Whenever we want to experience a new place, we long for something to connect us to the past and inspire our future. Few places can satisfy wanderlust quite like the nation of Georgia. A small mountainous country located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia is being shaped anew by the steadily growing economy and the positive economic and social impact of increasing tourism.
The roots of Georgian culture go deep into the history of humankind. Over the centuries, it’s weathered its share of transformative struggles, including rising as a powerful regional kingdom, falling under the Ottoman and Persian conquests and being annexed by the Russian Empire. Many elements of today’s Georgia have been influenced by its fierce sense of independence and Eastern Orthodox Christianity which first took hold here in the 4th century. Georgia’s heritage is abundant in architecture and cuisine, two things that make any travel worthwhile.
Frank Lloyd Wright argued that architecture is the soul of civilization, its “mother art.” Tbilisi, the nation’s capital, is a city with many architectural highlights. From churches to mosques to synagogues, diversity of spaces was key to bringing the cultures together. As Georgia navigates the 21st century, old meets new seems to be the trend evidenced by the many projects from to hotels to wineries and beyond. Looking at Tbilisi skyline, you can’t help but notice how modernity that brings the beauty of the old city to life. Temples serve as backdrops for modern museums and governmental buildings. For example, Tbilisi Public Hall, a one-stop-shop for all civic services. Designed by Italian architects Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, the building houses a few important tenants such as the National Bank of Georgia and the Ministry of Energy. Seven overlapping glass blocks surround the central hall like mythical trees, their curved panels opening like petals or leaves. A short walk downstream, the bow-shaped pedestrian Peace Bridge connects popular districts on both sides of the fast river. The bridge was designed by the Italian architect Michele De Lucchi, who had also designed the Presidential Administration of Georgia and Ministry of Internal Affairs in Tbilisi. The structure of the bridge was built in Italy and transported here in 200 trucks. The lighting was created onsite by the French designer Philippe Martinaud. It is a stunningly fitting symbol for the city!
One of the highlights of DEPESHA’s visit was a unique cooking experience at Culinarium Cooking School. “There is no love sincerer than the love of food,” once quipped playwright George Bernard Shaw. It’s no secret that Georgians are madly in love with their cuisine! Top chef Levan Kobiashvilli showed everyone why.
We had also dined at his restaurant Barbarestan. Delicious simple dishes and enchanted atmosphere catered by extremely hospitable staff made for a delightful evening. During the class, the chef led the guests on a journey to recreate a fascinating recipe from an 1885 cookbook by Georgian writer Barbara Jorjadze. Modern foodies re-conceptualize dishes using traditional cooking techniques. Blackberry Tchriantela (think, a kind of gazpacho soup) intrigued even the most sophisticated food pallets. It was a perfect combination of cucumbers blended with ripe blackberries and indigenous Georgian spices. An ideal summer dish modernized for the current audience! We walked away feeling more knowledgeable about the depth of Georgian culinary tradition and its many wonders.
Throughout Georgia, state-of-the-art wineries mix ancient winemaking traditions with cool hospitality experiences. Another interesting destination that combines Old World charm with latest consumer trends was Babaneuris Marani Winery, a small artisanal vineyard in the eastern part of Georgia (Kakheti, Akhmeta, Village Babaneuri). It produces limited quantities of unfiltered wines aged in special Qvevri containers using the ancient Georgian method of fermenting only handpicked grapes. It really lets the texture and taste shine through.
Georgian wine industry is experiencing a boom, drawing wine enthusiasts from around the world. DEPESHA was hosted by Mr. Anzor Idoidze and his lovely family. Their winery is a perfect example of how small businesses are trying to grow domestically by providing unique experiences to international guests. A newly built hotel with nine rooms features cooking classes such as Churchkhela making (a traditional fruit paste and nuts desert). Guests can enjoy privacy while absorbing all the breathtaking views of the mountainous Georgian countryside.
It’s daunting to report on all of Georgia’s highlights at once, just as it’s impossible to discover everything in a single visit. One hopes that the vibe a visitor or a reader gets from sharing their experiences strikes the interest to become inquisitive about what else is out there. If you want to be transported into a country steeped in traditions that are followed to this day and meet new talent of the free spirited and engaging people, Georgia is that place.
American artist Suzy Kassem has a poem with this beautiful line: “The more you wander, the greater the wonder. The more you quench your thirst for wonder, the more you drink from the cup of life.” It serves as a good summary of our Georgian experience. To wake up each day, open the curtains, see what’s behind the windows – and it’s a definite surprise! Cheers to wanderlust and to Georgia!