Prepare your own tolma (vine-wrapped rice and mince), feast on succulent khorovats (Armenian pork barbecue) and visit a distillery to taste legendary Armenian brandy at the source. Learn how to make delicious khinkali (Georgian dumplings) and khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) with an expert local foodie. Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, is awash with culture, colour and beautiful architecture. A bonus at the end of your city tour is a cahakhokbili (chicken stew) feast with a local family. Stay overnight in a local guesthouse in Stepantsminda, sitting down to a traditional meal with the family who run it
Discover the punchy, herbaceous flavours of Armenia and Georgia on this exciting new Real Food Expedition. Sitting on the cusp of the Middle East and Eastern Europe, these two countries bring a knowledge, pride and tradition to their cuisine that stretches back centuries. Begin the journey in Yerevan, contrasting traditional Armenian barbecue, grilled trout and tolma with the many spicy aromas of the local market – and of course a drop or two of fine Armenian brandy. Continue the adventure in Georgia, where the charming facades of Tbilisi and the snow-dusted peaks of the Caucasus are the backdrop for culinary adventures, both hands-on and leisurely. Enjoy Adjarian-style khachapuri (cheese pie), hearty chakhokhbili (chicken stew), mtsvadi (meat skewers in marinated in spices and pomegranate), churchkhela (nutty Georgian candy), khinkali (Georgian dumplings), and local wines and cheeses paired by expert sommeliers.
Breakfast Included: 9 Lunches Included: 7 Lunches Included: 3
Welcome to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. After meeting with your guide at 6 pm in the hotel lobby, head out with your fellow travellers for a welcome dinner in a local restaurant. Here the main dish is khorovats – skewered and spice meats, such as pork, grilled on a barbecue. It's the most representative dish of Armenian cuisine enjoyed in restaurants, family gatherings and feasts.
After breakfast, set off on a city tour around Yerevan. This includes a visit to the local market, the best place to browse the fresh fruits, dried fruits and many aromatic spices that Armenia is known for. In the second half of the day, make tracks for Garni. Here you'll enjoy lunch in a local house, sampling some delectable Armenian grilled trout; the locals often call this dish 'prince', and it's associated with all things royal and regal. Today you're sure to sample some lavash, a soft, thin unleavened flatbread so essential to Armenia that it's on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Afterwards, make the drive to back to Yerevan and enjoy a free evening.
After breakfast at the hotel, drive to the Zvartnots Cathedral. Built in the 7th century, destroyed in the 10th century, and excavated in the early 20th, this World Heritage-listed marvel is impressive even in its ruined and partially reconstructed form. Look out for the sculpted eagle sitting among the columns, arches and other stone artifacts. Continue to the Echmiadzin Cathedral, one of the oldest standing churches in Christendom. Then we visit a local art school for a cooking class, where you'll learn to make the traditional Armenian dish known as tolma (rice and ground spiced meats wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves). Head back to Yerevan and visit the Armenian Brandy Factory for a taste of various aged brandies; the legendary Ararat variety is considered the pride of many generations and a symbol of Armenia. With a free evening to seek out dinner where you like, consider the excellent Yerevan Tavern – it comes highly recommended.
Start the day by visiting Letter Park, where a giant stone is dedicated to the founder of Armenia's alphabet. Then it's off to visit a bakery in Aparan called Gntunik, which has become something of a legend thanks to its delicious, soft bread cooked to perfection in huge clay pots. Continue to the forested Lori province, where our destination is the Akhtala village. Here we have a coffee stop at NURIK, a centre for community and tourism development founded by the Armenian Young Women's Association. In the evening, continue to Sadakhlo, located at the Georgian border. At this juncture your guide and transport will change as the Georgia leg of your adventure begins. Once over the border, transfer to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, and spend the night at a hotel.
Spend the day exploring colourful Tbilisi. Wander through the old districts of the city, which are structured like terraces, and stroll along the narrow streets where quaint architecture and patterned balconies abound. Also visit a local market just near the railway station. For lunch, it's off to the home of a local Georgian family, where you'll take part in making a variety of Georgian dishes. Accompanied by some fresh salads, the star of the show is delicious cahakhokbili (chicken stew). It's a beloved dish among the Georgian people, though in bygone days it was made from pheasant; the literal translation of 'chakhokhbili' is 'pheasant stew'. After lunch, enjoy free time for the rest of the day.
Today's total driving time is approximately 1.5 hours.
Today is a jam-packed day, we travel to the Kakheti region, famous not only for its wine but also its welcoming hospitality. Here we see the snowy Caucasus mountains and valleys come into view. First up is a visit to the 16th-century Gremi Architectural Complex, followed by a drive to Kvareli city and a stop at the famous Kindzmarauli winery, where you'll enjoy a tasting of local wines and cheeses. For lunch, visit a local family in Gavazi for a taste of the rural life. Here you'll get involved with the preparation of Mtsvadi, a special Georgian barbecue dish that generally uses garlic, black pepper and pomegranate juice in the maranating of the meat. All of the ingredients for this meal are sourced right here on the property – from the wine and grappa to the meat, vegetables and grain. Afterwards your hosts shows how sweet churchkhela (a nutty Georgian candy) is made, and you're welcome to join in. Finally, visit a cellar for a taste of wine prepared traditionally in a kvevri (clay vessel), and help your host bake some bread. The night is spent at a hotel in Sighnaghi (we should arrive at around 5 or 6 pm).
The approximate time spent driving today is 4–5 hours.
Drive to Georgia's ancient capital and religious centre, Mtskheta, and see its World Heritage-listed marvels: Jvari church, which dates back to the 6th century, and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, dating back to the 11th century (where the Robe of Christ is buried). Afterwards, drive up the famous Georgian Military Highway, which leads to the Georgian-Russian border. On the way there, visit the 17th-century Ananuri architectural complex, as well as the two churches and the fortress that overlooks the Zhinvali water reservoir. The views here are spectacular, so make sure those camera batteries are charged. The carvings on the churches are some of the best samples of Georgian art out there. There will also be a stop for a picnic in this region, if the weather holds out. At any rate, today's drive through Caucasus Mountains is a memorable one (note that it can get slow, steep and windy up here). In the evening, sit down to dinner at a local guesthouse in Stepantsminda (a small town still commonly known as Kazbegi) and sit down to dinner with the family that runs the guesthouse.
Today the time spend driving is approximately 5–6 hours.
Stepantsminda - Tbilisi
From Stepantsminda, it's a leisurely two-hour walk up through beautiful valleys and woodland to Gergeti Trinity Church (2170 m above sea level). Weather permitting, you might catch a glimpse of one of the highest glaciers in the Caucasus, Mt Kazbegi (5047 m). After the walk, we visit a local family, also located in Stepantsminda, where the host will take a masterclass on how to make khinkali (Georgian dumplings which originated in mountainous regions of Mtiuleti, Pshavi and Khevsureti). This is sure to be an interesting history lesson too, as the pre-Mongolian origins of this classic Caucasian dish – and the legend of the toothless boy who needed a soft boiled food (hence the dumpling) – are no doubt touched on. Return to Tbilisi in the late afternoon, arriving at around 6 pm and enjoying a free evening.
The approximate driving time today is 4 hours.
Enjoy a khachapuri (cheese pie) cooking demonstration today in Tbilisi. There are many styles of khachapuri, but the iconic one is with the egg in the centre – this is the ‘Adjarian’ style. (The Adjarians are an ethnographic subset of Georgian people, predominately from the southwest, with their own dialect and traditions.) The other incarnations of the pie have more of a folded-dough-with-filling style. They’re all good, but Adjarian is really the one! And Georgia is the only place you can taste it. After the demonstration, you're welcome to sample some as a snack or for lunch. The afternoon is then at leisure; the leader can provide tips and recommendation for good places for food and/or things to see and do. In the evening, head out for a farewell dinner at a traditional Georgian restaurant.
The adventure comes to an end after breakfast today.