While jaded travelers may be ticking off the more popular destinations on their Europe bucket list, there are still a few places that remain, to a certain extent, below the radar. The Caucasus nation of Georgia is one of those hidden gems. Blessed with amazing natural beauty and warm and hospitable people, it won’t be long before this country emerges as a hot destination for travelers thirsty for authentic experiences.
Here are a few interesting facts about Georgia, and why you should put it on top of your travel bucket list ASAP!
Georgians Don’t Call Georgia “Georgia”
Interestingly enough, the natives of this beautiful land call their country “Sakartvelo”, meaning “land where Kartveli live” (Kartveli being the inhabitants of Kartli, the central region of Georgia). Many theories exist to how the country’s modern name came about, including possible roots in the Persian word gurğ/gurğān (wolf/land of wolves) and being named after the country’s much beloved patron saint, St. George.
Its Ecological Diversity is Amazing
Georgia’s climate is so diverse, that it includes everything from snow-covered mountains, dense forests full of leopards and bears, and arid semi-deserts. Experienced hikers will love the trek through the green valleys from Mazeri to Mestia (over the Guli pass), while those looking for an easier (but no less scenic) route will enjoy the Kazbegi – Gergeti icefall. Another interesting point: Georgia’s alpine mountains are almost always guaranteed healthy snow cover and are supposed to be on par with more expensive skiing locations like the Alps (with excellent value-for-money ski resorts like at Gudauri).
The Georgian Language is Greek…to Outsiders
The Georgian language is one of the 14 unique languages in the world, meaning it’s not spoken anywhere else. Its beautiful and unique 33-letter alphabet is thought to have been adapted from Aramaic from as far back as the third century AD. Hearing someone speaking the language can be a treat for those into linguistics, as it entails several puffs of air and throaty expressions you’ve probably never heard before!
It’s One of the Oldest Wine-making Regions in the World
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Georgians are very proud of the fact that wine-making in the country dates back almost 8,000 years, so much so that it’s become an indelible part of their social lives. The country’s fertile valleys are the perfect place for grapevine cultivation, where wine is still made the traditional way as it has in millennia past. Make sure to try some of the produce from the renowned wine regions of Kakheti, Kartli, Imereti, Adjara, and Abkhazi.
The Capital City of Tbilisi Is Quite Unique
It may not be mentioned in the same breath as cities like Prague and Budapest, but there’s something uniquely enchanting about Tbilisi’s cobblestone streets, Orthodox churches next to arty modern structures, and markets selling Soviet-era artifacts and souvenirs (Fact: Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was actually Georgian, born in the town of Gori). You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the Zurab Tsereteli Museum of Modern Art, the architecture of the modern Peace Bridge on the riverfront (looks even better lit up at night), and the rather intriguing Gabriadze Clock (The Leaning Tower of Tbilisi). Along the way, you’ll have lots of great food and drink as well…so what more could you ask for?
Want to have a taste of Tbilisi? Make plans so you can fly there for less!
It’s a Treasure Trove for History Buffs
With Orthodox Christianity being the most widely practiced religion and with the history of Christianity in Georgia going back to the 1st century, there’s a vast number of ancient monasteries that have some amazing stories behind them, managing to survive even the harsh Soviet occupation. In addition to the spiritually important Svetitskhoveli, Jvari, and Samtavro monasteries in the old capital of Mtskheta, you can also take in a breathtaking hike through the valleys of Kazbegi to catch a glimpse of the scenic Gergeti Trinity Church, and even see the unbelievable cliff church atop the Katskhi Pillar (which is actually inhabited by a solitary monk who’s lived up there for the past 20 years!).
Georgians Know How to Supra (Feast)…and You’re Invited!
There’s an old Georgian saying that goes something like “A guest is a gift from God,” so if you’re a stranger in town, you’re sure to be given some divine hospitality. Whether stuffing guests full with a hearty spread of cheesy bread (katchapuri), grilled meats, and stews, or offering their homes so you can rest for the night (to party some more later!), you’ll find a lot of smiling faces, and many, many bottles of wine being opened in your honor till the wee hours of the morning.
Have you been to Georgia? Share your experience with us in the comments.