From the hanging balconies in the crumbling Old Tbilisi district and the Persian-style sulfur baths clad in turquoise mosaics, to unique art nouveau buildings falling into disrepair sitting side by side with futuristic glass structures, Tbilisi is a city that inspires.
The Georgian capital lies on the banks of the Mtkvari River and is surrounded by mountains on all three sides. Archeologists trace the first settlement in today’s Tbilisi to the 4th millennium BC. Its position on the old Silk Road turned it into a multicultural hub, reflected today in the city’s ethnic diversity and eclectic architecture.
The baths in Abanotubani follow the Persian tradition, only the thermal water bubbles up naturally from the ground below. Tbilisi gets its name from the Old Georgian word “tbili,” meaning warm, because of its hot, sulfurous water. Moving away from Abanotubani, a walk into the Old Town reveals old Georgian and Armenian churches, mosques and synagogues and even the ruins of the most northern Zoroastrian fire temple.
Way up in the Caucasus Mountains around 2,200 meters above sea level, this small village is Europe’s highest continuously inhabited settlement. Sitting at the foot of Mount Shkhara, Georgia’s highest point, Ushguli is famous for the medieval defensive towers connected to each house. It’s deep in the Svaneti region, known for its unique culture that was once cut off from the rest of the country.
Georgia is home to some of the most unusual cave cities in Europe. By themselves, they’re reason alone to visit the country. The oldest is Uplistsikhe, an ancient settlement that resembles a lunar landscape. Others include Davit Gareja, a vast monastic complex carved into the rock of Mount Gareja, and Vardzia, a spectacular underground city that once housed 2,000 monks.
One of the best ways to get to know the country is through its food. In fact, if you haven’t tried a Georgian supra, or feast, you haven’t experienced all Georgia has to offer. The local cheese bread is called khachapuri, the most famous being the Adjaran variety. It’s a baked bread boat filled with gooey, melted, tangy sulguni cheese, a whole egg yolk and some slivers of butter. Yes, it’s heart stopping, but so delicious. Khinkhali dumplings come with a spiced meat filling that releases its juices when cooked, so you have to suck out the stock before eating. Then there are delectable walnut dressing salads, bean stews cooked with fragrant cilantro and mtsvadi, tender marinated meat cooked on a kebab skewer.
Georgia adopted Christianity back in 324 AD and the country is full of spectacular churches and cathedrals in incredible locations. Whether it’s the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Mtskheta’s Svetitskhoveli Cathedral or Kutaisi’s Bagrati Cathedral, or the dramatic hill top position of the church in Kazbegi, Georgia’s churches never fail to paint a pretty picture. Kazbegi is also home to one of the world’s most spectacular marathon routes.
Georgians might appear a serious bunch at first, but most are kind and welcoming. For Georgians, a guest is a sacred thing, and they will often go out of their way to help you. Their generosity and hospitality will often take the form of lots of food and even more drink.