pick up yours!
Our scheduled group departures don't suit your plans? If you are travelling with more than 4 friends, you can set your own departure date: we will arrange a bespoke tour just for you for the same price per person advertised below. If you are travelling solo or with less than four companions, we will then organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.
DAY 1/2/3 - Azerbaijan: Absheron
Our guide will meet you at Baku International Airport and drive you to our hotel of choice (exact hotel name and address will be communicated well in advance per email).
Introductory briefing about the region, the route and the set of rules to observe while travelling in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
In the company of a local expert, we will enjoy a comprehensive Soviet Architecture tour of the city, which will include both early examples of Soviet constructivism and neoclassicism and later modernist and internationalist buildings, as well as a selected compendium of Soviet memorials and pre-Soviet architectural wonders.
We'll also go truly off the beaten path by visiting the hinterland norther districts, the so-called mikrorayons, a real-life compendium of Soviet urbanist theories and practices.
We suggest to order your own copy of the Architectural Guide Baku edited by DOM Publishers, as a perfect introduction to the tuff-and-concrete shapes of the city.
We'll then devote two days to the surreal badlands and the odd sights of the Absheron Peninsula: burning rocks, fire temples, secret Islands, melancholic Soviet resorts, semi-abandoned dystopian towns, rickety oil drills, post-apocalyptic badlands, fishing villages and ancient mosques.
Dinners and overnights in Baku.
DAY 4 - Azerbaijan: Xinaliq
In the morning we'll leave Baku and head north along the Caspian coast.
Besides the routine stops food and photography, we'll break the drive at the holy mountain of Besh Barmag, a five-peaked rock cliff rising abruptly from the desert steppes of northeastern Azerbaijan, and in the bustling and multi-ethnic frontier town of Quba.
Just outside Quba we’ll also visit the curious community of Krasnaya Sloboda, the last place in the country inhabited by a Jewish majority and - by extension - the very last Shtetlekh (pre-Holocaust Jewish-majority urban localities) in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
After a kosher lunch in Krasnaya Sloboda we'll head to the mountains of Greater Caucasus.
A scenic drive across green pastures and whitewater streams will eventually lead us to Xinaliq, a remote mountain hamlet surrounded by breathtaking sceneries.
The village of Xinaliq is inhabited by an historically isolated population said to be one of the oldest distinct ethnicities in the Caucasus; the mountain area itself, comprising even more remote villages, is, instead, mainly inhabited by the Lezgins, a Sunni muslim ethnic group with its roots in the neighbouring republic of Dagestan.
Dinner and overnight in Xinaliq.
DAY 5 - Dagestan: Derbent
Today we’ll descend from the Azerbaijani mountains to
Derbent, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and home to Dagestan’s only UNESCO world heritage site.
We’ll devote the entire day to Derbent and its many sights (Old Citadel, Naryn Kala Fortress, Friday Mosque, Armenian Church, Lenin Statue, Park of Soviet Military Glory, Central Bazaar) and then hit the city beach for a shashlyk dinner with romantic views on the Caspian Sea.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Derbent.
Dinner and overnight in Derbent.
DAY 6 - Dagestan: Makhachkala
Dinner and overnight in Makhachkala.
DAY 7 - Dagestan: Kizlyar
Dinner and overnight in Kizlyar.
DAY 8 - Kalmykia: Lagan
Dinner and overnight in Lagan.
DAY 9/10 - Southern Russia: Astrakhan
After lunch we'll then travel further north to Astrakhan, the biggest city of the Caspian Depression and the last stop along the mighty Volga.
Astrakhan morning sightseeing: Kremlin, Fish Market, City Embankment, Cathedral of the Assumption, House of the Soviets, Lenin Square, Wedding Palace, Music Fountain, Temple Gate, Peter the Great Statue.
In the afternoon we'll head to the Volga Delta National Park to enjoy a romantic boat trip surrounded by a wild landscape of lotus flowers, water lilies and flocks of migratory birds.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Astrakhan.
DAY 11 - Kazakhstan: Atyrau
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Aktau.
DAY 12 - Kazakhstan: Aktau
Morning flight to Aktau, Kazakhstan, one of the most isolated cities in the whole former Soviet Union.
After having toured Aktau and its non-touristic sights (aka lots of socialist memorials, Soviet apartment blocks and brave-new-world architectonic wonders), we'll hit the beach for some truly post-Soviet vacation feeling.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Aktau.
DAY 13 - Kazakhstan: Ustyurt Plateau
In the morning we will set onto a 4x4 adventure across the barren badlands of Ustyurt Plateau.
We'll tour the western part of the plateau with its many natural sights, such as the bizarre chalky rock formation at Boszhira, and post-Soviet urban melancholia, best represented in the rather dull city of Zhanaozen.
We'll then reach the underground mosque-cum-mausoleum of Beket-Ata, where we'll enjoy a traditional Kazakh lunch and observe the mystic rituals of pious pilgrims.
In the afternoon we'll head back to Aktau, where we'll enjoy a well deserved fresh beer in one of the many bars along overlooking the Caspian Sea.
Dinner and overnight in Aktau.
DAY 14 - Kazakhstan: Fort Shevchenko and the Caspian Shores
We'll spend the day touring the many wonders scattered along the Caspian shoreline.
First we'll stop at the Koshkar-Ata necropolis, a holy muslim graveyard with impressive monumental tombs and pretty little mausoleums dating back to pre-Soviet times.
We'll then continue our journey heading to Aqshuqyr, a pleasant seaside village, where we'll have the chance to plunge in the fresh waters of the Caspian Sea.
After a traditional seafood lunch near the beach we'll drive north towards Fort Shevchenko, a Tsarist and later Soviet military-base town built on the western tip of desertic peninsula stretching out into the Caspian Sea.
For desolation lovers and melancholic souls we'll also pay a visit to the remote port town of Bautino and the nearby abandoned village of Kanga, before eventually heading back to Aktau.
Dinner and overnight in Aktau.
DAY 15 - Flight back home or transfer to further destinations
After enjoying a last Kazakh-style breakfast together we'll take care of your transfer to the airport/train station of choice.
For those flying out: transfer to Aktau International Airport for your flight back home.
For those wishing to take the train/bus to reach further destinations: transfer to the local train/bus station.
End of the tour.
4 to 9 participants: 4950 € per person
The price includes: double/twin room accommodation (breakfast included; single supplement: 18 euro/night), private transport in the region, first-class train tickets, entrance fees to the attractions listed in the itinerary, guiding and translation service.
The price does not include: international flights and any other flight not explicitly included in the tour price and itinerary, meals, drinks and tips, transport to and from the airport of arrival/departure (35 euros/ride), visas if required, entrance fees to attractions not listed in the itinerary, insurance.
The route of this tour has been carefully designed after several research trips in the region. It is, however, always possible to slightly modify the itinerary according to the needs and the suggestions of the participants. Our motto is flexibility.