Travel Guide to Our Favorite UNESCO Sites in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (videos)
Studded with UNESCO-listed World Heritage sites and cultural treasures, the South Caucasus countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan are home to dozens of languages, religions, landscapes and musical styles, with eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites – from Geghard Monastery to Svaneti’s ancient watchtowers – along with 22 UNESCO cultural treasures – from carpet weaving to spine-tingling polyphonic singing.
Look and Listen: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan
Words just don’t do justice to this part of the world; this video gives a glimmer of what it’s like in these South Caucasus countries, focusing on MIR’s favorite you-must-experience UNESCO-designated places, handmade crafts and cultural traditions: unfamiliar mountain-and-valley destinations, flavorful foods and organic wines, and a lively spirit of hospitality.
South Caucasus Countries: A UNESCO Travel Guide
For more than 30 years, MIR has been smitten with these South Caucasus countries, declaring Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan as must-see destinations, still relatively undiscovered by the rest of the world. Located south of Russia and north of Turkey and Iran, these countries are neighbors in the “melting pot” region of Europe and Asia.
Their wines, cuisines, cultures and natural beauty make it, according to many travelers, the quintessential destination – “the best of the best.” Here’s a deeper look at the UNESCO Sites that make Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan so memorable and distinct:
Gelati Monastery (UNESCO Site)
Founded more than 900 years ago in western Georgia, Gelati Monastery not only was one of the largest Orthodox monasteries in medieval times, but also a bustling center for science and education. Its frescoes, murals and mosaics are remarkably well preserved, reflecting the richness of Georgia’s Golden Age from the 11th to the 13th century.
Historical Monuments of Mtskheta (UNESCO Site)
Not far from Tbilisi – where the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers merge – are the UNESCO-designated world treasures of Mtskheta’s Jvari Monastery, Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery. Reflecting its religious significance since medieval times, in 2014 Mtskheta was named “Holy City” by the Georgian Orthodox Church.
You can visit these monuments on MIR’s small group tours, A Taste of Georgia, Treasures of the South Caucasus, Village Traditions of the South Caucasus (NEW!), MIR’s rail journeys, Caspian Odyssey by Private Train, and on MIR’s flexible private journeys, Essential Caucasus and Essential Georgia.
Upper Svaneti & Watchtowers (UNESCO Site)
Svaneti’s remoteness in mountainous Georgia has helped preserve its traditions and culture for thousands of years. Most recognizable are its 12th century watchtowers, protecting their occupants from avalanches, floods and invaders.
Natural Wine-Making (UNESCO Culture)
Georgia’s sought-after wines are made according to time-honored methods that date back some 8,000 years. Even today, traditional Georgian winemakers still ferment, age, and store their wines the old-fashioned way, using giant earthenware vessels called qvevri.
Polyphonic Singing (UNESCO Culture)
These ancient mesmerizing melodies are built on harmonic scales based on fifths, not octaves – making it sound slightly dissonant to Western ears.
You can experience polyphonic singing on MIR’s small group tours, A Taste of Georgia: Wine, Cuisine & Culture as well as Village Traditions of the South Caucasus (NEW!). Listen to this video sample from Tbilisi:
If You Have More Time
You’ll have the opportunity to experience a supra on MIR’s small group tours, Treasures of the South Caucasus and Village Traditions of the South Caucasus (NEW!) as well as MIR’s flexible private journey, Essential Caucasus.
Cathedral & Churches of Echmiadzin and Ruins of Zvartnots (UNESCO Site)
Even today, Echmiadzin is the spiritual center of the Armenian Church, its importance reflected in 5th-century Echmiadzin Cathedral. Zvartnots was built two centuries later, intended to surpass the glory of Echmiadzin.
Geghard Monastery & Upper Azat Valley (UNESCO Site)
The acoustics are astonishing inside 13th-century Geghard Monastery, carved into the side of a mountain in a remote spot beside the Azat River in Armenia. Listen to this a cappella performance, showcasing not just the acoustics, but the masterful carvings and candles that evoke a spiritual sense of place.
You can visit Geghard Monastery on MIR’s small group tour, Treasures of the South Caucasus, MIR’s rail journey, Caspian Odyssey by Private Train, and on MIR’s flexible private journeys, Essential Caucasus and Essential Georgia & Armenia.
Haghpat and Sanahin Monasteries (UNESCO Site)
Founded in the 10th century, these fortified monasteries were literary, artistic and educational centers as well as monastic compounds – outstanding examples of Byzantine church architecture blended with local Caucasian architecture of that period.
Armenian Bread – Lavash (UNESCO Culture)
Bread in Armenia – and throughout the South Caucasus – is a cultural treasure in its preparation, its historical significance and even in its appearance from town to town and region to region. You’ll have a chance to break bread – lavash – on MIR’s travel offerings to Armenia.
Cross-Stones Art: Khachkars (UNESCO Culture)
Khachkars are intricately carved stone crosses that are distinct to Armenia, dotting its hillsides and valleys. Details such as flowers, leaves, rosettes and grapes often adorn these memorial crosses.
If You Have More Time (UNESCO Culture)
Walled City of Baku with Shirvanshah’s Palace & Maiden Tower (UNESCO Site)
Baku’s Old Town (Icheri Sheher) is completely encircled with walls and medieval gates, a maze of narrow alleys and winding streets filled with homes, shops, mosques and madrassahs. The 15th century Shirvanshah’s Palace is now a museum, with the 98-foot Maiden Tower still a beacon to travelers today as it once was to sailors long ago.
You can explore Baku’s Old Town on MIR’s small group tours, Treasures of the South Caucasus and Village Traditions of the South Caucasus (NEW!), MIR’s rail journey, Caspian Odyssey by Private Train, as well as MIR’s flexible private journey, Essential Caucasus.
In contrast, Baku‘s ultra-modern Flame Towers – not unlike the ancient Maiden Tower – are a beacon to both travelers and sailors, as seen in this video:
Rock Carvings of Gobustan (UNESCO Site)
Located 40 miles from Baku, Gobustan is filled with more than 6,000 rock engravings, ancient petroglyphs and Neolithic art dating back 5,000 to 40,000 years. Along with the rock carvings are remains of caves, settlements, and burial sites.
You can visit Gobustan on MIR’s small group tours, Treasures of the South Caucasus and Village Traditions of the South Caucasus (NEW!), MIR’s rail journey, Caspian Odyssey by Private Train, as well as MIR’s flexible private journey, Essential Caucasus.
Azeri Carpet Weaving (UNESCO Culture)
Azerbaijan’s traditional carpets are typically dense with vivid colors and bold designs, reflecting the country’s various carpet-making regions. The art of making carpets is a family tradition handed down from generation to generation: shearing sheep, spinning and dyeing yarn, weaving, and celebrating the completion of a carpet.
Flatbread in Azerbaijan (UNESCO Culture)
Just as in Georgia and Armenia, flatbread is a significant part of daily culture and life in Azerbaijan. Families and even neighbors gather to make bread, bake bread, and break bread – a social function handed down from generation to generation.
If You Have More Time (UNESCO Culture)
MIR can make arrangements to experience these additional UNESCO-listed cultural treasures in Azerbaijan.
More on MIR’s South Caucasus Destinations
MIR’s Stories and Blog Posts
Learn more about Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in some of MIR’s favorite blog posts about these South Caucasus countries:
MIR’s South Caucasus Videos
MIR offers an extensive playlist of South Caucasus videos on its YouTube channel, MIRCorpTravel, incorporating “you are there” photos and videos shot by MIR staffers and clients using their smartphones and cameras. An example is this favorite from MIR Vice President Annie Lucas, who loves Georgia so much that she created an epicurean adventure across Georgia’s wine country:
Travel with MIR to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan
It’s easy to fall in love with this part of the world on MIR’s extensive tour offerings to the South Caucasus, from small group tours, trains, and private journeys.
- Treasures of the South Caucasus – A 15-day classic survey of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, with a multitude of UNESCO highlights.
- A Taste of Georgia: Wine, Cuisine & Culture – A 13-day epicurean adventure across Georgia’s wine country, with UNESCO-studded sites and experiences.
- Village Traditions of the South Caucasus – This 21-day journey deeply explores the local life, cultures and landscapes of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, in one of the most hospitable regions of the world.
- Return to the North Caucasus – On this 14-day tour (with pre- and post- tour options), MIR returns to its pre-1991 stomping grounds of the North Caucasus, a little-traveled region of ravishing mountain landscapes, a medley of cultures, and overflowing hospitality.
- Caspian Odyssey by Private Train – Rail journey encompassing fascinating modern cultures a well as some of the earth’s ageless architecture.
- Essential Caucasus – Highlights of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, including five UNESCO masterpieces in 10 days.
- Essential Georgia – From cave towns and vineyards to sophisticated cities and fabulous food, this journey explores Georgia’s finest in eight days.
- Essential Georgia & Armenia – A 12-day overland expedition from Yerevan to the Black Sea Coast.
- Essential Azerbaijan – On this 7-day journey explores the booming capital, Baku, then takes to the hills to visit villages lost in time, enclaves of the region’s original people, ancient archaeological sites, and a stained-glass-lit khan’s palace.
Chat with one of our destination specialists by email or by phone at 1-800-424-7289 to start planning your 2019 travels now.
(Top photo credit: Martin Klimenta – The Armenian monasteries of Haghbat and Sanahin together are a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
PUBLISHED: November 15, 2017