Snow-capped mountains, crystal blue lakes, unspoilt rolling mountains and a history that harks back to Babylon. Georgia is definitely full of surprises. Everyone you meet welcomes you with open arms, wonderful food and exquisite wine; why would you ever want to leave?
With only a 5-hour flight from London you still feel like you are in Europe, not the beginnings of central Asia, with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as neighbours. I did not really know what to expect from Georgia, but very quickly I realised that this was an amazing country with a great deal to offer. Georgia is a country with a long history and a some what turbulant co-existance with its neighbour Russia. Its history can be seen throughout the country as its conquestors left their mark in its architecture, its religion and its food! Its this history that makes the country so intreging, for this is the place where Jason sought the famed golden fleece.
Tbilisi is a wonderful introduction to Georgia; the city is a hub of all things Georgian, a fusion of Asian and European architecture. You feel as if you could be in any European city, with its wide streets, lamp lined bridges and pavements and stunning architecture, but then in the Old Town its Asian influences appear, with old terrace fronted houses covered in vines, domed buildings, cobbled streets lined with cafes and shops, as well as the crumbling fortress overlooking the old town it’s hard to want to leave this stunning city. As I turned down one corner I came across a distinctive blue building that made me think I was back in Uzbekistan, a bath house built in typical Uzbek style decorated in blue tiles just emphasises the rich influences this country is full of. Wherever you are in Tbilisi there is never a church spire far away. Georgia was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity in the 4th Century and its age old churches that fill its capital and the country alike are steeped in history and faith and are defintiely worth investigating even if you are not religious.
But leave Tbilisi you must, as there is so much to see in this diverse country. Heading north along the Military Highway, the rolling hills quickly turn into ever-growing mountains. Within an hour or so of leaving the capital you are driving through deep valleys surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
The road winding its way round the valleys getting higher and higher, and all the time Mt. Kazbek, Georgia’s highest mountain, is peaking through in the distance. The highway is a photographers dream, you think you have taken the most amazing shot and then five minutes later you take another corner and the whole view changes.
The region around Mt. Kazbek is a walker’s paradise, whether you are into gentle alpine strolls or something a little more challenging, you can find it here. The walk up to Holy Trinity Church gives amazing views of Georgia’s summit.
If walking is not your passion, then the culture and history will definitely leave you stunned. Highlights for me were the 17th century Ananuri church and fortress overlooking the calm crystal blue Zhinvali Reservoir, which snakes it way through the valley.
There are also the mesmerising red roofed towns of the Tsheti region, which bring back memories of rustic Tuscan towns.
Perched overlooking the old capital Mtshketa is the Jvari Monastery giving spectacular views of the old town below, with the Svetitskhoveli cathedral dominating the view.
Georgia’s big cultural draw is definitely its churches and cathedrals. Whether you are religious or not, the breath-taking architecture and wall paintings, some surviving from the 4th century, will make you stop and stare.
Now Georgia doesn’t just offer culture, history and natural beauty, it also has a great cuisine, taking influences from China, India, central Asia and Europe. Meals are a time for people to come together and tend to be mezze style with lots of different dishes and everyone joins in. You get a real sense of coming together when you watch Georgian families coming together in restaurants.
Tables fill with salads, delicious breads some of which are filled with breads, meat stews and dumplings. To accompany this fabulous dining are the many wines that Georgia produces. The country prides itself on the fact it is the historic home of the grape vine, which means it’s hard to visit without having a glass or two! There are several vineyards you can visit and do tastings and they are definitely worth visiting. While in Georgia we visited the town of Sighnaghi, picturesque in its own right but also a prominent wine production area, and took part in wine tasting.
For a small country Georgia has so much to see and offer. The country and people truly surprised me and I dare anyone to visit and not fall in love with it.