Why You Should Travel to the Caucasus
If you’re looking for a new place to explore, why not put aside those old favourite city escapes and take a look at something new; the Caucasus region. It really does have a lot to offer and can be a truly refreshing location, even for the well-travelled. The Caucasus region covers three main countries; Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, with each country being very different from its neighbour, yet close enough to be part of one travelling expedition for you. As you explore and travel to the Caucasus, you’ll find a fascinating blend of European and Middle Eastern cultures, with some Russian influences too. There is a real ‘East meets West feel’ that is unique to this area, and there’s so much stunning beauty to behold; from the rolling green countryside with a backdrop of mountains, to the exquisite cities with their interesting architecture, perfectly blending the ancient with the ultra-modern. The Caucasus really is a true gem that many have yet to discover.
A truly unique destination with a feel all of its own
The Caucasus covers a large area, but not so huge that you can’t get a true impression of the place and feel you’ve thoroughly explored it in a couple of weeks. You need at least two weeks if you’re going to visit all three countries, and with each country being so different, it is highly recommend you take this approach and choose a longer duration for your Caucasus holiday than you might for other destinations. There’s so much to see and do, you’ll always find something fun and fascinating wherever you are in the Caucasus.
Spend time in the cities and beyond
The capital cities of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan are incredibly unique and a perfect blend of East-meets-West. The cities also have an incredible history being part of silk route centuries back and have been further shaped by great empires from Iran, Mongolia and Ottoman to name a few. Recently the cities were part of the Soviet Union and since then they have come a long way, as the old grey buildings were slowly replaced by modern buildings that you can see today.
If you’re looking for somewhere really cool to stay then Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia is the place to be. It’s really up and coming, and such a picturesque location. It’s likely that it will become increasingly popular as a holiday destination in the future. It has the perfect blend of ancient architecture that includes old fortresses and remnants of past empires like mosques, bath houses and fire temples to modern buildings, and a lively atmosphere in the riverside bars and restaurants. Tbilisi is also slowly becoming famous for its parties and is home to one of the best techno clubs in the world.
The rapid influx of high rise buildings including marvels of architecture like the $350 million Flame Towers, a thriving events scene, together with a great range of restaurants, bars and nightlife makes it easy to see why Baku is dubbed as the new Dubai.
You may call Dubai a concrete jungle, but Baku is far from being one. The incredible transformation of the city has not affected its ancient culture, architectural heritage and communist past as amongst the modern buildings there is an UNESCO listed old town.
In the old town you can climb the 12th century Maiden Tower for amazing views across the Acheri Seri, a fascinating area packed full of interesting art and antique stores and quaint tea rooms. Baku is also home to some rather curious museums, you can visit the Museum of Miniature Books where you can see the three smallest books in the world and the Carpet Museum, housed in a building built to resemble a rolled up carpet!
The capital of Armenia, Yerevan is one of the oldest cities in the world and is another ‘must visit’ city. The least developed cities out of the three, Yerevan certainly feels like you are stepping back in time. The Soviet Union influence is still very much present in Yerevan which just adds to the charm of the city.
There are some very photogenic sights here such as the awe-inspiring Cascade Stairway and the imposing Republic Square. If you love to share photos of your travels, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to take some impressive ones in Yerevan. With parks, museums and the winding alleyways of Kond, the oldest quarter, you can spend many days exploring Yerevan.
Outstanding natural beauty
The countryside across the entire Caucasus region is breath-taking. Being a mountainous area, you’ll find plenty of elevated spots to visit where you can soak up the views and take some amazing photographs too. The highest peak is Mount Kazbek in Georgia, which offers some amazing panoramic vistas across the lush green countryside and this peak is also home to the fascinating and tranquil Gergeti monastery often regarded as the most beautiful location for a church. Armenia is home to the mythical mountain of Ararat. Many monasteries are located in the background of this stunning mountain.
Then there are timeless villages that are nestled high up in the Caucasus. Amongst them is Svaneti in Georgia, arguably the top attraction in the whole of Caucasus. Svaneti is a place that has never been conquered and the people to this day have protected their centuries old culture and traditions.
The natural beauty of Azerbaijan is also amazing. You can read the Azerbaijan Travel Guide here. The village of Kinalaq located high up in the Caucasus Mountain is another stunning village where people have continued their centuries old traditions. Azerbaijan is also home to half of the world’s mud volcanoes and the largest lake, the Caspian Sea.
A rich history
All three countries have a very rich history. They were part of the silk route centuries ago and then were conquered by several empires over the years. Armenia and Georgia were one of the first countries to adopt Christianity and you can see some of the oldest monasteries and churches across both the countries. Some of the top ones to see are Gergeti, Khor Virap, Tatev and Geghard.
Other impressive historical sites include The Troglodyte caves in Vardzia Georgia is so incredibly memorable. An entire village literally carved into the cliff face. Or for something entirely different, head to Gori, the birthplace of Stalin. Here you can visit the Stalin museum and even sit inside the train he used to tour the Soviet Union. You can go back to prehistoric times with a trip to the standing stones of Karahunj in Armenia, and the Stone Age cave art of Qobustan in Azerbaijan.
Wonderful culinary delights to savour
As you can imagine, with so many global influences on this region, the food is also something rather special. With a mixture of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s the perfect blend. Georgia has one of the most unique and underrated cuisines.
If you love cheese than you must try the khachapuri adjaruli, a traditional dish of fresh bread, pulled into a bowl shape and filled with sulgani cheese, topped with butter and a raw egg. It’s presented to you piping hot so you can stir the egg into your cheese and it turns into the most delicious gooey comfort food.
If you’re a vegetarian, the good news is that you won’t struggle to find great dishes to eat in the Caucasus. Lobio is a particularly flavoursome delight, a spicy kidney bean based dish with fresh chilies giving it quite a kick. You can also try Manti, a dish for Armenia that serves baked dumplings in tomato sauce with garlicky yogurt on the side and dolma which serves mixed vegetables with rice, onions and mint wrapped in fresh grape leaves.
Meat eaters are also well catered for with tasty dishes such as Mtsavadi, a type of kebab, marinaded and cooked over an open fire.
Georgia also has a highly renowned wine region, Kakheti, so no visit to the Caucasus is complete with enjoying a glass or two of the local wine! Another tip, if you see some lumpy purple strands hanging in the shops, these are not some form of chorizo, but instead are a gorgeous sweet made from grape juice left over from the wine making process. This sweet mixture is poured over strands of nuts and dried. It’s definitely one to try!
khachapuri – Google Search
It’s a very safe destination
The Caucasus region is a very safe place to visit making it ideal for solo travellers or anyone who just wants to feel at ease during their holiday. The locals are very friendly and welcoming and willing to answer any questions you have or give you recommendations on places to visit. While of course you should take the usual precautions as you would when travelling, pick-pockets are rare, you just have to watch out for the professional beggars who can be a little pushy at times.
So easy to get around
It’s often more fun to use local transport when travelling. It gives you a true insight into a place, more so than hiring a car and simply driving around. The Caucasus is a brilliant area to explore by public transport and it’s also great value. The trains and buses are very reliable, the major cities have highly efficient metro systems and then there are the marshrutka minivans, a cheap and cheerful way to get around and to travel between cities. They’re a little rough and ready though so be prepared for that – they’re certainly not luxurious!
You can read more about Caucasus travel here: https://mycaucasus.com/en/