MIR Corporation is offering an intrepid 21-day journey delving deep into the cultures of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Guests will share stories and warm meals in mountain villages, sample natural wines and fantastic local cuisine, and meet craftspeople who work in clay, stained glass, metal, and wood — all set to a soundtrack of polyphonic singing and traditional instruments playing the old songs of love and heartbreak. The tour is slated for July 29-August 18, 2018 and starts at $7,995. More info can be found at https://www.mircorp.com/trip/village-traditions-of-the-south-caucasus/.
Itinerary & Highlights:
Days 1-4: Baku, Shemakha, Lahij, Sheki
The journey begins in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan and black gold boomtown, exploring the narrow stone streets of the charming medieval Old Town. Near Shemakha, visit a copper master’s studio to learn about casting and engraving with the malleable metal. Stop for a family meal in Lahij, home to coppersmiths and carpet weavers, trades which have been practiced here since the Middle Ages. Traveling overland, visit Sheki, a 14th-century architectural preserve and one of the oldest towns in Azerbaijan.
Days 5-6: Signagi
Crossing the Georgian border, discover Georgia’s wine country, Kakheti. Near Signagi, take a walking tour of the vineyards at renowned Pheasant’s Tears Winery, producing organic wines from regional grapes. Enjoy a traditional “Georgian Table” feast, laden with fine examples of the country’s rich culinary and winemaking legacy. Georgia is where the wine grape was first cultivated and the flowers and fruits of the Mediterranean flourish.
Days 7-8: Shenako, Dartlo (Tusheti Region)
Load up into a 4WD vehicle for the drive into the mountains of the remote Tusheti region. Most of the region’s former year-round residents have moved to winter quarters, only coming up for the summer. Overnight in a guesthouse in Shenako, a tiny mountain village set on the south slope of a grassy ridge of the Caucasus Mountains. Only a few hardy souls stay here all winter. Participate in a mountain village celebration in Dartlo, a jumble of two- and three-story slate-roofed stone houses with wooden balconies.
Days 9-10: Tbilisi
Explore Tbilisi’s red-roofed Old Town, its houses sporting carved wooden balconies beneath the fourth century Narikala Fortress. Enjoy lunch and a wine-tasting in the art nouveau Sololaki District, built in the 19th and early 20th centuries by Georgian and European architects. Visit Georgia’s National Museum for a look at some of the country’s most significant archaeological finds, including the 1.8-million-year-old Homo erectus skulls unearthed at Dmanisi, Georgia.
Days 11-13: Kutaisi, Mestia (Svaneti Region)
Set out toward remote Svaneti, known for its massive tower architecture and its proud mountain people. Stop in at the workshop of a ceramicist who makes qvevri, the 200 to 900-gallon earthenware vessels used for fermenting and storing Georgian wines, and at a winemaker’s to enjoy regional wine and snacks. Before heading into the mountains, overnight in Kutaisi. Enjoy the dramatic drive into the gorgeous mountains of Svaneti, a remote and distinct region of Georgia, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its remarkably preserved medieval appearance. Svaneti has maintained its own way of life for centuries.
Days 14-16: Batumi, Akhaltsikhe, Vardzia
Drive from the mountains to the Black Sea, stopping in Batumi, whose 19th-century oil barons’ homes contrast with the slick, modernized waterfront. On the way to Akhaltsikhe, drive through a region of summer pastures and meadows, stopping at a tea plantation and a tobacco farm. Explore the recently renovated Rabati, or Old Town, of Akhaltsikhe, sitting on the hill above town surrounded by ramparts and towers, and enjoy a meal with a local family. Take a walk through the rock-hewn monastery of Vardzia, begun by 12th century King Giorgi III.
Days 17-21: Phoka, Gyumri, Yerevan
On the way to Armenia, stop at the delightful Phoka Nunnery of St. Nino to meet with some of the nuns and enjoy a tasting of the many varieties of cheese they produce. In Gyumri, visit the workshop of a master metalsmith, who demonstrates the art of working iron by hand. Enjoy lunch at a 170-year-old home, where meals are served in the beautiful old wine cellar. In the Armenian capital, discover medieval shrines hidden behind imposing Soviet-style facades; the narrow lanes of the Old Town with its stone walls; Republic Square; the new icon of the Cascade; and the soaring Mother Armenia statue. Enter a local home for a friendly meal of Armenian specialties, and visit a master rug and carpet maker. Stop in at the studio of one of the finest makers of the traditional Armenian reed instrument, the duduk, to learn about Armenian instruments and enjoy tea or coffee with the craftsman. Gather for a farewell dinner, featuring Armenian folk music and dance, to toast your journey.