Georgia offers history with great ancient villages
Georgia is an undiscovered gem. As it’s relatively small, it’s easy to absorb its rich mix of history, culture, nature, adventure, food and wine in one trip.
The Georgian countryside is simply gorgeous. The massive snow-capped Caucasus Mountains along the northern border feed raging rivers that carve steep valleys, clothed in dense forests. In the summer, Georgia’s mountains are a paradise for hikers, especially the Borjomi National Park, and the Kazbegi and Svaneti regions. There are routes for all abilities; some even challenge experts. The rivers have top-class white water rafting routes and there’s also great horse riding, mountain biking and, in the winter, skiing and snowboarding.
Away from the mountains, the fertile eastern plains of Kakheti are planted thick with vines for Georgia’s wines. Here, several vineyards offer wine tours and tastings, a wonderful insight into the oldest winemaking region in the world.
If it’s city life you seek, then the capital, Tbilisi, will not disappoint: It’s an easy-going capital that mixes modern and old, packed with monuments, museums, restaurants and bars. On the shores of the Black Sea sits Batumi, Georgia’s charming seaside party-town.
The scenery is stunning and varied and the traditional food is delicious. Its fascinating history has left a treasure trove of monuments throughout the land. It is also friendly, safe, and cheap: little wonder that Georgia is finally gaining a deserved reputation as a must-visit destination.
Georgian wine tasting: Taste the true tradition of Georgian wines at Pheasant’s Tears, which is the only commercial vineyard using the ancient method of fermenting wine in huge clay pots called qvevri. www.pheasantstears.com
Homestays: Outside of Tbilisi there are few hotels, but there are a wealth of homestays — private homes where the guests have their own room and are given an evening meal and breakfast by the host. The Georgian Tourist Office publishes a list of the best ones. www.georgia.travel
Fly to the mountains: The most beautiful places in the Caucaus Mountains are often very remote. It is part of their appeal, but traveling to them can involve long journeys on twisting narrow roads. Treat yourself and fly instead. Vanilla Sky offers several aircraft and helicopter trips into the mountains. www.vanillasky.ge
Top 3: Ancient villages
1. Ushguli : Said to be the highest permanently settled village in Europe, it has more than 20 ancient Svan stone towers and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Mutso: Hidden up a remote valley sit 30 fortified buildings clinging to the steep slopes of a narrow ridge. Although all now abandoned, the village and the views from it are spectacular.
3. Vardzia: The cave city of Vardzia was a religious settlement that once housed 2,000 monks in rooms carved out of the rockface. It covers 13 levels, connected by stone steps with the Church of the Assumption at its center.