Georgia: A Journey Through Time and Culture – 9 Things That Make it a Must-Visit Destination

Georgia. This country should be on every traveller’s bucket list! Sitting at the crossroads of major civilizations like Persia, Byzantium, a...

Georgia. This country should be on every traveller’s bucket list! Sitting at the crossroads of major civilizations like Persia, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire, and serving as a bridge between Europe and Asia, the country is a cultural melting pot that showcases diverse landscapes stretching from the Black Sea coast to the majestic Caucasus Mountains. I had the pleasure of visiting Georgia multiple times between 2008 and 2014, and its appeal always called me to return. Despite both Ukraine and Georgia sharing over 70 years under the same repressive Soviet regime, Georgia struck me as the most exotic place I've ever visited. You will experience rich history, delicious cuisine, beautiful scenery, and very warmhearted people. In this article, I'm excited to share my top nine fascinating encounters in Georgia.  
1. Climate Diversity. 
Georgia, located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, features a diverse climate influenced by its geographical location, topography, and proximity to the Black Sea. The country is blessed with a wide range of climate zones, from coastal areas to high mountain regions. 
The western part of Georgia, including the Colchis Lowland along the Black Sea coast, experiences a humid subtropical climate. This region is characterized by mild winters, warm summers, and high levels of precipitation throughout the year. Batumi, a coastal city, is known for its subtropical climate and lush vegetation. 
I visited Mtirala National Park, just north of Batumi. “Mtirala” means "crying" in Georgian, and is named after the frequent rainfall the area receives. It’s a great place to spend a day with some nice hiking. 
I really liked the black sand beach at Ureki, a favourite vacation destination for Georgians. 

2. Domestic animals.
In many places in Georgia, including towns and villages, it is not uncommon to see domestic animals freely roaming the streets and fields. Cows and pigs, among other animals, are often a familiar sight, and their presence is deeply embedded in the country's agricultural traditions and reflects a close connection between the agricultural way of life, nature, and the community. 
In many cases, cows are allowed to roam freely during the day and are herded back to their owners' homes or designated areas in the evening.
Cows particularly like to hang out in dark tunnels on hot summer days. Drivers, beware! I almost hit one of those cows on my way to Svaneti.
Similarly to cows, pigs can often be seen freely roaming in rural areas. They may be observed foraging for food along roadsides or in open fields, but also in higher-density places like towns.
It creates a certain charm to see so many domestic animals everywhere.

3. Modern architecture.
Batumi, like Tbilisi and other tourist destinations in Georgia, has undergone a remarkable transformation with its modern architecture. The Batumi Boulevard, for example, showcases contemporary designs influenced by avant-garde and post-modern styles. The city's architectural shift can be attributed to the government's initiative to boost tourism and redefine Batumi as a modern, cosmopolitan destination.
There are a few notable buildings in the city. One of them is the Technological University Building, designed by the renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, which stands as a symbol of innovation. The design draws inspiration from the fluidity of water, reflecting the city's maritime setting.
The Alphabet Tower is another distinctive landmark in Batumi, designed by the Georgian architect Giorgi Khmaladze. Completed in 2011, the tower stands 130 meters tall and features the letters of the Georgian alphabet ascending its facade.
The transparency theme extends beyond architecture to governance. There has been a conscious effort to enhance transparency for public services like police, and this is metaphorically reflected in the prevalence of glass buildings. Transparent structures convey a sense of openness, accountability, and accessibility, aligning with the broader societal shift towards more transparent and accountable governance.
The design of the Queen Tamar Airport in Mestia aims to blend with the natural surroundings and maintain a harmonious relationship with the landscape.

4. Soviet heritage.
Georgia, like many former Soviet republics, inherited the architectural marks of the Soviet era, particularly in its apartment buildings.
Soviet architecture in Georgia, as in many other regions, is characterized by the dominance of standardized panel apartment blocks. These multi-story buildings were constructed using prefabricated concrete panels, resulting in a uniform and utilitarian appearance. While not known for their aesthetic appeal, these buildings played an important role in addressing the housing needs of a rapidly urbanizing population during the Soviet era.
Some Soviet-era buildings in cities like Batumi have undergone renovations or refacing. Not bad, eh?
The practice of drying linens outside is a common sight in Georgia, influenced by a combination of practicality, tradition, and climate. Yes, there is lots of sunshine in Georgia so why not take advantage of it?
Some notable examples. Batumi State Drama Theatre retains its historical roots from the Soviet era, it has also evolved to reflect the changing dynamics of Georgian society.
The scenic Enguri Dam is situated near the town of Jvari in the Upper Svaneti region, close to the border with Abkhazia. The construction of the Enguri Dam began in the late 1960s during the Soviet era and was completed in 1987. The dam is a concrete arch dam, and it stands as one of the tallest arch dams in the world, with a height of around 271.5 meters (891 feet).

5. Hospitality.
Georgia is synonymous with hospitality. It’s a national trait, a deeply ingrained cultural value in Georgia, and Georgians take great pride in welcoming guests with warmth and generosity. The concept of hospitality, known as "mamuli" (“მამული”) in Georgian, is a fundamental aspect of the country's social fabric.
Hospitality is often expressed through rich feasts and celebrations. When guests visit, hosts go to great lengths to prepare abundant and delicious meals, featuring a variety of traditional dishes and wines. Guests are encouraged to indulge, and it is considered impolite not to accept the offerings. This, by the way, applies at work too. I know this firsthand because I’ve been to Georgia at least three times on business trips and I was always treated like a king.
It is not uncommon for Georgians to invite guests into their homes too, even if they just ran into someone. The proverb "A guest is a gift from God" (“სტუმარი ღვთის საჩუქარია”) emphasizes the value placed on welcoming and treating guests well.
What caught me completely off guard is the fact that a common and friendly greeting in Georgia involves kissing on the cheek. This is typically done between people of the same gender and is often accompanied by a warm hug. The number of kisses may vary, but two or three kisses on alternating cheeks are common.

6. Food and Wine.
Georgia is one of the oldest wine-producing regions globally, and its traditional winemaking techniques date back thousands of years. Wine enthusiasts can explore local vineyards and taste unique varieties. My all-time favourite wine is Kindzmarauli, a semi-sweet red wine. After one of the business trips from Ukraine to Georgia, I brought 9 litres of Kindzmarauli in plastic bottles that could only be stored in a fridge for no more than 30 days.
Georgian food is simply amazing and has gained international recognition for its unique flavours and techniques.
The country's diverse climate and fertile land allow for the growing of a large variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and grains, contributing to the vibrance of Georgian cuisine which is characterized by a harmonious blend of sweet, sour, and savoury flavours. Georgians like to use aromatic herbs and spices, such as coriander, fenugreek, and marigold.
Cheeses like sulguni, imeruli, and bryndza are commonly used in dishes such as khachapuri and salads. One of my favourite dishes is Adjaruli khachapuri. It’s a traditional Georgian cheese-filled bread with an egg on top easily recognized for its distinctive boat-like shape. Khinkali (dumplings) is another favourite of mine.

7. Religious traditions.
Religion has played a very significant role in shaping Georgian identity.
Georgia is known for being one of the world's oldest Christian nations, adopting the faith in the early 4th century during the reign of King Mirian III. The Georgian Orthodox Church plays a pivotal role in the country's cultural identity, preserving ancient traditions and rituals.
Churches located in the mountainous landscapes are a testament to the deep-rooted connection between faith and nature. These churches, often nestled on rugged peaks or hidden in serene valleys, reflect the historical and spiritual significance of such locations.
In Georgia, the Orthodox Christian tradition extends to cemeteries, creating a unique and symbolic connection between the living and the deceased. Many Georgian cemeteries feature tombstones and memorials that resemble miniature houses, reflecting the belief in the afterlife as a continuation of earthly existence.

8. Mountains.
Georgia, a country nestled between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, has one of the most diverse and picturesque mountainous landscapes I’ve ever seen. The Caucasus Mountain Range dominates the northern part of the country, offering a range of peaks, valleys, and alpine scenery.
While lesser known than the Alps, the Caucasus Mountains are actually taller. Shkhara, the highest peak in Georgia's part of the Caucasus, stands at 5,201 meters (17,059 feet) while Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, stands at only 4,810 meters (15,781 feet).
These peaks create a majestic backdrop that captures the imagination and admiration of those who explore the region.
The scenery is ever-changing, providing a captivating visual experience for locals and visitors. Crystal-clear alpine lakes and pristine rivers augment the beauty of the mountainous terrain. 
Alpine meadows burst with colourful wildflowers during the warmer months, while the diverse ecosystems support various wildlife, including bears, ibexes, and eagles.

9. Isolation.
The mountainous landscapes of Georgia have contributed to the development of isolated communities with distinct cultural practices and languages.
Georgia is known for its linguistic diversity. Besides the official Georgian language, there are several regional languages such as Svan, Mingrelian, and Laz. Each of these languages has its own unique features, reflecting the cultural specificity of the communities that speak them.
Svaneti, which I had a chance to visit, is particularly famous for its defensive towers. These medieval structures, built with local Svanetian architecture, stand as silent watches against the backdrop of the mountains, adding a unique and picturesque element to the landscape.
Svan towers are tall, stone structures characterized by their square or rectangular shapes. They can reach impressive heights, typically between 20 to 25 meters. The towers have narrow slits for windows and, at times, are topped with cone-shaped roofs.
The strategic placement of these towers within villages allowed for effective surveillance and protection from enemies. The defensive towers of Svaneti, along with the region's medieval church structures, are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

I’m sure you’re convinced that visiting Georgia can be a wonderful and unforgettable experience, offering a diverse range of attractions, cultural richness, and warm hospitality.

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