Given Georgia's location—sandwiched between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, and bordering Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—it’s easy to imagine this adage being muttered on street corners, atop mountains, in valley depths, and beyond.
Georgia is beginning to find its feet on the new international stage, blossoming from its former Soviet Socialist Republic status after declaring independence in 1991, and the contrast one sees between its rich history, well-rooted conservativism, Christian orthodoxy, and emerging young spirit eclecticizes its cultural offerings to dizzying heights.
Firstly, the capital of Tbilisi is known for its wild ways. The thrum of the city’s clubbing scene has drawn comparisons to that of post-reunification East Berlin in the 1990s and has pricked the ears of techno-lovers all over the globe thanks to destination clubs like Bassiani and Khidi, which are set inside a drained-out swimming pool and an old Soviet-era bridge, respectively. But it’s the other wild side that demands more than just a moment in the limelight: Beyond the walls of the National Botanical Garden of Georgia and the lavender-scented Rike Park, complete with its controversially curvaceous Bridge of Peace, is an ever-present streak of wild nature running through the city. Poplar trees mimic church spires, ivy climbs up to the colorful wooden balconies of traditional Georgian houses and ecclesiastical monuments, the “Fig Gorge” seems to rip through the Abanotubani sulphur bath district, and the Mtkvari River meanders its way north past the former capital of Mtskheta to Tbilisi National Park, the oldest of nine national parks in the country.
In fact, head out of the city in any direction and you’ll notice that you’ve been besieged by geographical wonder all along: The Greater Caucasus mountains run along the Russian border to the north, while The Lesser Caucasus mountain range roughly follows the Armenian and Turkish borders to the south and southwest. The smaller Surami and Imereti ranges dominate much of the land between the two, and there’s the occasional volcano thrown into the mix. Considering its relatively small size, Georgia boasts an incredibly diverse topography. Not only does this explain why the boxed-off country is so culturally and linguistically different from its neighbors, but it also nods to the nationwide affinity for skiing. Gudauri, just 120 kilometers north of Tbilisi, is the biggest and most popular ski resort and offers all the conveniences of its Western European counterparts, while Bakuriani, in the highlands of the Koktha-Mitarbi region 160 kilometers west, was purpose-built as an Olympic training facility for the Soviet National team and will play host to the Fédération Internationale de Ski Freestyle, Freeski and Snowboard World Championships in 2023.
It’s also in these valleys that Georgia cultivated a serious love of wine that seems to permeate every aspect of life. Delve into the country’s art history and you’ll see decorated Kvevri clay jars used to ferment grape juice; brush up on Russo-Georgian politics and you’ll see crying over spilled wine; talk to a priest or a farmer and they might just invite you for a traditional supra feast. But the trampled fruits of the country’s 8,000-year-old viticulture aren’t just reserved for the traditionalists.
There’s a youthful entrepreneurialism across the country that seems immutable and forever forward-moving. Names like Sofia Tchkonia and Demna Gvasalia are now firmly established in the fashion world—stealing the spotlight from Paris et al. for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Tbilisi in 2015—while designers such as Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia have had their work showcased at such institutions as The Future Perfect in New York, Spazio Rossana Orlandi in Milan, and London's Mint Gallery, all to critical acclaim. Architects such as Giorgi Khmaladze (who managed to get a McDonald’s featured in Dezeen) and collectives like Medium are revitalizing their home country with playful architecture, while Georgia’s contemporary art scene is thanking its lucky stars for such institutions as the Tbilisi State Academy of Fine Arts and the many now-big names its turned out.
All in all, Georgia is glimmering. Beyond the claims of Georgia’s “moment” is something timeless, ineffable, and worth experiencing firsthand. Discover our hotels in Georgia, in Stepantsminda, Bakuriani, and Tbilisi below.
Words Tom Osmond Date 23 February, 2021
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