Are you dreaming of a holiday to a country where South Africans get a FREE visa – valid for almost a year, the exchange rate is not bad, and 500 varieties of grapes make for a wine lover’s paradise? Then put Georgia on your bucket list
Situated at the juncture of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, Georgia is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the east by Azerbaijan. Smaller than the UK, 16 languages are spoken across the region.
I knew this would be a holiday that dreams are made of. The views of the Caucasus Mountains are the most beautiful I have ever seen.
From Black Sea Coast resort Batumi, to Kutaisi to Mestia, to the pumping pulse of the capital,Tbilisi, I loved every town, village and city that I saw.
Georgia may be a small country but the people have big hearts – they are warm, friendly and kind
The country is not only beautiful in summer with brooks and meadows, but also quite spectacular in winter. With amazing ski resorts and villages set in postcard-perfect settings, the snow-laden trees and pristine alpine slopes are enough to make you want to return again and again.
If you are looking for some adventure at a fraction of the price, hop on a creaky minibus and crawl along the breathtaking mountain roads, enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
These are my top 10 favourite things to do in Georgia
1. Stay at the Sheraton Hotel in Batumi
Walking around the lobby and adjoining casino is a great introduction, but going up to the 20th floor where you can take in one of the best views of the city while sipping on a cocktail is surreal. Sweeping views over the Black Sea with a magnificent sunset are what travel experiences are all about.
2. Take a selfie at the Alphabet Tower on Batumi Boulevard
This main seaside city has an electric atmosphere. From the gambling to the creative and modern
architecture, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in ‘Vegas by the Sea’.
3. Grab a bite at the Upside-Down White House
In 2011, a 24-year-old architect took a scale model of the American White House and turned it upside down. Yup, inside the toilets dance on the ceiling of the bathroom! The location is great: right on the boulevard and looking over the Black Sea. Even if you only go to see the upside-down toilets, make sure you Instagram the moment.
4. Drink local wine… as often as possible
With over 500 varieties of grapes and a wine-making heritage dating back over 8 000 years (or so archaeologists suspect), Georgia is a wine lover’s paradise. Churchkhela, a sweet made of grape juice and walnuts is addictive.
5. Eat the calorie-loaded khachapuri, cheesy bread of multiple varieties
…and don’t miss the khinkali, a huge, broth-filled dumpling with meat, cheese and mushrooms.
6. Take a train from Batumi to Tbilisi
First Class has unlimited wifi, power points and very comfy seats. If you love train travel as much as I do, this route is a must as it winds through the countryside.
7. Ushguli, a mountainous region in Northwestern Georgia is a slice of medieval heaven
The day I arrived here I fell in love with it. I felt like I had stepped into a fairytale. Located 2100m above sea level, it’s the highest inhabited European village and a slice of medieval heaven. For the energetic there is a 9km hike in summer that takes you to a glacier. Watchtowers dot the horizon and are the centre of many heart-warming folktales.
8. The hop-on hop-off bus in Tbilisi is a great way to see the capital
Don’t miss the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the third tallest Eastern Orthodox Cathedral in the world, which sits on a mountain overlooking the Peace Bridge. Tbilisi is the heart of the country for the young, with nightlife on offer
until the early hours.
9. Get your dancing shoes on
With no fewer than 16 different styles of Georgian Folk dancing, you should learn at least one. Different dances originate in different parts of Georgia.
The Partsa (traditional circle dance) comes from Guria and is characterised by its fast pace, rhythm, festive
mood and colour. This dance not only mesmerises the audience with its speed and grace, but also
creates a desire to party. The costumes merely add authenticity.
10. Visit the Cathedral of the Formation, often simply called Bagrati Cathedral
Standing proudly on the high hills above Kutaisi, this is a magnificent 11th century cathedral, its floor was laid in
In between stunning views of the old city, a slow amble up the steep cobbled streets takes you back in time as you imagine what it must have been like when kings and queens ruled this beautiful country.
Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways offer connecting flights between Johannesburg (and from Cape Town with the former) and Tbilisi. The most convenient flight is with Turkish Airlines – the Qatar Airways flight goes via Baku in Azerbaijan (you don’t disembark, it’s just a quick stop)
South African passport holders receive a free visa on arrival in Georgia. This visa is valid for almost a year.
Georgia is currently not open to tourism due to COVID-19, but is definitely worth putting on your bucket list when borders open again.