Natalie has recently returned from her trip to Georgia, where she avoided the tourists and headed out into the scenic beauty of the country's mountains and hills. Here she talks about her favourite experiences, views and moments.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Ushguli. Having been to Georgia before, but not to the Svaneti region which I had constantly been told is the most beautiful, I was so excited to finally get a chance to visit Ushguli's famous medieval watchtowers. It is the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe (2100m) and takes 2 days to reach from the capital of Tbilisi, but the view as you approach the village is definitely worth the journey.
Georgia is known for its incredibly delicious food – everything is very fresh and full of flavour but you can’t escape a day, or in fact a meal without Khachapuri. Khachapuri is the traditional dish of cheese filled bread and is a little different but equally tasty everywhere you go. My favourite version has to be Acharuli - a bread boat filled with cheese and topped with a raw egg! Acharuli originates from the Adjara region and requires a unique method of eating to prevent making a mess… you can get an in-depth insight into Georgian food and culture on our Georgia culinary tour.
BEST NIGHT’S ACCOMMODATION
I stayed in a lot of great and varied accommodation on this trip, but the one that stuck out had to be Valodia’s Cottage’s near Vardzia Cave Town. The cottages are run by a local family who also produce almost everything they serve for breakfast and dinner themselves – think fruit, vegetables, honey, jams and fish fresh from the river!
My last trip to Georgia involved a lot of sightseeing, particularly of those monasteries and churches the country is so famous for. This time I was excited to see what else the country had to offer, and to explore the walking options in the mountains. It’s difficult to choose, but my favourite hike was probably to Shkhara Glacier, a 5 hour round trip from Ushguli to the tongue of the glacier. The entire walk was just beautiful and so green! We followed the stream and stopped for a picnic lunch on the way back.
Arriving at the viewpoint for Vardzia Cave Town – it caught me by surprise and it was definitely the most impressive moment of the trip. Looking at what used to be over 3,000 caves (now down to 500) cut from the rock between the 10th and 12th centuries. There are three main cave towns in Georgia and I'm always intrigued to hear which each person’s favourite is, as they are all unique and very different experiences.
Georgian wine! I’m pretty sure there isn't a family in Georgia who don't produce their own wine, so there is an endless supply to taste (some more refined than others). Depending on your preference you can purchase wine from one of the many wineries or from a local family. If you don’t want to carry the extra weight, Iago, a lovely man who runs a small bio-vineyard, exports to the Ritz…
TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
Do your research or speak to us before you travel, as it is important to have realistic expectations. Georgia is a beautiful, diverse and fascinating country but tourist interest is developing faster than the country's infrastructure, so you should still be prepared for an off-beat adventure, bumpy roads and some basic but characterful accommodation.