3rd – 13th October
Georgia is one of Europe's best kept secrets.
I confess that I knew next to nothing about this incredible country before I visited in 2019. What I found truly amazed me. Just the short drive from the airport into the centre of Tbilisi was a culture shock. Soviet era buildings, in varying states of decay, stand alongside a modern six lane dual carriageway - one can't be sure if they were ruined or never finished. Every so often the 80kph traffic has to dodge babushka in headscarfs sweeping the road with besom brooms. It feels like late twentieth century Europe has been mingled with the Middle Ages. The architecture is by turns dizzyingly modern and like some relic from Gormenghast. I was hooked before I even got to my accommodation!
The history of Georgia is long and complicated. Sandwiched between East and West, between Christianity and Islam, with their backs to Europe's highest mountains, Georgians have been forced to defend their country for most of the last two millennia. The landscape is varied, with the Caucasus Mountains in the north reaching over 5,600m, broad fertile farmlands through the central region and semi arid hills in the south. Georgia was the birthplace of viticulture - there are over 500 indigenous grape varieties, one sixth of the world's total - and the cuisine is distinctive and delicious.
Our tour concentrates on the western and northern regions. After a day and night in Tbilisi we will journey to Vardzia, a cave monastery carved out of a cliff face. After a night near this ruined city, we will travel north and traverse the Zekari Pass, entering the pristine wilderness of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. The native woodland should be very colourful at this time of year.
Next we pass through Samegrelo, a region of bucolic smallholdings. Each house is surrounded by an orchard and vegetable plot. Pigs, geese, cows and goats freely roam across the roads. Continuing north we enter the foothills of the mighty Caucasus. The road climbs for over 100km, switchbacking deeper into the forested hills until we emerge in the high pastures of Svaneti.
The capital, Mestia, will be our base for three nights, giving us a good opportunity to explore the surrounding landscape. The photographic opportunities are plentiful; we can explore the native woodland, visit the ancient villages with their distinctive siege towers and - depending on the weather - we might hike to a nearby glacier.
The highlight of the trip, for me, will be a two night stay in Ushguli. We will hire local drivers in 4x4 vehicles to reach this remote mountain village, 20km beyond the end of the paved road. At 2,100m Ushguli is one of the highest continually inhabited villages in Europe. Its collection of medieval stone buildings straggle across high pastures under the towering mass of permanently snow clad mountains. The harsh winters make this village inaccessible for six months of the year. This will be like stepping back in time and provide an insight into a traditional way of life.
Returning south we will spend two nights near Martvili. The focus here will be the famous canyons, where numerous falls plunge into beautiful green water flowing through deep clefts in the limestone. There are two main canyons to explore; Martvili and Okatse, with an amazing aerial walkway.
Airport transfers for recommended flights from/to Tbilisi
All transport during tour
Full board accommodation
Photo tuition from David Ward
£2,850 for single occupancy
£500 fee payable at time of booking