When describing the Republic of Georgia, I find myself using a lot of superlatives — “oldest,” “highest,” “largest,” etc. This historical and beautiful country is a favorite stop in my travels. Following are 10 reasons why:
- The Caucasus Mountains. Forming a natural boundary between Europe and Asia, the towering Caucasus Mountain range is Europe’s highest. It stretches between the Caspian and Black Seas and includes several summits rising over 16,000 feet. Everything seems pure and pristine, including snow-topped mountain peaks, flowing rivers, and deep gorges and valleys. It’s a perfect place for skiing, snowshoeing, or just communing with nature.
- Georgian kosher cuisine. The combination of some of the world’s best organic produce and one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world makes for a potent culinary fusion. Jewish influences have so permeated Georgian cuisine that there often appears to be little distinction between kosher and non-kosher dishes. Some of my favorite Georgian-Jewish cuisine includes khachapuri, a cheese bread that is similar to a double-crusted pizza, and lobio, a red-bean broth that seems to harbor Tuscan influences, pan-fried trout in pomegranate coulis, and lamb cubes with sour plums and tarragon. Delicious!
- Flora and fauna. Georgia is home to a huge variety of vegetation and flowers. The diverse species include over 4200 species of wild-flowering plants. I love hiking in forest areas to spot some of the most beautiful and sheltered plants. Wildlife also abounds here, and a favorite spot for bird-watching is Borjomi-Kharaguali National Park. One of the largest national parks in Europe, it covers almost 1% of the entire Georgian territory.
- Ancient archaeology. Traveling through Georgia feels like stepping back in time. And what a rich, ancient time it can be. Archeological discoveries point to Georgia as the home of the first humans to inhabit Europe, as excavations in Dmanisi have uncovered human remains that are 1.7 million years old. Other excavations indicate that Georgia tribes came together in statehood as early as the second millennium B.C.E. You don’t have to travel to an archeological dig to experience Georgia’s sense of history. The remains of early states and cities can be found throughout the countryside, including the ancient cities of Kutaisi, Uplistsikhe, and Vani, which lie along the route of the Great Silk Road.
- Georgian towns. To experience the wide variety of natural and cultural offerings available in Georgia, just take a tour of some of its towns. You will pick up the unique cultural flavor of each locale, as well as having a chance to experience nearby natural wonders. Travel to Ushguli to take in Europe’s highest village, which lies at the foot of one of the highest summits in the Caucasus range. The village is dotted with medieval watchtowers and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Head to the spa town of Tori to enjoy a stay in a luxury hotel and skiing at the nearby resort. Or travel to Batumi, a port town that has both history and a tropical, seaside feel.
- Native entertainment and hospitality. Georgians are a fun-loving and hospitable people, and they are welcoming to tourists. Soaking up local color with native Georgians is an enjoyable part of any visit here. Recreational activities include competitive sports — from football to water polo, enjoying Georgian folk dances and music, and partaking of delicious food and drink. Georgia is also a major wine-producing country and neighborhood bars are a place for hospitality.
- Georgia’s capital city is like no other city I’ve known. It’s an intoxicating blend of East and West, old and new. A true melting pot of religions and cultures, Tbilisi is a favorite of tourists, who enjoy its subtropical climate, cobblestone streets, and ancient hot springs. Georgia’s capital since the 5th century, the city is filled with centuries of cultural and political landmarks, from the 4th-century Narikala fortress to Freedom Square, site of 20th century demonstrations prior to Georgia’s independence.
- Svaneti. It’s hard to pick a favorite region of Georgia, but the Province of Svaneti is difficult to beat. Located in the land of the High Caucasus, this northwestern region is a magical land whose winding roads take you through hills and valleys dotted with picturesque mountain hamlets and almost 200 medieval stone towers. The province honors its rich art heritage, and it’s not unusual to find frescoes over a thousand years old on the walls of village churches. The region has its own language and customs, making it feel like a land apart — but one worth exploring.
- Georgian architecture. As an ancient country with diverse cultural roots, Georgia is filled with prominent architectural works representing its multicultural history. Some of my favorite landmarks include:
- Davit Gareja Dave Monastery. This huge complex was built by Assyrian monks in the 6th It consists of literally hundreds of chapels and cells, many built directly into a rock face on the slopes of Mount Gareja. Long fallen into disrepair, it has been partially renovated since Georgia’ independence.
- Petra Fortress. Built during the 6th century, this monument sits on a rocky outcropping along the shores of the Black Sea. It was considered an impregnable fortress in its day. Although in ruins now, it is still an impressive sight.
- Rabati Castle. Built in the 13th century, this castle complex shows the subsequent influence of several different religions and cultures. The complex contains a mosque, church, synagogue, and minaret. Recently renovated, the complex is now in excellent condition and sits on elegantly landscaped grounds. It also contains the Museum of Samtskhe-Javakheti History, which contains artifacts from archeological sites, including ancient jewelry.
- Jewish history. Jewish people have resided in Georgia for at least 2,600 years. Their history here has included many episodes of persecution by invading conquerors, from the Mongols to the Soviets. Throughout its long and difficult history, the Georgian Jewish community has retained a sense of identity. Today, less than 3000 Jews remain in the country. However, the community remains close-knit, with low intermarriage, a keen knowledge of Jewish history, and a commitment to maintaining traditions. The David Baazov Museum of History of Jews of Georgia, located in Tbilisi, is a great stop for learning more about Jewish history and culture in the region.
Georgian legend proclaims that when G-d distributed the Earth to all its peoples, the Georgians were late. When asked why they were tardy, they explained that they had paused on the way to raise glasses of wine in praise of Him. G-d so liked their reply that He decided to give Georgians the part of the Earth originally set aside for himself. One visit to this country may have you believing that this legend is true!