From its green valleys spread with vineyards to its old churches and watchtowers perched in fantastic mountain scenery, Georgia is one of the most beautiful countries on earth and a marvelous canvas for walkers, horse riders, cyclists, skiers, rafters and travelers of every kind.
A deeply complicated history has given Georgia a wonderful heritage of architecture and arts, from cave cities to ancient cathedrals to the inimitable canvases of Pirosmani. Tbilisi, the capital, is still redolent of an age-old Eurasian crossroads. But this is also a country moving forward in the 21st century, with spectacular contemporary buildings and ever-improving facilities for the visitors who are a growing part of its future.
With a quarter of Georgia’s population, Tbilisi is the place where Georgians gravitate for action and excitement. The city brims with history and has a dramatic setting on hillsides, either side of the swift Mtkvari River. Its Old Town, at the narrowest part of the valley, is still redolent of an ancient Eurasian crossroads, with winding lanes, old balconied houses, leafy squares, handsome churches and countless busy bars and cafes, all overlooked by the 17-centuries-old Nariqala Fortress.
Beautiful, wild and mysterious, Svaneti is an ancient land locked in the Caucasus, so remote that it was never tamed by any ruler. Uniquely picturesque villages and snow-covered, 4000m-plus peaks rising above flower-strewn alpine meadows provide a superb backdrop to the many walking trails. Svaneti’s emblem is the koshki (defensive stone tower), designed to house villagers at times of invasion and local strife. Around 175 koshkebi, most originally built between the 9th and 13th centuries, survive here today.
Ever since the ancient silk trader passed through Batumi on their way and from Asia, Batumi has been a popular destination for people from all over the world. And it is easy to understand why. Stroll down the Boulevard, a magnificent 7 km of palm tree lined park nestled alongside the stunning Black sea coast. Stop off at a café or two along the way or walk onto the beach and settle down as the sun sets for the evening.
Sites to visit:
Prince Alexander Chavchavadze (1786–1846) was one of the most colorful and influential characters in Georgian history, and the palace and gardens he created at Tsinandali are a do not-miss stop on any Kakheti tour. The palace tour takes you around half a dozen rooms restored in 19th-century style and relates interesting episodes from the family story. The park is beautifully laid out in an English style, with venerable trees and exotic plants such as ginkgo, sequoia and yucca.
Dominating the Old Town skyline, Nariqala dates right back to the 4th century, when it was a Persian citadel. The most direct way up to it is by the street beside the Armenian Cathedral of St George. The tower foundations and most of the present walls were built in the 8th century by the Arab Amirs, whose palace was inside the fortress.
Open-Air Museum of Ethnography:
About 3km uphill from attractive Vake Park is the Open-Air Museum of Ethnography. This collection of nearly 70 traditional, mostly wooden houses from around Georgia is spread over a wooded hillside with good views, and makes for an enjoyable visit. The most interesting exhibits are in the lower section (near the entrance), where the buildings are kitted out with fine traditional furnishings, rugs and utensils.
Things to do in Georgia:
Walking and trekking:
Getting away from busy life is easy in Georgia. Whether you are following ancient trails along lush river valleys, past ancient stone towers and castles or catching your breath on high altitude mountain paths, it is likely that you will be the only person for miles around.
Mountaineering: With twelve mountains higher than Mt Blanc and some of the most spectacular peaks in Europe, Georgia is becoming the mountaineer’s new favorite country. While the bravest can anticipate scaling over 5,000 meters at Mt Kazbek or Georgia’s highest mountain, Mt Shkhara, there are also a huge number of easier, lower climbs for every level of mountaineer.
Paragliding: Filled with high cliffs, hot sun, and icy peaks, opportunities to catch thermals in Georgia is overwhelming.
Horse riding: If walking becomes too tiring you can always ride. Breathe in the pure sweet air as you gallop across the green plateaus of southern Georgia; gasp as your horse pulls you up and over the high passes in Khevsureti or Tusheti. And at the end of the day, camp in the remotest, most idyllic of places or find your own home-stay for night.
Georgia is full of wild, fast flowing rivers, fed from glaciers in the surrounding mountains, as the water races from its 5,000 meter peaks to the sea in just a short distance. Many offer superb white water opportunities, and you can take advantage of many carefully organized tours to experience this incredible adventure for yourself.
Wildlife: Due to its large areas of uninhabited forest and remote high alpine zones, Georgia has more species of animals, than any country in Europe. This includes a number of endemic species – perhaps the most notable being the Caucasian aurochs, unique for its splendid laterally curved horns. Besides this, Georgia has many animals which are now no longer found in Western European countries.
In Georgia, the food is quite appropriately an expression of the culture. Warm, comfort food like khachapuri (cheese-stuffed bread) finds balance with matsoni (sour yogurt). Herbs like tarragon, flat parsley, dill and coriander combine with walnuts and garlic for rich fillings and sauces.