Source: Richard Mcall on Pixabay
Located between the Black and Caspian Seas, this mountainous nation has always been on the cross roads of the trade silk roads and thus is of high geostrategic value even today, with Russia to the north and the Middle-East to the south.
Georgia, broke away from the Soviet Union in the early 90s, and despite being invaded by Russia in 2003, it has since become a very attractive tourist destination, benefited by the fact that it has been located on the crossroads of so many different contrasting cultures. It has certainly absorbed some of these cultures but has at the same time retained its own unique culture.
It is in fact the second oldest Christian country in the world, behind only it’s neighbour to the south, Armenia, and has one of the finest cuisines and wines in the world, though sadly this has not caught on yet to the rest of the world. It’s language too, remains mysterious in that it is not related to any other language tree in the world, making it a real enigma.
With fine wine and cuisine, mountains topping 5,600 metres and a pretty stretch of the Black Sea coastline, along with plenty of UNESCO sites and an extremely warm and welcoming people, it is not surprising that Georgia is being discovered by more and more visitors every year. Here’s just a couple of great sights you should make sure you visit after you book a cheap flight to Tbilisi.
With the third highest peak in Georgia, standing at just over 5,000 metres, Mount Kazbek in the East of Georgia is an accessible and popular mountain to behold.
It dominates the town of Kazbegi with a picturesque Orthodox church sitting near the beginning of the ascent at around 2000 metres on a hill top. This section towards the church takes only a couple of hours to ascend and descend (or you can even go by a 4×4 in a separate dirt track) yet rewards you with a phenomenal panoramic view at the top. No mountain climbing experience is necessary and it is not a particularly hard climb, so as long as you are in generally good health you will be able to tackle with few if any problems.
The town of Kazbegi itself below is a welcoming place with many places offering a homestay experience with a Georgian family. This will usually include delicious home-cooked Georgian meals, with dinner being quite literally a banquet which will satisfy any appetite! And of course all the home made wine you can drink, which just about every Georgian in the country has a stash of!
Tbilisi is the country’s capital, and is a safe and welcoming city with hundreds of bars and restaurants located in the old town, offering up some of the best Georgian cuisine in the country: This includes what is arguably the national dish of Georgia known as Kinkalis. Kinkalis are basically dumplings but in a tasty pasta-type shell, similar but distinctive from the Russian vareneky.
Pikali, on the other hand, can mean any assortment of vegetarian and vegan dishes, but usually consists of baked aubergine with fenugreek and garlic, which always comes with the compulsory walnut and pomegranate seeds which are either sprinkled on top or act as a stuffing to this and many other dishes found in Georgian cuisine. Indeed, even the Georgian take kebabs will often have pomegranate seeds stuffed inside for extra flavour.
The old town is also home to sulphur baths and a maze of old buildings, many of which are wonky and crooked from the sands of time and from past earthquakes. Just above this old town are the ancient ruins of the fortress known as Narikala, dating all the way back to the 4th century, and founded when the city was a part of the Persian empire. It also commands an excellent panoramic view of the city below, and an opportunity to take a spectacular cable-car ride down into the city below.
Black Sea Coast
Ajara is the most westerly province in Georgia, and Batumi is the provincial capital and the nation’s third largest city. Batumi is at odds with the rest of the cities in Georgia, since it has a few very sleek modern looking skyscrapers which also act as casinos popular with Russian tourists. Unfortunately this has led to the city having a bad reputation, but this black sea port has an old town offering up some unique Ajaran dishes such as Khachupuri, which is cheese bread served with a runny fried egg and butter in the hole in its centre, or the equally as decadent and high-calorie Iakhni, which is a thick beef stew, which is made from ground nuts and beef brisket with coriander and saffron flavourings.
For a volcanic black sand beach which is claimed to have numerous health benefits, you can head north to the town of Poti, or if you want crystal clear water pebble beaches, head south to Sarpi right on the border with Turkey, where cliff faces turn from deciduous forest to jungle, and the beach promenade is lined with palm trees aplenty.
With such an excellent and exotic cuisine on offer, exceptional hospitality, Black Sea beaches and the opportunity to see some of Europe’s highest mountains all compact into a country as small as Ireland, Georgia is one of the travel worlds best kept secrets. But hurry, because the word is out and within a few years it will likely be changed forever, whether we like it or not.