Georgia is one of those delicious secrets that you’re both desperate to share and to keep to yourself – sharing it means everyone gets to experience its wonders, but keeping it quiet means it stays exactly as it is, undiscovered. Clinging to the edge of Europe but with one foot firmly in Asia, this is country that was part of powerful ancient empires, was a strategic point on the Silk Road and, in more recent history, was hidden behind the Iron Curtain.
Despite its re-emergence as an independent nation in 1991, we are only just waking up to its many delights. Holidays to Georgia offer spectacular mountain landscapes thanks to the snowy peaks of the Caucasus, lush valleys, beautiful beaches, vibrant, forward-thinking cities and more rich and fascinating heritage than you can shake a stick at.
But where to begin? Why right here, with our list of the 9 things that you must see and do in Georgia…
1. Wine, Wine and More Wine
It may be surprising to hear that Georgia is one of the world’s oldest wine producers, the oldest according to the 8,000 year old pottery shards that still had ancient traces of the good stuff on them. Therefore, wouldn’t it be rude not to do a wine-tasting, or two…or three? Produced using a traditional technique that involves leaving the wine in contact with the skin and stalks, and aging it underground, Georgian wine may well be different but it’s no less delicious than the vintages we’re used to. Kakheti is one of the most famous wine producing regions, a landscape of regimented lines of vines, dotted with quaint villages and wineries. The Khareba Winery is a must – it’s wine tunnels hold 25,000 plus bottles!
Situated on a lofty hilltop overlooking the Alazani Valley and watched over itself by the snowy peaks of the Caucasus, Sighnaghi is often lauded as Georgia’s most attractive town. Along with its good looks it also has bags of charm; it’s 18th and 19th century architecture beautifully-preserved. This is a place to stroll and explore, soaking up the atmosphere and a couple more glasses of that Georgian wine we talked about.
The root of Georgia’s Christian faith and playing a central role in the national psyche, this ancient UNESCO World Heritage-listed town is Georgia’s spiritual soul. Having existed since at least the 3rd century BC, the history here is epic and easily explored – all you have to do is wander the timeless streets. Head to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral to see Georgia’s most important house of worship and the place that it is said to be the keeper of the Robe of Christ.
4. Cave Towns
Just having one cave town is pretty impressive, but Georgia has two! Uplistsikhe dates from the 1st millennium BC and is made up of dwellings, churches, cellars and much more hewn straight out of the rock. Close to the route of the Silk Road, it was in a prime position to profit from its comings and goings. Vardzia is reached by a dramatic drive through the colossal landscapes of the Great Caucasus, and as well as boasting caves, tunnels and churches it also has some lovely frescoes to admire.
In common with many capital cities Tbilisi is a microcosm of the whole country country, a bit of all the cultures combined, the heritage of all the people who call it home and a place to taste all the local specialities…what’s not to love? As well as being a fantastically representative of its country – one in three of Georgia’s residents live here – Tibilisi is cosmopolitan, colourful and downright cool. The old town is particularly delightful to explore, with narrow old lanes, balconied houses and airy squares surrounding the magnificent 17th century Narikala Fortress. Tibilisi also has a fabulous food and drink scene and, interestingly, is really into techno music!
Georgia’s very own spa town, Borjomi was the Soviet Union’s go-to place for fancy water – a uniquely flavoured naturally fizzy spring water that is! You can sip on the water for yourself or take a dip in the warm sulphur baths, whilst admiring the resort’s Soviet architecture and enjoying the beautiful natural setting of thick forest as far as the eye can see.
8. Gelati Monastery
Another UNESCO-listed treasure, Gelati is a monastery complex nestled on a wooded hillside. It is one of Georgia’s most important churches – once you get inside and admire the colourful frescoes, you’ll see why! Founded as a place of Christian learning, it is a prime example of medieval ‘Golden Age’ architecture and is also the burial place of many past rulers, including the rather unimpressively named, David the Builder.
Georgian cheese bread. Need we say more? Oh, it’s probably worth mentioning that it goes well with the wine.
If you love the sound of Georgia, why not embark on an adventure through the Caucasus with our Eurasia Explorer tour, which throws in Azerbaijan and Armenia too!