Not to be confused with the American state of the same name, Georgia, a mountainous nation in the Caucasus region of Europe, is one of the best developed and traveler-friendly countries in the area. It is one of the oldest inhabited places with regards to agrarian civilization, with archeological evidence found in Georgia of vineyards that were grown and harvested as far back as 8,000 BCE.
Despite their proximity to Russia and Iran, the people of this country are not ethnically related in any way to either group, odd as it may seem. However, with intensely mountainous terrain and strings of old fortifications beefing up these highly secure positions, they have managed to repel potential colonial masters over the eons and in doing so, preserve their unique culture to this day.
Like Armenia, Christianity has a strong tradition here, having been introduced here not long after their neighbour, making it the second nation on Earth to adopt it as their state religion. Due to their belief in their interpretation of Scripture that guests come from God, travelers are very likely to be very warmly received here.
Whether you simply strike a friendly chat in the street with a merchant, or manage to get invited to an hours-long dinner party, you will likely have a memorable trip to Georgia, whose people stand above its lofty mountains and timeless monasteries as its greatest asset.
Currency: Georgian Lari
What To Do
After arrival in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, walk through the highly stylish streets to one of the most imposing Orthodox churches in the world, the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. Encompassing various Georgian architecture styles with hints of Byzantinism, this massive hall of worship was motivated by the desire to build a monument to Jesus Christ on the 2,000 year anniversary of his birth. The highlight of the cathedral is a 7.5 metre high cross coated in gold atop the churches’ dome.
The next sight lies just outside the city limits of Tbilisi, where a fortress called Narikala has stood guard over the city for over 1,500 years. With a perch that allowed it to stand as the highlight of the cities’ skyline, photographers will love taking shots of the city beneath from atop its extensive ramparts.
Heading out of Tbilisi to the eastern sectors of Georgia, check out Uplistsikhe, a town that was completely carved out of the rocky outcrops in the area. With the earliest inhabitants here arriving about 3,000 years ago, there is considerable evidence of the co-existence of pagan and Christian cultures over the years, up until the time that a Mongol raid caused the town’s residents to abandon the site in the 14th century.
Mountain enthusiasts looking to get a taste of the incredibly beautiful terrain in this country should make it a priority to visit Kazbegi, a town in the northern sections of Georgia. Sitting in the shadow of the tallest mountain in the country, Mount Kazbeg at a dizzying 5,033 metres, hiking and trekking is by far the biggest draw for travelers making the journey here.
Casual trekkers can make a 1 ½ hour in/out journey to the Gergeti Trinity Church, which stands as a choice viewpoint of the town below, while more dedicated mountaineers can challenge the aforementioned tall peak. Other activities worth doing for the adrenaline seeker include paragliding, whitewater rafting and kayaking, as this region lends itself well to the outdoor enthusiast.
Being the home of one of Georgia’s most resilient cultures, the region of Svaneti has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for retaining many of its elements even in this modern day and age. While the multi-day trekking in this region is also very highly regarded, Svaneti is better known for its dancing and singing. Hire a guide in one of the towns or cities in the area to set up a cultural encounter with the locals, and you’ll end up with an evening that you are unlikely to forget anytime soon!
What To Eat
There are a number of unique foods worth experiencing in Georgia, which is not a surprising fact considering the proud cultural identity that has been fostered here over many generations. Khachapuri is leavened bread that is stuffed with cheese, but also has eggs and potatoes in other variations. Special versions of the dish are made for Christmas, so this is a pastry that ought to be tried by the traveler, given the opportunity.
Khinkalis are dumplings filled with liberally spiced meats, usually beef or pork, onions, and herbs. To eat them properly, suck out the meat juices with the very first bite to prevent it from breaking. Don’t eat the hardened tops, as they are used to see how many dumplings you have eaten!
Mtsvadi is the Georgian word for shashlik, or shish kabob, as it is a dish that consists of roasting meat on a spit, often over an open flame. It is prepared by flavouring the meat with vinegar and salt, and is often served with onions and pomegranate seeds.