Georgia (the country, not the state) is an incredible destination for travel, but not a common place for many world travelers.
I was lucky enough to travel around Georgia for a week with one of my closest friends who is here serving in the Peace Corp. His language skills and cultural knowledge were a huge asset in navigating this country. It was also a special experience to see his daily life and get to know the people of Georgia who surround him and make up his immediate support system. If you have a friend in the Peace Corp, go visit. It will be an immersive experience unlike many others.
While Georgia is not a large country, it certainly has a lot to see and do, mostly because of its long history and rich culture. Here is a brief list of some of the quintessential Georgian experiences and the best places in Georgia to travel to experience them:
Georgia has the earliest evidence of wine making of any places in the world. Therefore, they have the title of being the “home of wine making”. Their technique for making wine is unique, compared to many of the modern vat and barrel tools used in most fermenting processes. Instead, Georgians use large unglazed earthenware vessels to place crushed up grapes (seeds, skins and all), which then go into the ground and are buried. This method controls the temperature and needs no yeast. The resulting wine then has a distinct flavor. The wine they are most known for is saparavi, which is a dry red wine. I personally also like kinsmaruli, which is a semi-sweet red wine. They also have white wine and something called a black wine. The remnants left over from the wine making, mostly seeds and skin, are they crushed further, in a similar process to Grappa (an Italian liquor) to make Chacha. Drinking chacha is sure to burn your throat, especially if it is homemade and the alcohol content is not controlled for. The best place to visit in Georgia to learn about the process and try the wine is the Kakheti region, particularly Kvareli.
Georgian food is heavy, with lots of carbs and meat, so you know it’s going to be good! One of the staples is khinkali, a dumpling which can be filled with beef, mushrooms or pork. The proper way to eat this scrumptious delicacy is by sprinkling black pepper on them and holding them by the “stem” as you bite in and slurp up some of the juices inside. Another favorite and very Instagramable snack is Adjarian khachapuri, which is an open boat-shaped bread filled with cheese and with a raw egg on top. The proper way to eat this is by breaking off the sides and dipping the bread into the gooey goodness. If you’re looking for bread, puri as they call it, you will want to look for a tone (pronounced tonay), which is a tandoor-type oven. There you’ll be able to find (long bread) and my favorite Lobiani, which is a soft bread with mashed beans inside. Finally, another snack to try is churchkhela, which is a string of walnuts dipped and covered in a mix of grape juice and flour. The result is a gummy outside. It’s not my favorite flavor, but it was worth a try. You can get any of these delicacies all over Georgia!
A Supra is a Georgian feast, most notably with many toasts of wine. Each supra has a designated toastmaster, known as a tamada. The tamada makes heartfelt and poetic toasts to family and friends throughout the feast on topics like family, culture, and ancestors. The idea is that you then chug the wine that is given to you in a small table glass, only a little bigger than a shot glass. My one recommendation that I can give from my own personal experience is to not try to keep up in drinking with Georgians. They will out drink you easily, and you will be down for the count on a marshrutka in the town where Stalin was born…not the the celebratory attitude of an experienced Supra guest.
4.) Georgian Hospitality:
Georgians are known for their hospitality. In fact, the idea of guests stopping by unannounced is common place, along with keeping guest rooms ready at all time. I was lucky enough, because I was visiting someone who lives here, to experience on a few occasions the incredible hospitality of Georgian citizens. They openly welcomed us in for tea and snacks, continuing to tell us “chahme, chahme” (eat in Georgian). It must be mentioned that their hospitality is almost an extension of their worth, so it is not wise to turn down food or other gifts. They give easily and freely, so be gracious and thankful, and try not to refuse them the pleasure of hosting you.
5.) Caucasus Mountains:
There are some incredible hikes and views to be had in Georgia. Most notable are two locations that have hikes to specific places. Mestia is the hardest hike and takes a couple of days of trekking. While the views are incredible, it didn’t fit our schedule so we opted for the easier less time-consuming option. About 3 hours outside of Tbilisi you’ll find the Caucasus Mountains on the tension-filled border with Russia. Here is where the iconic Georgian photo of the Gergeti Trinity Church can be found in Kazbegi. In an almost completely uphill climb that will kill your lungs, you’ll make it to the top to see the church and get even more stunning views of these epic mountains.
6.) Georgian language:
The Georgian language is ancient and very different-looking from Latin or Germanic languages, with a distinct script. There is some important literature written in Georgian, like Shota Rustaveli’s “A Knight in the Panther’s Skin,” an incredibly well-known epic poem in Georgia. Because the language is so difficult for a native English speaker, I felt very lucky to have my fluent friend with me to pick up on the details and nuances that cannot be conveyed through body language and vigorous pointing. While English isn’t always commonly spoken outside of Tbilisi, knowing Georgian isn’t a must, as we met other tourists who got around not knowing a single word. But, it’s always worth a try to speak some of the words when you’re in a foreign land. Try these words to start:
Hello – გამარჯობა (gamarjoba)
Goodbye – კარგად/ნახვამდის (kargad/naxvamdis)
Thank You – მადლობა (madloba)
Yes – კი (ki)
No – არა (ara)
Please – თუ შეიძლება (tu sheidzleba)
Wine – ღვინო (ghvino)
Red – წითელი (tsiteli)
White – თეთრი (tetri)
7.) Take a marshrutka:
Getting around Georgia outside of Tbilisi can be difficult. As a developing country, there aren’t a lot of public transportation options. So most of the time we opted for marshrutkas, which are essentially small buses with limited air conditioning and personal space. Taking a marshrutka is a way to keep costs down, as they frequently cost only a few GEL (Georgian lari) but also they just seem to be a right of passage. I would also like to note that these buses are not neatly lined up or have schedules online. This is a hunting game as we experienced. At one point we were in a taxi with the driver taking us around to different lots asking where the marshrutka we wanted might be.
Maybe now you are considering adding Georgia to your travel list?! Whether it’s a stop-over in Tbilisi or a full country tour, or at least a visit to your local Georgian restaurant to try out some of the delicacies, Georgian cultural experiences are worth your time.