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Why go to Georgia ?

Georgia is a country at the intersection of Europe and Asia. It nestles between the high Caucasus mountains and the Black Sea. Georgia is rapidly becoming an adventure country par excellence, cycling, on and off-road, skiing, trekking and mountaineering are all there in abundance with wonderful beaches on its western border to relax on.

Dean Nicholson in Nala’s World, where he cycled through Georgia with his cat Nala, said of Georgia:
‘I’d been in Georgia for a few days now, sites like this ….(an old woman driving two cows in the road)….added to my feeling that not only had I entered a different country but a different world, maybe even a different era’


Not only are there natural wonders to immerse yourself in but also incredible architectural sites. It is a Christian culture with ancient monasteries and churches to visit, some dating from the 11th century. The most famous is Vardzia a sprawling cave city/ monastery dating from the 12th century. Much of this complex is hewn out of rock with interconnecting stairways and a wonderful church in the rock with carved windows and frescos .
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Georgia only became one country in the 1700s. Prior to that it was divided into competing small Caucasian kingdoms, facilitated by the terrain. In ancient times Georgia was split into two states called Colchis and Iberia and was known by the ancient Greeks. Jason and the Argonauts was set in Colchis. Colchis was conquered by Alexander the Great, the Romans and then by the Persian empire.
Georgia’s more recent history is notorious for being the birthplace of Stalin. There is a museum to him in Gori, the town of his birth. It was part of the Russian empire since the early 1800s and then an autonomous republic within the USSR. It has been independent since 1991.
It is largely Christian with a minority of Muslims it has Muslim neighbours, Turkey and Azerbaijan and Christian neighbours, Armenia.
Georgia is about the size of Ireland, but its terrain is wonderfully variable from the beautiful Black Sea coastal regions to the high Caucasus. Some of the highest mountains in Europe are in Georgia, Shkara is the highest at 5193m, the third highest in the Caucasus. Mount Elbrus is the highest mountain in the Caucasus but it is in Russia. (Mont Blanc is 4809m).
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Some historic high villages nestle into the Caucasus valleys, Ushguli runs from 2000 to 2200 metres above sea level. The old centres of these high Caucasian villages are often bestowed with ancient churches and are famous for their high towers. Mestia is the regional capital of Svanetti with museums, ancient churches and towers. Mestia also provides easy access into the mountains with treks and cable lifts


The semi-autonomous region of Adjara runs along the Black Sea coast and borders Turkey.  It has been historically a trading crossroads, often with smugglers taking goods from east to west and back again. The area was the historically the start of the silk road. Its capital Batumi displays a mix of old and new buildings, and odd communist era designs. It used to be the playground of the Soviet top brass.

 

Further down into the eastern valleys of Georgia we have Kakheti the wine region. Kakheti has an 8000 year history in wine production where it was discovered that leaving grape juice in a buried amphora over winter created an alcoholic drink. Wine is integral to the hospitality of the Georgians and if a traveller gets invited into someone’s home the first thing that is put in front of you is a glass of local wine. The word wine is ‘yvino’ in the local dialect, this could be where our words for the drink developed from.


The notorious Georgian Military road, supposed to be one of the most adventurous routes in the world, was built by the Russian Empire in the 18th century. It was a massively important route into Georgia following the route traditionally used by invaders over the Caucasus mountains. The route runs due north from Tiblisi to Vladikavkaz in Russia via Kasbegi. Most trips stop at Kasbegi as the Russian border is tricky to cross.
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Bikexplore is planning to organise a cycle holiday from Tiblisi to Kasbegi along this tricky mountainous road in the near future.

 

The capital of Georgia, Tiblisi is a rapidly developing city with a lovely old quarter of cobbled streets and traditional buildings. It has an expanding nightlife and café scene. Georgia is modernizing fast now, with good roads being driven through the mountains and tourist infrastructure being set up. Now the tourist can find privately run guest houses in most of the villages. Although many roads are still gravel, quite a few are being upgraded.

 

Georgia is an amazing country, small enough to get around and not yet on the tourist trail. You will still feel as though you are the first to travel here yet be sufficiently pampered with good accommodation and excellent food and wine. In partnership with a cycling agent, Bikexplore will be running a variety of different cycling trips to Georgia, touring, wine tasting and adventure trips.

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