27th June 2017
The Land of Myths and Mountains tour began with a two night stay in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. The highlight of the trip for me would have to be the third day of the trip, when we travelled south east towards Telavi, with an exciting itinerary planned, including a visit to the David Gareja Cave Complex.
During the minibus journey our jaws all dropped as we passed the most stunning fields of wildflowers with a backdrop of Georgian mountains. Dario, our tour leader, could quite clearly see we were desperate to get out and enjoy the scenery so we made a ‘quick’ stop at the side of the road. This turned into a rather longer than expected ‘frolic’ amongst the vetches, sainfoin, ajuga, meadow clary, melilot, dianthus, plantain and bird’s foot trefoil – to name a few of the sea of wildflowers. We could have spent hours there! The artist in our group collected and pressed flowers for the remainder of the minibus ride so that she could continue to enjoy the meadow en route.
David Gareja is a 6th century cave complex, located near the border of Azerbaijan. We all set off on foot on our challenging but rewarding climb up to Udabno Monastery, with dramatic views overlooking the semi-desert landscape into Azerbaijan. Unsure of the exact border and with the ‘long running border dispute’ in mind, we imagined that we had one leg in Georgia and one in Azerbaijan! The many caves along the way are decorated with fascinating frescoes and littered with Georgian graffiti, sparking a debate about the role of graffiti in the history of the caves. After our descent down the hill we visited the ancient site of Lavra Monastery which, after hundreds of years, is still inhabited by monks. The group enjoyed a well-deserved picnic lunch under an almond tree.
Our last excursion of the day was a fascinating visit to a 300 year old wine cellar, which included an initial demonstration of how Georgian bread is traditionally baked. The dough is made into a long thin shape and slapped on the wall of an oven where it is left to cook for 15 minutes. While our bread was baking we learnt about the production and storage of wine. We then had our very own tasting of red and white Kakhetian wine and the Georgian brandy ‘Chacha’ – and obviously sampled the freshly baked bread straight from the oven, along with the local cheese and tasted the traditional Georgian candle-shaped sweet delicacy combining grape juice, nuts and flour, known as ‘Churchkhela’ .
Exhausted, we arrived at Rusiko Guesthouse in Telavi where we enjoyed stunning panoramic views of the mountains from the balcony, fabulous food and the celebration of a member of the group’s birthday. What a day!