Trip of the week: wine and walking in the wilds of Georgia

Former Soviet state hailed as ‘next big thing in tourism’ – but remains delightfully unspoiled

Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, in a morning sunrise
Tbilisi: a higgledy-piggledy old town
(Image credit: Punnawit Suwuttananun)

With its wonderful food, wine and architecture, its hospitable culture and its spectacular mountains, the former Soviet state of Georgia has been touted as “the next big thing in tourism” for a few years now.

But while visitor numbers have increased and new hotels have opened, it remains delightfully unspoiled, says Peter Howarth in The Sunday Times. Chances are you’ll still find yourself alone on its hiking trails and in its old churches and monasteries, and warmly welcomed wherever you go. The country sits at the heart of the Caucasus, bordering Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and with a long Black Sea coast; but it is no bigger than Ireland, making it easy to tour.

Straddling a steep river gorge, Tbilisi has a higgledy-piggledy old town of pastel-coloured, balconied mansions perched high on a cliff. It has good theatres, an opera house, and some fine galleries and museums, including the Georgian National Museum, which bursts with ancient treasures.

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Stay at the Stamba, a new hotel in a 1930s Soviet printing works that is “cool on an industrial scale”, with a five-storey atrium stripped back to its brutalist bones, flanked by towering bookshelves and overrun by giant, glossy plants. Then head east, where the country’s greatest vineyards lie, to learn about the Georgian method of leaving grape juice and skins to ferment in earthenware jars – kvevri – making for “surprisingly light and fresh”, honey-coloured white wines.

West of Tbilisi lies Gori, where you can visit Stalin’s modest birthplace, and see his armour-plated railway carriage. In the mountains beyond are many ancient churches, including the Gelati Monastery, whose Byzantine-era mosaics are among the great treasures of medieval art.

In the north, there’s great hiking to enjoy, amid peaks the height of Mont Blanc. You can stay at “basic but clean” family guesthouses serving delicious and “hearty” local food.

Steppes Travel has a 12-night private tour from £4,895pp (

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