Georgia - a country of natural beauty and legendary hospitality

Introduction
Facts
Geography
Religion in Georgia
Georgian culture
Georgian cuisine and wine
Georgian folklore

Introduction
Intriguing Georgia makes for a fascinating visit.  It’s a country of dramatic contrasts, from verdant valleys carpeted with vineyards to ancient churches and watchtowers clinging to impossibly steep hillsides. It reels in the intrepid traveller with a promise of revealing its rich but complicated history. The country’s incredible panoramas attract hikers, riders and rafters while the plethora of cave cities, ancient monasteries and beautiful churches demonstrate that Georgia’s unforgettable attractions stretch far beyond its natural beauty. Rounding off the package are the people, welcoming visitors in a warm embrace to prove their legendary hospitality is as tangible as its landscapes. Georgians believe that guests are a blessing, but it is you who will be blessed as a reward for travelling to such an incredible destination.

Some facts about Georgia
Population 4.9 million (2015 estimate)
Population density 78 / km2
Capital Tbilisi
Major cities Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, Rustavi
Area 69,420 square km (26,911 square miles)
Major languages 71% Georgian, 9% Russian, 7% Armenian, 6% Azerbaijani
Major religion Orthodox Christianity
Monetary unit 1 Georgian Lari (GEL)
Time +3 hrs (GMT)
Telephone country code +995

Geography and landscape
Georgia occupies a site of strategic importance where the European continent becomes muddled with Asia.  It shares land borders with Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Its diverse scenery occurs as a result of its geographic location: bounded to the north and south by Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges and bisected by the Likhi Range which splits the east from the west, it’s no surprise that dramatic landscapes dominate.  More than a third of the country is forested.  Georgia’s lowlands are to be found to the west, by the shores of the Black Sea, the soil made rich by the sediments dropped by the country’s major rivers as they make their journey to the sea.  The country’s capital, Tbilisi, lies to the south-east of the country.

Religion in Georgia
The vast majority of people in Georgia practice Orthodox Christianity, no surprise when you consider the huge number of ancient churches and monasteries dotted throughout the country.  The Georgian Apostolic Autocephalous Orthodox Church was founded in the 1st century by Andrew the Apostle and Christianity was adopted as the national religion in the 4th century.  Muslims make up about 10% of the country’s population and there’s also a noticeable Jewish population in the capital Tbilisi.  By and large, those practising different religions live in harmony with discrimination little seen.

Georgian culture
Georgia has a rich culture, not surprising when you consider how its location has encouraged the influence of countries as diverse as Turkey, Iran and Russia to shape the country’s personality.  The visitor will delight in the warm welcome received: Georgians believe that guests are sent from God.  Nowhere is this better personified than at the table.  A supra, or Georgian feast, typically features twenty or more dishes washed down with copious amounts of local wine.  The country also has a long-seated tradition of folk music and dance, passed down from one generation to the next.  Its visual arts, poetry, theatre and museums complete the picture.

Georgian cuisine and wine
Georgian cuisine is legendary.  Some say there’s no better way to understand a country than through its food and my guess is that they’d been to Georgia.  The bread stuffed with melted tangy cheese known as “khachapuri" will be one of the enduring memories of your trip, as will the "khinkhali" dumplings stuffed with a spicy meat filling that will dribble down your chin if you don’t suck out the juices first.  For the ultimate in comfort food, serve with bean stews flavoured with cilantro or “shashlik”, marinated skewered meat.  Of course, it wouldn’t be right not to wash it down with wine – Georgia did invent the stuff of course.  And with a long history of viticulture dating back to as early as 4000BC, they’ve had plenty of time to perfect their technique.  There are over 500 different grape varieties being grown, forty of which are utilised in commercial wine production.  Each year, around 150 million litres of wine are produced, the majority of which come from the Kakheti region in the east of the country.

Georgian folklore 
Ancient myths and legends associated with the modern day nation of Georgia abound.  Folk tales are richly embellished and littered with larger than life characters including mzetunakhavi (the prettiest woman in the world), devi (a multi-headed beast which eats people) and Natsarkekia (someone who can’t do anything worthwhile). The famous of all the stories is that of Jason and the Argonauts, tied up with the old kingdom of Colchis.  Jason, the hero of Greek mythology, set off to find the Golden Fleece accompanied by the Argonauts.  When he arrived in Colchis, he faced a series of challenges set by King Aeetes.  Fortunately for Jason, Aeetes’ daughter Medea was willing to help him.  Successful, they married and sailed off together.  Georgia also has a long tradition of folk music and one of the few countries to have a well-developed choral culture, polyphonic music being especially popular.  In 1977, the traditional song ”Tschakrulo” was amongst those chosen to be launched into space aboard the US spacecraft Voyager.

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