It isn’t just about former monasteries, war zones and song contests you know! Although Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan - three states of the former USSR that straddle Europe and Asia - are generally associated with places of worship, turbulent histories, and in the case of Azerbaijan, the Eurovision Song Contest; these countries have surprisingly beautiful scenery. Vast, sublime lakes, imposing gorges, unusual geological formations and spectacular mountain ranges are at every turn. Hot Off The Press: The Caucasus region is a real gem!
The traditional Georgian method of wine-making called Qvevri, which involves fermenting pressed grapes (along with stalks, pips and grape skins) underground in egg-shaped earthenware pots for up to six months, has been added to UNESCO’s ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ list. Bonus Fact: Hilary Clinton’s favourite wine is from Georgia.
Armenian cognac turns out to be the tipple of choice for statesmen… Joseph Stalin gifted Winston Churchill with some and rumour has it Vladimir Putin has cases shipped to Russia regularly. Famous Quote Alert: Winston Churchill was said to have attributed his long life to “Cuban Cigars, Armenian brandy and no sport!”
The misbehaving Greek God Prometheus – he who stole fire from the gods and gifted it to us mortals - was punished for his crime by being chained to Mount Kazbegi (5033 m) in the Greater Caucasus range in northern Georgia, close to the Russian border. Breaking News: The Greater Caucasus are tectonically active, so a small tremour would be perfectly normal.
Mighty Mount Ararat is an almost ever-present companion on the Armenian horizon, providing epic backdrops to strategically positioned solitary churches or ancient ruins. Although now in Turkish territory, this beautiful mountain was once part of Greater Armenia and the Armenian’s still have a great affinity with it, and it remains the country’s national symbol. In the same way we the British comment on the weather the Armenians comment on the clarity of the view of Ararat. Did You Know? According to the Bible (Genesis 8:4) Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat.
It’s a Bread-off! – Armenian Lavash vs Georgian Khachapuri… Lavash is a flatbread traditionally cooked by being rolled thinly and slapped against the walls of a hot clay oven. Khachapuri, on the other hand is a leavened and allowed to rise, and stuffed - most commonly with Georgian cream cheese. Health Warning: One average ‘round’ of Khachapuri contains 23g of fat (423 calories) and is extremely delicious and highly addictive.
Food and wine go hand in hand Georgia and no lengthy meal, with an abundance of shared flavoursome dishes, can pass without a lengthy Georgian toast. Traditionally the toastmaster, or ‘Tamada’, starts the proceedings, with wine served in a goat’s horn for those special occasions. The toast is an emotional and heartfelt speech, essentially a prayer to anything from celebrating a birthday, to peace, to Georgia, to those who could not be at the table and everything in between. There is great honour in appearing to remain sober after several toasts. Fun Fact: A Georgian only has a drink problem when his glass is empty…
Whilst the Armenians are savouring their cognac and the Georgians drink wine out of goat’s horns, the Azeris sip tea out of pear-shaped glasses called ‘armudu’, in their friendly local tea house. Tea in Azerbaijan is served strong and it is likely your glass will never be empty as long as the conversation is interesting. Dentists look away now: Tea is traditionally drunk with a lump of sugar in the mouth!
The Svaneti region of the Greater Caucasus in Georgia is considered to be one of the most beautiful and wild walking destination in the area. Mountain villages with stone towers, 4000 m snow covered peaks and alpine meadows drenched in summer flowers entice walkers to make the journey to this remote part of the country. Local Lingo Fact: Svans speak a language that is barely understood by other Georgians and is unwritten.
A long, long time a go in a country not so far away (just under 7 hours flying time), there were two Georgian kingdoms – Iberia in east Georgia and Colchis in the west. A young hero called Jason, sailing on his ship the Argo, with his fellow heroes (the Argonauts) found themselves in Colchis in a bid to claim the legendary Golden Fleece. The King gave Jason three impossible tasks to perform in order to win the fleece. With a little help from the gods and a love interest the deed was done and Jason acquired the fleece. True or False? Local practice was to use fleeces to sift gold dust from rivers, giving the fleece a touch of bling! True.
Why not see Caucasus for yourself, view out tours >>
By Polly Rusyn