Caucasus cultural vacations

Martin Bigg on a tour of Armenia and Georgia–
“Go with an open mind. Welcome the pride in the culture, towns, churches and heritage. These are amazing countries with a fascinating history...These small group vacations are made by and very dependent on the quality of the guides and the sharing of the travelers. We learnt so much.”

Highlights of a Caucasus cultural vacation

Caucasus cultural vacations normally focus on Armenia and Georgia, sometimes with extensions into Azerbaijan. The northern Caucasus region tends to be far more wild and remote, and due to recent conflicts sees comparatively few visitors. It is still an option for adventurers, but an organised tour is definitely the way to go.
This kind of trip ensures the continuation of age-old customs, whether folklore entertainment, manufacturing or preserving ancient monasteries. It also provides vital employment opportunities in rural areas, and puts money directly into the hands of local people.
Caucasus cultural highlights

The capitals

Yerevan was founded in the 8th century – not that you’d know it from the cosmopolitan atmosphere. The grassy Cascade is a meeting spot popular with locals and visitors alike, and other points of interest include the Blue Mosque, the opera house and the statue of Mother Russia. Straddling the Mtkvari River, Georgia’s Tbilisi is renowned for the vibrant colours and balconies of the houses in its cobbled old town. Then there is Azerbaijan’s desert fringed Baku, chaotic but fun, its architecture a heady brew of ancient and modern. Most Caucasus vacations will begin or finish in one of the capital cities, and it is well worth adding a few extra days to the end of a trip to explore further.
Religious landmarks

Religious landmarks

Armenia and Georgia are among the oldest Christian countries in the world, and reminders of their religious heritage can be seen everywhere. Near Yerevan, the Etchmiadzin Cathedral dates back to the early 4th century, while the Khor Virap Monastery, on the border with Turkey, is among the country’s most important pilgrimage sites. Azerbaijan has many beautiful and historic mosques, while Georgia is known for its religious tolerance, with basilicas, cathedrals, mosques and synagogues rubbing along together nicely in Tbilisi.
Regional cuisine

Regional cuisine

Often the best way to understand a country’s culture is through its food. Certainly it’s one of the most enjoyable. You might sip Armenian cognac in Yerevan, taste your way around Georgia’s famous Kakheti wine region, snack on the lavash flatbread which is eaten across the southern Caucasus. Some cultural vacations here also offer home cookery lessons with local families, a fantastic way to learn about the history of Caucasus cuisine as well as get an insight into people’s daily lives.

Our top Caucasus Vacation

Armenia highlights tour

Armenia highlights tour

See the most popular sights of Armenia

From £373 6 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2019: 9 Aug
Helpdesk
Hello. If you'd like to chat about Caucasus or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.
Handicrafts

Handicrafts

Another regular feature on cultural vacations in the Caucasus is an introduction to local handicrafts. That might mean visiting an Armenian carpet museum, a pottery village, or taking a felt-making workshop. Equally it could be browsing the stalls for folk art at Yerevan’s Vernissage Market, or learning fighting techniques from a Circassian swordsman. These are opportunities to find unique souvenirs of course, but by directly supporting traders and craftspeople in this manner, traditional skills can be prevented from dying out.
Historic sites

Historic sites

Tours that visit Yerevan will frequently take in the Armenian Genocide Museum, which shows the breadth and background of a diaspora that has spread Armenian culture around the world. Another fascinating site is Khndzoresk, an ancient cave village that was still inhabited right up to the 1950s. In Georgia, popular visits include the town of Gori, birthplace of Josef Stalin, and his summer dacha on the bank of Lake Ritsa, while the medieval towers of the Svaneti region are often included on walking tours. Lahic, in the Caucasus highlands, is a traditional Azerbaijani mountain community where life goes on much as it has done for centuries.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The Caucasus region is scattered with many incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The citadel and ancient fortress of Derbent in Dagestan; the beautifully preserved frescoes of the Gelati Monastery in Georgia; Armenia’s Etchmiadzin Cathedral and the Haghphat and Geghard Monasteries; the walled city of Baku in Azerbaijan. Touring them offers enthralling glimpses into bygone civilisations, and helps contribute to their future survival as well.

Practicalities

Allan Wild, a traveler on one of our Caucasus vacations–
"Two of the accommodations were guest houses and various meals were taken in private homes. This gave an opportunity to sample local food, much of it grown in their own gardens, and to interface with the community. The standard was simple but more than adequate and the welcome was warm."
For the most part, Caucasus cultural vacations involve small group tours, led by local guides and getting around either by minibus or small coaches. Group sizes restricted to around 20 and under make for a very sociable atmosphere, and mean that you can stay in smaller, often family run properties.
Some itineraries also feature a homestay, which is perhaps the best way of all to get a flavour of the local culture. Because the Caucasus region remains largely under-explored, those that do venture to Georgia, Armenia and beyond are frequently overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome they receive. People here love to share their stories and ways of life.
Tours typically last between two and three weeks, and encompass at least two countries, usually those in the southern Caucasus . You can expect to spend considerable time on the road traveling between destinations, but complaints are rare – the scenery outside the windows is so captivating that time flies.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Creative Travel Projects] [Cultural intro: Niyaz Bakili] [Traveler quote: Andrew Milligan Sumo] [Highlights cultural: Kris Duda] [The capitals: Tomasz Przechlewski] [Religious landmarks: Vigen Hakhverdyan] [Regional cuisine: Cat_collector] [Handicrafts: Debs-eye] [Historic sites: Tomasz Przechlewski] [UNESCO World heritage sites: Andrew Milligan Sumo] [Practicalities: Tomasz Przechlewski] [Practicalities 2: Tomasz Przechlewski] [Practicalities 3: Vahe Martirosyan]
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