As well as covering classic destinations, it is part of our mission to uncover new possibilities and to suggest regions of the world that affluent American travelers might have never previously considered. And so it was that we found ourselves bound for Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a spectacular little country bounded by the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea.
Despite a turbulent history, the past decade has been peaceful, and during a two-week driving trip, we discovered that the necessary infrastructure is now in place for travelers who wish to investigate the country’s extravagantly scenic landscapes, centuries-old Orthodox churches and innumerable ancient wineries. Georgia has not yet been polished smooth, a quality I found refreshing and grew to love. Of course, a little roughness goes a long way, and I couldn’t recommend traveling if there weren’t comfortable hotels and good restaurants. I am pleased to say that I discovered several of both.
Tbilisi is a fascinating city of 1.5 million, a collision of medieval churches, moldering mansions, repurposed Soviet-era factories and futuristic architecture of curvaceous glass. Next, we headed to the Kakheti wine region, where the broad Alazani Valley is bounded by the cloud-wreathed Caucasus Mountains. There, we particularly enjoyed a stay at the Hotel Kabadoni, a contemporary 21-room property in the restored hill town of Sighnaghi.
Finally, we headed north along the highway between Georgia and Russia, a breathtakingly scenic route that follows the Tetri Aragvi River, beneath snowcapped peaks that culminate with the towering 16,512-foot Mount Kazbek. From its perch just above the town of Stepantsminda, Rooms Hotel Kazbegi provides stupendous views of the mountain, as well as the famous Gergeti Trinity Church, its 14th-century towers rising improbably from a steep hilltop. At the end of our journey, I wondered how long it would take Georgia’s top hotels, restaurants and guides to polish their services to an international level of shine. More polish would make it easier for me to provide recommendations, but it would also mean fewer stories to share on my return home.
This month you will also find an update on the wonderful city of Madrid, which has mostly recovered from the dire effects of the 2008 financial crisis and is now in the midst of a hotel and restaurant boom. As well as eating extraordinarily well, we discovered two boutique hotels that are a pleasure to recommend.
September also sees the publication of our annual Members’ Choice Awards. Our subscribers take an average of 32 days of vacation annually and spend more than $62,000 on travel each year. Overall, they display striking loyalty to a small number of iconic properties: the best of the best worldwide. Winners in this year’s survey include resorts such as California’s Post Ranch Inn and Petit St. Vincent in the Caribbean, which we have recommended for multiple decades. Members also show consistent devotion to the exquisite boutique properties of the Aman Resorts group. Expense is a secondary consideration and distance is no object. Asked to name the three places topping their bucket lists, they identified New Zealand, Japan and Patagonia.