Q I’ve booked flights to Tbilisi for an active summer break in Georgia. I’ve never been. Where would you recommend I go?
Straddling eastern Europe and western Asia, Georgia is largely defined by the Caucasus Mountains. Not many people realise that it’s home to Europe’s second highest peak, Mount Shkhara (17,060ft), which is actually higher than Mont Blanc.
For anyone looking for an active holiday, in a destination unspoilt by today’s modern tourism, the country should be on the top of their list. Summer is the best time of the year to visit, with sunny but cool days making the weather ideal for exploring.
Top experiences include crossing narrow green valleys to get up close to impressive glaciers, cycling through lunar semi-desert landscapes, exploring rock-hewn settlements such as Uplistsikhe (in eastern Georgia) and Vardzia (to the south), and enjoying unspoilt wilderness in the country’s many national parks and reserves.
The epic Georgian Military Highway, widely regarded as one of the most beautiful mountain roads in the world, will take you close to the border with Russia and the town of Stepantsminda. This is the gateway to Gergeti Trinity Church — silhouetted against Mount Kazbek, it’s one of Georgia’s most iconic images and the view makes the three-hour steep hike worth it.
The highest permanently inhabited village in Europe can also be found in Georgia: Ushguli, located at an altitude of 7,218ft, is snow-covered for six months of the year and is often cut off from the rest of the world.
If you work up an appetite after all this activity, do try some of the local delicacies, such as khachapuri, an oval-shaped, cheese-filled bread, and khinkali, Georgia’s take on dumplings.
Finally, bear in mind that the country is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world, dating back more than 7,000 years. In fact, the word ‘wine’ comes from the Georgian word for it: ‘gvino’. It may be little known in much of the world but Georgian wine is very much sought after in the former Soviet Union states, so give it a go — there are around 40 grape varieties to choose from.
Published in the June 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)