Tropical Batumi – botanical gardens
We made a detour en route back to the capital via a town called Batumi. It's a strange melting pot of Turkish and Georgian influences, and markets itself as a sunny coastal resort - big on partying and having a good time. It seemed to be dominated by Turks; all the shops sold Turkish produce and there were lots of Turkish cafes, restaurants and mosques. A long promenade with endless fish restaurants lined the beach, and a huge billboard notified us that Donald Trump was building a huge Trump Towers hotel…
Batumi attracts many Armenians, Russians and Turks who flock to the city and its casinos in the summer. It has its own eco-climate and a wonderfully tropical feel with a huge tangled mess of jungle on the road out of town towards the botanical gardens where I spent a lovely afternoon wandering through vegetation from every corner of the world. The mist had rolled in off the Black Sea shrouding the huge trees in an eerie light and bringing a welcome coolness. Frogs croaked (click here to hear them) in the stillness and frangipani scent hung on the air and it really felt like I had stepped into some secret magical mystery garden.
Back to Tbilisi
Back in Tbilisi, I sat in a beautiful concert hall listening to a group of traditional Georgian singers, resplendent in knee high black boots, wearing smart black coats and swords tucked into their belts. I had never heard polyphonic singing before - the unique style of Georgian singing that is quite spell binding; rich voices that continuously move in and out of harmony to no accompaniment. Before they had finished, everyone in the audience was on their feet stamping and clapping in unison. It was a special night, given one of the group was retiring, and he came forward to thank everyone and burst into tears, whereupon everyone around started to sob and the clapping and singing went on and I left with my ears ringing marvelling at it all.
I returned to the little art gallery for one last toast realising I was far from ready to leave and that Georgia and its people had got under my skin. My bag was full of gifts - a lovely painting from the art gallery, bottles of Saparavi wine from Chateau Mukhrani and a huge sheepskin Shepherds hat. I know I'll be back - when the grapes have been harvested, it's still warm, and the countryside is showcasing a spectacular array of Autumnal colours.
Georgia makes a fantastic and unique holiday destination, as there's so much to see and do. With a rich and interesting history, luscious countryside, walking and trekking in stunning landscapes, music, culture, and the most delicious food and wine, it really doesn't disappoint. It also combines exceptionally well with Armenia, and soon eastern Turkey and Azerbaijan - so watch this space.