Myself and Phil spent a week in Georgia at the end of last month, and I’m just getting around to doing a blog post, so let’s dive in!
Georgia is an underated, and often overlooked travel destination. So much so, that when I was telling people where we were going on honeymoon, I had to quickly follow it with “the country, not the US state”. Most people were wondering why we chose such a random place as a honeymoon destination, and I guess that’s part of the reason why! Myself and Phil love to travel and we really enjoy going to places that are someonwhat off the beaten track, plus, my ma was there in the late 80’s and she always speaks so fondly of it so it was always on my radar.
Georgia is nestled between Turkey and Russia and borders Armenia and Azerbaijan and it’s rich in history. It’s a really interesting place, and we definitely learned a lot about the country while visiting. Georgia struggled to maintain their autonomy against Ottoman and Iranian domination and then was part of the USSR until it’s collapse in 1991. You can really sense that Georgian people still harbour a lot of resentment against Russia. And while we were visiting, there were major protests happening in Tbilisi which all stemmed from comments made by a member of the Russian Communist Party.
We flew into Tbilisi, where we spent the first four days of our trip. Tbilisi was definitely more touristy than we ever envisioned, but the vast majority of tourists there are Russian. We didn’t come accross too many other English speaking tourists and most Georgians initially presumed we were Russian and often tried speaking to us in Russian! In old Tbilisi there are people who are trying to get you into their restaurant, or their store, or sign you up for their tour, so it felt more European in that regard than we had expected.
Our hotel Tiflis Palace, was in a great spot in Old Tbilisi and we spent most of our time around that area as is had everything we needed and was really cute. We also spent alot of time wandering by the river as there are lots of cute bars and resturants by the water. We ate in two fantastic and memorable restraunts while in Tbilisi, both of which I would highly recommend. One of them was called Shavi Lomi (thanks for the recommendation Matthew) and if you don’t know where it is, you would walk straight passed it. It’s behind a big gate that covered in spray paint. But once you step in, it’s like stepping into the jungle! Lots of big green plants and open spaces, and there are some wild cats roaming around in there too. The food was really good and we loved the chilled out vibe.
The second restaurant that I recommend is at Vinotel hotel, which is a fabulous boutique hotel with its own wine cellars. We had a fantastic 3 course meal here, along with a fabulous bottle of Georgian wine (more on the Georgian wine later). We also got a tour of their wine cellar and a tasting. Our entire meal was accompanied by a man playing the piano, and the bathrooms in that place were stunning! Georgia is exceptionally cheap, especially if you are converting from euro. To give you an idea of how much bang you can get for your buck, our entire meal at Vinotel cost us 70 euro! Amazing!
We took the cable car up the mountain one of the mornings we were in Tbilisi, if you’re going to do that – and you should – get there early because it gets busy. You get off the cable car on top of a small mountain that overlooks the city and offers fantastic views. This area is also home to “Mother Georgia” which is a gigantic statue on the mountain that watches over the city. The statue was erected in 1958 and she symbolises the Georgian character; in her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet friends and her right hand, a sword for enemies. There are also some ruins up there where you can climb to the highest point and get an even better view of the city.
We did a great full day wine tour while in Tbilisi too. You can book the tour that we did here. We were picked up from our hotel at 9am and dropped back at about 8pm that night, so it was a long day, but well worth it. It was just myself and Phil on the tour along with our driver, and our tour guide. Our tour guide, Alexandre was brilliant, not only knowledgeable about wine, but also gave us some great insight into Georgian history. We went to 3 different wineries and got to taste numerous kinds of wines, all of which were delicious. Georgians have a very different and unique way of making wine which we found fascinating to learn about. The grapes, usually with the skin still intact, and sometimes withe the stalk still attached, are all placed together inside these big clay pots called a “qveri”. The qveri is then burried underground and depending on the wine varietal, may be left there for a year or more.
Georgia is known as the birth place of wine, and archaelogists found evidence of wine-making there dating back 8,000 years, making it the world’s oldest wine producer. They have been making wine in the same way for 8,000 years, so they know what they are doing, which explains why Georgian wine tastes so different – and delicious! It’s clear to see how proud Georgian people are of their wine making abilities, and to be recognized as the oldest wine producer in the world, was a great honour for them. Wine is an integral part of Georgian culture and everyday life there, and we learned that most homes will make their own wine. It’s easy to see why they are so proud of their heritage that has finally been recognized by the rest of the world. Georgian wines are starting to make waves around the world and increase in popularity, and because of this, I can see Georgia becoming a big hot spot for “wine country” getaways over the coming years.
From Tbilisi, we rented a car and drove 3 hours North, to Kazbegi. This drive is not for the faint hearted! The drive is slow because it’s mainly twisting hairpin bends, but Phil is a confident driver so he didn’t mind. The drive is also stunning, we stopped numerous times on route to take pictures of the surroundig scenery. One such place is Jvari Pass, just outside the skiing town of Gudauri. There is a lot of construction going on in Gudauri, it looks like they are getting ready to become the next biggest ski destination in Europe and I can see why. Why spend thousands on skiing in the Swiss Alps when you could spend a fraction of that and go skiing in Georgia?!
Just outside Gudauri is the Russia – Georgia Friendship Monument which was built in 1983 to celebrate the ongoing friendship between Russia and Georgia. The structure is overlooking the Devil’s Valley in the Caucasus mountains. The scenery here is just spectacular and don’t be surpirsed to see cars abandoned along the side of the road as tourists rush to take pictures. You an also do some activites around this area such as horse riding and paragliding. We opted to keep our feet on the ground, and instead just took in the glorious views. As you leave the Devil’s Valley and head towards Kazbegi, you will notice hundreds, if not thousands of freight truck parked along the side of the road. These trucks are carrying goods accross the Russian border but they have to wait to pass at night as the roads are so winding and narrow. It was really a sight to behold; on one hand we had the stunning natural scenery surrounding us, and on the other, a long snaking line of more trucks than I’ve seen in my entire life!
Kazbegi itself, as towns go, isn’t anythingto write home about. There are some hotels, restaurants and cafes and that’s it. But you don’t go to Kazbegi for it’s nightlife, you go there for the mountains, and wow, it didn’t disappoint. I can’t even acurately describe the beauty of Kazbegi, sitting at the foot of the Caucasus mountains, and even the pictures I took don’t do it justice. It’s so beautiful, it looks fake. It looks like somebody just photoshopped this stunning scenery and popped it down as the backdrop to Kazbegi, it’s simply breathtaking.
When in Kazbegi, the Gergeti Trinity Church, or Holy Trinity Church is a must see. It’s a church from the 14th century that stands at an elevation of 2170 metres, under Mount Kazbegi. The views from up there are simply amazing. You can hike up or, for the lazy like us, you will be glad to hear that there is a very very very very windy road that you can drive up. I was dizzy when we reached the top! You can still enter the church, but you do need to be dressed modestly to do so. Women must cover their hair and be wearing long skirts and men should have long pants on. Women can get the hair coverings and something to wrap around your waist if you have pants on, just outside the entrance. Be quiet and respectful when in there as there are people who are praying. It’s a small but beautiful church and interesting to note that during Soviet rule in Georgia, religious services were banned, but now many couples ascend the mountain just to get married there. Alas there was no wedding happening while we were there!
Our hotel, Porta Caucasia Kazbegi, was fabulous and situated just at the foot of the mountains. In the mornings, I loved going out onto our balcony and just looking up in wonder, it really was an amazing view to take in. Rooms Hotel is another stunning hotel offering stunning views amongst a very contemparary hotel. We walked up there one afternoon (and were swaeting when we reached the hotel) and enjoyed a few drinks on their huge balcony.
When we drove back to Tbilisi, we had only one night left before we jetted off to Istanbul, so we went out for dinner and drinks in one of the many restaurants and bars that Old Tbilisi has to offer. We really loved our time in Georgia, the people were friendly, albeit many of them didn’t speak much English, the food was delicious, the wine was amazing and the views, even better. It’s my prediction that over the next 5 years or so, we will really see Georgia becoming a hub for Europeans looking for a getaway, so I’m glad we got to see it before it becomes oversaturated with tourists. If you have the chance, it’s a place I’d really recommend you visit.
Until next time 🙂