It’s extremely easy to love Georgia. Formerly famed as the holiday haunt of the privileged elite of the Soviet Union, today’s country is an often overlooked but deeply rewarding travel destination.
A location at the historical crossroads of Europe, Asia, Russia and the Middle East means it still draws influences from all four, and the end result is a heady one. From its mountain-perched monasteries to its valley-floor vineyards, and from its Turkish-style food to its remarkable capacity for hospitality to strangers, Georgia represents a very special slice of the Caucasus.
Capital city Tbilisi, spread along the banks of the Mktvari River, is an enjoyable but sometimes jumbled mix of old and new. Incense-fogged churches and traditional bathhouses share the city with broad avenues and gleaming new towers, while crowning the skyline is a huge statue of “Mother Georgia” – holding a sword in one hand to ward off enemies, and a goblet of wine in the other to welcome friends.
It’s a sign of how tumultuous the country’s history has been, although it’s also worth pointing out that travellers and visitors fall firmly into the “friends” camp. Georgia, incidentally, claims to be the birthplace of wine – viticulture has been practiced here for more than 6,000 years.
Elsewhere in the country, highlights include the remote uplands of Svaneti, the relaxed Black Sea resort of Batumi, the spectacular hiking and horse-trekking trails of Tusheti and the tangled historical web of second city Kutaisi. Talking of tangled, the Georgian alphabet at times resembles a thicket of twisted fish-hooks, and its presence on everything from street placards to the endless marshrutkas (minibuses) that ply the roads adds an extra sense of foreignness to travel here.
Georgia is an endlessly absorbing destination, a beautiful and beguiling nation made all the more rewarding by its bottomless hospitality and friendly inhabitants.