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Batumi, Black Sea coast
Though most people come to Batumi for the long pebble beach, the town is an attraction of its own. The old part is a small grid of residential streets with low-rise, brightly painted houses. The central market right outside the old town is also worth exploring, with its great mix of oriental mess and ex-Soviet stalls with vendors who still believe anything can be sold. The newer part of town has been "contemporarily" done up so it fits the equally new beachfront promenade. So Batumi is not the worst place to be, even on sunless days.
Cave monastery Davit Gareja
Daytrip from Tbilisi
Out in the middle of nowhere, close to the border to Azerbaijan, lies a collection of cave monasteries known as Davit Gareja. You drive up to the main monastery, Lavra, which has been rebuilt to charming perfection. The hillside next to the monastery is holed like a Swiss cheese with small monk cells – which are in use and therefore cannot be visited. Above the walled complex of Lavra lie several other caves which used to be chapels and monk rooms. The view over the Georgian prairie is spectacular and you can see up to Azerbaijan from the top of the hill.
Costa del Georgia
Batumi, Black Sea coast
The coast at the Black Sea, and especially at Batumi city, is a very popular summer destination for Georgians. During Soviet times, it was a favourite holiday spot for people from all over the Soviet Union. Today, Batumi beach is for Georgians, Armenians and Azeris what Cancun is for American spring breakers and Sunny Beach is for Europeans. The water is warm and not too salty, but there is no sand, just rounded pebbles. The rest of the setup is worthy of any beach resort with deck chairs, beach-front cafes, clubs during the night, a wide promenade and even a fairground. It is fun place to relax for a couple of days - or just people-watch Georgians when they let loose.
All over Georgia
Food in Georgia is surprisingly yummy. A lot of salads and beans, bread, hard cheese, yogurt, honey and stew with meat so tender it falls from the bones. All vegetables are homegrown, fresh and natural with a lot of flavour. For real food lovers, each province has their own specialties. Homestays normally offer meals and it is impressive how many different dishes they can manage to serve, even for breakfast. Expect the table to be covered in plates, sometimes even in multiple levels – and there are always more where it comes from.
The trek up to glacier Chalati is the other fine day trek you can do from Mestia (the other is up to the cross at the view point). First, you need to cross the bridge behind the town square and follow the river, such that it will be on your left hand side, to the airport. This leg is the least interesting part of the trek, as it follows the road and can be quite dusty. Keep following the river and you will soon enter the green Mestiachala valley. Here, you will need to cross the raging river on a hanging bridge and follow the trail through the forest. There will be coloured marks on rocks to follow. The last section is over the rocky base right at the foot of the glacier (1815 m) where all the melting water is gushing out. The trek takes about eight hours round trip.
There are few images more iconic of the region than the Tsminda Sameba Church silhouetted against the snow covered Caucasus Mountains. The site alone is worth the trip to Kazbegi (aka Stepantsminda). But this tiny mountain village has much more to offer. Firstly, accommodation choices are largely limited to home-stays. For a few dollars, locals take travellers into their homes, feeding them, sheltering them and making them part of the family for a couple of days. Beyond that, the area around Kazbegi has numerous excellent hiking experiences from simple day hikes to hard-core mountain climbing. While it can be visited as a day trip from Tbilisi, Kazbegi is without question much better for those who give it the time it deserves.
Half the fun of a visit to Mtskheta is trying to pronounce it correctly. With 5 consonants in a row, it's no easy task. But once you manage to get there, you certainly won't be disappointed. One of the oldest cites in Georgia, the historical monuments of the Mtskheta area are recognized a UNESCO world heritage site. The varying forts, churches, cathedrals and monasteries which surround the tiny town date anywhere from the 3rd century BC to as young as 1,000 years old. Easily doable as a day trip out of the capital, Tbilisi, Mtskheta is the place to get your fix of religious buildings.
Stalin's birth place
With a 13th century fortress and a beautiful Gregorian Orthodox church, the town of Gori might see a few tourists. But those sites are not what the city is famous for. Instead, it was December 18th, 1878 that forever sealed Gori's status into infamy. That was the day Joseph Stalin was born in Gori. The Stalin Museum is not a celebration of his life, it is instead a historical time capsule for the life of Stalin. Easily doable as a day-trip from the capital Tbilisi, Gori is an opportunity for russophiles to take a walk back into Soviet times. Places like this are few and far between in a region trying to move on from it's troubled past.
Svaneti is a picture-perfect mountainous region. Here you can find traditional villages with strange soaring defensive towers set in lush valleys on a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. The alpine scenery here can easily compete with the crowded Alps. The main town in Svaneti is Mestia which can be reached by a winding mountain road or a often-cancelled flight. From here there are plenty of good trekking opportunities (pick any direction), either just day treks or, for those with the right gear, multi-days treks to, for example, the base of some of the highest peaks in Caucasus. You can also continue further to the UNESCO World Heritage enlisted town of Ushguli at the foot of Mt Shkhara (5068 m), the highest mountain in Georgia.
Svaneti is slowly but surely turning into a hot travel destination for nature lovers, trekkers and backpackers, and Mestia is already gearing up for the boom. It got a new (tiny) airport, ancient Svaneti towers are getting restored, homestays and even hotels are shooting up and the town square is getting totally rebuilt. So come to Svaneti, the sooner the better.
Capital of Georgia
Tbilisi is very easy to fall in love with. The old quarter is stuffed with old crooked balconied houses where none seem to have been built the same year, or even from the same materials. The hillside that overlooks the city is lined with churches, a fortress and a wickedly lit-up TV-tower. Walking down the fashionable shopping street of Rustavelis gamziri could make you think you have been transported to Vienna or Budapest, until you catch a view of the giant statue of Mother Georgia. There are funky cafes, outdoor bars and dungeons serving the best Georgian food for pennies. To top it all off, the river front has been through a total makeover so the sparkling new Peace Bridge doesn't seem too out of context.