At the Crossroads of Europe & Asia

South Caucasus: Why I Love This Place

Annie Lucas is Vice President of MIR Corporation. She’s deeply drawn to many parts of the world, especially to the South Caucasus.

MIR VP Annie Lucas with a new Georgian friend. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes
MIR VP Annie Lucas with a new Georgian friend. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

The South Caucasus countries of GeorgiaArmenia, and Azerbaijan are quite simply my favorite destinations. Why do I have such a strong affinity for this region?

  • Bold architecture
  • Gorgeous landscapes
  • Fabulous table traditions of food and wine
  • Distinctive and diverse cultures
  • Beautiful languages from ancient alphabets 
  • Outstanding musical traditions

…Need I go on?

A live a capella concert in Armenia’s Temple of Garni. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar
This view of Georgia's Tsminda Sameba Church is unforgettable. Photo: Peter Guttman
Mt. Ararat seen from Armenia. Photo Credit: Martin Klimenta
Armenia's blue-green Lake Sevan, at over 6,200 feet, is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world
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Traditional dancing in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo credit: Devin Connelly
  • A live a capella concert in Armenia’s Temple of Garni. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar A live a capella concert in Armenia’s Temple of Garni. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar
  • This view of Georgia's Tsminda Sameba Church is unforgettable. Photo: Peter Guttman This view of Georgia’s Tsminda Sameba Church is unforgettable. Photo credit: Peter Guttman
  • Mt. Ararat seen from Armenia. Photo Credit: Martin Klimenta Mt. Ararat seen from Armenia. Photo Credit: Martin Klimenta
  • Armenia's blue-green Lake Sevan, at over 6,200 feet, is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world Armenia’s blue-green Lake Sevan, at over 6,200 feet, is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world
  • Traditional dancing in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo credit: Devin Connelly Traditional dancing in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo credit: Devin Connelly
  • Azeri carpets in Baku. Photo credit: Ana Filonov Azeri carpets in Baku. Photo credit: Ana Filonov
  • Horsemen of Svaneti, Georgia. Photo credit: Gotita Bukhaidze Horsemen of Svaneti, Georgia. Photo credit: Gotita Bukhaidze

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Food, Glorious Food!


One of the most enjoyable aspects of travel to the South Caucasus is undoubtedly the wide range of exceptional dishes and beverages available. Regional favorites include Caspian Sea sturgeon kabobs with pomegranate sauce served in Azerbaijan, as well as vegetarian delights made from eggplant, walnuts and mouth-watering cheeses found in Georgia and Armenia

Cheeses paired with organic wines from Pheasant's Tears Winery. Photo credit: John Wurdeman
A sampling of Georgia's fresh, delicious foods at a Georgian Table feast. Photo credit: Michel Behar
Georgian singers harmonize at a legendary Georgian Table feast. Photo credit: Michel Behar
Making lavash, Armenian flatbread. Photo credit: Martin Klimenta
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Khinkali, here made in Tusheti for a festival. Photo credit: Shota Lagazidze
  • Cheeses paired with organic wines from Pheasant's Tears Winery. Photo credit: John Wurdeman Cheeses paired with organic wines from Pheasant’s Tears Winery. Photo credit: John Wurdeman
  • A sampling of Georgia's fresh, delicious foods at a Georgian Table feast. Photo credit: Michel Behar A sampling of Georgia’s fresh, delicious foods at a Georgian Table feast. Photo credit: Michel Behar
  • Georgian singers harmonize at a legendary Georgian Table feast. Photo credit: Michel Behar Georgian singers harmonize at a legendary Georgian Table feast. Photo credit: Michel Behar
  • Making lavash, Armenian flatbread. Photo credit: Martin Klimenta Making lavash, Armenian flatbread. Photo credit: Martin Klimenta
  • Khinkali, here made in Tusheti for a festival. Photo credit: Shota Lagazidze Khinkali, here made in Tusheti for a festival. Photo credit: Shota Lagazidze
  • A variety of appetizers to begin a feast. Photo credit: Jake Smith A variety of appetizers to begin a feast. Photo credit: Jake Smith

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Let’s not forget the bread!’

Sometimes very thin, other times an elongated boat shape (called pirosmani), and always regionally distinct, nothing tops the fresh Georgian bread available at the local bakeries in the country’s capital, Tbilisi.

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Tbilisi’s Restaurant Scene: Better Every Day

Tbilisi, Georgia is emerging as a modern foodie destination, with wonderful new restaurants popping up all over town. One of the newest is called Poliphonia Tbilisi. Located in the historic Sololaki district, it offers an inspired, rotating menu of Georgian fusion dishes, highlighting the country’s distinctive culinary regions, and prepared from organic, local, and seasonal ingredients.

Azarpesha is a chic wine restaurant with a classy interior decorated with old photos and antique drinking vessels. Cuisine is contemporary Eastern-Mediterranean/Georgian fusion using local seasonal ingredients. Groups can enjoy a full Georgian Table here, with dozens of dishes, toasts, and polyphonic singing.

A sommelier hosts a tasting at Azarphesha in Georgia. Photo: John Wurdeman
A sommelier hosts a tasting at Azarphesha in Georgia. Photo: John Wurdeman

The exclusive Barbarestan restaurant is set in an old-fashioned Georgian apartment, furnished with antiques and “Grandma’s old furniture.” The cuisine is a fresh, local, modern take on the 19th century recipes of Duchess Barbara Jorjadze. The extensive wine cellar is from the 19th century as well.

Land of the Vine


To wash down these flavorful foods is an equal pleasure. Georgia claims to be the land where the wine grape was first cultivated, and its ever-evolving viniculture industry is perhaps the most sophisticated anywhere at this crossroads of Europe and Asia.

Vineyards in Imereti, Georgia. Photo: John Wurdeman
Vineyards in Imereti, Georgia. Photo: John Wurdeman

Georgia’s organic wine movement, with wines fermented inside qvevri, or clay vessels, buried in the ground, is nothing new – it’s been going on here for about 8,000 years. If you’re into wine, this is fantastically interesting stuff to learn about, and to sample.

A winemaker checks on his product, which ages to perfection in an underground qvevri. Photo credit: John Wurdeman
A winemaker checks on his product, which ages to perfection in an underground qvevri. Photo credit: John Wurdeman

Some time ago I had the pleasure of meeting Isabelle Legeron, otherwise known as “that crazy French woman.” Her mission? Introducing the world to wonderful natural wine like that found in Georgia. She made a believer out of me, a big fan of Belgian beer.

Schuchmann Winery in Telavi, Georgia. Photo: Jake Smith
Schuchmann Winery in Telavi, Georgia. Photo: Jake Smith

Brandy Tales


But there’s another grape-based beverage highly worth seeking out in this neighborhood – Ararat Brandy, produced in Armenia since 1887. The most famous story goes that Stalin gave a bottle to Winston Churchill at the Yalta Conference, and it promptly became Churchill’s favorite brandy, to the tune of hundreds of bottles delivered annually.

A cognac tasting in Yerevan’s Ararat Brandy Factory. Photo credit: Martin Klimenta
A cognac tasting in Yerevan’s Ararat Brandy Factory. Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Who knows if that’s really true? Regardless, it’s the favorite of many brandy and cognac connoisseurs, and a great souvenir to savor, while it lasts. It’s part of the spirit of the South Caucasus, along with my favorite foods, wines, tales, and traditions.

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More Photos of the South Caucasus


Artist Niko Pirosmani often painted crescent-shaped Georgian bread into his pictures. Photo credit: Georgia Tourist Board
The three Flame Towers in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo credit: Jered Gorman
Mt. Ararat, seen from Armenia. Photo credit: Devin Connolly
Singers at Armenia's Temple of Garni. Photo credit: Peter Guttman
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Guamarjos! An often-heard toast in Georgia. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar
  • Artist Niko Pirosmani often painted crescent-shaped Georgian bread into his pictures. Photo credit: Georgia Tourist Board Artist Niko Pirosmani often painted crescent-shaped Georgian bread into his pictures. Photo credit: Georgia Tourist Board
  • The three Flame Towers in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo credit: Jered Gorman The three Flame Towers in Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo credit: Jered Gorman
  • Mt. Ararat, seen from Armenia. Photo credit: Devin Connolly Mt. Ararat, seen from Armenia. Photo credit: Devin Connolly Devin Connolly
  • Singers at Armenia's Temple of Garni. Photo credit: Peter Guttman Singers at Armenia’s Temple of Garni. Photo credit: Peter Guttman
  • Guamarjos! An often-heard toast in Georgia. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar Guamarjos! An often-heard toast in Georgia. Photo credit: Richard Fejfar
  • Even in the winter, Georgia is the place to be. Photo credit: John Wurdeman Even in the winter, Georgia is the place to be. Photo credit: John Wurdeman

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Travel to the South Caucasus with MIR

MIR has more than 30 years of unmatched destination expertise and travel planning experience, hand-crafting tours to Georgia and the South Caucasus since 1986.You can sample the food, wine, song, culture, and scenery of Georgia on MIR’s A Taste of Georgia: Wine, Cuisine & Culture

Or fall in love with the South Caucasus countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan on one of these small group tours:

You can visit the South Caucasus on a rail journey by private train, as well. Hop aboard the Caspian Odyssey by Private Train rail journey, which travels between the Caucasus region and Central Asia

You can also opt to travel on your dates and at your pace on one of MIR’s private independent trips or on a private journey – customized to your desired dates and style.

PUBLISHED: May 3, 2020


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