Copy My Trip: Georgia’s wine country, cathedrals and cultural highlights

Lonely Planet editor, Alex Butler, recently traveled to Georgia. Here, she shares some tips and insights for anyone planning a similar trip.

Like many places before it, my interest in Georgia was first piqued by sampling khachapuri – a perfect combination of cheese and bread – in a restaurant in my home of Dublin. Surely with flavors like that, only good things could await travelers in Georgia, so I put it on my must-visit list. And while I was lured in by the promise of delicious food, what I found when I arrived was a beautiful, exciting and most certainly underrated tourist destination that deserves consideration for your next adventure.

A large building with ornate window frames; a series of brick-lined holes in the ground for winemaking
Chavchavadze Estate is now a museum on the ground of the hotel; wine is made on-site in qvevri © Alex Butler / Lonely Planet

Where did you stay? What was the vibe?

My main stop was in the wine region of Khaketi, where I stayed at Tsinandali Estate, a Radisson Collection Hotel and an essential piece of the country’s viticultural history. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of winemaking in Georgian history and culture. Grape cultivation dates back around 8000 years and it’s considered to be the birthplace of winemaking. The hotel is built on the former estate of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze (1786–1846), a Georgian noble deeply linked to the country’s wine production.

The historic way of making wine in Georgia is in a qvevri, a clay wine vessel situated under the ground ⁠— a method recognized as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. At Tsinandali, the well-traveled Prince introduced the European style of making and bottling wine to Georgia, making it the first place in the country where wine was bottled. Today, it’s still an operating winery with vintages created in both the traditional Georgian and European styles. 

With expansive grounds to wander and beautiful Caucusus views, this is a hotel made for soaking up the surroundings. A short walk from the hotel is the Prince’s home-turned-museum, Chavchavadze Estate, where you can learn all about this colorful character. The hotel also leans in to the Georgian celebration of food, featuring multiple restaurants: the Prince Alexander, an all-day restaurant; the Library Bar; the Gaurmarjos wine bar; Natella, a Georgian restaurant, and more. 

After a few days at Tsinandali, I headed to stay in the Radisson Blu in central Tbilisi to explore the capital. 

A large stone cathedral stands in front of shady mountains.
The Alaverdi Cathedral is a historic monastery in Khaketi © Alex Butler / Lonely Planet

What was the most touristy thing you did? 

If you’ve seen one photo of Georgia, it is likely to be of a beautiful monastery in front of lush mountains. In pursuit of that epic vista, I visited the stunning 11th-century Alaverdi Cathedral, which stands imposingly amid vineyards with a backdrop of the Caucasus.

The working monastery is rich with history and, naturally, also operates a winery. While the exterior of the building is quite imposing, the interior is surprisingly ⁠— but beautifully ⁠— sparse. While faded frescoes cover some walls, the small bits of light that trickle in from the high and small windows lightly illuminates the stone and dark wood that fills the interior. A recording of Georgian polyphonic singing played while I wandered through, giving the site an ancient and beautiful atmosphere ⁠— truly incredible.

A table with a glass of wine, bread and tomato salad.
Lobiani – meat stuffed in bread – was among my favorite dishes © Alex Butler / Lonely Planet

What is the best thing you ate or drank? 

The best thing I ate was a delicious lobiani (meat stuffed in bread), shkmeruli (chicken cooked in garlic and cream) and fresh tomato salad ⁠— all with a glass of beautiful, peachy-colored kisi wine at Salobie Bia in Tbilisi. The kisi grape is indigenous to Kakheti and is used to create a skin contact wine ⁠— a white wine given an amber tinge due to contact with the grape skins. In recent years, these wines have become a staple of trendy wine bars across Europe, but in Georgia, it’s a long-standing part of the country’s wine history. All this was made tastier by the setting at Salobie Bia, which was decorated like the cozy sitting room of a bohemian art collector.

A red carpeted room with kaleidoscopic mirrors all over the walls.
Tbilisi State Academy of Arts is home to an incredible Hall of Mirrors © Alex Butler / Lonely Planet

What was the most under-the-radar activity you enjoyed?

I was completely blown away by a visit to the Mirror Halls of Tbilisi State Academy of Arts. Behind the unassuming exterior of an art school, lies the former home of the 19th-century Armenian merchant Vardan Arshakuni. The shimmering, mirrored interior was created by Iranian artists, who were invited by Arshakuni to decorate the interior in the Qajar style, to truly awe-inspiring results. 

It’s unsurprising that today’s art students might find inspiration here among the kaleidoscopic details that cover this space. It’s also fascinating to see the different cultural influences present in Georgia through the centuries. Now, the space is used to display some artworks by the students, but mostly you can just wander and take in all the incredible details.

A packed room filled with people singing, with a guitarist and singer at the front.
People sing Georgian songs at a wine bar in Tbilisi © Alex Butler / Lonely Planet

Favorite activity from the trip?

In search of a bite to eat, I popped into a wine bar in Tbilisi — delightfully named Wine Not? — that promised charcuterie. When I arrived, I found out there would be Georgian music on that evening, and, intrigued, I figured I had to stay and hear it.

With a decidedly cool crowd waiting for the music to start, I was pleasantly surprised when the evening’s entertainment turned out to be a performance of Georgian urban folk music, with a pleasantly retro vibe. It was clear that these were well-loved songs, as everyone sang along loudly to all of them. It felt a bit like walking into a sing-along among old friends, and while I couldn’t understand what was being said, it was a very joyful experience. During a break from the official musicians, a couple of men even wowed the crowd with some polyphonic singing. This experience left with me with a strong desire to learn more about Georgian music.

Alex Butler visited Georgia at the invitation of Silk Hospitality. Lonely Planet does not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage. 

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