Georgia, In Hindsight

georgia landscape

My visit to Georgia lasted a month and finished one month ago as I write this. Our impressions in the moment are only ever that and are certainly not considered analysis or perhaps even our true feelings, swayed as they are by whatever’s happening that day and has happened in the days before. 

So I wanted to give it some time. I certainly know how I felt in the moment for much of my month in Georgia. But with some distance in time and space and the perspective that always brings now feel’s the right time to reassess. We only ever travel backwards, after all; it is only upon reaching a new place which we can evaluate the old. 


The Trip to Georgia

For posterity, clarity, and not least to jog my own memory, here’s a brief recap of the trip. In order, these are the places I stayed for at least one night, plus a special mention of any day trips from said bases. 


Where it all began. 

An unremarkable city in itself, buoyed by its status as Wizz Air’s Georgian base. As my first exposure to Georgia, however, it was naturally interesting to me. A collection of my initial thoughts can be found here


A three hour journey from Kutaisi, but felt like a different country; specifically some strange mix of Dubai and Russia. Enormous hotels, bizarre skyscrapers, wide streets choked with traffic, and Russian tourists everywhere. 


A resting spot to break up the long and bumpy journey east from Batumi. Quiet and unspoilt. High up in beautiful, green mountains. 


A small, low rise, dusty city. The skyline and tourism are dominated by the Rabati Castle, a touristic trap rebuilt relatively recently with the seeming priority of cramming as many restaurants and cafes into the grounds as physically possible. 

  • Vardzia

A day trip from Akhaltsikhe, and one of three renowned ‘cave cities’ in Georgia. Striking from afar. A series of caves up close. Very busy with tourists. The trip there through the gorgeous central Georgian countryside is the highlight. 


Former summer residence of the (/some) Romanovs. Famed for the healing properties of its natural springs, the water of which tastes awful. The city itself is small and unremarkable but it’s a good base for hiking in the neighbouring national park. 


Stalin’s birthplace, and that’s about it. The museum/shrine to his memory continues to serve as a fascinating window into Soviet propaganda.  


A welcome island of modernity and convenience. Largely retains the feel of Georgia’s villages and smaller towns only spread over a much wider scale. Nice feel to the city, and excellent museums. Meant to stay three or four nights; ended up staying a week the first time then another four days at the end.  

  • David Gareja Monastery

A day trip from Tbilisi. An incredibly isolated monastery high in the hills with the residents’ chambers carved into rock. Peaceful and thought provoking


Comfortably my favourite destination in the country. A small town near the northern border with Russia. The drive there from Tbilisi and up into the Caucasus is spectacular. Dramatic views everywhere you look and the air is clean and fresh. The hiking is wonderful – ascending to the Gergeti Glacier was the single best thing I did. 


A small city east of Tbilisi, in the heart of Georgia’s winegrowing region, Kakheti. Very little to see there, and isn’t worth staying over – better as a wine-tasting day trip from Tbilisi. 


Worth A Visit?

One month later, and with the dust long since settled, I must confess that I simply didn’t and don’t feel much for Georgia.

I’m prepared to admit that this partly resulted from my own shortcomings. A Russian speaker would have a vastly more complete experience and fonder views perhaps of the Georgian people. A backpacker in better form and not coming off a four year break would have ridden the waves more smoothly, particularly those caused by lacklustre accommodation.

The fact is that I simply don’t feel it’s a particularly exciting tourist destination (not that it has any duty to be, of course). The history is fascinating to learn about, but aside from the churches not much of it is especially striking to look at, nor do you particularly ‘feel’ it as you move around the country. The nature is gorgeous; the settlements old and tired. The transport infrastructure for any routes but those connecting the biggest cities is almost non existent and the novelty of four hour marshrutka journeys soon wears off. 

If you have a particular interest in Soviet or Caucasian history, or that of the early Orthodox Church, you’ll find enough here to interest you. If it’s hiking you’re after there are spectacular options. In either case, just base yourself in Tbilisi and make day trips to the highlights and head for a few days in the mountains. Two weeks is enough. A fuller exploration of the country isn’t, in my honest opinion, worth the effort. 


Conclusions; Lack Thereof

I’ve never visited a country that I hated, nor one which I loved unreservedly. Countries and cities are there to be lived in, not curated to touristic tastes, and we easily see through those few which do tend towards the latter and inevitably lose all sense of authenticity and therefore true value as destinations. 

My views on Georgia, in my newsletter and on this website, might have sounded negative. This is because modern online travel writing is so unfailingly, overwhelmingly positive, as if every country, city, attraction is the best there ever was. 

Georgia is not the best country that ever was. It is a developing country which has suffered a troubled and traumatic history, including very recently under Soviet occupation. It is currently suffering not only the usual pressure from Russia (both economic and military), but also that of supporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants – from both sides – fleeing either conscription or destruction from the war in Ukraine. Outside of Tbilisi and perhaps Batumi it seems slow to modernise, if indeed the process is happening at all.

But to travellers (inherently selfish as they are), looking to learn about the world as it really is, none of this is negative. It is instructive and interesting and perhaps even preferable to more sanitised ‘first world’ destinations.  

So it proved with Georgia. From my first sleep-deprived steps out into Kutaisi this place certainly felt different. Its culture tends towards Eastern European, but it has that certain unpredictability and controlled chaos inherent to much of Asia. Outside of the outliers Batumi and Tbilisi there’s a sense that any sense of progress stopped when the Soviet Union fell. The cars and buildings and the language situation have all largely remained the same while time has moved on. 

While it is unusual but not unique in that case, there’s enough else about it to make the country truly different from anywhere else I’ve visited. Most strikingly of all, Georgia is a land of the starkest contrasts. 

The written and spoken languages are strange and wonderful. Both adjectives could also apply to the religious architecture, images of which dominate any articles on Georgia you’re likely to happen across. And yet the former sit uncomfortably alongside that of the old oppressors, and there are arguments that over-reliance on religion holds the country back. 

The alternately verdant and mountainous nature is jarringly juxtaposed with the dirt and noise of the towns and cities. The men are manly men, prone to smoking and drinking and gambling, yet greet each other with an embrace and the softest of kisses on each cheek. Russia is hated, yet Georgia’s economy relies utterly upon it. 

I could go on and on, because it is the nigh-impossibility of pinning Georgia down to any single tendency, never mind specific characteristic, that still leaves me grasping for a conclusion; not only in this article but in my own mind too. 

In truth, these many contrasts make it almost impossible to summarise; so instead I’ll finish with one of my own. Would I recommend a visit to Georgia? Not to most people, no, and I wouldn’t insist upon it to anyone. And yet I remain so very glad I went to this loud and quiet, busy and empty, frequently uninteresting yet at some deeper, indefinable level fascinating, and above all utterly unique, country.


My new novel – What Money Can’t Buy – is out now on Amazon. It’s available in both eBook and paperback formats, and you can find it here in the UK, here in the US, or on your own local Amazon site.

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