We decided on visiting because of Lexi's love for orange wine, but found out that it really has everything one could want in a trip!
A country full of history and pride, Georgia had more than we could imagine - from wine regions, to beautiful mountains, to historic monasteries, to a very cool city. That combined with low tourism and great affordability - makes this an ideal holiday location.
Outside of Tbilisi rent a car. Others will say it is scary, but the driving was completely reasonable. I'd say much easier than driving in many parts of Italy.
Geographically, it's a big country. We ended up not going to one of the mountain regions we really wanted to go to because you would have had to hop on a plane. Pick what you want to do most and don't spread yourself too thin.
Get used to the conversion rate before you get there. We got in very early in the morning and definitely got ripped off during our first interaction (more our fault than theirs).
Stray dogs are everywhere - but they are generally nice once you get used to them
Itinerary - We focused on wine, mountains, and city - because we really enjoy all three. That said if you prefer one of those things more than another you could always split your time differently or skip an area:
Day 1: Arrive in Tbilisi, drove to Kazbegi (mountain region)
Day 2: Spent the day in Kazbegi and drove to Kakheti (wine region) in the evening
Day 3: Full day of wine and visiting in Kakheti region
Day 4: And more wine and visiting in Kakheti
Day 5: Drove through Kakheti to Davit Gareja and then stayed at a winery
Day 6: Visited Uplistsikhe, Gori (Stalin's hometown), and Borjomi
Day 7: Visited Mksheta on drive back to Tbilisi, got to Tbilisi
Day 8-9: Spend time around Tbilisi
Day 10: Depart early morning
Now for the real details!
Kazbegi (a mountain region)
We took the Georgian Military route from Tbilisi to Kazbegi - several hours long - but we made many spots along the way! You''ll see the Monument of three hundred Aragvians, the Zhinvali resorveor, the Ananuri Fortess, Pasanauri (known for it's Khinkali), Gudauri (a little ski resort town), the Russia-Georgia friendship monument, Jvari pass (snowy all year round) and then you'll get to Kazbegi!
Where to stay?
A tad bit bougie on this one - but we stayed at the Rooms hotel. For the morning view of the Caucasus mountains - it's worth it!
What to do?
Day 1: To get our legs warmed up – we did the Gveleti waterfall hike. Took us approximately 2 hours to complete – and the views were stunning! Not sure was it the altitude - but both of us were exhausted after it!
Day 2: We ventured to Gergeti Trinity church - now you could hike to this from the village - but with an infant in tow - we took the easy option and drove. A decision we don't regret! The monastery is open to the public - but absolutely messing around with the monks - the appropriate attire was enforced!
If we had a bit more time, we would have gone to Juta village.
Where to eat / drink?
For our stayover in Kazbegi - we ate at the Rooms hotel. Pretty good - but nothing to write home about, mainly for convivence!
Other places to note are - Lunch at Maia
On the drive we stopped a Restaurant Guda - a must go - food was absolutely fantastic!
Kakheti (a wine region)
Orange wine was the initial reason for choosing Georgia, so we were pretty excited about this part of the trip. While we aren't normally tour guide people, we were excited about trying to go to smaller, family wineries and figured it would be best to find a private driver/tour company that would help us do that. Highly suggest Eat This Tours, had a wonderful time with our driver!
Where to stay?
There are many different parts of the wine region, but we decided to stay the first few nights in Telavi, because it seemed like it would be a good jumping off point to other regions and also was a bigger town, so had restaurants and such for the evening. We stayed in Communal Hotel Telavi, was a nice b&b at an affordable rate.
We spent our final night in Kakheti at a Giuaani Winery, which was a newer winery that helped us get closer to the Tbilisi, while still getting to elongate our wine tasting fun
What to do?
Wine, wine, and more wine. We learned that Georgia takes pride in being the inventors of wine, with the earliest known evidence of being winemakers for at least 8000 years. They are known for their natural style wine, which is made is huge clay pots, called qvevris (and thus named qvevri wine). Our tour brought us to a bunch of small vineyards, which we would highly recommend trying to do - we even had a wonderful evening with a couple that made us dinner and talked to us about their winemaking and living in Georgia. You get to learn a lot about how they make and age the wine, and can take in all of the information while also enjoying the deliciousness of it all. Some of the key grapes we learned about that I had never heard about and really enjoyed were: Kisi, Khikhvi, Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane.
In addition to wine tasting, we learned how to make Khinkali from some wonderful women and then got to eat them with the family while having quite the feast
We also stopped in Sighnaghi, known as the city of love. A quaint walled city that is definitely worth a stop while you are out there
The final thing we did while there was a stop and quick tour in Tsinandali Estate, a palace and gardens that were filled with history and very cool to see
Where to eat / drink?
We loved all the wineries, but our favorites were ones that were likely not even wineries at all and more just people's homes. Given that we would really suggest having someone local bring you around so that you can really experience local winemaking
For food, the Khinkali making experience was really fun if you are able to do a lesson. We also really enjoyed a very simple beef barbecued on an open fire
We could go on and on about the Georgia cuisine, but our son (and same with us) really enjoyed the kachapuri - who wouldn't love bread and cheese
Tbilisi (city time)
And finally we circled back into the city! Tbilisi isn't huge - so we mixed it up with some day trips. Don't bother driving through Tbilisi - we used the app, Bolt, which worked a treat and super cheap!
Where to stay?
Tbilisi has a plethora of hotels to choose from depending on what area of the city you want to check out - we choose the Kisi Boutique hotel in Old Tbilisi.
What to do?
We walked and walked - and capped it off with a walking tour with friendly.ge. Tbilisi is such an interesting city - that mixture of old soviet buildings on the outskirts, but then you had cool coffee shops, artsy murals and a real hustle/ vibrancy in the main downtown area!
Given how much we walked, our favorite thing was mostly just checking out the different neighborhoods. Some of our favorite neighborhoods were those that felt a bit more eclectic and older (Mtatsminda, Old Tbilisi, Marjanishvili). We also ventured further out to a fancier neighborhood, Vake, that was very interesting to see - but probably a bit to financial district feeling for our liking
As were hoping to learn more about Georgia history we stopped in to the Georgian National Museum. If you have the time, it was an interesting stop that were glad to have gone into.
We unfortunately missed one of the must sees as the trams weren't running given bad weather - the Mother of Georgia - who is a symbol of Georgia welcoming people into Tbilisi
One lazy morning, we rolled out of bed and went to the thermal baths that were basically outside our door. We went to one where we could get a private room, but heard there were many that are nice and likely more authentic.
We checked out a cool warehouse turned co-working space and shops called Fabrika Tbilisi, another example of spaces being reused in pretty interesting ways.
Day Trips: We did most of the suggested day trips before we got back into the city so that we could have our rental car still. That said there were quite a few that we enjoyed and would recommend. We went to Gori (Stalin's hometown and went to the Stalin museum), Borjomi (a town where all the mineral water comes from, this one was a nice stop since we were staying out there, but probably wouldn't have made the trek otherwise), Uplistsikhe (a historic cave town), and Mtshketa (the old capital with some great walking streets).
Where to eat / drink?
Shavi Lomi: This restaurant came highly suggested on all blogs, so we were a bit nervous it would be too busy/over-rated. That said, it was delicious and had a great vibe. We went for lunch, hence why we might have been able to get in, but definitely worth the visit
Wine shops everywhere: We definitely weren't sick of wine after sampling lots of it in Kakheti. We ended up checking out a bunch of cool wine shops (like Wine Factory N1 in a restored factory / marketplace situation) and an Airbnb wine tasting experience that was also a wine cellar. You can't really go wrong with the many different wine shops around the city!
Coffee shops: There was definitely a coffee culture in this. We made sure to stop in coffee shops in most of the neighborhoods and would suggest doing the same
We will admit, we didn't go out to as many restaurants as we might have normally, as we were traveling with our 8 month old son and convenience definitely came into play a bit more than normal
Would you recommend to your friend / family? Most definitely! People were very surprised when we told them we were doing our honeymoon in Georgia - but honestly, since we've gone we have just been raving to everyone about how it really has everything: mountains, wine, cool cities, interesting history, delicious food, and more!
Would you return? Yes, but likely would check out the mountain region we didn't get to go to next time given that it was a bit further away. Also, Lexi wants to go to back to learn how to make Qvevri wine :)
Favorites to speak of:
Lodging: Probably the Rooms Hotel in Kazbegi, if only for the beautiful views
Activity: Getting a driver/tour guide through Kakheti. It really allowed us to be able to go to much smaller vineyards and have some great experiences we don't think we would have been able to do otherwise
Eating: Honestly all the food was so good it is hard to say. We would just say eat all the khachapuri, khinkali, mtsvadi, phkali... yummmm, just writing this makes me want to go back
Drinking: Head out to Kakheti and try wines from smaller vineyards/homes. We mainly stuck to qvevri wine - John's favorite varietal within that was Kisi and Lexi's was Mtsvane