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Colors of the Caucasus: Cuisine and Culture Tour to Azerbaijan and Georgia

COLORS OF THE CAUCASUS

Cuisine and Culture Tour to Azerbaijan and Georgia

with Feride Buyuran

July 2 – July 17, 2018
16 days, 14 nights

Join award-winning food writer Feride Buyuran as she leads you on a captivating epicurean odyssey through the heart of the Caucasus.

Visit two fascinating countries where East and West are intricately woven into history, culture, and cuisine, and where hospitality is a way of life. Explore the vibrant traditions of an ethnically diverse landscape as you travel through these fertile lands.

Welcome to Azerbaijan and Georgia!

Discover big, eccentric cities, cozy towns along the Silk Road, and far-flung villages nestled in the Caucasus Mountains. See breathtaking landscapes and tour mesmerizing historic sites. Enjoy lively market visits in the countryside and indulge in authentic food in traditional restaurants. Learn how to cook tantalizing regional specialties with recipes zealously guarded for centuries, and eat with the locals around abundant home tables. Sip on palate-tickling Georgian wine in hand-made drinking horns or piping-hot Azerbaijani tea in curvaceous glasses, while enjoying enchanting folk music and dazzling dance performances.

In these landscapes, where old meets new, you will see historical town centers sitting comfortably against the backdrop of city skyscrapers. The Caucasus region abounds with such contrasts— with unceasing natural gas fire seeping from dry, rugged terrain of the Absheron peninsula and crystalline waterfalls rushing down lush green slopes in the countryside; and fire-worshippers’ temples coexisting with Medieval monasteries, churches, mosques, and synagogues. The culinary landscape, likewise, is filled with foods both sweet and sour, spicy and mild, hearty and light, fresh and preserved!

Explore both destinations with Feride Buyuran, the noted cookbook author and an expert in the region. She has designed a custom itinerary that goes well off the beaten path, where you will absorb the sights, tastes, and rich history of the region.

This intimate, friendly tour will have a maximum of 12 PARTICIPANTS so that you get best out of this trip!

The tour is 16 days (including travel from LAX to Baku, and Tbilisi to LAX) and 14 nights.

In advance of your trip, you will receive an informational package to help you better prepare you for the tour, including details about obtaining a visa, clothing and packing tips, and local airport guidelines and know-hows.


YOUR TOUR EXPERT

Native of Azerbaijan and living in Long Beach, CA, Feride Buyuran is an award-winning cookbook author and speaker specializing in the cuisine of the Caucasus, with focus on Azerbaijan. Her book, Pomegranate and Saffron: A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan, is the first and only cookbook on Azerbaijani cuisine published in the U.S. The book is the winner of 5 awards, including Gourmand Best in the Word, Gourmand Cookbook Award – Best Eastern European Cookbook in U.S., Living Now Award, Indie Excellence Award, and Best Books Award. Feride speaks on food history and culture topics at libraries and other public and private venues; her most recent lecture was at the Library of Congress in D.C. She has been widely featured in media (KCRW, Jerusalem Post, etc.). Her uniquely-themed culture and dinner events and cooking classes highlight the diversity and vibrancy of the Caucasus cuisine and culture.

Download Tour Reservation Form

PRICE

$5,900 per person based on double occupancy (plus $700 single supplement*)

*Double occupancy prices per person apply when there are 2 people traveling and sharing a room. Single supplement applies for travelers who require their own room. If traveling on your own, we will try to pair you with another single traveler in the group to avoid a single person supplement (at your request).


WHAT’S INCLUDED IN PRICE

  • Tour leadership by Feride Buyuran
  • Round-trip airfare (economy class): LAX-Baku, Tbilisi-LAX*
  • Arrival and departure transfers
  • 14 nights’ accommodation in 3*,4* hotels (also, possibly and occasionally, where necessary, in guest houses) in both countries
  • All daily meals with group: breakfast, lunch, dinner
  • One complimentary bottle of water per person per day
  • Private air-conditioned ground transportation (bus) throughout and driver tip
  • Official guided tours, including site admissions/guide tips
  • Private cooking classes/demos, market trips
  • Wine tastings
  • Cultural performances

* Tickets are non-refundable and non-changeable. Also, no flight is required between Azerbaijan and Georgia. We will cross the border by private bus (approximately 30 minutes).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED IN PRICE

  • Travel insurance/Overseas medical insurance/Trip cancellation insurance
  • Visa and passport fees (if applicable)
  • Extra meals, snacks, and beverages
  • Alcoholic beverages (other than in wine tastings and some dinner parties included in the itinerary)
  • Souvenirs or any personal purchases
  • Excursions, services and activities not included in the itinerary
  • Personal expenses in hotels, such as laundry, telephone calls, faxes, e-mail service
  • Tips to hotel staff for luggage assistance or other personal services

To register for the tour, a non-refundable deposit of $1,500 per person with signed Registration Form must be sent by December 15, 2017  (NOW EXTENDED TO JANUARY 15). Balance of payment, $4,400 per person, is due by January 31, 2018 (NOW EXTENDED TO FEBRUARY 24). Contact Feride at:
feride at azcookbook dot com to check for availability.

 

Click Here to Download tour Reservation Form

 

 

ITINERARY

Along with culture, the food of Azerbaijan and Georgia is the highlight of our tour. We’ll spend time exploring, learning, and understanding it with every meal! We will eat at home with the locals and in traditional restaurants. There will be cooking classes, trips to farmer’s markets, and more!

AZERBAIJAN


DAY 1: Departure from LAX, Los Angeles to Baku.

DAY 2: Salam, Azerbaijan! Arrive in Baku airport in the evening and transfer to a hotel in downtown. Rest well until your exciting journey through the country begins the next day.

DAY 3: Time to explore Baku, a city of contracts, with East and West breathing in unison in every corner! Following traditional breakfast, start an enlightening walking tour of Baku’s downtown and experience a stunning mix of modern Baku skyscrapers and 19th-20th century architectural buildings built by local and foreign oil barons, including Taghiyev, the Rothschilds and the Nobel brothers.

Stroll the cobbled streets and narrow passages of Baku’s jewel, Inner City, and explore renowned historic attractions, including Maiden Tower and Caravanserai. Next stop – Shirvanshahs’ Palace, a medieval compound of the rulers of Shirvan, featuring a museum, a market square, antique shops, and carpet stores. Proceed to the National Carpet Museum, which houses the richest collections of intricate Azerbaijani carpets. An excellent round up to your trip is a ride on a Funicular to Daghustu Park to enjoy the breathtaking panoramas of Baku Bay. We might even get a glimpse of some of Baku’s Soviet-built neighborhoods. Throughout the day, we’ll discover the culinary scene of the city: indulging authentic dishes like kababs, saffron-perfumed riced pilafs, stuffed savory flatbreads, gutabs, and saj-cooked dishes, while getting a glimpse at how some of them are prepared. Possible trip to a local farmer’s market, bazaar.

DAY 4: Start your day with a trip to Gobustan National Park and study petroglyphs and stone carvings dating back to 10,000 BC. Move onto exploring mud volcanoes in Gobustan Reserve, home to almost half of the world’s mud volcanoes. After a quick lunch, drive to the suburbs of Baku and visit Ateshgah, Fireworshippers Temple, an ancient site once used for Hindu and Zoroastrian worship. Stop at Yanardagh Mountain, and watch natural gas burning on the rugged foothill, unceasingly, for several thousands of years.

Dine in one of the area’s most celebrated restaurants and immerse yourself in the unique culture, distinctive local cuisine, and traditional music of Azerbaijan. Dinner without tea? Not in Azerbaijan! Discover the elaborate tea drinking ceremony the Azerbaijani way, in which tea is accompanied with traditional desserts and fruit preserves of many kinds!

DAY 5: Head north to the culturally-rich region of Guba. Many architectural monuments will welcome you in the vicinity of the Guba center, including Juma Mosque, built in the 19th century, a 16th-century Mausoleum, and ancient baths. Guba is a recognized center of carpet weaving. Stop by one of the main carpet factories in the region to see the weaving process firsthand and explore the intricate carpets on display—maybe even finding one to bring home! Later on, witness the making of Guba’s most famous desserts, bukme and Guba-style baklava, and get some to enjoy after lunch with a cup of black tea, freshly brewed for you in samovar while you relax in the shady woods of Geshresh.

Stop by a famous village, Krasnaya Sloboda (Red Settlement), the largest Jewish population settlement outside of Israel. Explore the neighborhoods, meet with the locals, visit the synagogue, and learn about the distinct culinary traditions of the Juhuros.

Head north up the curving mountainous road and arrive in the highest, most remove village of Azerbaijan, one of a few highest in the Caucasus, the 5,000-year-old Khinalig! Enjoy the breathtaking vistas opening all around this historic village, connect with the locals, and savor  tasty food prepared in a local home.

DAY 6: Start driving to the northwest of Baku and visit the far-flung ancient village of Lahij on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus. The village has an architectural style of its own, with charming sidewalks inlaid by cobbled stones. Lahij is famous for its authentic handicraft traditions and is most known for generations of coppersmiths. Peak inside small workshops to watch how copper pots, pans, and other copperware is crafted by masters and their apprentices. Visit the village’s small spice and herbs bazaar and stock up on some to take back with you. Take a cooking class from the village’s best cook and learn how to make spice-laced bread in a tandir (tandoori) oven and prepare tasty dishes in copper pots.

After Lahij, proceed to another village in the region, and find yourself in Château Monolit – a splendid winery where some of the best wine in the country is produced. Here, enjoy  the view of beautiful rolling hills dotted with vineyards, explore the vast wine caves stocked with countless barrels of wine, and enjoy wine tasting with a generous appetizer spread, all this curated by Château Monolit’s own wine experts.  Rested and recharged, now drive to the neighboring Ivanovka. This picturesque village up in the mountains is home to Molokan Russians who settled in the region after being driven from Russian Empire in the19th century. Ivanovka is the last place in the world where kolkhoz (form of a collective farm) from Soviet times is preserved. Meet with the locals, peek inside the villagers’ houses with Russian multipurpose ovens, pech, inside, and sample traditional foods in a Molokan home. Spend the night in Ivanovka, and enjoy a Russian breakfast the next day, prepared with locally-produced staples, including Ivanovka’s prized honey and preserves.

DAY 7: In the morning, drive farther north to Gabala, the ancient capital of Caucasian Albania. It is one of the lushest regions in Azerbaijan, offering visitors many natural attractions, including the renowned Yeddi Gozel (Seven Beauties) waterfall.

Explore some of the most interesting historic sites in the region, then stop by a favorite tourist destination, vedre bazari, bucket bazaar, near the Vandam village. There, locally grown fruit and vegetables are sold by, yes, buckets, along with endless jars of compotes, pickles, and preserves. Watch a local chef demonstrate the preparing of Gabala-native dishes, including fruit salad, doymej and dasharasi— meat pressed between large river rocks and cooked over glowing wood embers! And sip on your tea with famous Gabala-style triangual baklava.

One of the highlights of the day is visiting the Albanian Church in the village of Nij, populated by a little over 6,000 Udi people, the direct descendants of ancient Albanians. This is the only place in the world where Udi people live! Learn about distinct culinary practices of this ancient land and try some locally made food.

DAY 8: It is Sheki day! Surrounded by lush mountains and forests, this ancient city was long famed as a silk center and an important hub on the Great Silk Route. Visit the 18th-century Sheki Khan Sarayi, a summer palace of the khan, known for its fascinating frescos, decorative tiles, and unique stained glass work throughout. It is believed that no nails were used in the construction of the palace! Then take a stroll in Sheki’s old Caravanserai, a historic monument, once used as a resting and trading center by Silk Road merchants.

Attend a shebeke workshop, where skilled craftsmen assemble colored stained glass mosaics and create intricately carved wooden frames. Explore the famous Sheki bazar and shop for silk scarves, souvenirs, food, and spices. The culinary highlight of the trip will be watching how Sheki’s most popular bakery makes its unique baklava. Before your lunch or dinner, a local chef will demonstrate how Sheki’s famous lamb and chestnut stew, piti, is made in traditional clay pots called dobu.

Your acquaintance with Sheki continues with a visit to the village of Kish to see its main landmark, the Albanian church—believed to be the first Christian church in the region.

Also, watch how silk is produced and how it is made into traditional scarves, kalaghayi, in Sheki’s Silk Factory. It’s a Silk Road city after all!

DAY 9: Explore the region of Gakh, where you will encounter fortress ruins, towers, and burials from different eras: a 17th-century mosque and, a 16th-century Sumug Gala tower, and even a 4th-century basilica.

Drive up to the mountain-top village of Ilisu, located on the banks of two rivers and famous for its thermal springs, mesmerizing waterfalls, and breathtaking nature all around. Learn about the technique of meat drying, practiced by locals for centuries, and sample local delicacies, including the crowned jewel of Ilisu cuisine, surhullu, tender boat-shape pasta served with dry-meat broth and drizzled with piquant garlicky-plum sauce.

After Ilisu, proceed east towards the region of Balaken, bordering on Georgia. Feride’s relatives have a surprise for you there—watch how Azerbaijani-style crepes, makhara, are made on a saj, a cast-iron domed pan, heated over wood embers. With its ray-lake edges, makhara symbolize the Sun to the locals. Off to Georgia now. Chokh sagh ol, Azerbaijan!

GEORGIA


DAY 9 (continued): Gamarjoba, Georgia! In the evening, cross the border between Azerbaijan and Georgia by private bus and immediately transfer to a hotel in the town of Sighnaghi, followed by a welcome Georgian dinner, before you rest at night and prepare yourself for an exciting adventure.

DAY 10: Start the tour by exploring the beautiful Kakheti region, the country’s famous wine-producing land, dotted with fine old churches and fertile vineyards. In Sighnaghi, a stunning hilltown lending panoramic views of the Alazani Valley and the Eastern Caucasus Mountains, taste wine and learn about the 8,000-year-old Georgian tradition of making wine in clay pots called gvevri. Visit  Bodbe Monastery and the 16th-century Gremi Architectural Complex, followed by a trip to the local bazaar and a cooking class. Time permitting, drive to Tsinandali, a Kakhetian residence of Alexandre Chavchavadze, a 19th-century prince and poet. Enjoy a museum, a beautiful garden and a wine cellar, where a unique collection of 20,000 bottles of wines are kept.

 

DAY 11: Spend some time exploring Ikato and Alaverdi Monasteries, before having a delicious local lunch and heading to Tbilisi, capital of Georgia.

DAY 12: Explore the capital of Georgia – Tbilisi. Founded in the 4th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali on the site with warm mineral-water springs, it stood as a key stop on the Silk Road. Right on the border between Europe and Asia is Tbilisi’s Old Town, known for its wonderful mix of cultures. On its cobbled streets, mosque, synagogue, and churches mingle harmoniously with the splendid Georgian architecture. Charming wooden houses with open, carved balconies are inviting and make one feel at home. Explore the city’s ancient monument, 12th century Metekhi Temple on the rocky bank of the Kura River – once a fortress and the residence of Georgian royalty. Visit the legendary Sulphur Bath in the Old City, and explore the Narikala fortress, finishing up with the Funicular ride for dazzling panoramic views of the city.

DAY 13: Drive down west to Gori, a small town known for its massive Fortress and as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. Travel back in time in Uplistsikhe, a once enormous cave town with stone walkways and stairs, dating to the 7th century. Arrive in Kutaisi, the capital of the Imereti region in western Georgia.

DAY 14: In Kutaisi, stop by the 12th-century Gelati Monastery, one of the largest medieval monasteries. Continue to explore Imereti, where the cuisine is considered to be one of the best in the country. Here, walnuts are used in abundance in both hot dishes and cold appetizers, and cheese dishes are popular. In the region, tour the second largest city in Georgia, Kutaisi, visit a farmer’s market, learn about the region’s cheese-making process, and learn how to make famous Imeretian cheese bread, khachapuri. Arrive in another west Georgian region of Samegrelo, home to the Megrelian people. Head over to the hidden gem of West Georgia – Martvili Canyon – and be mesmerized by blue and green waters, spectacular waterfalls, and rocky caves waiting to be explored. The region is known for its delectable spicy foods and condiments, such as ajika. One of its most praised delicacies is elarji, a hot porridge made from corn flour with suluguni cheese slowly melting inside.

DAY 15: Next, leave Imereti en route to Tbilisi, and arrive at a 19th-century castle, Chateau Mukhrani—the estate of Georgian Prince of Bagrationi Mukhranbatoni and designed by French architects. Chateau Mukhrani, which took 12 years to complete, is known for splendid Chateau and wine cellars, beautiful gardens, and pristine vineyards. Spend time in Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia, and see its important historical sites, Jvari Monastery (6th century) and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century), both listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites. Take a break to sample the best Georgian dumpling, khinkali and watch how candied walnuts on a string, churchkhela, are made. Arrive in Tbilisi and finish your Georgian tour with a splendid feast, accompanied with music, dances and a good vibe all around – in a true Georgian spirit. Madloba, Georgia!

DAY 16: Departure from Tbilisi to LAX, Los Angeles.

 

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