Travel Guide to Our Favorite UNESCO Sites in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (videos)

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 16 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. 

Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are wedged between the Black and Caspian seasMap credit: Map Data © 2017 Google

Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are wedged between the Black and Caspian seas
Map credit: Map Data © 2017 Google

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: 

 

Georgia
  • 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. 

You can view Gelati Monastery on MIR’s tour, A Taste of Georgia, and MIR’s flexible private journey, Essential Georgia & Armenia.

Dozens of brilliantly colored frescoes adorn the walls and ceilings of Gelati Monastery <br>Photo credit: Paul Schwartz</br>

Dozens of brilliantly colored frescoes adorn the walls and ceilings of Gelati Monastery
Photo credit: Paul Schwartz

  • 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. 

UNESCO-listed Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, Georgia <br>Photo credit: Inga Belova</br>

UNESCO-listed Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, Georgia
Photo credit: Inga Belova

  • 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.

You can visit Svaneti on MIR’s small group tour, A Taste of Georgia and MIR’s flexible private journey, Essential Georgia & Armenia.

Hundreds of medieval watchtowers dot the remote landscape of Svaneti Photo credit: Paul Schwartz

Hundreds of medieval watchtowers dot the remote landscape of Svaneti
Photo credit: Paul Schwartz

  • 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

You can get an up-close look at qvevri and natural wine-making on MIR’s small group tours, A Taste of Georgia: Wine, Cuisine & Culture as well as Village Traditions of the South Caucasus (NEW!).

A Georgian winemaker dips into a qvevri, demonstrating a UNESCO-listed ancient method of making wine Photo credit: John Wurdeman

A Georgian winemaker dips into a qvevri, demonstrating a UNESCO-listed ancient method of making wine
Photo credit: John Wurdeman

  • 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

“Georgian Table” Feast – SupraAn authentic Georgian Table – known as a supra – is an hours-long feast with food, wine, toasting, and singing. Dish upon dish is piled high, with an abundance of local specialities such as juicy meat dumplings (khinkali), cheese-filled bread (khachapuri), stuffed eggplant and hen roasted in rose petals.  

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. 

A Georgian table, full of delicacies with Iranian and Turkish influences <br>Photo credit: Michel Behar</br>

A Georgian table, full of delicacies with Iranian and Turkish influences
Photo credit: Michel Behar Photo credit: Michel Behar

Georgian Alphabet Look closely at the loopy and cursive letters of Georgian words, and appreciate their UNESCO-listed designation for its three writing systems: Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri, and Mkhedruli. 

Armenia
  • 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.

These sacred places can be visited on MIR’s small group tour, Treasures of the South Caucasus and on MIR’s flexible private journeys, Essential Caucasus and Essential Georgia & Armenia.

7th-century ruins of UNESCO-listed Zvartnots Cathedral in ArmeniaPhoto credit: Richard Fejfar

7th-century ruins of UNESCO-listed Zvartnots Cathedral in Armenia
Photo credit: Richard Fejfar

  • 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.

You can see these monasteries on MIR’s small group tour, Treasures of the South Caucasus as well as on MIR’s flexible private journey, Essential Caucasus. 

Armenia's Sanahin Monastery and its nearby companion, Haghbat Monastery, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites <br>Photo credit: Martin Klimenta</br>

Armenia’s Sanahin Monastery and its companion, Haghbat Monastery, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

  • 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

A bread vendor outside Geghard Monastery in Armenia Photo credit: Devin Connolly

A bread vendor outside Geghard Monastery in Armenia
Photo credit: Devin Connolly

  • 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. 

You can spot khachkars on MIR’s small group tour, Treasures of the South Caucasus and MIR’s flexible private journeys, Essential Caucasus and Essential Georgia & Armenia.

About 11,000 <i>kachkars</i> still exist  in Armenia – some more than 1,000 years old <br>Photo credit: Jake Smith</br>

About 11,000 kachkars still exist in Armenia – some more than 1,000 years old
Photo credit: Jake Smith

  • If You Have More Time (UNESCO Culture) 

Duduk Musical Instrument & Armenian Music Armenia’s duduk is an oboe-like reed instrument made from apricot wood, and used to play traditional Armenian songs at weddings, funerals and festivities. MIR offers an up-close look at UNESCO-listed duduks and duduk music on its small group tours, Treasures of the South Caucasus and  Village Traditions of the South Caucasus (NEW!).

Armenia’s Epic, “Daredevils of Sassoun” This UNESCO-listed cultural treasure is considered one of the most important works in Armenian heroic tales, recounting not only the feats of generations, but Armenian history, religion, and mythology as well. MIR can arrange a performance of this two-hour epic on a custom private journey. 

 

Azerbaijan 
  • 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. 

Built in the 12th century, Baku's legendary Maiden Tower is rooted in ancient folklore and mystery Photo credit: Richard Fejfar

Built in the 12th century, Baku’s legendary Maiden Tower is rooted in ancient folklore and mystery
Photo credit: Richard Fejfar

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 11 miles from Baku, Gobustan is filled with more than 6,000 rock engravings, ancient petroglyphs and Neolithic art dating back 5,000 to 11,000 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. 

Quarry workers discovered Gobustan's rock carvings by accident in the 1930s Photo credit: Peter Guttman

Quarry workers discovered Gobustan’s rock carvings by accident in the 1930s
Photo credit: Peter Guttman

  •  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. 

Baku's Carpet Museum showcases the finest examples of Azerbaijan's prized carpets <br>Photo credit: Jake Smith</br>

Baku’s Carpet Museum showcases the finest examples of Azerbaijan’s prized carpets
Photo credit: Jake Smith

  • 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. 

As in many other countries, this Azeri boat-shaped  bread is baked in an earthen or stone oven <br />

As in many other countries, this Azeri boat-shaped bread is baked in an earthen or stone oven
Photo credit: Devin Connolly

  • If You Have More Time (UNESCO Culture) 

MIR can make arrangements to experience these additional UNESCO-listed cultural treasures in Azerbaijan. 

Copper Craftsmanship in Lahij Visit the Azerbaijan craft village of Lahij, famous for knives and engraved copper, and noted by UNESCO. You can even join a family for dinner in Lahij on MIR’s small group tour, Village Traditions of the South Caucasus (NEW!). 

Navruz If you’re in Azerbaijan in March, celebrate with local Azeris as springtime is ushered in with the New Year holiday of Navruz. It’s a UNESCO cultural treasure in several countries, including Azerbaijan.

Keleghayi Silk Headscarves UNESCO recognizes the traditional Silk Road art and symbolism of Azerbaijan’s keleghayi – the handmade creation and wearing of silk headscarves. 

Chovqan Horse Game Chovqan is a traditional Karabakh competition on horses, reflective of Azerbaijan’s nomadic culture and reverence for these animals.

Tar Stringed Instrument & MusicUNESCO notes the significance of making and performing the Azeri tar, a long-necked lute-type musical instrument used in traditional folk music of Azerbaijan.

Exquisite detail of a handmade stringed instrument played in traditional Azeri music <br>Photo credit: Jake Smith</br>

Exquisite detail of a handmade stringed instrument played in traditional Azeri music
Photo credit: Jake Smith

Ashiq Singing and Storytelling Performed at weddings and other joyful festivities, ashiq combines storytelling with dancing, singing and playing the saz stringed instrument – a deep part of Azeri traditions and culture.

Mugham ImprovisationThis Azeri version of musical improvisation melds classic melodies and rhythms on traditional instruments (lute, fiddle, tambourine) with improvised words and stories. 

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: 

Georgia: Expert Picks: 4 Reasons to Fall in Love with Georgia (VIDEO)

Azerbaijan: A Traveler’s Tale: Baku, Azerbaijan and the Shores of the Caspian Sea 

Armenia: Classic Celebrations: A Traditional Armenian Wedding

  • MIR’s South Caucasus Videos 

MIR offers an extensive on its  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.

At more than 6,200 feet elevation, Armenia's Lake Sevan is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world

At more than 6,200 feet elevation, Armenia’s Lake Sevan is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world

MIR’s Small Group ToursThese are comprehensive, distinctive and intimate tours, with a firm limit of 16 travelers.

  • 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 12-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.

Private TrainBoard the luxury Golden Eagle private train to explore countries on both sides of the Caspian Sea, from South Caucasus to Central Asia. 

Flexible Private JourneysThese classic independent itineraries are already researched and ready to book on your own timeline.

  • 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.

Handcrafted Private JourneysYou can also book a custom private journey handcrafted to your desired dates, interests and travel style.

Chat with one of our destination specialists by email or by phone at 1-111-111-1111 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

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