Showing posts with label Georgia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Georgia. Show all posts

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Soviet Legacy in Georgia Tour - 2017

The Soviet Legacy Tour

Sixty-five years of occupation by the Soviet Union has left an indelible impact on Georgia. A fantasy economic system, archaic infrastructure and deeply peculiar and repressive social systems are now being erased, but their legacy lives on.

This unique tour program aims to introduce visitors to some of the more obvious of these legacies; bizarre cable cars, crumbling factories, Soviet-era health resorts and more. It is a fascinating glimpse into the near past, and a reflection of an economic and political system that leaves many scratching their heads. Join us to look back at this fascinating period of 20th century history.


October 8:  Arrival in Tbilisi, and transfer to Betsy's Hotel Arrival times in the Georgian capital may appear slightly eccentric, with many flights arriving between 0200 and 0300. Your rooms will be available from the afternoon of September 23rd, and you will be met and transferred to the hotel regardless of the arrival time.

October 9: Following breakfast we will explore the historic part of Tbilisi; we will walk in the old part of the town visiting the bath house area, Narikala castle and Maidan Square. Later we will visit the Tbilisi Metro for a ride towards Soviet part of Georgian capital where we will visit buildings built in late 1960’s and 70 ‘s as massive residential blocks. After lunch we will head to the National Museum of History which includes an exhibition of Soviet Occupation dedicated to the victims of Soviet regime. Dinner will be at the Funicular restaurant built in 1930’s

Souvenirs at the Museum
October 10:  This morning we will drive to Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. The centerpiece of the town is the Stalin Museum; here you will see the house where he was born, the train carriage he used during the WWII and the massive museum building where a variety of memorabilia are kept. 

After the museum continue trip towards Chiatura, an industrial town in west Georgia. Important due to heavy manganese production, Chiatura has been heavily industrialized. The fascinating cable car system has not been touched since 1954. Brave ones in the group will be able to enjoy a ride in one of the metal cable cars.  We will continue towards Kutaisi and stay overnight at the restored soviet naval officers’ spa at Tskaltubo.


The Cable Cars of Chiatura
Tskaltubo
October 11: After breakfast we will tour the Tskaltubo resort. Founded in 1925 the town was one of the very first resorts built in the Soviet era. Numerous hotels and sanatoriums were built during first half of the 20th century, and they became one of the most popular elements of Soviet Health Tourism among all levels of Soviet society. Some of the buildings have been abandoned after 1990’s but they still have amazing charm. We will visit couple of these former sanatoriums before returning to Tskaltubo for our overnight stop.

October 12: In the morning we will head towards South Georgia; after short drive and couple of stops, we will arrive in Borjomi, another famous resort. Borjomi is a charming town that sits on the green slopes of Lesser Caucasus, with 65 % of its territory covered by forest. The main attraction of the town is its thermal waters. Ancestors of present Georgians knew the positive qualities of these springs and used it for medicinal purposes. The waters became popular for Russian Empire in late 19th century, and the government began building palaces, parks, public gardens and hotels to accommodate incoming tourists and patients. Renowned figures such as Anton Chekhov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky as well as members of the royal Russian family were among the common visitors of the springs. We will be able to taste these waters and enjoy a stroll in the garden. We will stay overnight here at the Borjomi Palace Hotel.

 Borjomi; the park and some old children's "attractions"!

Iago and Marina
October 13:  This morning we will drive back towards Tbilisi. Along the road visit Uplistsikhea spectacular ancient cave town dating from the first half of the 1st millennium BC. The famous “Fortress of God” is first mentioned in the chronicles of the 1st century A.D. Carved into the rocky plateau you will find huge echoing halls, long meandering corridor-streets, chambers for pagan worship, water supply system, secret tunnel, market and the remains of Georgia’s oldest theatre, complete with auditorium, stage and orchestra pit. Later drive to village Chardakhi where you will meet the local vintner Iago Bitarishvili. We will visit the cellar, taste his rare Chinuri wines and enjoy a delicious lunch cooked by the family.  After short drive we are back in Tbilisi. 


October 14: We will spend whole day in Tbilisi today, and visit the Car Museum, with a small but fascinating collection of old Soviet cars. Lunch will be at a local restaurant and later we will visit the flea market, where many old and fascinating items of the Soviet period are sold by a myriad of street vendors. In the evening we will enjoy a farewell dinner at a the Azarpesha restaurant, and enjoy Georgia’s unique polyphonic singing.


October 15: Departure from Tbilisi.

The Price: US$ 2,145 per person (Single supplement: US$ 495)

The price includes:

The Group: This tour will be marketed worldwide and will have participants from several countries and will be conducted exclusively in English. We will restrict participation to a maximum of sixteen people so early booking is highly recommended.

Terms:  A non-refundable deposit of $750 is required to confirm your place on the tour. The balance will be due no later than 45 days prior to departure. Once paid, all monies will be non-refundable, and we highly recommend that you purchase travel insurance to cover any potential issues that might otherwise cause you to lose money.

For reservations please contact Tamara Natenadze at: tamara@travellivingroots.com



Thursday, April 21, 2016

Touring Georgia: some ideas and observations.

Travelling to Georgia is a quite astonishing and unique experience, and I have had many requests for more practical information from readers. How, when, where and sometimes why are asked, and perhaps this will help.

Georgia is, as you will have noticed from my blog, a truly remarkable country. It is remarkable on many levels, and offers visitors an extraordinary variety of experiences, and that is just the beginning.

It is possibly easier to start by saying what Georgia is not. It is not a homogeneous destination, and it is not overrun with tourists; yet. It is not in the grip of any political crisis, and is a country that has managed to wend a path neatly between its painful past and its future. This has not been easy, but the country is resilient, educated and optimistic.

It is a country of passion; often the deep, thoughtful type rather than the ebullience of the Mediterranean, and a country of thought. To spend an evening with Georgians, eating, drinking laughing, singing and toasting is to have one’s soul opened; inevitably one makes toasts, revealing remarkably personal ideas, and sharing thoughts with people who until a few hours before, were complete strangers.

And that’s the key really; Georgian hospitality is legendary, and thousands of years of occupation, war and subjugation have failed completely and utterly in the attempts to extinguish the Georgian Soul. A combination of many factors: isolation, language, the alphabet and the Georgian church are just a few of the threads that have kept the identity burning and alive. 

An evening at Pheasants' Tears in Sighnaghi

 And it is an identity that visitors will find on their first day in this wonderful country.

The Alaverdi Monastery
The architecture, the food, the design and the landscapes are unique; the sights and sounds, the smells and stories will enchant and surprise. Geographically, Georgia is richly endowed with such variety that it is hard to believe each region exists. But it does; in a ten-day trip through the country one will pass from remote and ancient villages in the distant Svaneti Valley, to lush agricultural landscapes, to the rich culture of the Georgian church and the quirky design of Tbilisi, the capital city. One will listen to the haunting sounds of polyphonic music and embrace the different cuisines of the various regions of the country; and all the time marvel at just how small Georgia really is.

But now is the time to go. I have been fortunate enough to visit regularly over the past six years, and where two years ago I saw two or three tour groups, now I see five or six; hotels are sprouting up and magazines in Europe and North America are now full of the country’s many charms. There is a long way to go before Georgia is overwhelmed by tourists, but the time will come, and those of us who were privileged to visit before the hoards will be able to smile quietly and be grateful that we did.
  

The Great Caucasus Mountains in Svaneti and Mtskheta, the ancient capital 

And if you think that this is a shameless way to plug my two tours (The Classic Georgia: Food, Wine and Culture and the Soviet Legacy Tour) that will run this September, you are partly correct. They will be fun. However, I am more interested in ensuring that one way or another, you get to experience the Georgia that I have come to love – with me or with others, or simply exploring by yourselves. In the immortal words of Nike, “Just do it”!


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Chechnya; a glimpse of an extraordinary culture

In truth, I didn’t actually get to Chechnya, but I might as well have done so, and I loved the first flake of this remote, North Caucasian culture.

Mamuli Gumashvili
There is a valley in north Georgia called the Pankisi Gorge; sparsely populated for millennia, since the 19th century, 10,000 Chechens, fleeing  one brutal war or other,  settled here as refugees. This convenience has continued to this day, with more fleeing the 1993 war when the Russians so pitilessly bombed this small republic. Today, the vast majority of the Pankisi Valley are of Chechen origin, and here, Islam lives peacefully with the local Orthodox faith.

And it was here that I was told of a man born in 1870 whose son had a mobile phone; I knew it to be true because the son in question (Mamuli Gumashvili, b. 1955) was sitting next to me at lunch and told me himself.

His father, you see, had been seventy-eight years old with only daughters, and no son to carry his name. After his wife died, and leaving a suitable period for mourning, his daughters found him a second wife, some fifty years his junior. She bore him another daughter when he was eighty, and finally a son when he was in his eighty-fifth year.

If this Year Of Great Celebration was 1955 and he was 85, it follows that he was born back in 1870. And I can vouch for the fact that his son has a mobile phone.

And a Dechik Pondur; this three-stringed instrument, related to the Georgian Panduri, is plucked to accompany the haunting music of this remote region, and following the most delicious and over-the-top lunch he played for us.

The northern Pankisi Gorge
We were in an odd place. The community is called Khadori, and it lies beyond the community of Birkiani, the most northerly dot on the normal government maps. It is small, remote, deep in a valley of presumably high, but mist-obscured mountains, and is home to the most optimistic hotel and restaurant I have ever visited. 

There may be a need for a sixty-seat facility here, but I can't really see it; the accommodation on the other hand, a touch rustic but rather pleasant, would be most useful to those few tourists heading to the valley. Tourism here would be for hikers, those interested in anomalies and the co-existence of Islam and Orthodoxy, those interested in the ethnography and culture of the otherwise unknown Chechens and those simply interested in deepening their knowledge of the most fascinating country of Georgia.

Believe me, the food and wine are worth meeting; our lunch, modest I am told (but disbelieve) was served with passion and overflowing sense of hospitality; the meal was spectacular, and once more highlighted what a very fine destination Georgia is for vegetarians. Wild leeks, fresh tarragon and beets, salads and local cheeses, nettle pies and aubergines accompanied the barbecued meats and fortified us for the inevitable toasts.

Our modest luncheon spread

Including a toast, I should add, made by myself. I noted out that these were the first Chechens that I had ever knowingly met, and they were completely unlike the folks portrayed by the media. Their warmth and hospitality were irresistible, their music and cuisine delightful, and I hoped fervently to return and stay a little in one of their cozy cabins.



And so we left, driving past the valley’s communities, noting the mosques and chadors and marvelling at the 150 years of integration that has finally let peace come to the Pankisi Gorge. While it is true that some young men have left the valley to join Daesh, they are not seen locally as representative, and the vast majority of the Chechen population are dismayed by this intrusion. 

Making Khinkali
Not, I should add, that my rose-tinted glasses prevented me from realising that this had also been a lawless frontier, the centre of drug and gun-smuggling, kidnapping and much other anti-social mayhem until the Georgian government of Michael Sakashvili came down in it like a ton of bricks in 2004; but it was neither ethnic nor sectarian mayhem, it was simple villainy. So that’s alright then.

Georgia never fails to surprise and delight me; for such a small country (69,000² kms) there are so many very different and superbly variant places to explore; there are different cuisines, different musical traditions, different languages, and a eye-watering variety of landscapes. 

Today was no exception, and as I sit and write these thoughts, I can’t help but wonder what is in store for tomorrow as we head west to Imereti.


Are you interested in travelling to Georgia? Come and join me on my fourth "Georgia: its wine, food and culture" tour  in September 2016. For full booking details, please contact me! 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Georgia's Soviet Legacy: A Tour

The Soviet Legacy Tour

Sixty-five years of occupation by the Soviet Union has left an indelible impact on Georgia. A fantasy economic system, archaic infrastructure and deeply peculiar and repressive social systems are now being erased, but their legacy lives on.

This unique tour program aims to introduce visitors to some of the more obvious of these legacies; bizarre cable cars, crumbling factories, Soviet-era health resorts and more. It is a fascinating glimpse into the near past, and a reflection of an economic and political system that leaves many scratching their heads. Join us to look back at this fascinating period of 20th century history.


September 23:  Arrival in Tbilisi, and transfer to the Hotel Citrus. Arrival times in the Georgian capital may appear slightly eccentric, with many flights arriving between 0200 and 0300. Your rooms will be available from the afternoon of September 23rd, and you will be met and transferred to the hotel regardless of the arrival time.

September 24: Following breakfast we will explore the historic part of Tbilisi; we will walk in the old part of the town visiting the bath house area, Narikala castle and Maidan Square. Later we will visit the Tbilisi Metro for a ride towards Soviet part of Georgian capital where we will visit buildings built in late 1960’s and 70 ‘s as massive residential blocks. After lunch we will head to the National Museum of History which includes an exhibition of Soviet Occupation dedicated to the victims of Soviet regime. Dinner will be at the Funicular restaurant built in 1930’s

Souvenirs at the Museum
September 25:  This morning we will drive to Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. The centerpiece of the town is the Stalin Museum; here you will see the house where he was born, the train carriage he used during the WWII and the massive museum building where a variety of memorabilia are kept. 

After the museum continue trip towards Chiatura, an industrial town in west Georgia. Important due to heavy manganese production, Chiatura has been heavily industrialized. The fascinating cable car system has not been touched since 1954. Brave ones in the group will be able to enjoy a ride in one of the metal cable cars.  We will continue towards Kutaisi and stay overnight at the restored soviet naval officers’ spa at Tskaltubo.


The Cable Cars of Chiatura
Tskaltubo
September 26: After breakfast we will tour the Tskaltubo resort. Founded in 1925 the town was one of the very first resorts built in the Soviet era. Numerous hotels and sanatoriums were built during first half of the 20th century, and they became one of the most popular elements of Soviet Health Tourism among all levels of Soviet society. Some of the buildings have been abandoned after 1990’s but they still have amazing charm. We will visit couple of these former sanatoriums before returning to Tskaltubo for our overnight stop.

September 27: In the morning we will head towards South Georgia; after short drive and couple of stops, we will arrive in Borjomi, another famous resort. Borjomi is a charming town that sits on the green slopes of Lesser Caucasus, with 65 % of its territory covered by forest. The main attraction of the town is its thermal waters. Ancestors of present Georgians knew the positive qualities of these springs and used it for medicinal purposes. The waters became popular for Russian Empire in late 19th century, and the government began building palaces, parks, public gardens and hotels to accommodate incoming tourists and patients. Renowned figures such as Anton Chekhov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky as well as members of the royal Russian family were among the common visitors of the springs. We will be able to taste these waters and enjoy a stroll in the garden. We will stay overnight here at the Borjomi Palace Hotel.

 Borjomi; the park and some old children's "attractions"!

Iago and Marina
September 28:  This morning we will drive back towards Tbilisi. Along the road visit Uplistsikhe, a spectacular ancient cave town dating from the first half of the 1st millennium BC. The famous “Fortress of God” is first mentioned in the chronicles of the 1st century A.D. Carved into the rocky plateau you will find huge echoing halls, long meandering corridor-streets, chambers for pagan worship, water supply system, secret tunnel, market and the remains of Georgia’s oldest theatre, complete with auditorium, stage and orchestra pit. Later drive to village Chardakhi where you will meet the local vintner Iago Bitarishvili. We will visit the cellar, taste his rare Chinuri wines and enjoy a delicious lunch cooked by the family.  After short drive we are back in Tbilisi. 


September 29: We will spend whole day in Tbilisi today, and visit the Car Museum, with a small but fascinating collection of old Soviet cars. Lunch will be at a local restaurant and later we will visit the flea market, where many old and fascinating items of the Soviet period are sold by a myriad of street vendors. In the evening we will enjoy a farewell dinner at a the Azarpesha restaurant, and enjoy Georgia’s unique polyphonic singing.


September 30: Departure from Tbilisi.

The Price: US$ 1,945 per person (Single supplement: US$ 395)

The price includes:
  • Four nights in Tbilisi at the Hotel Citrus 
  • Two nights in Tskaltubo 
  • One night in Borjomi at the Borjomi Palace 
  • All transportation and transfers
  • Daily breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • One folkloric evening in Tbilisi
  • Fully escorted by Tamara Natenadze and MaxGlobetrotter 
  • All applicable taxes

The Group: This tour will be marketed worldwide and will have participants from several countries and will be conducted exclusively in English. We will restrict participation to a maximum of eighteen people so early booking is highly recommended.

Terms:  A non-refundable deposit of $750 is required to confirm your place on the tour. The balance will be due no later than 45 days prior to departure. Once paid, all monies will be non-refundable, and we highly recommend that you purchase travel insurance to cover any potential issues that might otherwise cause you to lose money.

For reservations please contact Tamara Natenadze at: tamara@travellivingroots.com





The Classic Georgian Tour: Food, Wine and Culture

The Classic Georgia: Food Wine and Culture

Well, this time I am going to use my blog to announce two unique tour programs that will be offered by the Tbilisi-based travel company Living Roots and escorted by MaxGlobetrotter! Needless to say, I am very excited by the opportunity to work with Living Roots once again, and to return to Georgia in September.

We will be offering two programs: our Classic Georgia: Food, Wine and Culture, and a brand new tour, "Georgia's Soviet Legacy". Each will be quite fascinating, and will dig deep into the life, history and culture of Georgia. As regular followers of my blog will know, I am passionate about Georgia, and love working with the folks at Living Roots to offer a unique perspective on this unique country. Our tours will be limited to eighteen people, nine couples; early booking is essential.

This will be the fourth time that we have offered this program, and we look forward to introducing you to the fascinating and surprising country of Georgia this September. Recognised by National Geographic as one of the tours that one must take in a lifetime, we are pretty proud of the itinerary.

Our groups are small and our aim is to take you away from the major tourist destinations to meet and experience the unique culture of this wonderful country located in the heart of The Caucasus. 


September 10:  Arrival in Tbilisi, and transfer to our accommodation confirmed for three nights at the Citrus Hotel. Arrival times in the Georgian capital may appear slightly eccentric, with many flights arriving between 0200 and 0300. Your rooms will be available from the afternoon of September 10th, and you will be met and transferred to the hotel regardless of the arrival time.

Vino Underground
September 11:  There will be an optional walking tour at 10.00 am for those who are up and ready that will explore the quirky center of Old Tbilisi; we will see the city from each side of the River and have an introduction to the remarkable stories of the early days of this strategically important town. Lunch will be at 1.00 pm, and later in the afternoon we shall wander over to the iconic wine bar, Vino Underground for our first introduction to the glories of Georgian wine.


Mtskheta
September 12:  The morning will be free to rest and adjust to the time zone, or explore the surrounding areas on your own. In the afternoon we will head out to Tbilisi to explore the Old Capital of Mtskheta and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. This cathedral, founded in 1010, is one of the most sacred places in the country and is a fine introduction to the importance of the Georgian Orthodox church in the Georgian soul.

September 13:  Today we will leave the capital behind and head west. First to the unremarkable town of Gori, made famous only because of its native son, Stalin. We shall visit the extraordinary, and rather chilling museum to his life before continuing over the Likhi mountains to Kutaisi and finally to Tskutalbo, our overnight stop. This resort was built in the 1970s as a resort exclusively for high-ranking Soviet Naval offices, and is makes a delightful and unique place to stay.

September 14:  Today we climb the mountains. After a coffee stop in Zugdidi, we will drive up the Svaneti Valley to Mestia. This region is special, even by Georgian standards! The communities that populate this valley are distinct and historically fiercely independent. We will see some dramatic scenery, gorgeous mountains and villages that have been here since the dawn of time. Finally, we will reach Mestia, the regional capital and now a center for hiking, skiing and a variety of other mountain-based activities.

September 15:  Ushguli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it is extremely remote and life here is redolent of the middle ages. It has a collection of dramatic medieval towers, and lying as it does at 2,300m, it is the highest populated community in Europe. We will have time to explore the village in some detail, and if the weather is clear, have a dramatic view of Georgia’s highest mountain, Shkhara which towers some 5,100m over the landscape.
Ushguli - High in the Great Caucasus

September 16:  Today we head back down the mountain to Kutaisi, Georgia’s second city, and an important provincial capital. It is blessed with a two UNESCO sites, and we will visit one, the Gelati Monastery, built in the early 1100s by King David. It is not only an architectural masterpiece, but also an important center of learning for centuries, and one of the first schools in the region.

September 17:  Today is a “Driving Day”; we shall start the morning in the local market before driving east. We will stop for lunch at Iago’s Winery, a charming family wine producer in the Kartli region. Iago’s wine is remarkable, and his was the first winery in the country to receive a bio-certificate for his vineyard and production. Skirting Tbilisi, we will enjoy the three-hour drive toward the Azeri border, and our next stop, this time for three nights, at Sighnaghi,

September 18:  There are many opportunities for sightseeing in this quirky town; we will spend time in the morning exploring the town itself before driving a few kilometers away to visit the 9th century monastery of Bodbe. It now functions as a nunnery, and is one of the major pilgrimage sites in Georgia.
Following a short rest, we will have our dinner, a traditional Georgian Supra, at PheasantsTears. This restaurant and winery is one of the most vibrant in the country, and an exciting place to meet some of the finest Georgian wine, cuisine and be introduced to the unique polyphonic music.

September 19:  We will spend today exploring the region of Kakheti; we will see the main town of Telavi, and later visit the unusual and quite remarkable winery of Alaverdi. Here, wine has been made by the monks continuously since the year 1011, and they have got it right! We will enjoy a tasting here before returning to our hotel in Sighnaghi for our final evening in the Georgian countryside. Dinner will be at a local restaurant.

September 20:  We will drive back to Tbilisi today and have time in the afternoon for some independent sightseeing before our farewell dinner at Azarpesha, a unique cultural restaurant in the center of Tbilisi’s Old City.

September 21:  Your departure from Georgia. Once again your flight may have an early departure time, but your room will be available to rest in prior to your airport transfer. Please note that for those joining our Soviet Legacy tour, this will begin on September 23, giving you a day to relax and enjoy Tbilisi on your own. 


The Price:           US$ 2,940 per person (single supplement: $650)

This includes:             
  • Airport transfers
  • 4 nights in Tbilisi at the Hotel Citrus
  • 3 nights in Sighnaghi at the Hotel Kabadoni
  • 1 night in Tskaltubo
  • 2 nights in Mestia and the Hotel Tetnuldi
  • 1 night at the Hotel Begrati in Kutaisi
  • Daily breakfast, lunch and 10 dinners
  • Five wine tastings and two folkloric performances
  • All entrance fees and excursions as detailed on the itinerary
  • Transportation by coach throughout, with 4WD vehicles for the day excursion to Ushguli
  • Fully escorted by Tamara Natenadze and “MaxGlobetrotter”

The price excludes the following:  
  • Items not specifically mentioned in the itinerary
  • Items of a personal nature


The Group: This tour will be marketed worldwide and will have participants from several countries and will be conducted exclusively in English. We will restrict participation to a maximum of eighteen people so early booking is highly recommended.

Terms:  A non-refundable deposit of $750 is required to confirm your place on the tour. The balance will be due no later than 45 days prior to departure. Once paid, all monies will be non-refundable, and we highly recommend that you purchase travel insurance to cover any potential issues that might otherwise cause you to lose money.

For reservations please contact Tamara Natenadze at: tamara@travellivingroots.com

 
The Alaverdi Monastery








Friday, October 31, 2014

Georgia in the Caucasus: Travelling with Journalists

As you probably know, Georgia, at the eastern end of the Black Sea, is one of my favourite countries in the world. Tbilisi, its capital enchants, Svaneti and Tusheti are two mountainous regions beyond description and the wine-growing region of Kakheti and its gorgeous community of Sighnaghi are utterly wonderful.

However, one sometimes gets to believe one’s own rhetoric, and faced with the critical eyes of an audience unseduced by its charms sometimes one’s loves shatter and fade.

And such was the worry when I agreed to arrange a group tour of Georgia for a dozen North American journalists last month.

We met at Tbilisi airport in the wee hours of the morning; most flights to/from Europe whizz in and out between 3.00 and 5.00am, and although the Georgians are quite used to this eccentricity, it comes as a bit of a shock to newcomers. However, whisked off to our hotel, and allowed a restorative six hours sleep, we were duly shaken from our reveries and taken for our morning (well, noon by now) wine-tasting.



Alaverdi Monastery


The wine is good too; with a history of making wine in clay qvevris for 8,000 years, they have learned a thing or two, and it was a joy to see the cheeks of my hard-nosed scribes start to shine with their new found friends in Georgian wines.
Wine is to Georgians so much more than an alcoholic drink. It is one of the very strands that combine with religion, language and history to create the fabric of this most interesting and hospitable country. The vine is a symbol of the nation; when Christianity was originally brought to Georgia in the fourth century by the remarkable woman, St. Nino, her cross was made from twisted vines. She must have been a remarkable personality, for the Queen of the time, Queen Nana requested a meeting, and converted to this new religion, and Georgians have never wavered in their belief.
Ikalto Academy

The next days were a most extraordinary journey; we visited ranches, cities, monasteries, convents, a 12th centurywine-making academy, a museum to Stalin, the ancient capital of Mtskheta, the mountains of Svaneti, the UNESCO heritage village of Ushguli in the high Caucasus mountains, a partly-restored Soviet Military Spa (where we slept for a night, and delighted in the ephemera of the bar/disco), souvenir shops, two national museums and a bath house. We rode with the best guide in the region, Tamara Natenadze on a tour organised with my colleagues from the best travel company in the region, Living Roots.

 
The incomparable Tamara


And we had fun. We had surprises, and above all, we had a dozen journalists who were quite astonished that Georgia had been able to remain under the radar for so long. I reminded that that they were, in fact, the radar, and that was why they were here. And so, after a few toasts, and promises of endless friendships and everlasting joy, they left to ponder a most remarkable week.



Georgia is a remarkable country; it has every asset that a destination could want from active winter skiing, both heli-skiing and the more conventional variety to a culture that is fascinating and accessible. It offers opportunities to travel on high mountain roads in 4WD vehicles, go white-water rafting on a number of great rivers and enjoy fine accommodation and a bewildering variety of incredible food and wines.


Georgia is truly a destination to be visited now; it is ready, and is the destination that we all want to visit on our worldly wanderings!