When you’re a regular on my blog, you probably know I’m always on the lookout for the least visited countries in the world. Usually a search like that makes you end up in North Korea or some other relatively dangerous country. Not this time. I chose Georgia to spend my summer in and according to my many Instagram posts about it, you’ve probably already guessed I fell madly in love. Again.
The first time I heard of Georgia was terrible: war, misery and many, many refugees. Not a place to spend a summer holiday in, one might think. However, since the last war in 2008 – and Georgia has seen many – things have been pretty stable and tourists are slowly returning. To be more specific, Georgia has been mentioned as 3rd on the list of safest countries in the world!
The second glimpse I got, came to me in a Dutch television show called ‘most dangerous roads in the world’, where tv show producers would put two celebrities in a rental car, stick two thumbs in the air and yell ‘Good luck motherfuckers!’ Again, not the best way to get to know a country – and certainly not representable in my opinion – but somehow it triggered my wanderlust. I wanted to see untamed wilderness. And so the adventure began.
At first I just wanted what the internet promised me: a non-touristy wine country with stunning nature. What I didn’t know is that Georgia has so much more to offer! If you’re not sure if it’s worth your trouble, safe or fun to spend your time in the Caucasus, keep on reading as I will give you 18 reasons to visit Georgia.
18 REASONS TO VISIT GEORGIA
1.Nature in Georgia will take your breath away
Mountainous, green and luscious is the best way to describe Georgia. Located in the Caucasus region, just between the Black- and Caspian sea, Georgia is a rather well-endowed country when it comes to fertile soil and stunning nature. The country is home to tall mountains, green hills and stunning lakes and the best of all: it’s rather unspoiled! Take yourself to foggy mountains in Kazbegi, relax on the beaches of Batumi or live as remote as can be in Tusheti. I’m pretty sure you’ll never want to leave!
2.Georgia embedded wine in their religion
Forget France! Georgia is home to 525 grape species and wine is deeply engraved in their culture and even religion! The traditional way of making wine is by using Qvevri – large clay pots that are buried in the ground – which make the wine taste earthy and super delicious.
Almost every Georgian makes wine – even when they have 2 m2 to grow grapes – and they will tell you it’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted. Although Kakheti is the best region for tasting wine, you won’t find a bad batch anywhere.
Wine in Georgia is more than just a way to spend your afternoon, it’s a way of life. Recently archeologists discovered 6000 year old Qvevri with grape seeds in it, making it the oldest wine country in Europe. Grapes are displayed everywhere – even on churches – making wine part of the religion.
(More on Georgian wine culture soon!)
3.Georgia is home to tasty food
Georgia has a very diverse food culture. Most foods are quite heavy and the Georgians I’ve met told me they could only eat it for 3 days straight before they craved something lighter. Not me. I love their Kachapuri (bread with loads of cheese), Ojakhuri (a family style meal consisting of stewed pork, onions and potatoes), freshly made Khinkali (large dumplings filled with meat, cheese or mushrooms) and most of all Baje, an incredible walnut sauce. It is said that if you haven’t gained 5 kg’s by the time you get back, you haven’t visited Georgia properly!
This sweet lady produces up to 600 pieces of bread a day.
4.You’ll meet the sweetest people
It’s all about the people when I travel and Georgia made me very, very happy. Even Tbilisi doesn’t suffer from capital fever as the people are friendly and very hospitable. In Georgia guests are considered a gift of God and you will be treated that way. You could randomly nod at someone of the street and you’ll get a heartwarming smile in return.
On one of our first nights in Tbilisi there was a knock on the door of our apartment and when we decided to – carefully – answer, we were overwhelmed with the warmest welcome: our neighbors brought us their homemade wine – the best we’ve ever tasted, of course – using their best English to explain to us we should feel at home. Needless to say, we very much did.
5.You’ll see incredible architecture
Whether you love modern architecture, soviet style buildings or the typical old Georgian houses, Georgia has something for everyone. In Old Tbilisi you’ll find beautifully decorated houses and apartment complexes, looking like they were stacked up against the hills in a 1001 Arabian nights kind of manner, while in the rest of the city there’s plenty reminders of Soviet times. Scattered among the different parts of town you’ll find epic statues, modern bridges and buildings completely made of glass.
6.There’s a Stalin museum
It might sound a little icky when you hear there’s a museum dedicated to a Soviet dictator, however, it’s interesting at the very least. Stalin was Georgian and born in Gori, where you can now visit his birth house and the museum next to it.
Many people say the inhabitants of Gori still love Stalin but that’s not entirely true. Sure, some people are proud that Georgia produced such a leader, yet most of them loathe him the way everyone else does. Visiting the museum is an experience in its own way, which you can’t really describe if you haven’t been there. The best way I can describe my visit is… very Soviet.
7.Georgia is one of the best places to learn about religion
Georgia is one of the first Christian countries in the world and home to many monasteries and churches. The orthodox religion is still a big part of everyday life and churches are being built until this day. Unfortunately most of the beautiful frescoes inside the church have gone, as Soviets didn’t allow religion. Still some of them did survive, making your church experience even more awesome!
The biggest female saint in Georgia in Saint Nino, the woman who converted Pagan Georgia to Christianity. The Saint Nino cross – wine branches tied together with hair – can be found all over the country and are given to girls when they get baptized. In Georgia roughly 80% of the country is Orthodox Christian.
8.Georgia offers plenty remote getaway options
To really experience the remote wilderness of Georgia one must visit the Svaneti or Tusheti regions. Home to tourist attractions like Mestia and Ushguli, Svaneti is the place to get far away from it all. The road to Ushguli is famous for being as wild as it gets, giving even the most experienced drivers the creeps. Driving here must be done with the utmost care because when you accidently tip over, there’s nothing to do for locals than look down the Enguri gorge and wave goodbye.
Some of Georgia’s regions are so remote, you can only visit it 3 or 4 months a year due to the amounts of snow causing major landslides during the rest of it. Emergency help is extremely scarce as sometimes there’s just one doctor on a horse to serve 5 villages. Some call it crazy, I call it my retirement plan!
9.It has an interesting history when it comes to languages and scripts
The Caucasus region is home to many languages and scripts. Countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia have their own languages and Georgia is no different. Although Kartvelian is the official language of Georgia, many different languages and dialects are still being used in the rest of the country.
Georgian is the most pervasive of the Kartvelian languages, a family that also includes Svan and Megrelian (chiefly spoken in Northwest Georgia) and Laz (chiefly spoken along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, from Melyat, Rize to the Georgian frontier).
The history of the Georgian language can conventionally be divided into:
- Early Old Georgian: 5th–8th centuries
- Classical Old Georgian: 9th–11th centuries
- Middle Georgian: 11th/12th–17th/18th centuries
- Modern Georgian: 17th/18th century – present
10.You can buy the coolest souvenirs
I used to be a big souvenir hoarder and recently I had a major relapse. Mine luckily just involved importing as much wine as I could fit in my backpack, but chances are you won’t be able to restrain yourself. Wine, beautifully painted icons, Stalin mugs and stunning carpets are just some of the things you can buy. Best of luck, my friends!
11.It’s the best place to relax
Whether you like the seaside or the fresh mountain air, Georgians know how to relax. Even in Tbilisi you’ll find that there’s a laid back way of doing things, making it inevitable for you to slow down as well. Georgians are never in a rush – unless they’re participating in traffic – making it super easy to enjoy your holiday.
12.Georgia has a knack for drama
Monasteries, fortresses and giant statues are always placed on a hill or mountain, for everyone to see. Back in the day it was the best way to survive the many attacks the country endured, nowadays the dramatic way of building provides the best opportunities for (aspiring) photographers. I found myself holding my breath – chin to the floor – many times visiting some of the amazing sites the country has to offer.
13.Georgians are the best moonshiners, ever!
Georgian chacha – or grappa/ vodka – is made from grape pomace (grape residue) and contains at least 40% of alcohol (up til 65% when homemade). Just like wine, almost everyone makes it at home, even when they live in the tiniest apartment. Having tried vodka, palinka and other local hooch around the world, chacha was definitely my favorite as – despite the high percentage of alcohol – the flavors are still pretty good. Tasting chacha is inevitable when in Georgia, so be prepared!
No fence to hold you back.
14.There are almost no safety regulations
I can almost hear you think: ‘eh?’ Yes, not having safety regulations is one of my favorite things about Georgia. You have the freedom to go ANYWHERE, without being called back by anyone. Climbing a high fortress? Slight chance you’ll find a fence holding you back. While some find it incredibly dangerous, I think that if you use common sense, you’ll be safe and sound.
15.Georgians are great story tellers
Hospitality is one of the things I love most about Georgia and their toasting ceremonies might be the best example of it. When invited to a Georgian supra (feast), the Georgian toastmaster (tamada) is the person starting the toasts. Traditionally there are many, many rules to the toasting process, involving beautiful – and sometimes incredibly funny – stories. Guests may try to compete with the toastmaster by telling their toasting stories or inventing new ones on the go. As more and more wine is consumed, toasts can get very long and emotional. You are obliged to drink your wine, bottoms up. Sometimes, and to me this is very cool, wine is drunk from horns, making it an epic experience (and impossible to put down).
Hiking in Kazbegi
16.There’s something to do for everybody
Hiking through Georgia’s stunning nature, frying in the sun in Batumi or skiing in Gudauri, you won’t get the chance to become bored in this country. Visiting Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, will make a great city trip, while it’s still relatively easy to escape it as well. If all else fails you can just soak in wine. What would be your favorite?
17.Georgia is very safe
Although the rest of this post might make it seem Georgia is a wild, badly maintained country, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Like visiting any other country, common sense is the best way to arm you against most dangerous situations and Georgia is no different. However, once you visit you’ll notice that corruption, scams and theft are almost nowhere to be seen.
Former president Mikheil Saakashvili – although criticized for being a bad diplomat – is the one to thank for his reform program, stopping corruption in the government and reforming the country’s economic situation. Thanks to him police can be trusted, criminal activity has lowered and infrastructure has begun to develop. The only things dangerous about Georgia is that you might not want to leave (oh, and traffic!).
The Russian-Georgian monument of ‘friendship’ in Kazbegi.
18.Georgians bounce back, from anything!
When you learn about Georgian history, the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s a great, big mess! Despite being invaded by Mongols, Persians, Russians and many others, fighting numerous wars, and escaping the clutch of communism, Georgia is still here.
During all those terrible things, the Georgian people not only kept their faith and culture, they’ve managed to keep their lust for life. While meeting all different kinds of people, it struck me how openhearted and hospitable the people really are, which – to me – is so unlikely given the recent history. When you think that 2008 – when the Russo-Georgian war took place – is only 8 years ago and you see how much the country is advancing, I can only say it deeply touched and inspired me.
This is the first of many posts where I will be raving about my visit to Georgia. Before visiting I knew I was going to have a great time, yet I never expected I would fall madly in love so quick. I can recommend Georgia to anyone: solo travelers, honeymooners and even families with small children. Haven’t heard of it yet? Keep posted for more about this wonderful country!
Visiting Georgia soon? You might want to read some more!