Now is an ideal time to visit the country of Georgia. The 10 years of peace since its 2008 war with Russia have brought rapid development, and several high-end hideaway hotels have opened, allowing travelers to explore in comfort. But Georgia has yet to develop that international gloss that gives a sense of sameness to luxury experiences in many countries nowadays. Georgia remains very much itself.
Start in Tbilisi, the capital, a city where chic restaurants and wine bars stand near (or in) crumbling mansions and repurposed Soviet-era factories. The city sets futuristic, curvaceous glass architecture against abandoned palaces and old Eastern Orthodox churches, giving it an exciting visual tension.
From Tbilisi, move on to Kakheti, Georgia’s most important wine region and the one best equipped to receive visitors. Then head north into the spectacular Caucasus Mountains. Spend two days exploring the mountains, visiting waterfalls, ancient villages and a dramatic 14th-century church beneath snowy Mount Kazbek.
Note that many flights arrive in Tbilisi inconveniently early in the morning, and depart ridiculously early as well. It is possible to find sane flight schedules, though. We arrived from Amsterdam at around 5 p.m., and upon departure, flew from Tbilisi to Paris at about the same time (neither flight operates daily). Our schedule necessitated staying overnight in Paris, but we turned liver into pâté by staying for three.
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Arrive in Tbilisi in the afternoon. Check into the 125-room Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, ideally into a suite. Note that the views have been compromised by construction, but until the adjacent Stamba Hotel fully opens, Rooms is the most stylish and friendly hotel in the city.
Settle in, have an aperitif in the courtyard bar and dine in the hotel’s excellent Kitchen restaurant.
Take a full day to explore Tbilisi, spending at least half of it with a guide. Visit the half-ruined Narikala fortress on a hill over the old center, tour medieval churches fragrant with incense and beeswax candles, and wander the many-domed sulfur bath district, which abuts a dramatic gorge.
After lunch, I recommend relaxing in the historic Chreli Abano bathhouse, where you can rent a freshly renovated mosaic-tiled private room and indulge in inexpensive scrubs and massages (we reserved Room 11, one of the most spectacular).
Alternatively, or in addition, consider a private river cruise, or try some Georgian wines at a wine bar like g.Vino.
Have dinner tonight at the traditional Keto and Kote, which has a striking interior as well as a lovely garden patio with views to the opposite riverbank.
Many publications suggest making a day trip from Tbilisi to Gori, the birthplace of Stalin. But I have no interest in visiting a museum dedicated to the virtues of a mass murderer. Instead, I recommend taking more time in fascinating Tbilisi.
Start by walking to the Georgian National Museum, notable for its fine archaeological collection, including a wooden chariot from the 24th century B.C. and impressively wrought pre-Christian gold.
Stop in the Dry Bridge Market to bargain for unique souvenirs like old Soviet passports, vintage Georgian jazz records or Byzantine coins that may or may not be authentic.
Cross the river and walk to Vinotel, which has a garden terrace and a traditional main restaurant, either of which would be lovely for a lunch of well-presented traditional Georgian cuisine accompanied by superlative wines.
Walk to the old quarter via the street art-filled Baratashvili Bridge, or take an inexpensive taxi back to Rooms to relax.
In the evening, ride the funicular up to Mtatsminda and have dinner in the Funicular Restaurant, which has decent food and fantastic views. Alternatively, take a taxi to Vino Underground for a tasting of natural wines before having dinner nearby at Azarphesha.
Meet your driver and depart Tbilisi. Detour south to the remote Davit Gareja monastery complex on the border with Azerbaijan. Some of the cave monasteries still have millennium-old frescoes.
Turn northeast to the beautifully restored hill town of Sighnaghi, in the middle of the Kakheti wine region. Check into the Hotel Kabadoni, which has splendid panoramic views of the Alazani Valley and the Caucasus Mountains beyond.
Have dinner tonight on the hotel restaurant’s terrace.
Spend a day in Sighnaghi and the immediate vicinity. Visit Bodbe Convent, set amid manicured, cypress-studded gardens, and explore the center of town.
Have lunch at the excellent restaurant at Pheasant’s Tears (ideally accompanied by several of its acclaimed wines), and do a tasting in the afternoon at either Okro’s Wines or Cradle of Wine Marani.
Return to the Hotel Kabadoni and indulge in a spa treatment, or relax by the indoor pool before dinner.
Depart the Hotel Kabadoni and head to Kvareli. Start with a visit of the dramatic Nekresi Monastery, set high on a mountainside. Not far away is Winery Khareba, which holds tastings in its network of tunnels that penetrate deep into the mountains.
Have lunch at a small family winery. Our guide arranged a fantastic private feast at Old Vine Family Cellar in Kvareli, which included a tasting of well-made qvevri-produced wines. It felt like dining in the home of Georgian friends.
Check into Schuchmann Hotel, the best available property in the area. Its service tends to be casual, and I noticed some minor maintenance issues, but accommodations are spacious and the restaurant is very good. Opt for a room or suite with a valley view and a balcony.
Visit the magnificently restored Tsinandali Estate, the former home of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze, who brought European winemaking techniques to Georgia in the 19th century. Set amid mature botanical gardens, the mansion incorporates personal possessions of the family, and in its basement is an attractive wine bar that conducts tastings of the estate’s wines.
Head into the center of the nearby city of Telavi to visit Batonis Tsikhe, the castle residence of King Erekle II, or return to Schuchmann Hotel.
Have lunch, followed by a winery tour and tasting led by Schuchmann’s engaging sommelier.
Relax by the outdoor pool, and/or schedule a treatment in the hotel’s contemporary spa. I recommend a Saperavi wine bath followed by a massage.
Depart Schuchmann Hotel and stop at the monastery of Ikalto, surrounded by the evocative ruins of an important academy where the poet Rustaveli is thought to have studied in the 12th century.
Continue northwest to the Georgian Military Highway. Stop for a visit of the touristy but scenically sited Ananuri fortress, overlooking the Zhinvali Reservoir.
As you continue north, the Caucasus Mountains become higher and higher until, around the ski resort of Gauduri, snowcapped peaks come into view. The drive is long, but the scenery is sensational.
Check into Rooms Hotel Kazbegi. On no account reserve a forest-view room. That view is pleasant, but the view of Gergeti Trinity Church and Mount Kazbek is iconic and unforgettable.
Have dinner at the hotel.
Spend a full day with a guide exploring the Kazbegi region. Start early in the morning, ideally around 8 a.m., and either hike or drive up to Gergeti Trinity Church (starting early beats the crowds of tourists and the clouds that block views of Mount Kazbek).
From there, visit the half-abandoned town of Tsdo, perched high above the valley. Take the time to hike to the ruined watchtower at its top.
Nearby are the two Gveleti waterfalls, and if energy permits, I recommend hiking to both. Their valleys, in sharp contrast to the alpine meadows around Gergeti Trinity Church and Tsdo, are almost subtropical.
Return to Rooms Kazbegi in time for a late lunch. Relax by the indoor pool, and/or perhaps have a massage in the spa.
Take another day to explore the Kazbegi region with your guide.
Head into the Sno Valley and drive to the small, scenic town of Juta. Return after visiting the town, or make a longer day of it by doing a mountain hike.
Spend the remainder of the day relaxing at Rooms Kazbegi.
Depart Rooms Kazbegi after breakfast. En route to Tbilisi, stop in the town of Mtskheta, the ancient former capital of Georgia. The town is now touristy, but the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral remains as impressive as ever.
I also recommend making the drive up to the Jvari Monastery, which has panoramic views of Mtskheta, set at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers.
Return to Rooms Tbilisi and check in. In the afternoon, visit the National Gallery, which has an impressive collection of paintings by Niko Pirosmani, famous in Georgia but unfortunately little known elsewhere.
Refresh yourself after your museum visit with some chocolates and coffee at the Stamba Hotel’s airy Chocolaterie.
Have dinner tonight in the shady garden of Cafe Littera.
Take one more day to explore Tbilisi. I recommend doing the private Insider’s Guide walking tour offered by Rooms Tbilisi. We had a sensational time with our guide, Alexander, who took us to hidden courtyards and inside palatial former embassies (converted into apartments) that we never would have found on our own. Tbilisi has gorgeous, graceful architecture everywhere, but much of it is literally falling apart. I fear the old Tbilisi Alexander showed us will not be around for many years longer.
The tour finishes in Fabrika, a factory repurposed into hip restaurants, bars, shops and a youth hostel. It’s an easy walk to Amber Bar, where you can have a memorable wine tasting, and the Wine Gallery, a beautiful wine shop with a huge selection of superb Georgian bottlings. I headed straight for the shelf of Lagvinari wines.
Return to Rooms and do some packing before dinner across the river at cozy Barbarestan, a restaurant inspired by a cookbook of 19th-century Georgian recipes collected by the princess Barbare Jorjadze.
There may be time for some last-minute sightseeing and shopping in Tbilisi before you return to the airport and depart.
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