Georgia: Empire state of the south

georgia travel story marion smith travel dejavu

Georgia: At the cusp of Eurasia

 

I went to Georgia 2 years ago, it was a brief trip but it left me speechless. I Knew I had to return.

Well it was the best decision ever. I decided I wanted to spend my Christmas and New Years in Georgia. It started out like the previous trip, I travelled to Turkey, holidayed there a bit then caught a bus to the border. From there a taxi to Batumi. There is some kind of magic in the air that sucks you in sends you out spinning with awe and wonder. The combination of the old and new architecture is breath taking, where in the world does a person say to you you must go and see the Macdonalds building for starters.

colosseum hotel georgia travel dejavu

We stayed in The Colosseum Hotel, built just like the Colosseum in Italy and located on the beach front of the Black Sea. We were amazed by the surrounding high rise hotels and buildings that were just as unique and modern. Just down the road is the White Restaurant, truly weird by any standards,it is built upside down. It looks like a small version of the US White house resting on its roof at a jaunty angle. You must visit the toilets, there are two floors and on both it looks like you are walking on the ceiling.

There is so much to see in Batumi and it has been made easier for tourists to get around, there are green bicycles located all over the city and you pay at the machine and take your bicycle for the day and follow the various mapped out routes. We soon found ourselves strolling along the Batumis boulevard, the park strip fronting the main beach ( although stoney ) it was still good to walk along. At the end is a large ferris wheel  and the Alphabet tower. A personal favourite for me is the Sheraton Hotel, the views from the 20 floor of the city and the Black sea are beautiful and in December you can see the snow on the mountains, there is no better way to enjoy a sundowner.

batumi georgia travel dejavu travel story

Georgia is a journey in humanity and friendliness. It has the unspoilt natural beauty that city people seldom get to see and experience. We got to enjoy the authentic experiences like the food and the people and didn’t have to pay for a tour, instead we did it on our own and it was the genuine hospitality of the people that made it so worth while.

bagrati cathedral batumi georgia travel dejavu

We left Batumi and travelled to Kutaisi by train, we spent a night there. The most beautiful sight is the Bagrati Cathedral. We walked up the cobbled streets, half way up we met an old lady who showed us a picture of her son in a wheelchair. We couldn’t understand her but she chatted away to us and accompanied us all the way. Bagrati was built in 1003 and is now on the UNESCO Danger list. Just 6km from Kutaisi sits Little Motsameta Monastery, after much deliberation we decided to hire a taxi driver to take us to see it and the next monastery.

gelati monastery georgia travel dejavu

The sun was starting to set but we knew we couldn’t miss seeing them. Little Motsameta sits on a spectacular clifftop promontory above a bend of the Tskhaltsitela River, meaning Red Water .The next Monastery complex Gelati was situated on a wooded hillside, it was founded by King David the Builder in 1106. The interior of the main Cathedral of the Virgin is among the brightest and most colourful in Georgia. Both sights were breath taking and such a humbling experience. The snowy surroundings gave it the extra magic that only a person from Africa can dream of.

Next morning we were of to the destination that my trip had been about all along, Mestia in Svaneti. Svaneyians have come down to the lowlands, give us some land to look after and plough !

Read : Things to do in 48hours in Istanbul. 

The poem was composed when Svanetians came down the flat lands of Georgia as seasonal workers. In all regions of Western Georgia, hard-working Svanetians are consider to be the best hired men.

priest georgia travel dejavu marion smith

We took a 12 seater taxi on a very long and arduous  drive, we had an Orthodox priest with us and some other interesting locals that made the trip even more enjoyable. Four hours were spent in the mountain range, driving on winding roads that were covered in snow and at some points in the tunnels the ice had not been cleared away. We arrived eventually and we delivered to the front door of our guesthouse. The town does not have many hotels ( 9 to be exact ) there are plenty guest houses though. The lady that ran our one, was 60 years old and delightful. She couldn’t speak english but made a delicious breakfast. To our surprise we found her chopping wood in the the morning.

svaneti georgia travel winter travel dejavu

Svaneti really makes a spectacular sight, its gorges are surrounded by high summits and glacial lobes. In summer time you can take a 9km hike to see Shkhara glacier. There are mountain rivers, woodlands, vast meadows and Svaneti towers that were used to protect their patrons from inner and outer enemies. The people of Svaneti have their own language, different to the rest of Georgia.

svaneti georgia hike winters travel dejavu

The highlight of staying here , besides skiing is to take a jeep and its drive to the town of Ushguli. Its a 47km drive from Mestia and reaches 2100metres above sea level and is claimed to be the highest permanently inhabited place in Europe. With more than 20 ancient Svan towers , it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1996. Set in the topmost reaches of the Enguri valley beneath the snow covered massif of Mt Shkhara (5068m), Georgias highest peak, its a superbly picturesque spot.

shkhara glacier georgia travel dejavu

We had lunch at a locals house where they made us the famous Kubdari, a pie type food filled with chunks of beef . We drove back down to Mestia and enjoyed supper at our local spot, Lailas Cafe where we could make use of the wifi and and pick her brain for more good spots to visit. There is an airport in Mestia but flights are unreliable in winter because of weather conditions. While we were there temperatures dropped to minus 16 degrees celsius at night and during the day that sat at minus 4 degrees celsius.

As much as I loved this town and I was so happy that I had got to spend my Christmas here the time had come for us to leave and travel to Tiblisi. We took a 12 seater taxi again, this time it was 12 hours. But we eventually arrived. The city life of Tiblisi is electric like any other modern city of the world, and with the Christmas spirit and markets everyone was in a happy mood. Peace Bridge, the cable car, old clock tower and The Holy Trinity Cathedral are some of the sights that you must see. You will find all the big names here, Dunkin Doughnuts, Burberry, Nike etc.

chichilaki christmas tree georgia travel dejavu

Christmas trees were everywhere and Georgia has their own tree called a chichilaki. It is a traditional Christmas tree made from dried hazelnut or walnut branches that are shaved to form a small coniferous tree. I love Christmas and decided to photograph as many Christmas trees as possible, well what a collection I had by the time I left Georgia. I also found out that about 45 million Norman firs – the most popular type of Christmas tree – are sold across Europe. More than 80 % of all seeds for these trees come from Georgia.

batumi new years eve christmas georgia travel dejavu

We left Tiblisi and headed for Batumi as we had decided we wanted to spend New Years Eve there. The Georgian Railway now has some new trains that travel between the two cities, making the trip a lot more comfortable than the first time I went. We travelled first class and had wifi all the way. We were at The Hilton Hotel that is centrally located. News Year in Batumi was amazing. The fireworks display was breathtaking and the singing of Christmas carols in both English and Georgian made it a moment to never forget.  This was a New Years that ranks in my top 3 for sure.

I will most definitely be returning to Georgia again.

The friendliness and the warmth of the Georgian people combined with the magnificent beauty of the county side and to top it off the delicious food there is no reason why every person should not visit Georgia at least once in their life time.

Read: A Journey back in time – Rovos train South Africa

Share

Marion Smith

A mom of 4 boys I always dreamed of traveling the world. I started my own business, so that I would have the flexibility. I pack my bags often at the last minute when an irresistible moment arises. I love the thrill and adventure

Comments

  1. We’ve always been curious about Georgia, even contemplated booking a trip there on a whim. There isn’t much one comes across while reading blogs, so kudos to you for heading there!

  2. Its an amazing place I look forward to returning, it is difficult to find info on it. but really worth it when you get there

  3. Georgia is one of those places that certainly doesn’t seem to get as much coverage as many other Eurasian places, and I suppose that’s part of its appeal. The fact it receives far fewer visitors is what makes it such a different and friendly place, with some great sights of its own to boast that hold their own against those of many of its famous neighbours. Great post!

  4. I don’t know much about Georgia. It sounds like a wonderful place to visit. I think I would have picked The Colosseum Hotel Hotel too, just for the novelty of it What was it like inside? I like Christmas tree too, so I’d be right there with you snapping shots of the chichilaki!

    • its a beautiful hotel only thing i didn’t like was the swimming pool location, the indoor pool is on the one side of the hotel and you need to walk through the hotel lobby to get there. The Christmas trees are beautiful, they add to festive vibe and the Chichilaki are so unique

  5. I think it deserves a lot more coverage but maybe that is part of the appeal, not the mass tourism crowds

  6. What a beautiful place it looks like. I would have loved to stay at the colosseum hotel and those toilets seem quite different. Beautiful pictures and a great writeup.

  7. Great article. You seemed to have had a good experience. The White Restaurant sounds like quite the place to see. Hope you have warmed up by now.

  8. I think Georgia (and the whole region) is just on the cusp of a tourist boom. The landscape looks fantastic for photography and the country certainly has the history to attract visitors.

  9. great post i haven’t found many posts on Georgia. I am actually doing a trip this year Turkey Georgia Armenia and azerbaijan. Bought the lonely planet guide but your post give a very good information.

  10. This certainly seems like a fascinating way to spend your Christmas! Plus, I am sure the road trip with the orthodox priest and the locals must have also give a fresh and unique perspective about the country. A friend visited Georgia a few years back and I have been fascinated about the country ever since…

  11. One of the few blogs I have read on Georgia. Interesting customs particularly that of chichilaki Christmas tree 🙂 I must visit Bagrati before it disappears from surface of earth.

  12. Georgia is indeed an underrated country to visit, and I don’t know how many people would choose it for the winter holidays due to the amount of snow and the cold weather. However, it looks like a wonderful place to spend Christmas and New Years. I know Georgia is a very religious country so having the priest in your taxi must have been a wonderful experience.

    • I think if you don’t visit in the middle of winter it is worth it. Seeing the snow covered mountains is such an experience that it is worth taking the chance . It is an extremely religious country, it is so refreshing to see the respect that people have for their churches and priests.

  13. So happy to finally see someone exploring Georgia! Always been curious about the Eurasian border countries- Armenia/Georgia/Azerbaijan! These pictures and exploring ideas are engaging and awesome!

  14. What a trip. The Colosseum hotel really resembles the colosseum so closely. And as you mentioned there seem to be other uniquely designed hotels around. Sounds like an interesting place to me.

  15. Love that they have their own Christmas tree! It looks cold, but beautiful!

  16. The Colosseum Hotel looks like an exact replica of the iconic Colosseum and what more is that it’s location is soo good, Black Sea! The sunset looks so amazing I could not take my eyes off it. A Christmas well spent!

  17. Other than the capital, I haven’t heard of any of these places in Georgia before. What a lovely place to spend Christmas – your last photo of the tree and lights is stunning! I think I’d enjoy the countryside more though – the mountain scenery is beautiful and friendly people always add to the experience of a new country. A new place for my list!

  18. The Colosseum hotel grabbed all my attention. I would love to see the original and live in this hotel too. What an idea.

  19. OH wow, Georgia isn’t a country I know much about at all! The Colosseum hotel makes me reminiscent of Rome. Such a unique place to spend Christmas!

  20. Georgia is a magnificent country. I read somewhere ages ago that Georgians are the most beautiful women ;). Glad to see some glimpses of the land. I need to visit it soon.

  21. With your story and from the photos, it makes me want to visit Georgia now! What an awesome way to spend the holidays with and still get a taste of the hospitality and the magnificent views. <3

  22. We are awed by the Colosseum Hotel, so magnificent and it being located on the beach it definitely sounds like a place to be. The Bagrati Cathedral in Kutaisi looks like a walk back in time with its more than 1000 years old history. The trip to Svaneti must be one of its kind winding through the snow mountains and the snow-covered tunnels. And those pictures of Svaneti are awe-inspiring. Georgia is definitely on our bucket list now. Thanks for the informative post!

  23. I knew practically nothinh about Georgia and thisnpost was such a revelation! Great to know about a lesser known country; the photographs are fantastic!

  24. I am curious about the White Restaurant which was built upside down. If you could have included a photo of it, then it would have been great. I love those traditional Georgian Christmas trees. Never heard of the towns you featured but they are lovely.

  25. The Colosseum Hotel looks really cool! I’d love to visit Georgia. Great post, thanks for sharing 🙂

  26. Georgia is still not very visited or quite popular as a tourist destination but would love to go someday. The pictures are amazing and love your itinerary and they way you have tried to cover as much possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Yes No