Explore One of the Lesser-Known Countries
Georgia on the cross roads with Asia, is one of the lesser-known countries in Europe but also one of the most diverse and captivating. Nestled between the higher and lower Caucasus Mountains it offers varying landscapes from picturesque vineyards, to rolling hills and up to sky high mountains, from charming streets of rural villages to an intriguing mix of architecture in the larger cities. Finding the right itinerary to explore Georgia may take longer than expected with such an abundance of interesting places to visit.
Paradise for Nature Lovers
You are bound to discover a country bursting with wildlife, as there are more diverse species of animals, birds and flowers to be found in Georgia than in any other European country. This makes it a paradise to visit for nature lovers and hikers alike. Families will also find plenty of adventures for kids interested in unusual travel destinations, although it is not so much a destination for families wanting all inclusive resorts and luxury (but then they probably would not consider visiting Georgia anyway…)
Making the Right Choice
We were lucky to have three weeks of the summer break available, although making the right choice for a tour was rather difficult. I sought the advice of one of my Georgian friends in London who advised me to head for the cities and mountains and advised against going to the Black Sea Coast with its major seaside resorts around Batumi. She called it “Georgia’s Las Vegas” so maybe it is the place to be for some – but not for us on this trip. My friend also mentioned that the sea is not as beautiful as the Mediterranean and as frequent visitors of Mallorca, we might be disappointed by the dark waters and the pebbled beaches. Looking back on our three weeks of travels through Georgia now, I do not regret the choices I made, but I wish we could have stayed a night or two longer in Kutaisi and maybe a little less in Tbilisi.
Guide for Travellers to Georgia
This post is meant to guide interested travellers and tourists wishing, or planning to travel to Georgia with ideas about an itinerary for their trip. I can give you some tips on where to go, but I advise you to also search online, as I found a lot of interesting places and routes on the English language Georgian focused blogs and websites.
Day Trips From Tbilisi
Although day trips to most places in Georgia are possible from Tbilisi and/or the other large centres, I would not advise basing your whole time there. Whilst most of the country and many of the sites are theoretically within a days drive the travel times in reality can be rather long and tiring, not ideal, especially for families with children. We also found that most of the sights needed more than a few hours for discovery and so losing half a day travelling there and back is not the best plan. My recommendation is to choose, like we did three or four centres depending on the length of time you have, and taking time to absorb this wonderful country without rushing about.
Start Exploring From Tbilisi
Having said that the best place to start exploring Georgia is Tbilisi and the increasingly stylish capital should definitely be on every traveller’s itinerary for a few nights at the start. If like us you plan to start and end the trip there consider splitting your time between the old town and one of the newer areas. We started our holiday in the district of Didube with it’s vibrant feel, half renovated buildings and artistic wall murals, and ended it with a lovely little renovated boutique hotel on the top of the old town. There are some sights that are a must on a day trip from Tiblisi as they do not warrant a longer stay so besides exploring the city, consider a couple of trips out, such as the cloisters at David Gareji, or perhaps the area around Gori with the Stalin Museum and interesting cave city of Uplistsikhe.
Discover the Mountains
If, like us, you have a longer trip then I would certainly take the time to discover the low and high Caucasus Mountains, and plan in some hikes, both in the mountains and exploring the valleys. For our time in the national parks of the lower Caucasus I chose to base ourselves in the wonderful but increasingly touristic spa town of Borjomi – famous in Georgia for its clean spring water and as a royal resort.
Exploring the Area Around Borjomi
We spent fives days exploring the Borjomi area, mixing some walks up to the amazing wildlife filled flower meadows bustling with butterflies on the lower peaks, with some adventurous jeep track driving across the mountain to Tabatskuri Lake for wild swimming, and finally a day trip into the south for the biggest cave city in Georgia at Vardzia. Borjomi, or its near sister resort of Bakuriani, are probably the best choice for accessing the national park areas, they are big enough to offer a good choice of places to stay and a reasonable selection of restaurants. They also both have the added attraction of small fun fairs and cable cars to enliven the trip if the children in the family (big or small) fancy a break from nature and culture.
Accommodation in Georgia
With the still developing tourist economy and services, you will find that the accommodation in Georgia is very mixed. There are small local hostels all over, but for reasonable accommodation and service, one of the bigger centres is a better bet. The typical travellers websites do feature an increasing selection of places to stay and I was able to find us good choices via both booking.com and airbnb for us, none of which disappointed. We largely avoided the big classic chains choosing more, the well rated smaller, designer or boutique accommodation and mixing in, one or two classic bed and breakfast places. As there is still a smallish selection of good quality places, expect to pay more for these, we found accommodation not much cheaper then rural Europe, but food and drink was much much cheaper – perhaps less than a third of the equivalent prices. find out more about where to stay in Georgia in our little guide on accommodation and other essentials here.
The Lesser Travelled Places…
After spending time in Borjomi and the mountains I was torn between heading up to the higher mountains nearer to the Black Sea, for example the Svaneti region is stunning and many travellers rave about it or spending time on the central plain around Kutaisi. I am now glad we took some time in the latter, as the second city is beautiful in itself but some of our most memorable moments were in the few days exploring around there. I loved the beautiful country houses dotting the countryside, the back roads filled will cows but the whole family very much loved exploring the canyons that cut through the plains. Diving into the cool blue water under the greenery was very much a highlight of our trip and Jerome especially would have loved to spend much more time in that area. Visiting the old industrial town of Chiatura with its ancient cable-car system was also a fantastic experience not to be missed.
Certain Regions and Places Are Still Off Limits
If you do have time and decide to head into the mountains at the Black Sea end of Georgia please do check ahead as there are a couple of break away provinces and some areas are off limits. Likewise the Russian borders are a sensitive area. Having said that, we spoke to a number of travellers, who said the villages in the Svaneti valley surrounded by the highest peaks were amazing – they are definitely on our list for a future visit.
The High Caucasus
I chose to get close to the high peaks in the Kazbegi area, choosing Stepantsminda for our base. Even with five days there we did not want to leave. In contrast to the lower Caucasus, the mountains there are high, and walks longer and more strenuous, but the rewards of the views from higher up more than make up for the effort. Even without longer walks there are waterfalls to explore and crazy bubbling mineral lakes to discover, so it is an area to be recommended even for those without mountain legs.
Take Your Time
Hence, based on my experience and planning I would advise you to take at least a few days in several centres across this amazing little country, and for each centre, choose to allow yourself time to find interesting places. Tourism is still developing so whilst the top “ten” places are busy and on every sign board in every city, we found many of the best places only came to light after a couple of days in each location by looking around and perhaps talking with other travellers.
4×4 is an Essential in Georgia
One final note, it is a country best explored with a good 4×4 car, the roads away from the main routes are rough and even to reach some of the best sights (like David Gareji) or the bottom of the more interesting trails (like Juta in the Kazbegi region), a good off road car is essential! Read our tips on renting a car in Georgia here. Finally be prepared to walk, it is the best way to take in the scenery and wildlife, which is the gem at the heart of any visit to Georgia.
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