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Colors of the Caucasus (June 2019)

Rated 5.00 out of 5 based on 4 customer ratings
(4 customer reviews)

$4,600

Food and Culture Tour to Azerbaijan and Georgia

Tour leader: Feride Buyuran
Tour dates: June 13– June 27, 2019 (15 days, 14 nights)
Arrival in Baku: June 13
Departure from Tbilisi: June 27
Group size: Max 12 participants

 

 

Colors of the Caucasus
June 2019

Colors of the Caucasus Map - Feride Buyuran Tours

Join award-winning food expert and Azerbaijani native Feride Buyuran as she leads you on a captivating epicurean odyssey through the heart of the Caucasus.

 

Visit two fascinating countries where East and West are intricately woven into history, culture, and cuisine, and where hospitality is a way of life. Explore the vibrant traditions of an ethnically diverse landscape as you travel through these fertile lands.

 

Welcome to Azerbaijan and Georgia!

In these landscapes, where old meets new, you will see historical town centers sitting comfortably against the backdrop of city skyscrapers. The Caucasus region abounds with such contrasts—with unceasing natural gas fire seeping from dry, rugged terrain of the Absheron peninsula and crystalline waterfalls rushing down lush green slopes in the countryside; and fire-worshippers’ temples coexisting with Medieval monasteries, churches, mosques, and synagogues. The culinary landscape, likewise, is filled with food, both sweet and sour, spicy and mild, hearty and light, fresh and preserved! In Azerbaijan, enjoy piping-hot Azerbaijani tea in curvaceous glasses and in Georgia, sip on the prized local wine, matured in special clay pots gvevri. Vibrant art, dances, folk songs, and more—make yourself at home in the Caucasus!

Along with culture, the food of Azerbaijan and Georgia is the highlight of this tour. You’ll spend time learning and understanding it with every meal!

Tour Highlights

Historic Sites
Old cathedrals, mosques, churches, monasteries
Carpet factory
Big cities
Remote villages
Ethnic diversity
Breathtaking nature
Meeting the locals
Cooking classes
Dining with the locals
Meeting artisans
Meeting chefs
Eating in celebrated restaurants
Baklava (different kinds!) bakery demos
Winetasting
Vineyards
Lift ride
Meeting winemakers
Trips to farmers’ markets
Local folklore; dances and singing
– and many more!

Price

$4,600 per person based on double occupancy (plus $700 single supplement*)

* Double occupancy prices per person apply when there are two people sharing a room. The single supplement applies to travelers who require their own room. Solo travelers who wish to avoid the single supplement and share a room with another solo traveler should notify us and we will do our best to accommodate the request.


Price Includes

  • Tour leadership by Feride Buyuran
  • Arrival and departure transfers, provided all travelers arrive and depart at approximately the same time (!)
  • 14 nights’ accommodation in 3- and 4-star hotels and guesthouses in both countries (e.g. family-run rustic guesthouses in villages)
  • All daily meals with group: breakfast, lunch, dinner
  • Complimentary bottles of water, daily
  • Private air-conditioned ground transportation in Mercedes Sprinter van, driver tip included
  • Official guided tours, including site admissions
  • Private cooking classes/demos, market trips
  • Wine tastings
  • Cultural performances and entertainment (e.g. folk dancing and singing)


Price Excludes

  • Airfare to Baku and from Tbilisi (no flight is required between Azerbaijan and Georgia)
  • Travel insurance, overseas medical insurance, or trip cancellation insurance
  • Visa and passport fees (if applicable)
  • Extra meals, snacks, and beverages
  • Alcoholic beverages (other than in wine tastings and some (!) of the meals included in the itinerary)
  • Souvenirs or any personal purchases
  • Excursions, services, and activities not included in the itinerary
  • Personal hotel expenses, such as laundry, telephone calls, faxes, or e-mail service
  • Tips to hotel staff for luggage assistance or other personal services
  • Tips to local guides

To Register

To register for the tour and secure your spot, a deposit of $1,000 per person must be submitted using the button below.
(If you don’t have a PayPal® account, please click on the ‘Pay with Debit or Credit Card’ button on the following screen.)




The balance, $3,600 is due by March 13, 2019. Please pay by check or by direct bank transfer. If you are outside of the U.S., please email info@azcookbook.com for alternative payment options. If you’d like us to arrange your flight tickets, please contact us, too.
Download and print the tour reservation form, sign and mail it to us with your balance payment.

   Important Notes

* This intimate, friendly tour will have a maximum of 12 PARTICIPANTS to ensure the best possible experience.

* The tour is 15 days and 14 nights (including the arrival day in Baku and the departure day from Tbilisi).

* General fitness level is required for the tour, which involves a good amount of walking on uneven surfaces, hiking hills and climbing stairs at locations not always handicap accessible. There is a reasonable amount of ascent and descent, such as from sites, early morning wake-ups particularly to travel to far destinations, and other typical travel-related scenarios. We request that you be in good health.

* In advance of your trip, you will receive an information package to help you better prepare for the tour, including details about obtaining a visa, clothing and packing tips, and local airport guidelines and know-hows.

* Before the trip, travelers will be invited to meet and greet at Feride Buyuran’s in Long Beach, CA, so that they get to know one another.

Itinerary

AZERBAIJAN

DAY 1 – June 13 – Arrival
Salam, Azerbaijan! Arrive in Baku airport in the evening and transfer to a hotel in downtown. Rest well until your exciting journey through the country begins the next day.

DAY 2 – June 14 - Baku and Absheron Peninsula
Time to explore Baku, a city of contracts, with East and West breathing in unison in every corner! Following a traditional breakfast, we’ll embark on a walking tour of Baku’s downtown and experience a stunning mix of modern Baku skyscrapers and 19th-20th century architectural buildings built by local and foreign oil barons, including Taghiyev, the Rothschilds and the Nobel brothers.

Stroll the cobbled streets and narrow passages of Baku’s jewel, Inner City, and explore renowned historic attractions, including Maiden Tower and Caravanserai. Next stop—Shirvanshahs’ Palace, a medieval compound of the rulers of Shirvan, featuring a museum, a market square, antique shops, and carpet stores. Proceed to the National Carpet Museum, which houses the richest collections of intricate Azerbaijani carpets.

An excellent round up to your trip is a ride on a funicular to Daghustu Park to enjoy the breathtaking panoramas of Baku Bay. We might even get a glimpse of some of Baku’s Soviet-built neighborhoods. Throughout the day, we’ll discover the culinary scene of the city: indulging in authentic dishes like kababs, saffron-perfumed riced pilafs, stuffed savory flatbreads, gutabs, and saj-cooked dishes, while getting a glimpse at how some of them are prepared.


DAY 3 – June 15 – Baku and Absheron Peninsula
Start your day with a trip to a local bazar and a farmer’s market, exploring and sampling fresh local produce. Next, take a trip to Gobustan National Park and study petroglyphs and stone carvings dating back to 10,000 BC. Move onto exploring mud volcanoes in Gobustan Reserve, home to almost half of the world’s mud volcanoes. After a quick lunch, drive to the suburbs of Baku and visit Ateshgah, Fireworshippers Temple, an ancient site once used for Hindu and Zoroastrian worship. Stop at Yanardagh Mountain, and watch natural gas burning on the rugged foothill, as it has burned unceasingly for the last several thousand years.

Dine in one of the area’s most celebrated restaurants and immerse yourself in the unique culture, distinctive local cuisine, and traditional music of Azerbaijan. Dinner without tea? Not in Azerbaijan! Discover the elaborate tea drinking ceremony the Azerbaijani way, in which tea is accompanied with traditional desserts and fruit preserves of many kinds!


DAY 4 – June 16 – Guba and Gusar Regions
Head north to the culturally-rich region of Guba. Many architectural monuments will welcome you in the vicinity of the Guba center, including Juma Mosque, built in the 19th century, a 16th-century Mausoleum, and ancient baths. Guba is a recognized center of carpet weaving. Stop by one of the main carpet factories in the region to see the weaving process firsthand and explore the intricate carpets on display—maybe even finding one to bring home! Later on, witness the making of Guba’s most famous desserts, bukme and Guba-style baklava, and enjoy some after lunch with a cup of black tea, freshly brewed for you in samovar.

Stop by a famous village, Krasnaya Sloboda (Red Settlement), the largest Jewish population settlement outside of Israel. Explore the neighborhoods, meet with the locals, visit the synagogue, and learn about the distinct culinary traditions of the Juhuros.

Head north up the curving mountainous road and arrive in the highest, most remove village of Azerbaijan, one of a few highest in the Caucasus, the 5,000-year-old Khinalig! Enjoy the breathtaking vistas opening all around this historic village, connect with the locals, and savor tasty food prepared in a local home.


DAY 5 – June 17 – Ismayilli Region
Start driving to the northwest of Baku and visit the far-flung ancient village of Lahij on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus. The village has an architectural style of its own, with charming cobblestone sidewalks. Lahij is famous for its authentic handicraft traditions and is most known for generations of coppersmiths. Peak inside small workshops to watch how copper pots, pans, and other copperware is crafted by masters and their apprentices. Visit the village’s small spice and herbs bazaar and stock up on some to take back with you. Take a cooking class from the village’s best cook and learn how to make spice-laced bread in a tandir (tandoori) oven and prepare tasty dishes in copper pots.

After Lahij, proceed to another village in the region, and find yourself in Château Monolit—a splendid winery where some of the best wine in the country is produced. Here, enjoy the view of beautiful rolling hills dotted with vineyards, explore the vast wine caves stocked with countless barrels of wine, and enjoy wine tasting with a generous appetizer spread, all this curated by Château Monolit’s own wine experts.

Rested and recharged, now drive to the neighboring Ivanovka. This picturesque village up in the mountains is home to Molokan Russians who settled in the region after being driven from the Russian Empire in the19th century. Ivanovka is the last place in the world where kolkhoz (a type of collective farm) from Soviet times is preserved. Meet with the locals, peek inside the villagers’ houses with Russian multipurpose ovens, pech, inside, and sample traditional foods in a Molokan home. Spend the night in Ivanovka, and enjoy a Russian breakfast the next day, prepared with locally-produced staples, including Ivanovka’s prized honey.


DAY 6 – June 18 – Gabala Region
In the morning, drive farther north to Gabala, the ancient capital of Caucasian Albania. It is one of the lushest regions in Azerbaijan, offering visitors many natural attractions, including the renowned Yeddi Gozel (Seven Beauties) waterfall.

Explore some of the most interesting historic sites in the region, then stop by a favorite tourist destination, vedre bazari, bucket bazaar, near the Vandam village. There, locally grown fruit and vegetables are sold by, yes, buckets, along with endless jars of compotes, pickles, and preserves. Watch a local chef demonstrate the preparing of Gabala-native dishes, including fruit salad, doymej and dasharasi—meat pressed between large river rocks and cooked over glowing wood embers! And sip on your tea with famous Gabala-style triangular baklava.

One of the highlights of the day is visiting the Albanian Church in the village of Nij, populated by a little over 6,000 Udi people, the direct descendants of ancient Caucasian Albanians. This is one of a few places in the world where Udi people live! Learn about distinct culinary practices of this ancient land and try some Udi food, including tender walnut-stuffed grape leaves.


DAY 7 – June 19 – Sheki Region
It is Sheki day! Surrounded by lush mountains and forests, this ancient city was long famed as a silk center and an important hub on the Great Silk Route. Visit the 18th-century Sheki Khan Sarayi, a summer palace of the khan, known for its fascinating frescos, decorative tiles, and unique stained glass work throughout. It is believed that no nails were used in the construction of the palace! Then take a stroll in Sheki’s old Caravanserai, a historic monument, once used as a resting and trading center by Silk Road merchants.

Attend a shebeke workshop, where skilled craftsmen assemble colored stained glass mosaics and create intricately carved wooden frames. Explore the famous Sheki bazar and shop for souvenirs, food, and spices. The culinary highlight of the trip will be watching how Sheki’s most popular bakery makes its unique baklava. Before your lunch or dinner, a local chef will demonstrate how Sheki’s famous lamb and chestnut stew, piti, is made in traditional clay pots called dobu.

Your acquaintance with Sheki continues with a visit to the village of Kish to see its main landmark, the Albanian church—believed to be the first Christian church in the region.

Also, stop by the Sheki Silk showroom and see traditional silk scarves, kelaghayi, on display. Chances are you will fall in love with one and buy it! You are in a Silk Road city after all!

DAY 8 – June 20 – Gakh and Balaken Regions
Explore the region of Gakh, where you will encounter fortress ruins, towers, and burials from different eras: a 17th-century mosque, a 16th-century Sumug Gala tower, and even a 4th-century basilica.

Drive up to the mountaintop village of Ilisu, located on the banks of two rivers and famous for its thermal springs, mesmerizing waterfalls, and breathtaking nature all around. Learn about the technique of meat drying, practiced by locals for centuries, and sample local delicacies, including the crowned jewels of Gakh cuisine, girts, meat, or greens, or cheese–stuffed dumplings and surhullu, tender boat-shape pasta served with dry-meat broth and drizzled with piquant garlicky-plum sauce.

After Ilisu, proceed east towards the region of Balaken, bordering on Georgia. Feride’s relatives have a surprise for you there—watch how Azerbaijani-style crepes, makhara, are made on a saj, a cast-iron domed pan, heated over wood embers. With its ray-lake edges, makhara symbolize the sun to the locals. Plus, enjoy other local foods while you watch traditional dances and listen to live music performed by the avar population of the region. You will not want to leave, but, it’s time to go! Off to Georgia now!

Chokh sagh ol and Helelik, Azerbaijan!

 

GEORGIA

DAY 8 – June 20 (continued) – Arrival
Gamarjoba, Georgia! In the evening, cross the border between Azerbaijan and Georgia by private bus and immediately transfer to a hotel in the town of Sighnaghi, followed by a welcome Georgian dinner, before you rest for the evening and prepare for an exciting adventure.

DAY 9 – June 21 – Kakheti Region
Start the tour by exploring the beautiful Kakheti region, the country’s famous wine-producing land, dotted with fine old churches and fertile vineyards. In Sighnaghi, a stunning hilltown lending panoramic views of the Alazani Valley and the Eastern Caucasus Mountains, taste wine and learn about the 8,000-year-old Georgian tradition of making wine in clay pots called gvevri. Visit Bodbe Monastery, followed by a trip to the local bazaar and a cooking class. Have lunch accompanied with live Georgian music and dance performances in a local restaurant and dinner with a local family in their home. On your first day, get a taste of many Georgian specialties, including cheese and many vegetarian dishes, made with local produce.  Also, watch how Georgian savory and sweet breads deda’s puri and nazuki, are baked in a tone (tandoori oven) and even try your hand at making them!

DAY 10 – June 22 – Kakheti Region
Spend some time exploring Ikato and Alaverdi Monasteries, before having a cooking class and lunch with a local family—you’ll learn how to make Georgian famous dumplings khinkali! How about savoring spiced meat stew, chashushuli, or cheese-stuffed mushrooms? There is something for everyone! Head over to the local gvevri (clay pot in which wine is made) making studio to learn about the centuries old gvevri making traditions from an expert.

Transfer to Tbilisi, with an en route stop at Tsinandali, a Kakhetian residence of Alexandre Chavchavadze, a 19th-century prince and poet. Enjoy a museum, a beautiful garden and a wine cellar, where a unique collection of 20,000 bottles of wines are kept. At lunch and dinner, savor such famous Georgian specialties as cheese bread khachapuri, baked beans lobio, and a myriad of spice-perfumed and herbed appetizers and main dishes. And of course, sip on your Georgian wine!


DAY 11 – June 23 – Tbilisi
Explore the capital of Georgia – Tbilisi. Founded in the 4th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali on the site with warm mineral-water springs, it stood as a key stop on the Silk Road. Right on the border between Europe and Asia is Tbilisi’s Old Town, known for its wonderful mix of cultures. On its cobblestone streets, mosque, synagogue, and churches mingle harmoniously with the splendid Georgian architecture. Charming wooden houses with open, carved balconies are inviting and make one feel at home. Visit the legendary Sulphur Bath in the Old City, and explore the Narikala fortress, finishing up with a funicular ride for dazzling panoramic views of the city. And of course, enjoy delicious food served for lunch and dinner at Tbilisi’s unique restaurants.

DAY 12 – June 24 – Mtskheta, Gori, Uplistsikhe
Spend time in Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia, and see its important historical sites, Jvari Monastery (6th century) and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century), both listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites. Take a break to watch how candied walnuts on a string, churchkhela, are made.

Drive down west to Gori, a small town known as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. Visit local vineyards and have lunch with a wine-producing family. Travel back in time in Uplistsikhe, a once enormous cave town with stone walkways and stairs, dating to the 7th century. Return to Tbilisi for dinner and overnight.


DAY 13 – June 25 – Kazbegi
Drive north towards the Northern Caucasus along the well-known Georgian Military Road, and visit Gadauri, Jvari Monastery, and Ananuri, a splendid 17th century architectural complex. Continue towards Mt Kazbegi, visit Gergeti Church and enjoy breathtaking views one of the major mountains of the Caucasus! Enjoy lunch and dinner with the locals.

DAY 14 – June 26 – Tbilisi
Transfer to Tbilisi, where en route we’ll stop at a 19th-century castle, Chateau Mukhrani—the estate of Georgian Prince of Bagrationi Mukhranbatoni and designed by French architects. Chateau Mukhrani, which took 12 years to complete, is known for splendid Chateau and wine cellars, beautiful gardens, and pristine vineyards. Arrive in Tbilisi and finish your Georgian tour with a splendid feast, accompanied with a good vibe all around—in a true Georgian spirit.

DAY 15 – June 27: Departure from Tbilisi airport.
Madloba and Nakhvamdis, Georgia!


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4 reviews for Colors of the Caucasus (June 2019)

  1. Rated 5 out of 5

    Charles Perry

    I have gone to places as far off the beaten track as Yemen and Uzbekistan, but nowhere that combined the fascination of the exotic with sheer beauty like Georgia and Azerbaijan. (For one thing, I’ve never seen so many waterfalls outside a rain forest.)

    You could go for the history, the music, the architecture or the famous oriental rugs, but I wanted to explore the distinctive cuisines of the region, which love cooking meat with fruit and putting as many as four fresh herbs in a single dish. To say nothing of Azerbaijan’s unique baklavas made from doily-like crepes of rice batter.

    Feride Buyuran knows and loves this region and its unusual ethnic mosaic. I’d say her tour was the most enjoyable trip I’ve ever been on.

  2. Rated 5 out of 5

    Kathy S. Rice

    Being a world traveler, I have experienced many interesting things for sure. However, this adventure was a once in a lifetime opportunity! Thank you for making the trip one of the most special, unique, and amazing things I have ever done. I’ve been trying to describe it to people. They find the pictures beautiful, of course, but it’s hard to convey in words what it’s like to be in these villages with these people making your food and treating you like family. It was an unforgettable journey, and I am so happy that I was a part of it! Thank you, Feride!

  3. Rated 5 out of 5

    Jude and Woolf Kanter

    We signed up for this trip on the recommendation of our old friend Charles Perry. I had to Google Azerbaijan knowing it was near the Middle East but not knowing exactly where it was. I was somewhat reluctant when I found it to be just above Iran. My wife was hesitant to visit a country she never heard of and was not going to go until she called Feride and talked with this passionate young lady. Both Jude and I are foodies and Feride has written a cookbook on Azerbaijan food.

    We arrived in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in the evening and were greeted by Feride at the airport. She whisked use off to an air-conditioned Mercedes Sprinter and we headed to the old city section of Baku. Just inside the old city walls was our hotel. It was very pleasant.

    This was the start of our adventure. We were on the move constantly, going to many different dining experiences, cultural and historic sites (among them UNESCO World Heritage sites), operating rug factories, baklava bakeries, museums, palaces, mosques, old bathhouses, monasteries, churches, you name it – we went there!

    This trip was amazing. We ate in great restaurants, but the true experience was when we ate in private homes and had authentic home cooking. We participated in the preparation of many meals and learned a great deal about local food.

    If you are looking for a unique experience, this tour is for you. Feride is passionate about her country and wants to show you everything.

  4. Rated 5 out of 5

    Darrow Soares

    If you’re looking for a great cultural adventure, I recommend Feride Buyuran Tours. I first learned of her trip to Azerbaijan and the Republic of Georgia while attending one of her cooking courses. It sounded so interesting and unusual that I recruited my middle son and we immediately planned to explore that part of the world. It turned out to be a once in the life time experience between a father and son.

    It’s impossible to describe the best part of the trip since everyday was a great adventure. We talk a lot, however, about the families we shared great meals with, how much we learned, and how we may never have an experience like that together again.

    Visiting the remote village of Khinalig, high in the Caucus Mountains could top the list. To get there, we all piled into old Soviet Lada Zhiguli autos and ascended the mountain roads to the village. The trip was a beautiful rugged experience through steep dirt roads, sheer cliffs, and rocky rivers. Once there, we found an agrarian community frozen in time. We encountered few vehicles, homes made of dry-stack stones, and people and children that were friendly and engaging. In the clear distance were beautiful grassy mountains with grazing livestock. Later, we shared lunch in a village home and learned more about food, history and life.

    Equally interesting were our excursions into the Jewish and Russian enclaves of Azerbaijan. The Russian village of Ivanovka stands out as one of the many fascinating relics of Soviet influence gone by. There, we visited families and were invited into homes. We met a an elementary school principle that allowed a tour of her school and provided a lecture on the history of Molokan Russians in Azerbaijan. The mix of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures struck me as remarkable.

    Crossing over into the Republic of Georgia was equally fascinating. Being an Eastern Orthodox Christian country, we visited many magnificent 5th – 15th century cathedrals and monasteries. Over the years, these beautiful structures were hammered by the crusaders, other foreign invaders, and then by Soviet neglect. It was amazing to witness their reconstruction and recovery. Today, their outlook appears very positive.

    Every day was interesting. Every day we met new people that were friends, neighbors, or relatives of our tour guides. As a result, we were always treated with hospitality and curiosity. It was a great experience to learn from and share with my son. I will absolutely tour again with Feride Buyuran Tours when time allows.

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