Holidays to Georgia: an Overview

Georgians are kindred spirits to the English thanks to a shared patron saint, although neither country can claim too much ownership of the dragon-slaying medieval superhero, who hailed from Palestine. The Georgians went one step further and named their country after him, and it's by far the most common name for both male babies and churches. As to the country itself; well, it's lovely, and anyone with an interest in cultural and religious history or, more importantly still, good food and booze, will love the place.

A visit to Georgia will inevitably focus on the dramatic landscapes away from the cities - think New Zealand meets the Pyrenees with a smattering of Pembrokeshire thrown in for good measure - but the capital Tbilisi sums the place up nicely. Tblisi's setting is made even better by having mountains on three sides and the River Mtkvari meandering lazily through it, making it an easy city to navigate your way around. While the neighbouring Armenians are big on glamour, the Georgians are more reserved and laid back, with a strong artistic bent, and this attitude pervades the city. The city - more a glorified town - is bohemian in the extreme, with the old quarter in particular a lovely maze of cobbled streets and alleyways, restaurants, bars, churches and cafes, a few synagogues, a mosque, antique and carpet shops galore.

But it's the countryside that Georgia is really famous for, and most visitors have a sense of being in some bucolic idyll, further heightened by wonderfully pure air and almost sweet water that you can happily drink from the many mountain streams. Most people visit in verdant Spring or Autumn, when the colours are quite spectacular, the harvest is over, the sunshine is still warm and the hunting and shooting seasons are in full swing.

The eastern region of Kakheti is renowned mostly for its wine, monasteries, hilltop villages and - if it's possible - even more laid back people who can be spotted picnicking under huge walnut trees or catching fat spotted trout in the rivers. The village of Sighnagi, not unlike somewhere in the Tuscan hills, is worth a visit to see the paintings of Pirosmani, who died in obscurity and poverty in 1918 and has only since become a Georgian legend. His art depicted labourers, farmers, beggars and the physical aspects of toil with a sort of bleak realism but there is something captivating about them.

Further to the northwest in the region of Svaneti, there are fantastic opportunities for trekking through the high Caucasus near the border with Russia. The town of Mestia is dominated by defensive towers and cobbled backstreets and alleyways filled with pigs and cattle. The Svans speak a dialect and are tough mountain people who like to drink a firewater called chacha and take their food very seriously. There are opportunities to ski, trek up 15,000ft peaks, enjoy glacier walks and riding.

Visitors to the country will also notice how serious a role religion plays in the majority of Georgians' lives. Many will cross themselves on passing a monastery, and kiss icons in packed Sunday church services. Young and old alike pour into the churches and we recommend making time to experience one service - which will often have a wedding and christening happening at once for good measure - mainly for the quite beautiful singing. The tradition of polyphonic singing is some of the best in world and if you can catch a concert in Tbilisi, you won't regret it. No prizes for guessing what the name of the cathedral in Tblisi is called, but St George's is well worth visiting.

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