Georgia’s recent renaissance in tourism is bringing the world to its doorstep, says Swati Basu Das.
With Georgia on my mind (no, not that one), I couldn’t help but recall the words of celebrity chef and travel writer Anthony Bourdain, who hailed Georgia for its excellent food and scenery, and said: “It’s a place you should absolutely visit, given a chance.”
In the fertile lap of the Caucasus, which lies between the Black and Caspian Seas, Georgia’s contribution to the region’s topography, culture and tradition is considerable. From vines of plump, black grapes to crops of zesty cucumbers; sparkling glacial waters, pulsating nightlife or bubbling sulphur baths; my travel mojo has just been treated to a major boost by Georgia.
Strategically located, at the junction of Europe and West Asia, Georgia won its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Its history is linked to its people. The Georgians have been characterised down the ages through evolving civilisations, customs and even dialects.
Settled along the banks of the Kura River – Tbilisi – the country’s capital, is a city that merges stolid tradition with an edginess, creativity and artistry fired by throwing aside the fetters of the old Soviet regime. Restaurants and cafes to suit every pocket proliferate, with many gems nestling along sparsely-paved alleyways. The city has undergone a cultural revolution; with quirky boutiques serving shoppers keen to cast off the bonds of spartan Communist-era living for all time. However, some of the venerable architecture is eye candy for history buffs and perfect for pointing your smartphone at, such as the Ottoman-era Opera House.
The country’s previously unheralded literary tradition can also be witnessed in the capital city’s Literature Museum by lounging in one of its voluminous leather chairs, tome in hand. Believing that travellers are sent by God, Georgians are not shy to be hospitable. Every Georgian meal is an experience and may include countless toasts, even if the course simply consists of khinkali dumplings, or lamb doused in thyme-rich stew.
To travel to Georgia is to enjoy an odyssey through the ages. This country offers a fusion of past and present while embracing the dynamism of future progress.
My favourite place- Gudauri is Georgia’s largest ski-resort and is a 120km journey from Tbilisi. It lies amid the picturesque slopes of the Lesser Caucasus range, at an altitude of 3300 metres. As you can imagine, the Georgian winter brings a heavy snowfall that turns it into a skier’s paradise. This place is where to be for heliskiing and para-gliding, and most outdoor activities depending on what time of year you come. A ski-lift ride or a quick jaunt in a cable car will reward you with a panoramic view of the Alpine ranges, not to mention the chance to gasp gallons of scintillating fresh air.
Highlights- Travelling northwest of Georgia along the borders of Russia will bring you to the quaint hamlet of Svaneti. The lansdscape surrounding this UNESCO World Heritage-listed centre is peppered with some pretty formidable-looking 12th-century stone watchtowers. These once repelled many an enemy invasion and are still standing, having withstood adversity for centuries. A 40-minute drive from Gudauri will bring you to the mesmerising mountain of Kazbegi. A cradle of 135 sq.km expanse of glaciers, hot springs and lakes, it is a perfect spot for mountaineers and trekkers. Legend has it that Titan Prometheus was chained to the icy slopes of Kazbegi for eternity. The Russia-Georgia-Friendship monument is a must for snap-happy visitors.
A visit to Georgia would be incomplete without tasting its aromatic honey. Fresh as the air around, this sweet golden melt comes in myriad flavours. From fresh alpine, spring meadow, lime, chestnut to linden; these exotic honey assortments are some of Georgia’s most valuable products.
Souvenirs- Bring home sweet memories – Georgian honey, churchkhela (candle-shaped candy) or tklapi (a fruit porridge) and Zedazeni, a fizzy pear-flavoured soda. Enamel ornaments, traditional blue tablecloths and paintings are good to gift and own.
Getting there- No direct flights operate currently to Tbilisi International Airport from Muscat. Passengers can avail FlyDubai, Air Arabia, or Qatar Airways to get there.
Where to stay- Hotels can range from comfy, quaint Airbnb apartment or chalet offerings to modern, sleek options from some of the world’s best-known hotel chains. Some hotels have been converted from the old, monolithic Communist-era buildings but certainly offer an edge to your stay. Check out options online at Booking.com, Kayak, Expedia, Trivago and Hotels.com, and others.
1. Wallow in a mineral-rich soak at Tbilisi’s Sulphur Baths.
2. Take to the slopes at Gidauri for ski-ing or snowboarding.
3. Savour the flavours of Khinkali dumplings or Khachapuri (cheesy bread).
4. Meander your way through the Kakheti vineyards, learning about vines.
5. Stroll through the magnificent Bridge of Peace across the Kura River in Tbilisi.