Georgia is a Slavic country with a long history and majestic scenery. Wine has been produced in the country as far back as 8,000 BC, making it one of the oldest areas known to make wine. Georgians are their own people; they are not Russian, Turk, or Persians and do not have ethnic relations with any other people.
The country has been invaded countless times in its long history, but the people have never lost their cultural identity or their traditions. While under the Soviet occupation, Georgia was considered to be the “Riviera of the Soviet Union,” with its unparalleled beauty and rich cuisine, including its wine.
Often forgotten by travelers, Georgia is covered with ancient fortifications and ancient churches. The Georgian people are extremely hospitable, and consider being gracious a code of honor. Friendship is considered to be the highest of any virtue. While on the surface, the people may come off as stern or aloof, it is often just a cultural misconception. While the people appear stand-offish, they are both a fiercely independent and passionate people. Their friendship is incomparable and lasts a lifetime.
When to Travel – Weather
With often harsh winter conditions, the ideal time to visit Georgia is from May to July and September to October, when the weather is typically warm and sunny. The month of August can be miserable with temperatures soaring well over 100 degrees with dense humidity.
If you are traveling to Georgia to hike the Great Caucasus, the best time to go would be from June to September, where the mountain has the least amount of snow and there is the least amount of danger to hikers. Georgia is also a great place to take a summer vacation; between the sun and the Black Sea, tourists can enjoy palm trees in the shade of mountains.
Autumn is when all the wine festivals happen, beginning in September and ending in October. The weather is typically very nice in August, making it a wine-tasters dream vacations.
Winter, especially in the east, can be particularly intense in Georgia. With below-freezing temperature, roads and railways are often closed, making transportation very difficult. If it is not snowing in the winter, it is most likely cold and rainy. If you are in the capital city during a snowstorm, the city is used to handling it and it is very rare that anything closes down within the city itself.
Food and Drink
Georgian cuisine is famous throughout the region. Traveling to Georgia for food and drink in the days of the USSR was commonplace. Traditional dishes include the khachapuri, which is a cheese-filled bread that closely resembles a pie. Another popular dish is the khinkali, which is a spiced dumpling filled with meat. If you are looking for a snack, try the ghvezeli, a stuffed pastry full of meat, potatoes, and cheese. Ghvezeli is usually sold in markets and in food carts along the street.
Georgian food is devoid of any processed ingredients, making their dishes particularly flavorful. The freshness of the fruits and vegetables could ruin a tourist forever. Food in Georgia is also fairly inexpensive, even for tourists. Vegetarian meals are easy to come by as well.
As Georgian people pride themselves in their hospitality, you may be invited into the home of a local for dinner. Georgian cuisine is so rich, having a meal at a home over a restaurant will give you different tastes, but will still be remarkably delicious. Since the region is famous for its wine, don’t be surprised by the frequent and heavy wine drinking that takes place in Georgia.
Since Georgia has one of the oldest wine-making traditions in the entire world, Georgia produces some of the best wine in the world. While it is common for locals to bottle their own wine, homebrews are not legal to take out of the country. But for wine that can be exported, the flavors combat with the tastes of French and Italian wine. Red or white, Georgian wine is readily available to enjoy.
Other common beverages included beer, which is also locally produced, and a drink called ChaCha. ChaCha is a clear fruit homebrew, not unlike the Italian grappa. With ChaCha, the grape pomace is used, instead of the juice itself.
Popular Vacation Spots
Old Town Tbilisi: Littered with outdoor cafes, Old Town Tbilisi is full of charm and character. With an array of timeless architecture, the Old Town is remarkable. With a labyrinth of narrow streets, the city is a combination of Asian and Arabic architecture that has been interwoven with European architecture.
Gergeti Trinity Church: Gergeti is a Holy Trinity Church located in the village of Gergeti. Situated next to the river Chkeri and under Mount Kazbegi, visiting the church will give you some of the most amazing nature views in the country.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral: Dating back to the 11th century, the cathedral is situated just outside the capital city. The cathedral is known as the burial site of Christ’s mantle and remains one of the most venerated place of worship today.
Jvari: Jvari is a monastery that dates back to the 6th century. The monastery sits on a hill among the mountains, giving it amazing views. Jvari is also the name of the town here it is located. According to local tradition, it was here that the Saint Nino, a female evangelist responsible for converting King Mirian III of Iberia to Christianity, had erected a large wooden cross in front of a pagan temple. And the cross was reported to work miracles, drawing pilgrims from all over the area.
Batumi Dolphinarium: Would you like to see some magnificent dolphins up close? You can visit the dolphinarium where they put on a show and try a hand at dolphin training yourself. The show lasts 30 minutes and is worth a visit. Be forewarned that the dolphinarium has been subject to protests and the push for releasing the dolphins in to the wild.
Batumi Botanical Gardens: Located north of Batumi, the botanical gardens are near the Black Sea shore. Originally started by a botanist in 1912, the garden is host to a wild array of beautiful plants. The collection is made up of 2,037 taxonomic units of ligneous plants, which also includes 104 of Caucasian origin. The collection is a must-see.
Georgia uses the Georgian Lari for its currency. The word “Lari” is the old Georgian word for “hoard.” After the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia was able to break away from the ruble and start its own currency. Lari banknotes come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200, while their coins, the tetra, go from 1 tetri to 2 lari.
ATMs are available in every city in Georgia. Major credit cards are also accepted in most cities and towns. If you would rather use cash, there are many banks and small money-exchange offices all over the country. You can easily change out U.S. dollars or euros into lari, as well as the currencies of the neighboring countries.
Tipping in Georgia is not based a on a 10 or 15 percent addition to a bill, but instead it is common to just round up the price to the next round number. So if you meal came out to 2.39 GEL, you would pay 3 GEL to account for a tip.
Travel in Georgia
Marshrutkas are Georgia’s form of public transportation. Kind of like buses, marshrutkas are like vans or shuttles to move people from one place to another. Using a marshrutka can be frustrating for foreign travelers as they do not travel with a set timetable and often won’t depart until the minibus is full. Even if the driver has given you a time for departure, you need to be prepared for a wait of an extra hour or two. If the driver has given you a time, you need to arrive at the stop a minimum of 30 minutes ahead of time in case the driver has decided to set out early. While this can be frustrating for tourists, this is the norm for the locals.
An advantage of the marshrutka is that once they get going, they are significantly faster than buses in other parts of the world. They speed to an excess, but they do get you to your destination in a timely manner.