A Travellerspoint blog

Getting to Know Azerbaijan

Day 29 Thursday June 22 2017
Qax to Sheki / 50 Km

  • We wake this morning to find a completely different weather front has descended on Qax. It is cool, cloudy and raining. This is Azerbaijan for goodness sake and it's the end of June. If there is beautiful Caucasus scenery out there to admire, we are unlikely to see it.
  • Meanwhile UK basks in sun and temperatures not experienced since 1976 . We both remember 1976 very well. SG hopes she does not have to wait 40 years more to experience a great & prolonged British summer.
  • We think of Sean the sheep, bald, newly shaven. He must be shivering right now.
  • We have yet to embrace Azerbaijan. Mind you, this is only our second day - our accommodation is strange - we have that feeling that hits now and again - get us out of here!
  • Beware of hotels with net curtains at every window & caged parrots in the foyer. How cruel & unnecessary.
  • Where on earth is Azerbaijan? See the national flag in the photo. The Turkic heritage is obvious.
  • The Azeri language has Turkic roots and shares its grammar and much of its vocabulary with Turkish. Not that this assists us in any way! But it does help to explain why Turkey & Azerbaijan are big buddies in this region. Some say they are one people, two states.
  • Azerbaijan is the largest of the three South Caucasus states (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia), and is bordered by Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Iran & the Caspian Sea. It is the size of Austria & has a population of just under 10 million people, over 2 million of whom live in the capital city, Baku.
  • Historically Azerbaijan played an important role as part of the Silk Road. And the country's strategic position as a gateway between East and West is still relevant today.
  • In 2006 the Baku/Tbilisi/Ceyhan pipeline was completed by a consortium of 11 energy companies, including BP, who with the largest share, is operating manager. The pipeline secures the flow of Azeri oil to Europe without relying on the goodwill of either Russia or Iran. A major concern to the West for obvious reasons.
  • Azerbaijan is oil rich. In fact oil extraction dates back to the 7C BC making it one of the oldest oil regions. In 1905 Azerbaijan was producing half the world's requirement. Under Russian control investment lagged, even stagnated. It was only in the 1990's after independence from Russia that the oil boom days returned.
  • Baku seems to have benefited hugely, judging by the glitzy city scape on show in photos. But elsewhere there is evidence of urban poverty and degeneration. What does happen to the nation's oil income? Why has it not filtered down?
  • Politically Azerbaijan is a Presidential democracy but the President's position is quite authoritarian. It is also currently a family dynasty arrangement. Ilham Aliyev succeeded his father, Heydar Aliyev in 2003. Opposition parties do exist but they have little impact.
  • We are only in Azerbaijan for 3 days. We did not feel we could visit the Caucasus area without coming here. But independent tourism is not easy and without language knowledge there are limitations. Hence our decision not to prolong our stay, nor venture further east as far as Baku and then have to drive all the way back.
  • Today we are travelling a relatively short distance to Seki ( pronounced Sheki ) It is described by Lonely Planet as the loveliest town in Azerbaijan. We are beginning to lose confidence in the accuracy of some of the LP content and the weather does not help. If you are ever coming to this area, you can probably do Qax & Seki in a 1 day rather than 2 day schedule as SG has organised.
  • Some 5 km further North uphill from Seki is the village of Kis. It is famous for the Church of St Elishe. A small, simple limestone church that reputedly dates to the 1C AD.
  • It is described as Caucasian Albanian. Which by the way has nothing to do with European Albania. SG needs more research time to understand. But essentially this region has always been a battleground for competing empires. It was therefore inevitable that 'identities & loyalties' changed frequently over the centuries. Far more complicated than the UK's relatively simple history of conquest & occupation.
  • According to local tradition, Christianity entered Caucasian Albania ( part of contemporary Azerbaijan ) in the 1st century through St. Elisæus who came from Jerusalem eastward through Persia to preach Christianity. He built his first church, on the site of a pagan temple, in the Caucasus in a place called Gis which is believed to be modern day Kis. What supreme irony that the Muslim country of Azerbaijan claims to have on its soil one of the oldest Christian churches. It is known to many as the "mother-church" - the foundation of institutionalised Christianity.
  • In fact Azerbaijan is 95% Muslim and within that figure 85% are Shia Muslims. Only Iran has a higher proportion of Shia Muslims. And yet Turkey is Sunni Muslim. Gosh the world is complicated!

After a church visit, it is of course time for a trip to the Sheki fortress. Following several devastating floods Seki moved locations in 1770's to roughly where the fortress is now located. Within the fortress there were originally more than 40 royal buildings. Today only one remains and apparently it is one of South Caucasus most iconic buildings.

  • Photography is prohibited. There seems no consistency in the rules about flash / camera/ mobile. It varies so much from place to place. We take a few anyway, very surreptitiously. But it's hard to get a photo that creates a wow factor. Perhaps that's why it's not allowed. So that there is little evidence of the quality of restoration work?
  • Our Sheki hotel is another odd place - centrally located, bar, restaurant, little garden, very small double beds and an air con system that is not working. Memories of a hot, uncomfortable night in Turkey resurface. Please God no, not again. Thankfully the weather outside is relatively cool - only 25C!
  • By the way there is an old Karavanserai in Sheki town which is also a hotel and which has great potential. But currently it does not look as if they are bothered whether they have guests or not. It is worth popping through the huge entrance door to look at the layout of this 18C building and imagine how it must of been when Seki was part of a busy trade route.
  • We eat a late lunch - hydrated camping food to which you add hot water. We then head out into the centre of modern Sheki in search of a suitable place to have supper. When food is so grim, it becomes hard to think of anything else. AG spots a kebab shop which is a possibility for him but certainly not for SG - ever!
  • The only real achievement this afternoon is to find an empty chair in the local barbers shop and a barber with time on his hands. Andy's hair does not take long to cut.
  • At least the local Azeri red wine is not too bad and makes food palatable. Yes Azerbaijan has a wine industry too. Even though it's a Muslim country. So how does that work then?!
  • After tonight, only one more sleep in Azerbaijan.

Today's Weather in Qax. And How is it in UK ?

Today's Weather in Qax. And How is it in UK ?

Parrots in a Cage at Reception in Qax Hotel

Parrots in a Cage at Reception in Qax Hotel

Loading the Truck on a Very Wet Day

Loading the Truck on a Very Wet Day

Azerbaijan Flag - a Reflection of Turkic Heritage

Azerbaijan Flag - a Reflection of Turkic Heritage

Narrow Lanes Around Kis Church

Narrow Lanes Around Kis Church

Kis Church Also Known as Eliseus Church

Kis Church Also Known as Eliseus Church

One of Two Plane Trees in the Palace Grounds - Aged 500 Years   And Still in Good Condition

One of Two Plane Trees in the Palace Grounds - Aged 500 Years + And Still in Good Condition

Exterior Wall Fresco on Palace Building

Exterior Wall Fresco on Palace Building

Interior Wall Decoration of Palace Building

Interior Wall Decoration of Palace Building

Stained Glass Window - Typical Azeri Decoration

Stained Glass Window - Typical Azeri Decoration

Main Entrance to Karavanseray

Main Entrance to Karavanseray

Doorway into Karavanseray

Doorway into Karavanseray

Tea Room at the Karavanserai Hotel

Tea Room at the Karavanserai Hotel

Accommodation Area of Karavanseray

Accommodation Area of Karavanseray

Halva - a Local Speciality

Halva - a Local Speciality

Looking Worried - Before His Haircut

Looking Worried - Before His Haircut

Looking Happy with His Azeri Haircut

Looking Happy with His Azeri Haircut

Sheki Street

Sheki Street

Posted by sagbucks 20:35 Archived in Azerbaijan Comments (0)

It's Azerbaijan Day

sunny 25 °C

Day 28 Wednesday 21 June 2017
Border Crossing Day Georgia / Azerbaijan
Sighnaghi to Qax / 166 km

  • The weather has improved significantly since last evening and views from the breakfast table over old Sighnaghi have too.
  • The trip now has a name - London to South Caucasus & Return 2017 (LAAG / London Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia )
  • Border days are always exciting - especially when crossing into a 'new' country, unchartered territory as it were. At last the guide books will start meaning sense because they now have immediate relevance. Doing research on Azerbaijan 6 months ago was a rather 'dry' process. It will all come alive today.
  • You'll be hearing Azerbaijan mentioned a lot this weekend. Baku, the capital city is hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix. A road rather than a circuit race. Had we realised this at the time of planning, we may have decided to visit Baku after all.
  • It is the Azeri border that concerns us most. They don't like old diesel vehicles and can refuse entry if the truck does not comply. Our truck came off the assembly line just in time.
  • As is so often the case we arrive at the border not knowing the procedure. The overhead sign wishing us luck does not inspire advance confidence. There are rarely any written instructions. We wing it, play it by ear, ease our way through politely. It is very much case by case. That's part of the travel experience.
  • As it happens, the border is quiet today. There are no queues so we have the officials' undivided attention. The vehicle records are as important as our personal papers.
  • Our truck is checked over by a sniffer dog & the human eye. Luggage goes through a scanner. Payment is made for road tax & insurance, amounting to about £75. The amount charged does not seem to be time related.
  • In all the whole procedure takes just over an hour. Not bad at all and far less than we anticipated.
  • At the first petrol station after the border we fill up. Diesel is a quarter of the price back home. It is one of the distinct advantages of having vast oil reserves and being a major oil producing country.
  • Just by the petrol station is a cluster of bee hives and they are being inspected for their honey output. The beekeeper is at least wearing partial protective clothing.
  • It is not long until we get another photo opportunity. A farmer is shearing his small herd of sheep by the roadside. It is around 25C and sunny. The sheep are lying calmly together under the shade of a large tree. They seem very content to be in a queue for a much needed haircut.
  • The first place we visit is Zaqatala, Azerbaijan's hazelnut capital. The oldest part of town is some 2km uphill. We park up and have a walk around - our main job is to find a bank so that we can withdraw some local money. It helps!
  • Inspired by Lonely Planet we then drive some 8 km further uphill to a village called Car but pronounced 'Jar'. It reads well - a chocolate box village with rustic restaurants tucked away in its woodland fringes. It's lunch time - worth a look don't you think?
  • We are not sure any of the Lonely Planet team actually went to Car! The road is only suitable for 4x4 vehicles; satnav & the maps me app both have trouble picking up GPS signal and there are no restaurants in evidence. Yes it's rural and not unattractive but chocolate box pretty is an exaggeration. Shame on you Lonely Planet. This is not the first time we have experienced such discrepancy.
  • We are now not so far from Qax where we are staying overnight. It's a bad afternoon for navigator. Signposting, Garmin, and Maps Me App all agree on the route so SG forgets to check the map. Had she done so she would have realised that AG intended a different route to the one we now drive. With good reason, since the road is in very bad condition and full of potholes. Oh dear. So 45 km on a very slow road. Tedious to say the least, for both driver & navigator.
  • Once in Qax, we again follow a Lonely Planet recommendation ( FOMO! ) to drive a further 5 km uphill to a little mountainside community called Ilisu. Fortunately the road is OK and the snow capped mountains in the distance make for pleasant scenery. But diminutive village of photogenic old homes is somewhat overstated. We do hope that Lonely –Planet are not setting a trend for Azerbaijan experiences.
  • We are staying in the rather pompous sounding 'El Resort' - it is a huge residential complex with park like gardens, tennis court, indoor swimming pool, gym, bar, restaurant. Oh, and a prayer room. It is devoid of atmosphere and we seem to be the only guests. Why on earth has such a monstrosity been built ? Who might the clientele be?
  • Thank goodness we are only staying one night. Dinner is perhaps the worst of our trip to date. A truck supper would have been preferable. We still have stocks and another two nights in Azerbaijan, so perhaps tomorrow.
  • Azerbaijan is a Muslim country - we have seen and heard mosques since our arrival here but the density of mosques is far, far less than in Turkey. It is also Ramadan of course. But there is no problem in ordering a beer at the bar well before sunset. Attitudes are obviously more relaxed here.
  • SG momentarily contemplates a glass of chilled white wine to lift her spirits and to improve the taste of the pizza that is about to be served. But when the bottles of wine are brought to the counter for her to choose, Diet coke suddenly seems the best option.

Scenery from Our Breakfast Table

Scenery from Our Breakfast Table

We Have Never Been Wished Good Luck at a Border Before.

We Have Never Been Wished Good Luck at a Border Before.

The Azerbaijan Brand Welcomes Us

The Azerbaijan Brand Welcomes Us

Checking For Honey - Just Over Azeri Border

Checking For Honey - Just Over Azeri Border

Waiting for Their Hair Cut

Waiting for Their Hair Cut

Farmer Shearing a His Sheep - Traditional Shearing Scissors

Farmer Shearing a His Sheep - Traditional Shearing Scissors

Lamb having Its First Hair Cut. So Docile.

Lamb having Its First Hair Cut. So Docile.

Old Ruins of Orthodox Christian Church

Old Ruins of Orthodox Christian Church

Hazelnut Tree - Zaqatala area is Centre of Hazelnut Production

Hazelnut Tree - Zaqatala area is Centre of Hazelnut Production

Country Lane in Car

Country Lane in Car

17C Mosque in Ilisu - Carpets No Doubt Newer!

17C Mosque in Ilisu - Carpets No Doubt Newer!

Old Barn in Ilisu

Old Barn in Ilisu

Our Resort Hotel in the Middle of Nowhere

Our Resort Hotel in the Middle of Nowhere

SG Requests a Bottle of Wine, and This is What is On Offer

SG Requests a Bottle of Wine, and This is What is On Offer

Posted by sagbucks 11:56 Archived in Azerbaijan Comments (0)

Sighnaghi the Prettiest Town in Kakheti

overcast 28 °C

Day 27 Tuesday June 20 2017
Telavi to Sighnagi /59 km

  • This morning the Ukrainian truck driver has been joined in the queue by a Polish colleague driving an equally long HGV. The Schuchmann Winery is a busy place.
  • Having sampled a few more glasses of wine over dinner last night, there is the temptation to get carried away with some purchases. £3 a bottle. We have ample space in the truck. But tomorrow we are headed back into Ramadan zone again - Azerbaijan - and we do not know if the importation of wine is permitted. Secondly between now and end of July when we plan to return to the UK we will be driving through hot climates, not at all conducive for wine storage.
  • By the way we are aware of what is happening in the UK. We dread checking the news. We despair but prefer to make no comment.
  • A short drive today to Sighnaghi, reputedly the prettiest town in Kekheti, full of buildings of 18 & 19 C with an Italianate feel. It was originally developed in 18C by King Erekle 2 as a fortified refuge for the region's population in the face of Persian attack. Four km of the town's defensive walls still remain & 6 gates .
  • Peaches seem to be the roadside product of the day. And in wholesale quantity. The bucket of peaches you see in the photo costs £3 ( first price without bargaining ) It is a good idea to have coins so that you can negotiate a smaller quantity. We eat them with our bread roll for lunch and they taste delicious.
  • Before we check in at the Kabadoni Hotel we first go directly to Bodbe Convent, a couple of Km South. A visit here is like finding a crucial piece to a jigsaw puzzle - it helps a greater understanding of the early development of Christianity in Georgia.
  • First thing to mention is Nino - she was an authentic historical figure, believed to be the daughter of a Roman General and raised in Jerusalem. She was responsible for the conversion to Christianity of King Mirian of Georgia in the 4C. The whole country then followed and Georgia became the second nation state to adopt the Christian faith. Armenia was the first.
  • There has been a church at the Bodbe convent site since 4C when King Mirian built one over Saint Nino's grave. Of course it has been rebuilt and renovated several times since but the site is considered extremely holy by the Georgian people.
  • They come on a pilgrimage to touch St Nino's tombstone and to wash / drink from the water source that reputedly burst forth from the earth after she prayed on this very spot. The water supposedly has magical healing properties. The source is found some 800 m down a slope that leads from the church. Just follow the crowds. A long flight of stone steps has now been constructed to make the descent easier. Most people do not seem to walk back up but rather are collected by car. We are amongst the few who do the return walk up the steps. It's an ascent that takes 15 minutes of constant effort. It's our exercise for the day!
  • Once down at the source of the 'holy' water, we rest and watch the show - trying to work out what it's all about. Young children are queuing up and paying for a simple white garment. They wear this over minimal clothing ( some take everything off ) and then disappear down into a small dark building. When they re-emerge it is clear that they have had a ritual and probably cold bath. It seems to be an activity only for children and we therefore do not try and participate.
  • Sighnaghi town is very picturesque. No wonder it receives so many visitors - day trippers as well as overnight guests. Unfortunately the skies are still very hazy so views are muted. But on a clear day you would be able to see for miles around. The town itself is like many places we have visited in Georgia - work in progress. It is obvious that many buildings have been renovated but lots more await attention. Sighnaghi is a Georgian equivalent to Turkey's Safronbolu. But more imagination is required.
  • SG checks out the museum which fortunately has information translated into English. On show are the usual archeological exhibits that demonstrate how much human activity has been going on in this part of the world for millennia. There is also a permanent display of some of the artwork of a famous Georgian artist called Niko Pirosmani who was born in Sighnaghi in 1862. He came from a peasant family and received no professional training - indeed his paintings only became collectible, desirable and valuable after his death in 1918. But his posthumous fame is an explanation why restaurants & streets in Sighnaghi & Tbilisi use his name. And why there is a life size bronze statue in Sighnaghi reflecting his famous 'Country Doctor ' painting.
  • We are having supper this evening at a restaurant called Pheasant & Tears. It is also a winery producing only Queri wines. Tuesday must be a difficult night for the chef since much of the menu is 'off' - fish, pork, spinach, dessert are all unavailable. Still there is enough choice snd we eat a reasonable meal. Our departure is pre-empted by the rumble of thunder. Not again surely. We walk back to our hotel in the pouring rain - the cobblestones are slippery and SG is wearing heels. She is not amused!

Schuchmann Chateau

Schuchmann Chateau

Peaches are Today's Roadside Sale

Peaches are Today's Roadside Sale

Church Built Above St Nino's Tombstone

Church Built Above St Nino's Tombstone

Taking Holy Water @ Bedbo Convent

Taking Holy Water @ Bedbo Convent

Getting Ready for a Ritual Bath

Getting Ready for a Ritual Bath

Ritual Bathing Tub Below This Structure

Ritual Bathing Tub Below This Structure

Wet But Not Drenched

Wet But Not Drenched

Nearly at the Top of the Steps

Nearly at the Top of the Steps

View From Hotel Balcony

View From Hotel Balcony

Another Old Car in Daily Usage

Another Old Car in Daily Usage

Lovely Balconies of Old Houses

Lovely Balconies of Old Houses

One of Six Gates of Old City

One of Six Gates of Old City

Old Cars In Georgia are Not Collectiors Pieces - They are Everyday Necessities

Old Cars In Georgia are Not Collectiors Pieces - They are Everyday Necessities

Georgian Equivalent to Hole in the Wall

Georgian Equivalent to Hole in the Wall

Churchkehla - Do These Look Like Sausages or Sweets?

Churchkehla - Do These Look Like Sausages or Sweets?

What Beautiful Tomato Shape

What Beautiful Tomato Shape

King Erkehle 2 by Niko Pirosmani

King Erkehle 2 by Niko Pirosmani

Mother & Child by Niko Pirosmani

Mother & Child by Niko Pirosmani

Roe Deer by Niko Pirosmani

Roe Deer by Niko Pirosmani

Doctor on Donkey by Niko Pirosmani

Doctor on Donkey by Niko Pirosmani

Rural Doctor Bronze Figure Based on Niko Pirosmani's Famous Painting

Rural Doctor Bronze Figure Based on Niko Pirosmani's Famous Painting

Pheasant Tears Vineyard Only Produce Qveri Wines

Pheasant Tears Vineyard Only Produce Qveri Wines

Posted by sagbucks 11:25 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

A Break From Our CFM Routine

A Day of Cellar Door Experience & Relaxation in a Wine Bath

sunny 30 °C

Schuchmann Winery, Kisiskhevi

  • Why rush?!
  • We are lingering a day in the Kekheti region. We plan to drive part of the wine route and visit some wineries. A day of cellar door experiences, a sip here, a sip there. No church, no Fortess no Monastery.
  • If you needed a CFM fix, from here in Kisiskhevi , you could easily make a trip to Alaverdi and see its cathedral - built in 11C to an overall height of 50m - it remained the tallest church in Georgia for nearly a millenium. And Gremi Fortress is not far away either.
  • Anyway for us, it's a relaxed start and an invigorating swim for SG in the outdoor pool surrounded by vines. The water is fresh but bearably so.
  • Breakfast is average but the coffee is good enough to render a truck brew unnecessary.
  • Our first visit today is to the Chavchavadze Estate in Tsinandali, just a 5 minute drive from the Schuchmann vineyard. According to Lonely Planet, it is a must see. It is one of two homes belonging to Prince Alexander, the other being in Tbilisi. He was one of most colourful and influential characters in Georgian history.
  • Looking around his former home which is now a museum, makes a change from the usual CFM ( Church, Fortress, Monastery ) routine. It's interesting to see how the rich and famous lived in Georgia in 19C. But Alexander, born into a well connected diplomatic family as he was, used his silver spoon to great effect and achieved much in his life. He was educated & cultured, spoke 7 languages, wrote good poetry, achieved on merit a high rank in the Russian army but was principled enough to later join the Georgian rebellion against Russian rule.
  • Alexander being widely travelled and well connected, furnished his home beautifully with fine Georgian & European artefacts - particularly from France. It was not only 'things' that he brought to Georgia from abroad but also concepts & activities. He was a social innovator, a trend setter of his time. For instance Alexander introduced to his homeland the English game of billiards, the idea of horse riding for leisure and perhaps most importantly, the European system of wine making!
  • Wines that we taste from the Chavchavadze estate are therefore really special - it was here that the whole European wine business started in Georgia back in 19C.
  • The Chavchavadeze estate is busy with visitors any day. But don't let that put you off. Today there is a large group of school children on a photo shoot. They must be members of a dance school given their costumes and posture. A female teacher is shouting out instructions to her pupils to create the 'best' photo. Judging by her physique it is a while since she was able to do the splits herself.
  • Wandering round the lovely gardens of the estate ( but don't expect RHS Wisley standard ) we come across the renovation work of Chavchavadze's old wine cellar that is mentioned in the 2016 Lonely Planet edition. It's still in progress. Indeed it looks as if there is hotel accommodation being built. One of these days, but not necessarily soon, you may be able to stay on the Chavchavadze Estate itself.
  • Next we visit the Shumi Winery in Tsinandali; it is adjacent to the estate entrance.

It's worth going here because the wine tasting is free as is the guided tour around the little museum. Of interest is the 3000 year old Qveri pot and the equipment used to make chacha - the colourless spirit that is a by product of the Qveri fermentation process. During storage in the Qveri pot the grape pulp sinks to the bottom. When the clear wine is removed, this residu is heated up. The alcoholic steam is then cooled to produce the chacha liquor. It's as simple as that!

  • At the Shumi winery, like at all the other cellar doors, you can purchase any wine that tickles your palate. We sample with great reservation and self control since it's lunchtime and we're on the road.
  • Our last Cellar Door experience is 20 miles or so away in the Kvareli area. The Khareba winery is famous for its 8 km of tunnels that were dug into the hillside back in early 1960's by the Russians. Today it is privately owned and used to store more than 25000 bottles of wine at a constant temperature of between 12-14 C. It is heavily commercialised and a handsome charge is made for the various wine tasting packages. We opt for a guided walk through the tunnels without wine tasting. The tour really just reiterates what we have already learnt from our previous cellar door experiences. But the lunch we eat in the restaurant, located up a lookout tower is reasonably priced and delicious. The views over the vineyards across the Alazani valley are pretty special.
  • We return home - to the Schuchmann Winery. On balance it is probably one of the best cellar doors to visit / and or stay in this area. Many people come here for a lunchtime experience since the setting is so lovely and the restaurant food is really quite good.
  • As previously mentioned the winery was set up by Mr Schuchmann in 2008 in the centre of the Kekheti wine growing region. It classifies itself as a premium quality vineyard with tourist facilities such as spa, swimming pool, children's playground and sadly, a crazy golf course. Staff also provide travel services ( transport , sightseeing etc ) that can be tailor made if you require and are willing to pay. It is blissfully peaceful except when the barman down poolside plays his music too loud or the dogs become agitated about someone or something - as they seem to do when night falls.
  • It's mid afternoon and the winery is a busy place. It's not just for tourists. It's a wine business too.
  • A long HGV from Ukraine is parked up by the loading bay. The packing department seem to be working frantically - sticking labels on bottles and putting them into boxes. It is apparent that Schuchmann branding differs according to the country of export and customer requirements.
  • The truck driver speaks a little German and so SG is able to chat with him - he is cooking a meal in a small lower compartment down one side of the truck. He has a journey of 3 days / 2 nights back to the Ukraine via Batumi driving over 500km a day. He has no co-driver. As evening draws in and the vineyard workers finish their shift, he closes the curtains in his cab and goes to sleep. We wonder how long he will have to wait for loading to start. The truck will accommodate a lot of boxes of wine.
  • Schuchmann Winery also offers guests a pamper session or two in its beautifully decorated Wine Spa. In fact you can smell it as soon as you enter the hotel. You could say it's intoxicating. One of the many treatments on offer is a wine bath. What decadence!
  • A warm red wine bath for 10 minutes followed by a 30 min massage with Schuchmann made grape seed oil is lauded with the usual incredible attributes - it moisturises, acts as an antioxidant (to wine drinking?!) is anti-ageing & leaves your skin soft and elastic. Please may it work really well ....
  • SG is not good at selfies - her arm does not seem long enough to give the right angle. She obviously needs the dreaded selfie stick. Anyway SG spends most of her 10 min soak trying to take a respectable selfie. With vine leaves appropriately placed. It's neither easy to take nor is the result very good. Reluctantly it is published - for a laugh.
  • By the way the massage is good. And yes very relaxing.
  • The evening ends with another son & lumiere show over the vineyard - put on for free by Mother Nature. It is the second major thunderstorm we have witnessed within a week. Is God angry about something?

Ethos of Schuchmann Winery

Ethos of Schuchmann Winery

Typical Balcony Feature on Grand Old Georgian House

Typical Balcony Feature on Grand Old Georgian House

Fine Dining French Style at Chavchavadze Estate

Fine Dining French Style at Chavchavadze Estate

Typical Fireplace in Georgian Home

Typical Fireplace in Georgian Home

Chavchavadze Estate - The First Winery To Produce European Wines

Chavchavadze Estate - The First Winery To Produce European Wines

Dance Class on Photo Shoot @ Chavchavadze Estate

Dance Class on Photo Shoot @ Chavchavadze Estate

It Looks a While Since the Dance Teacher Did the Splits!

It Looks a While Since the Dance Teacher Did the Splits!

3C BC Qveri Clay Container

3C BC Qveri Clay Container

Traditional Equipment to Make Chacha

Traditional Equipment to Make Chacha

Shumi Wine Offer

Shumi Wine Offer

Lunch Up the Tower with Fantastic Views

Lunch Up the Tower with Fantastic Views

It's a Constant 12-14C Down the Tunnels. AG All Wrapped Up

It's a Constant 12-14C Down the Tunnels. AG All Wrapped Up

All Wrapped Up in Tunnel of Khareba Winery

All Wrapped Up in Tunnel of Khareba Winery

One of Khareba Tunnels

One of Khareba Tunnels

Traditional Tasting Horn

Traditional Tasting Horn

Monastery Red / Qveri Style

Monastery Red / Qveri Style

Details of Qveri Red Wine

Details of Qveri Red Wine

Wine Tasting in Khareba Tunnel

Wine Tasting in Khareba Tunnel

Notting is Wasted. Chacha is By Product of Qveri Process

Notting is Wasted. Chacha is By Product of Qveri Process

Schuchmann Winery - One of the Branding Images

Schuchmann Winery - One of the Branding Images

Export Branding @ Schuchmann Winery

Export Branding @ Schuchmann Winery

Busy Sticking Labels

Busy Sticking Labels

Busy Packing the Latest Consignment

Busy Packing the Latest Consignment

Ukraine HGV Awaiting Its Load

Ukraine HGV Awaiting Its Load

Lots of Space Inside HGV for Wine

Lots of Space Inside HGV for Wine

Truck Driver Cooks His Supper Before a Going To Sleep

Truck Driver Cooks His Supper Before a Going To Sleep

Business as Usual @ Schuchmann Winery

Business as Usual @ Schuchmann Winery

Decadent Bathing @ Schuchmann Winery

Decadent Bathing @ Schuchmann Winery

Reluctant Selfie in Bath of Red Wine

Reluctant Selfie in Bath of Red Wine

A Storm is Brewing

A Storm is Brewing

Posted by sagbucks 21:01 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

From Mountain Peaks to Kakheti Vineyard

overcast 20 °C

Day 25 Sunday June18 2017
Kazbegi to Telavi / 216 km

  • As anticipated the early morning views of Mt Kazbek are clear. In the photo, if you zoom in to the far left, at grass level and just above the shade line, you should be able to see the Tsminda Sameba Church. There in all its glory & majesty. A spiritual beacon 24/7.
  • But mountain scenery is ephemeral. By the time we prepare to leave Rooms Hotel, the clouds are back.
  • Check out time is a bit of a frenzy. Lots of different types of travellers - young, old, local, international, groups & independents. As for cluster groups of weary looking, disheveled men who carry only the smallest of overnight bags, they have most likely spent many hours of their stay in the casino, and not hiking up Mt Kazbek!
  • Today will be a day of big contrast. We leave the mountains around Kazbegi and descend to Eastern Georgia, to a region called Kakheti. We could hardly not go there - it is Georgia's premier wine growing area. You will not be surprised to hear we are staying a couple of nights on a vineyard, the Schuchmann winery. In fact there are several vineyards near Telavi that offer accommodation as well as cellar door experiences.
  • For the initial 90 km or so we retrace our outward route through the Jvari Pass ( 2379 m ) past the Friendship Memorial and onto the ski resort of Gudauri. By the time we reach Ananuri Fortress (see Day 22 blog ) the outside temperature is back to a respectable 20C.
  • At 100 km we turn off the Tbilisi road ( we're still not yet ready to go there - later ! ) and head SE towards Telavi, across country. On the route to Tianeti we find ourselves driving once again on 'work in progress'. Random stretches of road in various stages of resurfacing. Memories of the arduous Black Sea Coast journey flood back but remain unarticulated. Fortunately the sections being improved are relatively short and we are soon on normal tarmac again. We have many km of road to ourselves and although designated minor, it really is quite good.
  • As we drive through rural Georgia there always seems to be someone selling something roadside - this time it's mushrooms - the ladies ask for 3gel a kilo (about £1) which seems a bit expensive. But SG has no intention of cooking mushrooms this evening and therefore does initiate any bargaining process.
  • As we descend down from the Gombori pass (1500m) , the views to the north of the distant Caucasus Mountains are stunning - even with a lot of cloud cover.
  • Our monastery visit for today is Ikalto. We seem to have one most days! Neither of us have ever visited so many different religious places within such a short period of time as we are now doing in Georgia.
  • Ikalto monastery - was built in 8 & 9 C and like Gelati Monastery ( which we visited several days ago on the outskirts of Kutaisi ) was famed as a place for ecclesiatical & cultural studies.
  • Whereas Gelati Monastery was in the process of being restored, what we see here is the finished product. And actually it makes us appreciate those buildings we have seen that are less perfect in their appearance, outside & within.
  • Old wine jars (reproduction of course ) are scattered all around the grounds of the main church. There is a covered section where there are two large stone wine presses. Yet another area shows how the wine was fermented : in clay vessels that were sunk into the ground. Georgian monasteries were enthusiastic & capable winemakers - it kept the monks happy.
  • We locate the Schuchmann Winery nestled on the hillside just outside a village called Kisiskhevi, near to Telavi. This area, the Kakheti region accounts for about 60% of Georgia's vineyards. The vineyard is owned by a German who since 2008 has been developing the estate. It now not only produces 1.5 million bottles per year ( red, white, sparkling and a stronger grappa like spirit called chacha) but also offers accommodation, spa facilities & fine food. The winery produces wine both according to the traditional Georgian technique as well as the European fermentation process.
  • It is a mellow area in terms of scenery, vegetation and presumably people! 'Ghvino' is certainly a regional & national passion and has been so for at least 8000 years. Archeologists have discovered grape seeds in 8000 year old clay pots. Indeed wine may well have been invented in Georgia. Until the European fermentation process was introduced here during the 19C, Georgians continued to use the same age old technique down the centuries - fermenting whole grapes, skins, pips and all in a large clay vessel known as a Qveri. Hence the designation of Qveri as opposed to European type wine.
  • Local people still use the Qveri technique to ferment their own home brew. They never bottle it, just keep it on tap for everyday use. Rumour has it that no Georgian in this area would consider hospitality without offering a glass of home fermented wine.
  • Qveri wine may not initially suit the European taste bud. And it has a rather distracting amber colour. But close your eyes whilst tasting and it may seem more palatable. It is sometimes referred to as 'unfiltered' wine or 'natural' wine since it contains little or none of the 'European additives such as yeast, sugar or sulphur.
  • Many of the vineyards in this area produce wine according to both traditional & European techniques. It is said that 500 of the world's current 2000 grape varieties are Georgian.
  • This means we are visiting not only one of the two cradles of Christianity ( the other being Armenia and yet to come on our itinerary ) but also possibly, if not the birthplace of wine, then almost certainly a cradle of winemaking too. ??
  • First priority after checking in at the Schuchmann Winery is to sign up for a complimentary wine tour & tasting. See photos!
  • The winery produces wine according to both techniques. Georgians prefer to drink Qveri produced wine but not surprisingly most export markets order the wine produced by European fermentation techniques. Each of the 100 Qveris at the Schuchmann estate (such as you see in the photo) contains about 2000-3000 litres of fermenting wine. The wine is kept for 6 months in the Qveri & 12 months in a barrel before bottling. Qveri wine is more expensive than 'European' wine.
  • At the wine tasting session we drink a small glass of Tsinandali white wine ( a blend of two Georgian white grapes fermented according to European techniques & a regional speciality ). Followed by a Qveri white wine which is a deep amber colour and has much fuller taste, albeit a dry one. The Schuchmann Winery sell their Qveri wine under the Vinoterra label and they do export it. And the third glass is a very palatable full bodied red wine called Mukuzani from the Saperavi grape.
  • Well after all that, it is definitely time for dinner. The restaurant has a long outdoor terrace for summer catering. We enjoy local Georgian delicacies - chicken soup & mushroom salad in a walnut dressing, slow cooked lamb with red peppers & potatoes (AG's choice ) accompanied by a glass of chateau own sparkling Chardonnay. Cheers!

Early Morning View of Mt Kazbek - From Our Balcony

Early Morning View of Mt Kazbek - From Our Balcony

Daisy Fields En Route to Gombori Village

Daisy Fields En Route to Gombori Village

The Road Ahead

The Road Ahead

Mushroom Ladies - Gombori Village

Mushroom Ladies - Gombori Village

Ikalto Monastery

Ikalto Monastery

Old Stone Wine Press @ Ikalto Monastery

Old Stone Wine Press @ Ikalto Monastery

Clay Jars Strewn Around Ikalto Monastery

Clay Jars Strewn Around Ikalto Monastery

Not Roman Toilets - Sunken Wine Jars Used to Ferment Georgian Wine

Not Roman Toilets - Sunken Wine Jars Used to Ferment Georgian Wine

Vineyard Scenery @ Schuchmann Winery. Caucasus Mtns in Far Distance

Vineyard Scenery @ Schuchmann Winery. Caucasus Mtns in Far Distance

Schuchmann Winery Near Telavi

Schuchmann Winery Near Telavi

Clay Pots Sunk Into the Ground - Traditional Qveri System of Fermentation

Clay Pots Sunk Into the Ground - Traditional Qveri System of Fermentation

French Oak Barrels @ Schuchmann Vineyard

French Oak Barrels @ Schuchmann Vineyard

Semi Sweet Wine Fermenting in an Ice Pack

Semi Sweet Wine Fermenting in an Ice Pack

Wine Fermenting in Stainless Steel Tanks

Wine Fermenting in Stainless Steel Tanks

Georgian Qveri White Wine

Georgian Qveri White Wine

Posted by sagbucks 12:29 Archived in Georgia Comments (0)

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