Topdeck has launched a new nine-day Georgia Explorer tour – that’s the country, not the state.
“When you first tell someone you’re going to Georgia, they often will reply with, ‘The States? Nice!’ When you say, ‘no, the other one, the country,’ they may look confused or perplexed,” Miles Walker, business development manager – Western Canada & Pacific Northwest USA for Topdeck tells Travel Courier Digital. “I have found that many people can’t pick out Georgia on a map, let alone tell you a thing or two about this amazing nation wedged between Russia and Turkey. I can assure them, and you, that while Georgia is a country less travelled, it won’t stay that way for long.”
From ancient ruins to fancy estates, the itinerary includes a walking tour of Tbilisi and Mtskheta, a cooking lesson in a traditional Georgian family home, taking in the Ananuri castle complex and a winemaking demonstration and tasting in Kaspi.
“This gem of a country won’t stay quiet and sleepy for long,” he says. “Some people are calling Tbilisi the new Prague with its gorgeous coloured old town and beautiful buildings, but I think that it really stands out on its own merit. I’m confident that it will become a permanent fixture on all adventure travellers’ lists of next places to visit.”
Having recently returned from the destination, Walker weighs in with his top five things to do in Georgia, including some sites straight out of The Flinstones and, of course, enjoying some local beer.
What’s a Tsinandali? Read on to find out.
Take in the capital, Tbilisi
The capital of Georgia is at the heart of the country, located in a region straddling the mountains between Europe and Asia. East meets West in many ways in Tbilisi: you’ll find Islamic Hammam’s (bath Houses) next to historic Orthodox churches, and European cafés and beer halls next to ancient castles.
It has been a geographic hot spot since the middle ages with everyone from the Turks, to the Arabs, to the Persians, Mongols and most recently the Russians, aiming to call Georgia their own. Indeed, many inhabitants of Georgia are connected to Russia by language and lineage, which is not to say they don’t have their own fiercely proud identity.
Tbilisi has evolved into a cosmopolitan city offering great food, cultural sights and sounds, Instagram-worthy buildings and its own unique form of nightlife. We partied one night in an old converted Russian Sewing Factory before ending up in Bassiani, which is the biggest and most famous nightclub in the entire region, and also happens to be in the biggest sporting arena in the city.
Drink up all the vino and chase it down with local beer, too
I bet you didn’t know that grape wine was invented 7,000 years ago in this very country (so the story goes). It is true that rice wine was being made in China a thousand years earlier, but that’s a whole different drink. So, yes, you could call this place the home of wine and it is much cheaper here than in the rest of Europe.
Visit a local vineyard for a tasting or just pick a riverside café patio for some quiet sipping and appetizers – close by at every turn. The names of the wines are real tongue twisters – Saperavi, Tsinandali, Akhasheni, Kindzmarauli, Tvishi – all are great options, or do as I often did and ask for “a cold white please.”
If beer is more your style a local 500ml beer is going to set you back a whopping $1.10 Aussie or 65 pence for all you Brits, so a great deal.
Visit a Cave City straight out of the Flintstones
Maybe you’ve heard stories of Cappadocia, one of the most famous cave towns in the world, which is not far over the border in Turkey. The cave towns in Georgia are much rawer, more remote and arguably even more amazing than its neighbours. Cave cities are something super unique and you only find them in hard-to-get-to places.
This is a major highlight of any trip to Georgia and, of course, the inevitable question that will pop up is, “Could I live in a cave?” I guess with enough local vino or beer the answer might be yes. There are three cave cities in the country, each beautiful in its own way. I only got the chance to go to Uplistsikhe, but would have liked to explore Vardzia and David Gareji. Google them, add them to your to-do list, and prepare to be amazed.
Eat up the mind-blowing cuisine
Georgian pizza moved to the top of my favourite dishes after my visit. Being a self-proclaimed pizzaholic I was blown away by Georgia’s version of pizza, known as Khachapuri, loaded with way more cheese than we are used to and topped off with an egg.
Georgia has many culinary delights not named pizza and being at the crossroads of Europe/Asia and the Middle East, the food takes inspiration from all over the region. The national dish, and probably the most famous one, is called Khinkali, small dumplings filled with meat, cheese or vegetables. You can choose between lamb, beef or pork, or if you are off the meat, mushroom, potato or cheese. Bet you can’t eat just one.
Shop until you drop
Something I totally didn’t expect upon visiting Georgia was such great shopping – well, for souvenirs and antiques. Every weekend there are local markets selling all sorts of incredible keepsakes from the Communist times.
I picked up a Georgian Beatles album (which I was told are extremely rare, the cover is written in the local language) and an old wine holder (which was 80 years old). If art, wood carvings or unique souvenirs are on your list, then the weekend and night markets are the place for you to pick up everything from old soviet era passports, posters, money/keepsakes as well as travel pictures, unique art, clothes and, of course, carpets. Local wine is another thing I had to bring home.
For more on the new nine-day Georgia Explorer tour visit: https://www.topdeck.travel/tours/europe/georgia-explorer