There are quite a few trips that I could definitely consider as the most unique or particularly interesting. Since I like travelling on a budget, exploring as much as I can in a short amount of time, I somehow end up in the most ridiculous or unexpected situations. Every journey pretty much becomes the one to remember. However, I can say that there is one specific country that has stolen my heart forever – it is Sakartvelo, also known as Georgia.
About three years ago, I visited Sakartvelo with Erasmus + youth exchange project. We stayed there for about 12 days. Not enough time to explore and fully experience this extraordinary land, yet it was enough to fall in love with this place. My journey itself started pretty amazingly – settling down in a hotel, that was entirely just for us, with 40 new people from different cultures and backgrounds, one minute from a beach on a nice, refreshing spring afternoon. For me, that was really exciting. Yet, it was only a tiny bit of joy that made my stay in this beautiful country so memorable. So, here are some highlights of my trip to Sakartvelo.
Firstly, you might have heard people describing Kartvelians as the most welcoming humans ever, at least I used to hear that all the time. But is that actually true? Here’s the answer… Drum roll. Yes, they are! At least I can confirm that from my personal experience. During my visit, we all were showered with locals’ hospitality.
The first situation that truly surprised me and showcased Kartvelians’ friendliness was during our hike while exploring various little villages. At one point, we stopped for a minute to rest and wait for our peers that fell behind while hiking through muddy places. We stopped near a random house when suddenly the owner came outside and started shouting something in her language. As a Lithuanian myself, being accustomed to not so hospital and a lot colder environment, I assumed the worst – that the lady was simply yelling at us for standing near her house. However, it was the opposite of that. She just wanted to greet us. The woman invited all of us, exactly 40 people, into her yard only to bring some fresh fruit and newly made grape juice from her garden. She was super welcoming, and it definitely made me realize how amazingly sweet people can be sometimes.
Later on, we learned that Sakartvelo locals love greeting people as it is believed that guests are a gift from God. Even at their traditional feasts called supra, people from different countries are greeted with open arms and spoiled with a great variety of national treats. That really showed through my stay in this magical place as well. Everywhere we went, we felt welcomed and accepted. We met locals who offered us wine, fruits or invited us into their property just to chat. Although some Kartvelians hardly speak English, especially in small towns and villages, they still tried to maintain a conversation with us with a happy smile on their face.
Despite the charm and warmth of locals, Sakartvelo amazed me with its breathtaking and diverse nature. Snowy mountains, the flattest countrysides, the sea, sandy or rocky beaches, cave towns – you can find it all. We stayed in a little town called Ureki which is near a beach with black sand that apparently has some healing powers. It looked kind of strange at first, but I can assure that the feeling of magnetic sand on your skin is amazing! However, I would not recommend visiting a place like that during the hottest days of summer, the sand would probably burn your feet.
Sakartvelo is actually one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world. Not only it has 12 different climate zones, from semi-desert, subtropical or alpine, it also has beautiful fauna as bears, hyenas, gazelles, and even leopards. You can also find different animals wandering around villages – lots of friendly dogs, not-so-friendly pigs, cats, goats, sheep, and cows that occupy the whole road and do not bother to move. A cow just casually standing at the beach and looking longingly into the horizon – you can definitely see such view as well 😊.
However, not only Sakartvelo‘s nature is diverse and fascinating, but also its cities and towns. The beautiful country has two of the oldest cities in Europe – Mtskheta, and Kutaisi. Once you step in there, you can sense those old-school vibes right away. There is also a place called Ushguli commune, which is the highest permanent settlement in Europe. The land is unique for its medieval-type villages and its climate as the snowy winter there lasts for six months.
Batumi is another a must city to visit that showcases a great diversity. From first sight, Batumi looks like a modern place, with big buildings of all kinds of shapes. The magnificent view of mountains, palm trees, and the sea really takes your breath away. Yet once you step into the inner part of the city, you can experience the poverty of locals and discover lots of one of the kind old school buildings.
Another reason why I love Sakartvelo is its national food! Oh boy, I would love to take a bite of fresh Kartvelian bread or eat an amazingly delicious dish called – chačapuri. Definitely recommend! I have a really sweet tooth, so a whole variety of Kartvelian desserts made me super happy.
Sakartvelo is also considered to be the birthland of wine, as locals have been producing beverages for at least 8000 years. People often describe Katrvelian wine as really tasty, but as a non-drinker, I, unfortunately, cannot comment on that. One more thing, Sakartvelo is a particularly cheap country, so you can really enjoy and experience its culture to the fullest without worrying that you spent too much money on food as I often do.
It is apparent that there are so many more things that make this country so special. The list could go on and on. But I want to share just a couple more moments that were my personal favorites during this trip. The first would be stargazing during our hike in the middle of the night. That was truly special. I mean, dancing, playing games near the fire, bonding with each other while chatting about life – what can be better?
Likewise, experiencing a whole traditional Skartvelo feast near a huge table with an outstanding view of Batumi was extraordinary. It allowed us to see what it means to celebrate with locals, proved to us once again how generous they are and willing to share their special traditions with everyone. One of them would be Sakartvelo toast. It is an old and important tradition for Kartvelians. Their toasts are like speeches or stories, in which the chosen speaker says something personal about an important or emotional topic. Hearing live music in the background, taking in the beautiful Batumi sunset, trying different dishes, chatting, and listening to lovely stories – that moment really fulfills your heart and allows you to feel like a part of their family. Magical.
As Sakarvelo is so diverse, I believe that everyone can find something close to their hearts in this lovely land. For me personally, trips that I enjoy the most are usually those with the craziest adventures, lots of activities and adrenaline. However, Sakartvelo proved me that cozy and simple times in places such as this lovely country can definitely beat that.
So, when you get a chance, surely try to experience Kartvelian culture yourself. I am certain, you will not regret it.