Georgia is an increasingly popular destination for leisure and incentive travel, with its many international as well as boutique hotels, and the seamless juxtaposition of its modern infrastructure with its deep cultural tag.
Once part of the erstwhile Soviet Republic, it lies at the intersection of Europe and Asia and is a perfect destination for a global traveller who wants to experience a destination that blends nature, adventure, history and an ancient winemaking tradition.
Situated between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Mountain ranges, with lowland lakeside towns on the subtropical Black Sea, this gem of a country is home to snow-swathed ski slopes, a semi-desert in the eastern part, natural parks, rivers and 11 climate zones.
While COVID-19 affected Georgia as much as it did other countries, it has fared far better in terms of the total number of cases and was quick to react with strict measures to control the spread of infection. It now ranks 142nd across the world in the number of cases (totaling not more than1006).
It ranks 1st in the world in its battle against coronavirus, based on the low numbers of the total reported cases per capita and 3rd according to the total reported fatalities per capita (only preceded by the Faroe Islands & the Holy See). With borders reopening on August 1, 2020 to the European Union and a few other countries, which are yet to be determined, Georgia is implementing a series of health measures to protect travellers and citizens alike.
Georgia annually attracts more than 7 million (2019) international travellers, with an annual 15% increase. The country has three international airports—Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi, a visa-free regime for 95 nations (including online VISA for Indians), one of the safest countries to visit according to world crime indexes, as well as high-value for money.
New ideas and agendas
Despite the COVID-mandated global lockdowns that have hit the travel segment, I have held on to hope and spent the time to discover new sustainable activities, amazing hotels and more CSR projects around the regions of Georgia, so that we are ready to welcome guests with new ideas.
Among the destinations I explored, one lay at a mere two-hour drive from the capital of Tbilisi, which offers me an idea for day trips. And what a sight it was: an amazing unity of nature, the Georgian people’s renowned hospitality, salubrious Mediterranean climate, endlessly beautiful landscapes, a heritage of winemaking, unique cuisine, cultural history and relaxed atmosphere.
Our local team knows our territory well. But I chose to travel deeper into the wine-producing region of Kakheti, east of Tbilisi, where I explored new design hotels built in old wineries or castles, picked organic roses at a women’s co-operative, pressed lavender oil, learned how to make cheese and yoghurt from old recipes, followed a beekeeper’s busy day, made honey and tasted the natural wine made by Georgian winemakers.
They can tell you stories about the country’s long-standing tradition of producing natural wine, which is nearly 8000 years old. The wines are stored in authentic amphoras and vessels deep within the earth, which allows for natural fermentation.
I took my family along and we went horseback riding in the mornings on calm horses, enjoying breathtaking nature. In the evenings we ended up around a bonfire with a glass of Chacha, a locally made digestive.
Another trip that I made was to the high mountains of the Caucasus, the mountain range bordering Russia, Chechnya and Dagestan, where peaks rise over 5000 meters. We stayed at the renowned ROOMS Hotel Kazbegi, a sustainable design hotel. The furniture and hotel façade cladding is made from reclaimed wood. It serves locally-sourced fresh organic food and marvelous cocktails, which we savoured on the vast deck overlooking the Kazbek Mountains that rise 5049 m high, even as the sun set on the horizon.
My next trip goes a bit further than a day trip. I will travel to Soviet-abandoned sanatoriums or luxury spas, which are heaven for those who like to indulge in photography. These are structures where time has come to a complete standstill. These amazing heritage structures from the Stalin-era, where the Duma (Russian assembly with advisory or legislative functions) or the Soviet leaders came to vacation, were abandoned in the early 90s, when the Soviet Union was dismantled.
Here, you can stay in a restored palace and visit canons nearby, as well as caves where dinosaur footsteps are still imprinted. Very close by is the tiny village of Eduard Shevardnadze, the former USSR foreign minister and the second democratically elected president of independent Georgia. Shevardnadze was responsible for taking several key decisions in the Soviet foreign policy during the Gorbachev era, including the reunification of Germany.
Tbilisi, the vibrant capital of Georgia, has its own unique and authentic architecture, a marriage of modern and former Soviet brutalist buildings. Local wine, freshly squeezed juices, thermal baths, excellent food and an unlikely electronic music scene are some of its wonderful offerings.
2020 was looking like an incredible year for Georgia and the country was looking forward to welcoming both leisure and incentive guests. While all travel plans have been cancelled, many are reporting rebooking in 2021, including us.