With sublimely perched old churches, watchtowers and castles dotting its fantastic mountain scenery, Georgia has to be one of the most beautiful countries on earth. This is a place where the human hand has much enhanced that of nature. Finally putting post-Soviet internal strife and economic stagnation behind it, Georgia is now developing its tourism potential and making the full range of its attractions safely and readily accessible to travellers. Appealing accommodation for all budgets is becoming available across the country and opportunities for exploring by foot, horse or vehicle are expanding fast.
Perhaps its greatest treasure is the Georgians themselves: warm, proud, high-spirited, cultured, obsessively hospitable and expert 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’ll never cease to be delighted by the warmth of your welcome.
Introducing the Mountains
A trip into the Caucasus along Georgia’s northern border is a must for anyone who wants to experience the best of the country. Spectacular alpine scenery, wonderful walks and picturesque old villages with strange, tall defensive towers are all part of a trip to the Caucasus. Here traditions are more alive than elsewhere and the hospitality is almost compulsive in its intensity. It’s notably cooler in the mountain villages, which can be a blessed relief in August, and in the hills you should be equipped for bad weather any time. The best walking season in most areas is from June to September. Indeed some areas such as Khevsureti and Tusheti are only accessible for a few summer months.
Site of the ancient kingdom of Colchis, and famous as the destination of Jason and the Argonauts in their search for the Golden Fleece, western Georgia has always acted as a conduit for influences from the west into the Caucasus, from the Greeks to St. Nino to the Ottoman Turks. For long periods ruled separately from eastern Georgia, this region was also where the great united Georgian kingdom of the 11th and 12th centuries got its start. Georgia’s two largest cities after Tbilisi – Kutaisi and Batumi – are here, and the country’s lovely semitropical Black Sea coast and the border with Turkey ensure a steady stream of visitors. The coast, especially vibrant, charming Batumi, has become a dynamic holiday and commercial area since Georgian independence. There’s still a standoff in Abkhazia, where civil war and secession have caused enormous tragedy and suffering.
Georgia is also one of Europe’s major wine producers. Anytime is a good time to visit the wine producing region of Kakheti in the east of the country, but especially during the grape harvest in September and October. This celebration is usually accompanied by raucous drinking songs for which the region is famous. Georgian wines have long been a favourite of many countries in Eastern Europe and were enjoyed by the tsars of Russia. Not a bad achievement for a country that few people know anything about.
An easy day trip from Tbilisi by bus or taxi is the ancient town of Meskheta, once the religious and royal capital of Georgia. Today, the town is a UNESCO world heritage site and contains some of the oldest churches in the country. The most spectacular sight in the town is the 11th century Sveti-Tskhoveli Cathedral, the largest cathedral still in use, as a place of worship, in the country. Legend has it that this is the spot where Christ’s robe was buried.