There is a certain kind of traveler who will revel in the unpredictability of Georgia. Exploring this magnificent little country bounded by the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea can be awe-inspiring, frustrating, baffling and exhilarating, but it is rarely boring. International-level service has not fully taken hold in Georgia, which means that one guide might arrive in a smart white shirt and black trousers, while another might proudly show you stains on his T-shirt acquired at a birthday party the night before. In a world that is increasingly globalized and standardized, Georgia has not yet been polished smooth, a quality we found refreshing and grew to love.
Wineries are everywhere, as are centuries-old Orthodox churches and hilltop monasteries. An ideal itinerary of 12 to 14 days would include time in the chic, crumbling capital of Tbilisi, the world-class wine region of Kakheti and the breathtaking Caucasus Mountains around Kazbegi.
Georgia is probably the birthplace of wine — 8,000 years ago, winemakers were already at work in a village 20 miles south of Tbilisi. To this day, the country makes thoroughly unique and delicious wines. Of Tbilisi’s many wine bars, Vino Underground was one of our favorites.
Hotel of Interest
Now that the Stamba Hotel has opened next to Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, it is well worth considering as an alternative. Its accommodations tend to be larger and have more flair, and it is the first hotel due for editorial inspection when we return to Georgia.
Georgia's Culinary Scene
With its strategic location on the Silk Road, sandwiched between the Black and Caspian seas, Georgia has developed a unique culinary tradition, incorporating recipes from its neighbors as well as more far-flung trading partners. The tone oven, used for baking bow-shaped shoti bread, looks a lot like an Indian tandoor. A supra (feast) often includes an array of dishes resembling Turkish mezzes. Pomegranate frequently appears in savory recipes, as it does in Persian cuisine. And khinkali dumplings, traditionally filled with soup and meat, seem quite similar to Chinese xiaolongbao. Most menus feature a wide range of tempting vegetarian dishes, making Georgia a surprisingly easy place to avoid meat, if not dairy.
We dined exceedingly well in Tbilisi at cozy Barbarestan, which draws inspiration from 19th-century Georgian recipes; bright and casual Culinarium Khasheria, near the sulfur baths; tucked-away Keto and Kote, with a lovely garden patio a short walk from the Rooms Hotel, and at the more formal and traditional dining room of Vinotel.
We visited numerous wineries during our visit, and each one proved memorable in its own way. You’re sure to have an experience wherever you go, but I especially recommend considering Tsinandali Estate in Village Tsinandali, Teleda Orgo and Schuchmann Wines in Village Kisiskhevi, Winery Khareba in Kvareli and Pheasant’s Tears in Sighnaghi. Schuchmann and Pheasant's Tears also have excellent restaurants.
While I recommend visiting Tbilisi’s major sites such as the Narikala fortress and the Abanotubani neighborhood, home to its sulfur baths, don’t miss Rooms Hotel Tbilisi’s "Insider’s Guide" tour. Our private guide showed us numerous places we would have never found on our own, taking us inside former embassies and mansions.
Nine hours ahead of New York (EST).
To phone hotels and restaurants in Georgia, dial 011 (international access) + 995 (Georgia code) + city code and local numbers in listings.
Lari (GEL). Fluctuating rate valued at GEL3.24 = US$1.00 as of October 2020. Note: Our suggested hotels quote rates in US$.
Tbilisi, Tel. (995) 32-227-7000.