- Culinary walks
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|In Partnership||12 people||2019 Dates:||US $3,320/adult|
|with Atlas Obscura||May 10 – 17, September 23 – 30 October 12-19|
On this mouthwatering collaboration with Atlas Obscura, we’ll explore the birthplace of wine: Georgia. Expect a one-of-a-kind, multi-day trip filled with wine tastings, cooking workshops, harvest activities, and more.
Tucked between the Black and Caspian Seas and in the shadow of Europe’s highest mountains you’ll find Georgia—a tiny country with an astounding culinary heritage and a winemaking tradition tracing back eight millennia. We’ll be delving into this appetizing wonderland during rtveli—the grape harvest—Georgia’s most inspiring time of year. And we aren’t only going to witness the harvest—we’re going to take part in it, too.
This week-long gastronomic adventure takes place in and around the capital of Tbilisi. We’ll also spend two days in the Alazani Valley, perhaps the most beautiful wine region in the world. Here, we’ll experience the deep reverence for winemaking that defines this land. Along the way, we’ll take in unique performances, visit little-known museums commemorating the country’s Soviet past, and to cap things off, explore Tbilisi’s ancient sulfur bath district, where we’ll allow our extraordinary week to fully soak in.
This trip is limited to a small group of 12 explorers.
Culinary Workshops & Wine Tastings: Learn to make traditional Georgian dishes, such as khinkali (dumplings) or khachapuri (cheese bread). A wide variety of wines will be on offer, from the rustic and homemade to fine family kvevriwines, as well as large winery vintages.
Agriculture Trips: Visit local winemakers to see, feel, taste, and learn about the ancient art of making wine in kvevri, huge terra cotta vessels that are buried in the ground. We’ll take part in the process ourselves, possibly tasting and harvesting grapes.
Market Tours and Home-Cooked Meals: Take a guided visit through Tbilisi’s central farmers market and enjoy several home-cooked village meals. Georgians consider visitors gifts from God and endearingly call them okros stumrebi—“golden guests.” After seven days in Georgia, you’ll understand this first-hand.
Performances & Demonstrations: Meet local artists and craftspeople, including a kvevri maker. We’ll also experience a private performance by polyphonic singers, who create sounds unlike anything you’ve ever heard.
Day 1: Arrival & Welcome
We encourage travelers to ease into this trip and allow some extra time to acclimate, especially as most flights to Tbilisi arrive in the wee hours of the morning. We’ll arrange private pickup from the airport to your hotel, where you’ll have time to rest.
In the late afternoon, we’ll meet for a welcome walk through the neighborhood, built in the 19th century. Georgia’s capital is neither Europe nor Asia, and is a collision of ancient and modern—the crossroads of the old Silk Road and a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities that have defined the city’s distinctive character and inimitable cuisine.
After peering into a few traditional courtyards, we’ll make our way to Shavi Lomi, a house-turned-restaurant featuring Mary Gubeladze’s twist on traditional Georgian dishes as well as classic favorites. Over dinner, we’ll properly introduce ourselves and get an overview of the exciting—and delicious—week ahead.
After a light hotel breakfast (strong emphasis on “light’’), we’ll kick off the morning with a warm loaf of tonis puri, a traditional bread baked in a tandoori-like oven in the cellar of the Tbilisi seminary.
Then we’re headed to Tbilisi’s central bazaar, the city’s largest and oldest farmers market. It is a raw, chaotic warren of fresh victuals and the convergence point of all things food, serving as the main source of products for many of the city’s restaurants and neighborhood markets.
We’ll sample tonis lobiani, a traditional bean-stuffed bread, fresh Georgian cheese, honey from an east Georgian family of beekeepers, and delicious churchkhelas, strings of nuts dipped in a thick roux of grape juice. Our route also takes us by Miss Iza’s special spice mixes and to the bazaar’s raffish wine section, a collection of no-frills “pop-ups” that serve authentic homemade wines and chacha, Georgia’s legendary take on grappa.
From there, we’ll hop in taxis over to the Dry Bridge Flea Market to browse its offbeat offerings and give ourselves some space to digest—just in time for our favorite mountain-style khinkali, iconic Georgian dumplings. Afterwards, we’ll walk over to the National Gallery to view the work of Niko Pirosmani, Georgia’s famed primitivist painter.
From there it’s on to Vino Underground, the city’s first wine bar. Prep your palate for a guided tasting of Georgia’s indigenous red, white, and amber wines, made naturally following an 8,000-year-old tradition. The finale of our day’s journey will be a feast at a family-owned restaurant that offers home-style meals prepared with the freshest, most natural ingredients available.
If you have any energy left after dinner, feel free to wander the streets of the Sololaki neighborhood, where you’ll find no shortage of bars and cafes. Or, if your eyelids are drooping, head back to the hotel for a hearty night’s sleep.
About 20 kilometers (13 miles) north of Tbilisi, at the junction of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers, sits Mtskheta, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the birthplace of Georgian Christianity.
After breakfast and the short drive from our hotel, we’ll visit the city’s Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. In the 4th century, this site was chosen by St. Nino for the first church in Georgia; believed to be the burial site of Christ’s mantle, it is one of the most sacred places in the country.
Later, we’ll head to the nearby village of Ateni in the Shida Kartli region, considered the heart of Georgia. Historically, the region produced wine for the Georgian kings, and it remains an important, although glossed over, winemaking area today.
To end our day, we’ll visit the cellar of the Wine Artisans, an association of winemakers dedicated to making traditional natural wines. Our host, Andro Barnovi, will walk us through the winemaking process and also prepare a luscious country supper. Our ride will have us back at the hotel around sunset, where you can set out on your own evening explorations or head in for a good night’s rest.
Spread beneath the majestic Caucasus Mountains like an enormous grape basket is the Alazani Valley. Located in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia, this could very well be the most breathtaking wine region in the world. September and October are the time of rtveli—the harvest—and families along the valley are busy making wine much like their ancestors would have done for the past 8,000 years.
This morning, we’ll depart Tbilisi by private coach for Kakheti, Georgia’s chief winemaking region. The day will include a visit to the regional capital of Telavi for lunch and to the home of a master maker of kvevri. We’ll be walked through the ancient process of making the ceramic vessels that Georgians still use to store and ferment wine.
We’ll end the day with a wine tour and tasting at the home of a local natural winemaker.
Tonight, we’ll stay in the Alazani Valley in a comfortable boutique hotel, dreaming of grapes.
After breakfast, we’ll head to Akura and the 100 year-old home of local winemaker Irakli Bluishvili who will wine and dine us with his particular brand of village sophistication. We’ll plan to spot and visit a local craft cheesemaker along the way—as long as they’re home!
While dinner is being prepared, we’ll meander into the woods to visit the 8th-century Father David church and see the ruins of an ancient wine cellar. Back at the house we will indulge in elegant tomato and eggplant salads, sheep cheese, barbecued pork, and fresh bread—all washed down by unlimited toasts of organic wine. His is a home you will not want to leave.
After dinner, we’ll drive back to Tbilisi. We’ll wake you up when we pull into our hotel.
This morning, skip the regular breakfast: it’s time for the iconic Acharuli khachapuri, a baked barge of dough packing a cargo of gooey cheese topped with a mostly raw egg yolk and a slowly melting Snickers-sized gob of butter. Did that hook your attention?
Our breakfast is just a metro ride away, giving us a glimpse into Tbilisi’s Soviet-built underground rail system. Afterwards, fully loaded with carbs, we’ll squeeze our way to the dance studio of the Sukhishvili National Ballet to witness a rehearsal of these acrobatic dancers. If the Ballet is out of town on this day, we’ll catch a show at the legendary Rezo Gabriadze Puppet Theater. Gabriadze, a Georgian playwright, director, painter, and sculptor, collaborated with other directors to make some of Georgia’s most iconic films. His puppet theater productions have been praised at festivals across the world.
It’s been a busy few days, so take the rest of the day on your own, whether to pop into a local tea spot with a book, visit the Art Palace, wander the Dendrology Museum, or take a nice long afternoon snooze.
After breakfast, we’ll enjoy a guided brutalist architecture tour through Georgia’s communist past. We’ll see the most iconic buildings representing Soviet modernism and brutalism and learn about their fascinating history.
After the tour, we’ll be welcomed into the private home of the Culinary Backstreet’s Bureau Chief for a hands-on cooking demonstration of Imeretian-style khachapuri and badrijani, eggplant rolls stuffed with walnut pâté. Our rigorous day will be topped off with a traditional Tbilisi supra here. A local trio will also come by to regale us with polyphonic songs and traditional folk instruments.
Our final day, we’ll set out for Abanotubani, Tbilisi’s ancient sulfur bath district. Legend has it that Abanotubani was founded on this site when, in the 5th century, King Vakhtang Gorgasali found his hunting falcon bathing in the natural hot springs. Whether or not the story’s true, people have been enjoying the curative powers of these mineral waters for nearly two millennia.
A testament to Tbilisi’s multi-ethnic makeup, the neighborhood is home to the 120-year-old Jumah Mosque, renowned for being a place of worship for both Shia and Sunni Muslims. Nearby are the ruins of a Zoroastrian temple.
We’ll start with a visit to Sabir’s chaikhana, a no-frills, no-name tea house that is the last of its kind in the changing neighborhood. We’ll then visit Gulo’s bath house, where we’ll allow the past week’s experiences to soak into our bones. Built in the Persian tradition, these baths are heated by waters that come straight out of the earth at between 75 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Those who’d like can also request a Persian-style massage and scrub.
A long soak deserves a fine meal to follow, especially on our last night together. Our final dinner will be at the famed local chef Tekuna Gachechiladze’s bath district restaurant, Culinarium-Khasheria. Named after a tripe soup that doubles as a hangover remedy, the menu is Gachechiladze’s ode to traditional Georgian fare, a thoroughly original blend of new takes on old recipes. After dinner, we’ll climb up to an unforgettable lookout for a farewell drink.
Our trip officially ends this evening after dinner, as many departing flights leave late at night or very early in the morning. However, we’ll offer the option of additional nights at our Tbilisi hotel if needed.
Until the next adventure!