TBILISI | Georgia, the crossroads where East meets West. The cultural blend is everywhere from the food to the architecture. Georgia has an impressive tradition of wine production and its cuisine is often touted as some of the best in the world. In addition to amazing food and wine, Georgia is stepped in history and blessed with natural beauty. The country, just like its Georgian language is really unlike anywhere else we’ve visited. The Georgian language is written in its own unique script that does not share any resemblance to any of its neighbours’ languages.
Our visit to Georgia was extremely affordable, especially coming from London. At the moment, 1 British Pound (GBP) will get you about 3 Georgian Lari (GEL).
We flew from London, via Istanbul, to Tbilisi with Turkish Airlines. Very fitting as Turkish Airlines claims to fly to more countries than any other airline. We were impressed by the level of service on the flight. Service started with a Turkish delight and then followed with a delicious Turkish meal. Each seat had its own inflight entertainment presenting a huge selection of recent blockbuster and award winning films.
The safety conscious will need to let go and embrace the laid back Georgian attitude to health and safety. The rule of the road is, basically, there is no rule. Cars fly around roundabouts in all different directions. Cars create third lanes on two lane streets. But it’s all a bit exhilarating. When you visit attractions, don’t expect to see railings or warning signs. Just watch your step and enjoy the freedom and fun of it all.
Our first day in Tbilisi was spent exploring the stunningly beautiful Old Town. The Old Town is really well preserved. The Narikala fortress from the 4th century towers over the Town. In addition to an interesting blend of architecture, the city features some amazing natural beauty. The fortress was originally used as a citadel by the Persians but subsequently has been occupied by many of the nationalities that have invaded Georgia such as the Turks, Arabs, and Russians. The name of the Tbilisi itself comes from the natural hot springs that feed the city’s many bathhouses (the word “tpili” means warm in Old Georgian).
We explored the National Botantical Gardens of Georgia (entry fee 2 Georgia Lari GEL) and took a walk about the top of the city where the Mother Georgia statue is located. From this vantage point, it was very clear why this cityscape is so unique. Orthodox churches, sweeping, curved bridges and buildings as contemporary as any we’ve seen elsewhere, Soviet era relics, and the rolling hills in the distance make for an incredible beautiful view. The city itself is totally charming and perfect for strolling with a few pedestrian only streets lined with cafes and hidden alleys.
After all that walking we were definitely ready for some highly rated Georgian food. We think Georgian cuisine must be some of the most underrated cuisine in the world. The country’s location on the Silk Road is readily apparent in its cuisine. If we were to try to classify the unique blend that is Georgian cuisine we would say it was a mix of Middle East freshness and Eastern European heartiness.
We enjoyed an amazing lunch at Café Gabriadze (3 Shavteli St, Tbilisi 0105, Georgia ) next to the highly acclaimed marionette theatre. We started the feast with an array of starters including khachapuri. Khachapuri, a take on cheese pizza, is an iconic dish in Georgia. It is on every menu and even has a few variations throughout the country. After salads and array of starters, we moved onto pork and chicken shashlik (grilled meat on skewers) and beef kebabs. We enjoyed a lovely crisp and refreshing Georgian rose with our meal. Non-drinkers would really enjoy the freshly prepared lemonade stuffed with mint leaves making for a perfect mocktail.
In the evening we enjoyed a fantastic meal at Tsiskvili (The Right Bank of the river Mtkvari). The meal was accompanied throughout with a show of traditional Georgian folk dance. Georgian folk dance is extremely athletic, energetic and fun. The service at dinner was impeccable. When we were making our wine selection, our waiter actually suggested that we order a less expensive wine that he said was much better than our original choice (about three times the price of what he suggested). And he was right! The waiter suggested the Saperavi Dry Red from Badagoni which at about 15 GEL was amazing value. It was a fine example of Georgian red wine, fuller bodied, dry, easy drinking.
Dinner was another Georgian feast. We enjoyed lobio (beans in a clay pot), more fresh salad, and a slow-cooked stewed rabbit. Again, the meal was just outstanding and offered outstanding value for money especially given we were in a beautiful waterfront setting. With dinner we sampled the traditional Georgian spirit of Chacha. Based on our experience, Chacha might give you the feeling that you are able to dance like a Georgian. This stuff is strong. If you are on the Chacha, be sure to drink plenty of the local mineral water Borjomi which is well known hangover cure. After our meal, instead of opting for a steep set of stairs post Chacha, we enjoyed the novelty of taking the funicular up to street level.
In Tbilsi, we discovered a lovely wine shop specializing in small, independent producers offering tastings. We were especially keen on the Saperavi after our experience at Tsiskvili. We purchased a bottle of Winiveria (20 GEL) which is a winery from the Telavi wine region.
We visited during Orthodox Easter making it a very special time to visit this traditionally religious country. We took the opportunity to visit Mtskheta, about a 30 minute drive from Tbilsi. Mtskheta, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most vibrant centres of Orthodox Christianity in Georgia. Mtskheta served as the capital of the Georgian kingdom until the 5th century AD. The city itself is beautiful with cobblestone streets, walls, and an impressive Orthodox cathedral.
Before our wander around the beautiful city, we enjoyed some khinkali (a dumpling with filled with broth and meat) and yet more khachapuri. Novices should note the method of eating khinkali which involves poking a hole in the dumpling to consume the broth, before devouring the inside but leaving the top handle uneaten as that is the means by which it is handled.
The traditional sweet churchkhela which may confuse some tourists for its candle like shape in consistency is dried fruit and nuts covered in thickened grape juice that has then been dried. The churchkhela in Mtskheta is considered to be some of the best in Georgia. We visited a working monastery just outside of town with beautiful views of the lush green rolling mountains. The many religious buildings we visited appeared welcoming to all faiths. When visiting churches, women should remember to cover their hair with a scarf to show respect. If you don’t have your own, many churches have spare scarves at the entrance for you to use. Long sleeves are also preferred.
Our next day trip took us two hours from Tbilisi, to the wine region of Signagi. Signagi is in the Kakheti region. Despite being a small town, Signangi is one of Georgia’s most popular tourist destinations. In Signagi, we were able to climb onto the fortress and wall that protect the city and look onto the impressive Caucasus Mountains. For us, Signangi wouldn’t look out of place in Tuscany with its rolling landscape, impressive views, and tiled rooftops.
After exploring the city we enjoyed a fantastic wine tasting and meal at Pheasants Tears, an artisanal wine producer. Pheasants Tears wine is extremely difficult to get outside Georgia but it is sold at a few well known London restaurants including Ottolenghi. Pheasants Tears still uses traditional wine making techniques in its production. Traditional Georgian wine making involves a technique not found anywhere else in the world, the use of clay pots to age wine.
We stocked up our suitcase with Pheasants Tears Chinuri and Tavkveri. Chinuri is a lovely amber wine that is fresh and crisp, perfect for a summer BBQ. The Tavkveri was an easy drinking red. The final wine was a red characterized as meal in a glass. It was definitely intense but the more it had a chance to breath we really started to embrace it.
We look forward to another trip to Georgia to explore more of its varied and beautiful landscape. From the Black Sea to Caucasus Mountains it’s clear that this country has a lot to offer any traveller. We, like the Georgians, love to eat and drink. Next time we need our Georgian fix we will be heading to Little Georgia in London (87 Goldsmith’s Row, London, E2 8QR)!
Also a special thanks to our hosts Luke and Anya for making it a trip to remember.