An architect's dream, amazing food and festivals, peculiar language and the unique culture of one of the friendliest people, including one Joseph Stalin, make Georgia wonderfully alluring.
Sublimely perched old churches, watchtowers and castles dotting its fantastic mountain scenery, Georgia (or 'Sakartvelo' as Georgians like to call their beloved country) is a cocktail of influences from Turkey, Russia, Persia, Central Asia and beyond, with a wonderful heritage of architecture and art.
The country’s greatest treasure is the Georgians themselves: warm, proud, high-spirited, cultured, obsessively hospitable and experts at enjoying life. This is a country where guests are considered a blessing. The abundant local wine flows freely, tables are laden with fine food and you will never cease to be delighted by the warmth this country offers.
The country is an architect’s dream with ancient and space-age architecture vying for prominence around the capital and in the countryside.
The new parliament in Tbilisi, a huge glass and concrete bubble that resemble a frog’s eye, the slew of see-through police stations and other radical architecture are symbolic of a young modern Georgia trying to express its new-found aspirations for democratic transparency. Tbilisi itself is in a river valley and is completely surrounded by hills and mountains with a variety of centuries-old palaces, churches and fortresses that intermingle with completely new modern design architecture in Old Tbilisi.
A ride up the aerial tramway from Tibilisi is the ancient Narikhala Fortress and the Church of St. Nikoloz nested within. Just encourage yourself to climb to its highest point - where the Cross stays. The view of the capital from up there is truly unforgettable.
Any time of year is good for a traditional bath and massage experience at Old Tbilisi’s famed sulfur baths. According to the legend, King Vakhtang Gorgasali discovered these sulfur baths while hunting. So the name Tbilisi derives from Georgian word Tbili, meaning warm.
Adjara has taken on the mantle of Georgia’s holiday coast. Batumi, the Adjaran capital, is the destination of choice for most in search of summer fun, with a real party atmosphere, especially in August. The capital is also a visible proof of Georgia's ambition to westernize and shake off its Soviet past. Subtle, Batumi is not; it is the Las Vegas of the Black Sea. A golden Ferris wheel built into the side of one modernist skyscraper, promenades dotted with fountains spurting in time to French pop music and the whole city lit up purple, blue and red, like an out-of-control Christmas tree, mark Batumi.
In Gori lies the Joseph Stalin Museum, a large palazzo in Stalinist Gothic style, that exhibits many items owned by Stalin, including a moth-eaten towel, some of his office furniture, the bed he slept on, his personal effects and gifts made to him over the years. The display concludes with one of twelve copies of the death mask of Stalin taken shortly after his death.
Davit Gareja, on the border with Azerbaijan, is perhaps the most remarkable of all Georgia’s ancient sites. Comprising about 15 old monasteries spread over a large, remote area, its uniqueness is heightened by a lunar, semi-desert landscape which turns green and blooms with flowers in early summer.
Other natural attractions include the Tusheti National Park, an amazingly beautiful, isolated and culturally rich area, magnificent with an aura of timelessness. The road to this Park is basically non-existent but once you arrive in Tusheti, a day's ride from Tbilisi, you just would not care.
Food and Festivals
"A toast!" is the phrase dreaded by any visitor with a busy work day ahead. Out comes a bottle of Chacha, the lethal Georgian schnapps, or a large plastic bottle of homemade wine. Both must be downed in large shots. Excuses that you have to drive back six hours along twisting mountain roads won't be accepted. Instead, you'll be offered a bed for the night, and be propelled into a full-scale traditional feast.
The culture of toasts exist in many countries, however, the phenomenon of Tamada (Toastmaster) is the strongest in Georgia and has no analogue in the world. The Tamada, the most honorable member of a traditional feast, leads Supra (Feast). Tamadas are well aware of Georgian history and culture, eloquent, sociable with sense of humor and musical skills to introduce diverse toasts and at the same time entertain guests with poems, songs and interesting stories.
This centuries-old tradition, a clear expression of Georgian identity, is still preserved in modern Georgia in approximately 300 different toasts, some of which are obligatory for each Supra, regardless its duration.
Relish Georgian Pizza at cellar restaurants with live Georgian folk music that is not overwhelmingly loud. Some even feature nightly Georgian and Arabic dance performances with candelabra-balancing belly dancers.
Or enjoy the ambience and food of fashionable cafés, one with a pre-1917 theme and sailor suited waiters, which are good for ice-cream, cakes, salads, sandwiches, teas and coffees.
Georgia has a long and illustrious theatrical tradition; the Rustaveli Theatre, internationally famed for its Shakespeare productions, has impeccable shows with simultaneous English translation.
The BIAFF Film Festival in September draws cinema lovers, film makers, producers and film critics, who pour in for this international festival of art house and non-commercial films from Georgia and abroad.
The Pantomime Theatre, famed for staging some of the most technically accomplished and beautiful interpretative dance shows found anywhere, dramatically reworks some of Georgia’s most beloved poems and even the life of St George.
A host of adventurous activities from Betania's Horse Riding excursions to Bakuriani's Quadrocycle Rides will make an adventure junkie remember his Georgian times. Not to forget bungee jumping, hot air balloon rides and bird watching would give one a dear diary moment for sure.
Glide on tandem flights in the Tbilisi Sea and Rustavi areas close to Tbilisi, from March through October. Exciting challenges wait to be taken up to for experienced rafters near Rioni River in western Georgia from June through November.
Culture and People
Religion is big in Georgia. While many European nations have seen religious adherence fall in recent decades, the Orthodox Church in Georgia is booming. Dating back to the 4th Century, the Church helped the country keep its ancient musical traditions during the Soviet era and has been central to Georgians' sense of themselves since independence.
Attitudes in Georgia towards its most famous son are complicated. After independence, many Stalin statues were torn down but now some are returning to town squares. Yet if you go to any flea market you are most definitely going to find a mustachioed face looking out at you amid the bric-a-brac. Sixty years after his death there is still a market for portraits of Joseph Stalin, the Georgian-born ruler of the former Soviet Union.
Spoken Georgian is like no other language you are likely to hear. Rare sounds pronounced from the back of the throat with a sudden guttural puff of air that many visitors may never have heard before, makes Georgian language unique in its own way. What is even more bizarre, but very fitting to a country of dramatic personalities, is Georgian 33-letter alphabets forming these rare sounds.