When people ask why they should choose to visit the Caucasus, it’s worth thinking about why we choose to travel to anywhere different. Every single region of the world has its own unique nature, people, history and culture. No two places are ever the same, and that is part of the wonder of travel.
Armenia and Georgia are small countries, lying between the Black and the Caspian Seas, and bordering neighbouring Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan. Both countries have very distinctive landscapes and cultures, with their own unique written and spoken languages. And although English is rarely spoken, you’ll always find great hospitality, with friendly locals offering you vodka – no matter what time of the day!
Landlocked Armenia was the first country on earth to declare Christianity to be its official state religion. As such, it is home to some of the most ancient monasteries in the world, the most well known of which is the Tatev Monastery, famous for its stunning natural surroundings. The monastery is located on a large basalt plateau, best seen from above while enjoying a sky-high ride on the world’s longest cable car, The Wings Of Tatev.
Armenia’s sweeping valleys and rugged mountains are like nowhere else on earth, and the breathtakingly dramatic scenery along the road from Iran to Armenia exceeded all my expectations. Arriving in Yerevan, I was brought back to reality with the scent of roasting coffee, ultra-cheap vodka and other spirits, traditional musical instruments… and the realisation that there’s so much more to this fascinating country than meets the eye.
Armenia was formerly part of the Persian Empire, and Iranian heritage continues to have a strong cultural influence. You’ll also hear plenty of tales of the surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh area, including the interesting fact that the region has no political borders – something that definitely merits further reading. For those interested in a pilgrimage, you can feel closer to God with a visit to Mount Ararat, where the remains of Noah’s Ark are rumoured to lie.
An overnight train ride brings you to Georgia – the first country on earth to make wine (who would have thought that this wasn’t France?)! Tbilisi is Georgia’s capital city and makes a great base for exploration; the road network is less developed here, necessitating regular returns to the city before travelling onwards. Due to its proximity to Russia, the Georgian landscape is also more rugged, especially in the north – head to picturesque Mestia to enjoy glacier trekking with stunning views.
For something a little more spiritual, visit Kutaisi and the Prometheus Cave, which offer absolute tranquillity to soothe even the busiest mind. A great place for meditation and contemplation, I soon found myself losing my sense of self in this galaxy of seemingly endless peace.
Of course, this is just a small sample of the many attractions that both of these unique countries have to offer – and those who visit definitely won’t be disappointed!
Blog by Carmen Mak