Georgia is a former Soviet Republic located in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, bordering Turkey to the west, Russia to the north and Armenia and Azerbaijan to the East. The country has a rich history that has been shaped by many cultures from the ancient Kingdom of Colchis and Iberia, to the Kingdom of Georgia from the 11th-15th century and the numerous occupations from the Mongols and Ottomans to the Iranians.
So much of the country’s history can be seen today from the ancient monasteries, 11th century Orthodox churches such as Bagrati Cathedral, hill-top castles and medieval villages. On top of this, the country has some spectacular natural landscapes from Prometheus Cave, which is one of the largest cave structures in the world, to the Okatse Canyon- a breathtaking canyon covered in pine trees and surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
The country is a hidden gem, away from the tourist trail and only receives 3.4 million tourists per year (2017).
I visited the small city of Kutaisi in Imereti province, which has a population of just 147,000 and is the administrative capital of Georgia. The city boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Gelati Monastery and Bagrati Cathedral. Built in 1106, both served as cultural and intellectual centres throughout the middle ages and over the years many of Georgia’s most famous scientists, theologians and philosophers studied in the monasteries academy.
Kutaisi also boasts an array of exciting local restaurants with my favourite being ბარაქა/Baraqa which offers many traditional dishes such as Khachapuri (cheese filled bread) and Mchadi (cornbread eaten with cheese). For wine and cheese lovers, Satsnakheli Wine Gallery is a local, family-run, restaurant that produces all of its own wines and sources all of its own local ingredients. The family are incredibly kind and inviting and will allow you to sample different wines before selecting the right one for you. The restaurant is itself located in a wine cellar and tables are made from wine barrels, which adds to the restaurants unique charm.
Because Kutaisi has not been developed for tourism, you won’t find international hotel or restaurant chains but will instead find all of the businesses are run by local families. For a truly authentic Georgian experience and to live with a local family and eat fresh, organic dishes stay in Hotel Imperator Palace.
Staying in a local hotel is also the best way to see Georgia as some of the hotels, such as Hotel Imperator Palace, also offer tours to Prometheus Cave, Okatse Canyon and Martvilli Canyon outside the city. Okatse Canyon is high up in the mountains and you will walk down a long stone path through a beautiful forest and then along a wooden platform where you will walk nearly 1km above the canyon. Martvilli Canyon offers you the unique experience of canoeing down the river, whilst being surrounded by waterfalls.
Georgia has so much on offer with its stunning natural landscapes and unique historical sites, delicious local foods and wines and inviting people and is definitely a place for someone that likes to get away from the crowds and experience something truly special.
One thing to note: in Georgia there are thousands of abandoned and homeless dogs living on the streets and you will see them around every corner. As a tourist it is deeply saddening to see this but there are several pet shops located in Kutaisi where you can buy food to feed the local dogs. By doing so, you can help provide these hungry dogs with a meal while also setting an example to the locals. You can learn more about helping the dogs of Georgia here.