The country of Georgia has been seen by most travelers up until recently as a far flung oddity which might tick the boxes of ‘exotic’ ‘post-soviet’ or ‘random,’ but exists as a destination one might try if a flight comes up cheap or one happens to be in Dubai, Istanbul or Moscow and looking for a short jump for a weekend.
Tbilisi certainly has come into its own in recent years and it is worth much more consideration than a simple weekend getaway if you love food, wine, culture and wellness you’ll find it here in spades. Ten years ago the capital was all about marketing its post soviet allure with themed restaurants, tourist trinkets and generally old infrastructure which needed updating.
As time has gone by, it is really coming into its own, as typically heavy Georgian food has been updated to fit modern, healthier tastes, hotels, the metro and neighborhoods have added color, cleaned up poverty and the country’s hiking beauty has been built up to attract active lifestyle enthusiasts.
Tbilisi has always been a cultural hub of art and architecture. It has blended European and Russian influences for Millennia and much of this was preserved even during the most brutal Soviet censorship. Art is part of the Georgian spirit and it preserved national identity, religion and culture as a final form of resistance. This is abundantly clear by the stunning iconography, painting and handcrafts one can find for sale all over Tbilisi. Some of it is modern made and others are rare antiques that are a fraction of what they might cost elsewhere. Whether one is looking to buy or browse, it is an experience of beauty to be had.
Together with Armenia, Georgia claims to have the oldest wine making processes in the world and it certainly has excellent vintages. Lovers of more complex wines should note that Georgian varietals are fresher and sweeter in general, but no less fascinating. The process of aging in clay vats in the ground is an internationally recognized patrimony of humanity and the wine shops in Tbilisi will let you sample to your hearts content. Its very easy to bring a few bottles home.
Cuisine reflects the often harsh winters by being heavy and hearty. Thankfully many new chefs are incorporating international fusion to their dishes to make them more health conscious, but there is something to be said for trying a good old fashioned khinkhali. This dumpling like dish is usually stuffed with veggies, meat or cheese and it pairs excellently with white Georgian wine or cider. The countryside is a mere half hours drive away so one will find many of the ingredients are fresh and local just because thats the way its always been.
One of our favorite parts of Eurasian culture is certainly the bath houses that invite people from all walks of life to come together and take a load off. Right in the heart of Tbilisi sulfur baths bubble up inside a royal style public bathhouse that will take aches and pains away in a jiffy. Chreli-Abano is the most famous part of the old town and for a very simple fee one can get an authentic sampling of local life. The baths are a mix of hot, cold and everything in between. The rooms are gender segregated and not much is left to the imagination, but people move about very matter of factly just enjoying the rich aromas, cheap massages and even some beer in the bubbling baths, its quite the experience!
All things considered Tbilisi is a city still coming into its tourism identity. It has some very nice hotels, apartments and shopping venues which will delight the discerning and adventurous traveler alike. It is safe, stable and has an eye on progress that is worth seeing and supporting as it develops its destiny for the travel market.