We have just added the Caucasus region, comprised of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia to our map. Two members of our sales team and I conducted our research trips there last fall. We all came away impressed and I’m very thrilled to announce that we are now offering vacation packages to the region.
I think the Caucasus region brings a truly unique aspect to our offer. Each country has its own distinct culture and traditions that provide a great variety of experiences within a reasonable distance of each other. It is feasible to cover all in one trip but we would suggest at the very least 10 days for that and at least 2 weeks to make it a more comfortable pace. Otherwise for those with a week or 10 days, each country has enough to warrant a trip in itself with Georgia providing
the most variety in a single country.
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Europe, but not
The region is a fantastic option for those looking for something more off the beaten track and without the tourist crowds. After visiting I think it’s a stretch to even classify this area as Europe as it offers something completely new to the JayWay Traveler who has already covered our previous map. Although you will certainly find some flavor of Europe, due to its location and history this region also exhibits some Middle Eastern and Russian influence resulting from its bordering these places and having been under the control of the Soviet Union for several years.
Religious, but not too much
I found it fascinating how neighbors so close in geography could be so different. They all have separate national religions with Azerbaijan being predominantly Islamic, Georgia Eastern Orthodox Christian and Armenia the Armenian Apostolic Church. Clearly these religions helped to define the people and their traditions but in no way did I feel like religion dictated people’s thinking. For example Azerbaijan despite being Islamic was a very open society with relaxed rules on things like alcohol so it’s not a problem to enjoy few drinks anywhere there.
Each of the capital cities offers its own distinct flavor represented by the architecture and atmosphere of each. Baku is by far the most booming and modern city of the three capitals, people often compare it to Dubai with its modern creative new structures which are well represented by its two most famous buildings, the Flame Towers and the Heydar Aliyev Center. The heart of Tbilisi is its Old Town center which has a cozy fairy tale atmosphere complete with cobble stoned streets and colorful wooden house with open carved balconies that make this area so distinct. Yerevan has the most artistic feel to it with works by local artists dotted around the city including sculptures, statues and even street art. This feeling is captured by the impressive Cascade complex which houses the center for the Arts.
All three countries have beautiful mountainous regions. In the north of Azerbaijan this is highlighted by the remote village of Xinaliq. In Georgia, the Kazbegi mountains, where you will find the highest peak of the region, Mount Kazbek, and the unforgettable Gergeti monastery. Armenia’s signature view is Mount Ararat as the breathtaking backdrop for the capital city Yerevan, although the dormant volcano now lies within the borders of Turkey. You can also enjoy a seaside feel in Azerbaijan and Georgia with Baku overlooking the Caspian Sea and the summer capital of Georgia, Batumi, sitting on the Black Sea. The countrysides of all the countries are also worth noting including the rolling hills of Georgia’s best known wine region, Kakheti. In Azerbaijan you can enjoy a true local experience in the heart of the country by visiting the countryside city of Sheki. In Armenia you can travel south of the capital of Yerevan to admire the countryside monasteries of Noravank and Khor Virap tucked away in picturesque ,settings which provide amazing views.
Warm welcomes abound
Now is a very exciting time to visit these countries as they are still establishing their tourism industries so it feels somewhat untouched but they are growing rapidly and visitors can enjoy a comfortable tourism infrastructure. Not to mention I found the people in all three countries to be extremely friendly and welcoming to tourists. You can tell they are eager to grow the tourism industry so they seem to go out of their way to make tourists feel at home. For someone who has been in tourism for almost 15 years it was fun to visit a part of the world that is a bit unknown and still discovering itself as these type of places are becoming more and more difficult to come by.
Delicious and unique cuisines
Certainly when I travel at the top of my list is to try the local cuisine. I can tell you that you will not be disappointed by what’s on the menu throughout the Caucasus and at very affordable prices. You will come across a number of new and interesting foods that can’t be found in any other places and are quite specific to these countries. In Azerbaijan I consistently had some of the best lamb dishes I ever tasted in my life, so don’t miss that.Georgia I found to be the most exciting cuisine of the three as they take real pride in their gastronomy so I would be willing to say their dishes are some of the most unique I have ever tasted, you will have to taste it to believe it. Finally Armenia seemed to have some of the freshest ingredients I came across with more simple but delicious dishes that often centered around the use of vegetables and rice so a vegetarian would be happy there. I cannot fail to mention the wines of Georgia as this is their claim to fame, as the birthplace of wine, so the wine culture there is all around you.
Comfortable, professional and affordable tourist services
When it comes to other tourist services I think overall the region is in a good position. In the capital cities you will find an excellent offer of hotels from 3 to 5 star level catering to all preferences. However be prepared in some of the more local secondary cities not to expect luxury but we have selected the best hotels available, with clean and comfortable 3 and even 4 star options. We were able to partner with several excellent local guides and service providers so you will be in very good hands during your visit. Otherwise when traveling between cities the train and bus options are limited so we would discourage you from using them due to the distances, long journey times and lack of comfort. The roads are being improved day by day so for our guests traveling to the region we will arrange private driver services as this is by far the safest and most comfortable means of transport between the cities. Not to mention we can provide such transport at reasonable prices so it’s well worth the cost to travel in comfort.
The exciting potential of the Caucasus
All in all I have to say I am very excited about the potential for this region and can confirm I will be back personally to enjoy it again. I believe this area will provide our guests with a safe and affordable experience that is unlike any other place they have visited before. Sometimes it can be hard to describe somewhere because there is nothing to compare it to so I guess you will just have to see it for yourself with JayWay!
A native of New York, Jay has lived, studied and worked in Europe, traveling extensively throughout the region. His broad experiences range from budget to first class allowing him to understand and appreciate travel needs of clients.