Lately, the small country of Georgia (located between Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Black Sea) has been gaining more global recognition thanks to trending fashion designers and a budding electronic music scene. Nevertheless, it is still an off-the-beaten-track destination for tourists and I was one of the first amongst my well-traveled friends to visit this charming country. I have to admit, I knew almost nothing about Georgia before except for what I’d read in certain articles which had always made me curious. When my friend from Georgia asked me whether I wanted to come with him to visit his home, I didn’t hesitate for a second to take him up on the offer. Here is my itinerary for spending two weeks in this land of mountains, food and wine.

Georgia is a hidden gem, full of mountains, ancient historical sites, culture, food and wine. Here is my guide to a perfect two weeks in this magical country!

 

Kutaisi/Martvili (3 days)

Low cost-airline Wizzair will take you from Berlin to Kutaisi in 4 hours. I paid 100€ for a round trip including a small piece of luggage. Kutaisi is the third biggest city and a perfect starting point for exploring Georgia. We stayed at Hotel California. Interesting places to visit are Bagrati Cathedral, a UNESCO heritage site overlooking the whole city, Gelati monastery, founded in 1106 by King David IV of Georgia and another UNESCO site, and Motsameda monastery, which is less frequented by visitors due to its isolated location on top of a cliff, making for spectacular views of the river and the surrounding mountains.

Georgia is a hidden gem, full of mountains, ancient historical sites, culture, food and wine. Here is my guide to a perfect two weeks in this magical country!

Have dinner at one of the local eateries, like El-Depo (Galaktion Tabidze St., 30, Kutaisi), a simple restaurant serving steaming hot khinkali – dumplings filled with meat and spices. Small warning: Georgia is one of the countries where smoking is still allowed in restaurants. You might find that odd at first, but will quickly get used to it.

From Kutaisi, take a minibus, a so-called Marshrutka, to Martvili – or just hop in a taxi as they are dirt cheap. In Martvili, you can walk to Martvili Monastery, which is on top of the city’s highest hill, and take a dip in one of the streams that run nearby after your walk. Our highlight was definitely visiting Martvili canyon which will make you feel like you’ve time-traveled back into a Jurassic jungle. Enjoy the lush vegetation and the sound of gushing waterfalls with a boat taking you over the emerald green water.

Georgia is a hidden gem, full of mountains, ancient historical sites, culture, food and wine. Here is my guide to a perfect two weeks in this magical country!

On the next day, explore Prometheus Cave which is 20 km northwest of Kutaisi. It is Georgia’s longest natural cave and contains numerous stalagmites, stalactites, as well as an underground lake and rivers. Another boat ride will take you outside the cave again where you will be greeted by the sun and friendly grazing cows. There are a lot of cows everywhere in Georgia and they frequently block the roads – so be prepared for the occasional cow block.

Tbilisi (5 days)

From Kutaisi, we took a taxi to Tbilisi because my long-legged friends weren’t keen to squeeze into a Marshrutka again for 4 hours. The four hour ride cost only around 30 Euro for all of us, but boy, we did haggle for this steal. Tbilisi is a exhilarating place where the modern mixes with ancient, creating a vibrant culture with a unique energy.

In Tbilisi, take a cable car to up to see the Kartlis Deda. The Mother of Georgia holds a sword to fight off enemies in one hand and in her other, she holds wine to welcome guests. The 20 m tall statue symbolizes the Georgian national character: they are extremely hospitable towards guests but also ready to fight anyone who dares to infringe upon their liberty. The walk downhill is quite pleasurable as you get to enjoy the an impressive view over the capital.  After the descent, we treated ourselves to a traditional Georgian meal at Machakhela (23 Tumaniani Str). Oddly, it took me three days to learn ‘thank you/madloba’ in Georgian, but only 10 minutes to remember the names to all my favorite dishes: badrijani (eggplant stuffed with spiced walnut paste, topped with pomegranate seeds), ajapsandali (eggplant stew), khachapuri (cheese bread) and kebabi (lamb kebap) with tkemali (sour plum sauce). In the evening, take a walk around the area Abanotubani to waterfall Leghvtakhevi and you might be lucky enough to witness a frog concert!

Another MUST is to take the cable car (or climb the steps and your next khachapuri will be well-deserved!) to Mtatsminda amusement park which has carousels, water slides and a ferris wheel. Take a ride on the rollercoaster when the sun goes down and reward yourself for your bravery with dinner at Funicular Restaurant Complex and take in city lights at night.

Make sure you also check out the flea market at Dry Bridge Market where you will find all sorts of Soviet memorabilia. Head over to Fabrika Tbilisi (8 Egnate Ninoshvili St), a former sewing factory which has been turned into a hostel, bar and event hub. Have lunch at ElektroNika (8 Egnate Ninoshvili St) and stock up on reading material at Prospero’s Books & Caliban’s Coffeehouse (34 Shota Rustaveli Ave). Have a drink with the cool kids at Cafe Gallery (34, Alexander Griboedov St) and continue sipping cocktails at Success Bar, the city’s first gay bar (3 Vashlovani St) which sometimes has DJs spinning records.

Try to eat as much as you can, because seriously, Georgia has some of the best cuisine in the world, catering to vegetarians as well as meat lovers. Georgian cuisine surely deserves its own blog post as surprisingly, not many people know about all the delicacies. Indulge your tastebuds in one of the city’s superb restaurant, I had the best vegetarian mushroom khinkali (Georgian steamed dumpling) at Sofia Melnikovas Fantastiuri Duqani (8 Gia Chanturia St) or order a walnut stuffed trout at House on Madatovi (23 Davit Aghmashenebeli Ave). Enjoy upscale dining and impeccable service at Barbarestan (D. Aghmashenebeli ave. 132) and try the Georgian vegetable paste assortment made of beet, walnut and spinach called Pkhali at Shavi Lomi (28 Zurab Kvlividze St). Order traditional Georgian salad with walnut coriander dressing as a side dish to every single meal because it is healthy, fresh and tasty as hell. And you absolutely must drink Georgian wine! The country has an ancient wine heritage and Georgians are very proud of it. It was actually the first wine growing country, their traditions date 8000 years back. And if you desire something stronger, try the national drink Chacha, a high proof grape brandy – but please don’t blame me for your next day’s hangover.

Dance the night away at Bassiani, a club housed in a former basement swimming pool under a soccer stadium; and also check out Bassiani’s rival club Khidi. Both clubs are equipped with Function One sound systems and showcase internationally renowned DJs as well as local talents. The city’s clubs are regarded as safe spaces open to everyone regardless of sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion, which is crucial in a country where homophobia is still a pressing issue. Another problem is the ruthless drug policy. A musician was put into prison for seven years for the possession of marijuana and this is just one of many incidents. While in Tbilisi, I was able to witness a huge protest against the zero-tolerance drug policy led by activist group White Noise.

Georgia is a hidden gem, full of mountains, ancient historical sites, culture, food and wine. Here is my guide to a perfect two weeks in this magical country!

Kazbegi (3 days)

A Georgia trip wouldn’t be complete without a little stint up to the highlands. En route to Kazbegi, make a short stop at the Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument, overlooking Devil’s Valley, to admire its colorful tile work. I strongly recommend staying at Rooms Hotel which boasts a panoramic view of the Caucasus. It was the first time I spent money on a nice hotel which felt quite grown up and I am telling you, it was worth every penny. Rooms Hotel is equipped with a lovely pool, a sauna and a breakfast buffet that will satisfy all your foodie desires. Opt for a room facing Mount Kazbeg. Stand on the balcony and breathe in the crisp mountain air.

From afar, you can make out Gergeti Trinity church. It was built in the 14th century and due to its secluded location became a spiritual symbol of the area. The hike there takes five hours in total, including the way back where you can take in spectacular views of snow-capped mountains. If you wish for a shorter walk, you can also hike up to Ioane Natlismcemeli church on the other side of Rooms Hotel. After three days and two nights, make your way back to Tbilisi to explore the capital further or take day trips to nearby cities like Mthskheta, Stalin’s birthplace Gori or Signaghi.

Signaghi (1 day)

Signaghi makes for a nice day trip from Tbilisi. It is small picturesque city on top of a hill, nicknamed city of love. If you don’t fall in love with the city’s pastel colored buildings, cobblestoned streets and gorgeous views over the Alazani Valley right away, you probably need to drink more Georgian wine, which the region is famous for. Take a walk through Bodbe Monastary with its beautiful gardens and refresh yourself in the spring waters of St Nino.

Batumi (2 days)

Our last stop was the Black Sea. The train from Tbilisi main station takes you on a scenic ride through the Georgian countryside. Batumi is a popular seaside getaway and feels like a mixture of Las Vegas and Disneyland. There are lots of shiny buildings, illuminated during nighttime, a fountain show and casinos. Ironically, it used to be the darkest place of Georgia not so long ago with warlords running the city with their kalashnikovs. Nowadays, people come here to gamble and investors are building high rise apartments and hotels.

We spent two very relaxing days in Batumi full of reading by the beach and obviously, more eating. On the beach walk, you can find the famous eight meter tall moving steel sculpture by Georgian sculptor Tamara Kvesitadze which tells the story of a muslim boy, Ali, falling in love with a Georgian Christian princess, Nino. The star-crossed lovers’ story ends tragically with their separation after the invasion of the Soviet Union. Every evening, the statues move closer together, unite and ultimately, drift away from each other again. Try the regional specialty Adjaran Khatchapuri, for example at Grill Town (Demetre Tavdadebuli St): a boat-shaped flatbread with cheese, a raw egg and butter. The bread is dipped into the mix of egg and butter and best eaten hot (suffice to say: there was no summer bikini body this year for me!). Or eat fresh fish at beautifully decorated restaurant Fanfan (27 Ninoshvili St). On the last evening, we took a ride on the ferris wheel by the promenade and bid our farewells to the turquoise sea to our west and the mountains to our east. Goodbye Georgia, you pretty little country.

Georgia took my heart by storm and I am already planning my next visit there. Mountain lovers, city hoppers as well as beach bums and culture vultures will equally love it there. My two weeks there just set me back about 400 Euros (plus the 200 Euros I splurged on Rooms Hotel) and I was living like a queen, eating out and taking taxis every day. Not only is Georgia extremely affordable, it is also a very safe destination for travelers and everyone we met was extremely helpful despite the language barrier. I recall one day, when I went to the supermarket and I asked one member of the staff about something they sold. He didn’t speak English and involved the whole supermarket in finding someone who could explain the items on sale to me.

I can’t wait to go back; there are so many other places waiting to be explored. I would love to paraglide in Kazbegi, go skiing in Svaneti and see the glaciers of Racha. But for now, I will have to make do with Georgian food in Berlin. Whenever I get Georgian food cravings, I visit Schwiliko in Kreuzberg which serves all of my favorite dishes in a cosy, authentic atmosphere (booking is essential as this little gem is always packed). And when I am done eating, I order a Chacha Sour at Homes Place next door, and make a mental note for myself to book flights as soon as possible.


This is a guest post by Hati .

Hati grew up in an east German city where the biggest attraction is a 7m-tall, 40t-heavy monument of Karl Marx’ head. Daughter to a Vietnamese tiger mother, the closest she got to traveling (before she reached legal age) were three family trips to Disneyland Paris and one to her sister’s wedding in Vietnam. After finishing high school, she quickly packed her bags and moved to Berlin, studied in London and Hong Kong – and she’s been catching up on traveling ever since. Follow her journey on Instagram @geilreisen