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
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.
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!
Old cathedrals, mosques, churches, monasteries
Meeting the locals
Dining with the locals
Eating in celebrated restaurants
Baklava (different kinds!) bakery demos
Trips to farmers’ markets
Local folklore; dances and singing
– and many more!
$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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
* 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.