Lovely Georgia sits between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea. Like its neighbour, Armenia, it has been fought over by many an Empire. Perhaps they all were in search of the legendary Golden Fleece, just like Jason and his Argonauts, back in the day when Colchis was a Kingdom on the Georgian Black Sea coast. Whatever the reason, by the end of the 18th century, the Russians had seized control of the country, not to let go of it until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
While Georgia regained its independence, it never managed to get rid of Russian involvement, resulting in the loss of two territories and a short war with the latter. Things are quiet for now, so it is as good a time as any to visit this little country and see what all the fuss is about.
Perhaps it is the Georgian wine and legendary hospitality that lures visitors to the country. As you will notice when you step foot in Georgia, an invitation for a meal is never far away. Before long you will be toasting with your hosts, dancing around and being fed copious amounts of wine and spirits. Georgians love to drink! Maybe it will happen in beautiful Tbilisi with its churches, winding streets and classical facades. Or it might be in Kutaisi, a contender for Golden Fleece glory. For sure it will happen in the Caucasus Mountain, as you hike from village to village in Svaneti or around Stepantsminda, formerly known as Kazbegi. And when you are finished drinking you can take a dip in the Black Sea outside Batumi.
Despite its ramshackle infrastructure, getting around Georgia is easy, and entry is even easier. No visa hassles here! So take a chance and be surprised!
Highlights from Georgia
- Start in Tbilisi, the capital, and visit its old town, the fortress, its churches and its markets, or just stroll along its river
- Visit Mtskheta, seat of the Georgian Orthodox Church and a World Heritage site
- Hike up to the Gergeti Glacier, or even up Mount Kazbek itself, passing the Tsminda Sameba Church along the way
- Go to the Stalin Museum in Gori, his birthplace, after gazing at his humongous statue
- See the Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery around Kutaisi, both of which are World Heritage sites
- Make your way up to the Svaneti region in the western Caucasus Mountains, with its medieval villages filled with defensive towers, set in dramatic landscapes
- Dip your toes in the Black Sea at Batumi before enjoying the nightlife
- Wander around the fresco covered caves of Vardzia
- Go skiing in the Caucasus at Pasanauri or try Bakuriani ski slopes
- Try some wine in Kakheti, that is if you still feel like it (i.e. not hungover) after being invited countless of times during your stay in Georgia to try their wines.
Hints and Tips for Georgia
- Visas are not necessary, which makes Georgia a good country to start your exploration of former Soviet Republic Countries.
- English isn’t widely spoken. Georgians speak Georgian, which is unrelated to any other language and forms its own language group. A dictionary or phrasebook may be very useful to decipher the unique Georgian alphabet. Russian is good to know, as many people still speak it, especially if you are planning on visiting other former Soviet Republics.
- Georgians are extremely hospitable and you will be invited numerous times into people houses for lunch/dinner and drinks. It can be hard for non-drinkers as toasting and drinking is very important during those occasions. Just be polite but firm when refusing.
- Since drinking is such a big part of Georgian life, there is also a lot of drunk driving, which is something to be aware of – it is not uncommon to end up in a taxi with a totally wasted cab driver.
- There are two break-away regions in Georgia, which are only recognized by, and indeed under protection of, Russia, those are Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which can only be visited from the Russian side.