Samuel Turner

Welcome to the part of the world where crumbling fortresses remain that once protected the Silk Road. A place inhabited by people that believe visitors are a gift from God and therefore treated with incredible generosity and hospitality. Where relics of the Soviet Union are still visible, but a walk down the old city is reminiscent of somewhere in Italy or Spain. Welcome to the beautifully unique and eclectically charming country of Georgia, tucked arguably in the centre of the world – straddling Russia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

georgia at night

Great Georgian grapes

Georgia is known for it is its incredible wine, mastered over thousands of years to near perfection. Evidence of wine making was found in modern day Georgia dating back over eight thousand years making them the well deserved innovator of the glorious grape beverage. No wonder it is so irresistible!

The unique process of Georgian wine is made by adding the grapes, pips, skin and stalks into a clay pot and sealing it underground for months while it ferments. The result is an unmatched taste and the price truly does not reflect the quality. For as little $1.50 you can get a litre of homemade wine, often sold in plastic bottles by elderly women attesting to its excellence and taste. So grab a goblet, put your feet up and soak in all that Georgia has to offer – because there is a whole lot.

georgia mountains

Tell me about Georgia

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia began focusing on tourism as one of its main sources of income. Its growth nowadays is due to its affordability, a free 365-day visa for most travellers and a certain authenticity that still encompasses the entire country. My advice - get in while it is still super affordable, less touristic and generally isolated from the Western world. 

Georgia is a country with a long and tumultuous history, with many occupations from historical superpowers from the Greeks to Turks and Russians to Mongols. Nevertheless, they have maintained their own identity, independence and unique language making them very proud people.

georgia scenery

Nature and history intertwined

Second only to wine, Georgia is known for its boundless mountains and postcard views. Pretty sights are only half of the story however, as so many of its beautiful regions are entangled with a rich and ancient history.

The Svaneti region (sharing its glorious mountains with Russia) is littered with huge stone guard towers, sporadically spread throughout their cities and countryside. This obscure protection method of its cities and people proved invaluable, as Georgia was invaded countless of times throughout history. Nowadays, the towers have become synonymous with Mestia, the main city of the region.

From Mestia, you can daydream into incredible snow-topped mountains and sleep in the small cities nestled in the valleys underneath. These towns offer guesthouse accommodation for around $10 a night and you can easily hike from city to city (but sometimes snow makes this impossible). The 20km hike to Zhaabeshi will weave you through lime green plateaus as you climb up and down through shrubbery and forest. You’ll be dodging cows (arguably the national animal of Georgia) that wander all throughout this region whether it’s in the highlands or in the towns. Bring waterproof shoes because you’ll be certain to cross a stream or two coming down from the mountains.

georgia nature

The delicate balance of accessibility and remoteness is what is so appealing about this region. Only three hours away from the closest city, the Svaneti region somehow makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a far-away paradise like Switzerland.

The city of Borjomi is known for Georgia’s largest export - natural spring water. The notoriety of the water stems from a century old story of troops using the sulphur enriched waters to bathe and drink when crippled by an “epidemic” whilst fighting the Ottomans. It cured them from their ails and after many other important figures benefitted from their scientifically proven restorative powers, including Russian Tsars and the Soviet Union’s elite. A winding walk through the forest will bring you to where the hidden Tsars Baths lie. Today you can bathe in these pools for less than three dollars and experience the strange mix of relaxation and slightly intoxicating aroma of sulphur.

cow in georgia

Less famous but equally impressive are the crumbling castles perched above the city. They were used as a crude messaging system as well as fortification, signalling through fire when danger was approaching. The five hundred year old fortresses also boast intricate tunnel systems that would lead to safety.

I’m writing this from my guesthouse where I’m staying with Maria – a kind grandmother who dragged me in off the street after arriving by bus. She is strangely paranoid about me using the gas stove and incessant on cleaning my shoes. But the hospitality of the Georgian people is one of the many reasons I love this country and I want for you to experience the same! So dust off the hiking boots and prepare your liver, Georgia is easy to love and hard to leave.

Don’t forget:

  • A wonderful Georgian custom is to wish something for you when you sneeze, whether it be money, strength or health. Don’t be afraid if people yell at you in public after sneezing!
  • To try khinkhali – a dumpling best gauged on its quality by the taste of the flavoured water that surrounds the meat inside.
  • Scour the local vintage markets – a prominent ex-member of the Soviet Union, Georgia has a wealth of Soviet memorabilia available for a steal.

 

Samuel Turner is an Australian journalist with a passion for adventure, travel and food. Follow him on Instagram @turnernator and Facebook Samuel Turner.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.