Wine Tour of Georgia 2016

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On 7th September 2016, six members of the HMWS started the Society’s third tour of Georgia – the birthplace of wine. The 14 day tour took members to parts of the country not visited on previous trips as well as Tbilisi and the vineyards of Kaheti. This is the Trip Log.

Itinerary At a Glance (7 – 21 September 2016)

Day 0: Flight to Tbilisi

Day 1: Arrive in Tbilisi/ city tour
Day 2: Tbilisi- Kutaisi /Imereti area
Day 3: Kutaisi- Batumi /Ajara area
Day 4: Batumi
Day 5: Batumi – Tbilisi
Day 6: Tbilisi-Kakheti / Eniseli area
Day 7: Kakheti –Shenako / Tusheti area
Day 8: Shenako – Dartlo / Tusheti area
Day 9: Dartlo- Chesho – Dartlo /Tusheti area
Day 10: Dartlo – Gometsari Valley- Omalo /TUsheti area

Day 11: Omalo- Sighnaghi / Kakheti area
Day 12: Sighnaghi full day /Kakheti area
Day 13: Sighnaghi -Tbilisi
Day 14: Departure & arrival in the UK

GEORGIA ON MY MIND……

TBILISI 

I am thrilled to be going back to Tbilisi for the third time in five years, to walk in labyrinthine Sololaki – the old, tranquil part of the city, gazing at ancient houses with brightly coloured balconies, and stop at Vino Undergrond – a wine bar like no other, run by small independent winemakers to showcase their precious natural wines you read about but are never able to find, to sniff, swirl, sip, chat and laugh and then to walk across to the Writer’s House – built by a brandy maker to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary and given over to the scribes of Georgia – with its pretty courtyard with tall trees and home to Littera, the creation of Tekuna Gachechiladze, the pioneer of ‘new Georgian’ cuisine, to lunch and drink more wine, and return to  Betsy’s for a siesta – a hotel I do not know yet, and then in the evening, eat at the Black Lion drinking even more wine, and to walk back through empty streets late at night for sweet, contended sleep. Georgia is always on my mind…….

Day 1 (Wednesday 7 September)

  • 7.30 am: I am sipping black coffee and thinking about the day ahead. Should I pack a spittoon and tasting glasses and a bottle of champagne for the drive to Manchester…
  • 11.30 am: Bags are packed, online check-in done, boarding passes printed out and we are ready to go! Decided to omit the champagne and the spittoon. Dave from AYS will first pickup Ann & Stephen in Pick Hill, then Tony & Renna in Knaresborough and come to Harrogate to collect us
  • 11.30 pm: I am at Istanbul airport drinking draft beer at a little bar and waiting to catch the 1.40 am flight to Tbilisi. We left Manchester at 4.50 pm and reached Istanbul at 11.15 pm. The flight was smooth and comfortable and I drank a good Turkish white with kebabs, rice and bean stew
Beer at Istanbul airport

Drinking beer at Istanbul airport and waiting for flight to Tbilisi

Day 2 (Thursday 8 September)

  • It is 7 am and we just arrived at Betsy’s Hotel in Tbilisi. The flight from Istanbul took two hours and our old friend Tamara Natenadze from Living Roots who are our agents in Georgia met us at Tbilisi airport instead of Sopo – our appointed guide who has met with an accident and injured her leg. Tamara is getting us another guide. Everybody is having a short rest before the walking tour of the old town
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Pool at Betsy’s Hotel

  • 6 pm, Tbilisi: Following the morning walking tour of the Tbilisi’s Sololaki area, natural wines were tasted at Vino Underground with winemaker Ramaz Nicoladze. Lunch at Tekuna Gachechiladze’s Littera Cafe was fabulous
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Tasting at Vino Underground

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Alfresco Lunch at Littera Cafe

  • 11 pm:  Just back from dinner at the Black Lion – another superb venue with excellent traditional Georgian food and qvevri wines
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Drinks at Betsy’s Hotel

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Dinner at the Black Lion

Day 3 (Friday 9): Tbilisi- Kutaisi (270 km)

We left Tbilisi at 10 am and travelled to west Georgia to get to know the wines of the Karlti Region. The road took us through small villages of the province to Ateni Canyon – a micro zone for endemic Tavkveri and Chinuri grapes. We visited the wine cellar of Giorgi Revazishvili. The tour of the cellar was followed by a tasting and a delicious, home cooked snacks. Later, we proceeded to Nick Vacheishvili’s house and cellar. With the background of an art historian, Nick has worked as a minister of culture and historic heritage. After that assignment he decided to return to the family traditions. Deep in the Ateni valley, he grows endemic grapes. We visited his small vineyard and cellar and tasted some of his wines and enjoyed lunch cooked by his charming wife. Later we drove to Kutaisi and en route visited Zaliko Bojadze, one of very few master qvevri makers in Georgia. We saw how these gigantic clay vessels are built by the bare hands of a true master. In the evening we arrived in Kutaisi and checked into smart new Argos Hotel. That evening we had supper in a local restaurant.

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On the coach with guide Professor Merab Kobakhidze

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Wine & snacks with Gigrogi Revazishvili

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Tasting lunch with Nick Vacheishvili

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With master qvevri maker Zaliko Bojadze

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Dinner in Kutaisi

Day 4 (Saturday 10): Kutaisi- Batumi (190 km)

We visited the Kutaisi market before driving to Kolkheti National Park. We travelled by boat on Paleastomi Lake and up the Pichori Riverbird watching. After a picnic lunch in the park, we drove to Batumi, the capital of Ajara Autonomous Republic. Our base was a penthouse apartment at Hotel le Port on the Batumi waterfront. A superb seafood dinner was had at Batumi’s Gold Fish Restaurant. We walked in the historic center of Batumi after dinner and admitred the view from the Batumi landmark – Alphabet Tower.

Day 4 (Sunday 11): Batumi (60 km)

We spent the day birdwatching in the highlands of Ajara. We started at 6.30 am searching for an elusive Kreuper’s Nuthatch in the botanical gardens. After breakfast back at the hotel, we continued birdwatching in the Chorokhi Delta (www.batumibirding.com/batumi/chorokhi- delta/node/88). We soaked in the warm waters of the black sea before returning to Batumi for lunch. After lunch we drove to Sakhalvasho watch point to see the mass migration of raptors. Dinner was at a local restaurant with traditional cuisine from Ajara.

Day 5 (Monday 12): Batumi Tbilisi (450 km)

We left Batumi after breakfast and drove the 450 kms. to Tbilisi. The first stop was at the family cellar of Gogita Makaridze in Terjola. He works with endemic grape varieties from Imereti region. We tasted three of his wines and had lunch with the family. Later we visited the Ubisa Monastery to view its frescoes. In Tbilisi, we checked-in at Betsy’s Hotel and had a rather disappointing dinner at G-Vino wine restaurant. The wines however were excellent.

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Day 6 (Tuesday 13): Tbilisi-Kakheti (170 km)

Today we drove towards east. Kakheti is home of some splendid landscapes, wineries and historic sights. The road we led us through Gombori Pass. The first stop of the day was Alaverdi Monastery, where we visited the wine cellar and enjoy the tasted with winemaker-monk Father Gerasim. In Akhmeta we tasted and had lunch at Danieli Winery. We drove to Eniseli village where we had dinner and stayed over at the charming Royal Batoni www.batoni.ge hotel.

Gombori Pass

Gombori Pass

Alaverdi Cellar

Alaverdi Cellar

Tasting at Alaverdi

Tasting at Alaverdi

Lunch at Danieli

Lunch at Danieli

Dinner at Royal Batoni

Dinner at Royal Batoni

Post dinner entertainment at Royal Batoni

Post dinner entertainment at Royal Batoni

It rained in the night and the road to Diklo village was impassable. Shenako and Diklo are two of the largest villages in Tusheti. After the invasion of Shamil, the leader of Dagestan, both villages were practically abandoned and the locals actively fought against Shamil, despite the fact that the Dagestani leader attempted to maintain friendly relations with the locals. The army of Shamil attacked Diklo in 1838 and for 13 years the village was deserted. We waited for hours for conditions to improve and eventually decided to drive to Pirikita Tusheti, along the route passing Omalo, the administrative center of Tusheti. We drove on to Dartlo village to stay for two nights at the local guesthouse “Samtsikhe”.

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Day 9 (Friday 16): Dartlo- Chesho – Girevi- Dartlo (20 km)

We spent the day exploring old villages of Pirikita Tusheti which are beautiful and culturally distinct. They have survived hundreds of years of occupation and conquests and people still live in the traditional way. It is a perfect place for hikers, with some twenty small villages, many accessible only by horse or on foot. We tasted local food and walked to one of the most remote villages of the area – Parsma and then on to the northern border of Georgia and the village of Girevi which is at the end of Pirikita Tusheti gorge.

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Day 10 (Saturday 17): Dartlo – Gometsari Valley- Omalo (60 km)

After breakfast we drove to the Gometsari Valley – a fascinating part of Tusheti province. There were beautiful views of the valley from the top of the passes. We drove on to Bochorna, the highest settlement in Europe and visited the local doctor who makes house calls on horse back. We drove on to Verkhovana and one of the most remote parts of Tusheti- Tsovata, next to the Chechnya border. We returned to Omalo for lunch and climbed the steep hill with a castle on top overlooking the village. We spent the night in Omalo at a local hotel, where we were served dinner in front of a roaring log fire.

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Meeting local doctor

Meeting local doctor

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Pre-lunch drinks in Omalo

Pre-lunch drinks in Omalo

View from Omalo castle

View from Omalo castle

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Dinner in Omalo

Dinner in Omalo

Day 11 (Sunday 18): Omalo- Sighnaghi (170 km)

We came to Signagi in the Kakhetian Plain from Omalo in the high caucasus mountains, again along the “Most dangerous Road In The World”. The conditions in the mountains was basic but the scenery was stunning. We had no access to the internet for five days. We had lunch with a winemaker in Kakheti. The posh hotel in Signagi (Kabadoni) was in stark contrast to the guest houses we had in the mountains. We had a tasting dinner at a Signagi restaurant.

Comfort stop on the 'most dangerous road in the world.'

Comfort stop on the ‘most dangerous road in the world.’

At a Kakheti winemaker's

At a Kakheti winemaker’s

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Winemaker lunch in Kakheti

Winemaker lunch in Kakheti

Dinner in Signagi

Dinner in Signagi

Day 12 (Monday 19): Sighnaghi full day ( 50 km)

This morning we visited the wine cellar of Archil Natsvlishvili in Signagi. Archil is a young and enthusiastic wine maker. Later we drove to the village of Tibaani, and walked in the Pheasant’s Tears vineyards where over 400 different endemic grapes grow and had a light lunch in the vineyards. Drive to Sighanghi. Before dinner visit wine cellar of John Okruashvili. John is a very successful IT specialist, but his heart and soul is in wine, this is why few years ago he decided to build a cellar and dedicate his spare time to wine making. Later enjoy Georgia feast at Pheasant’s Tears with polyphony singing and dancing performed by ensemble Zedashe.

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Day 13 (Tuesday 20): Sighnaghi- Tbilisi (130 km)

Georgian Bread making

Georgian Bread making

Buying local cheese on the way to Tbilisi

Buying local cheese on the way to Tbilisi

Lunch at Cafe Kala in Tbilisi

Lunch at Cafe Kala in Tbilisi

Gifts from Betsy's Hotel management

Gifts from Betsy’s Hotel management

This morning we travelled back to Tbilisi stopping en route to visit a local bread maker and checked in at Betsy’s Hotel after visiting the Georgian National Museum to view the gold artefacts from Colchis culture and a fabulous lunch (tomato & cucumber salad, chicken & apple salad, local sausages, Uzbeck lamb pillau, pork with asparagus, chicken and beef kebabs, beer, wine and coffee) at Cafe Cala. I had to decline an invitation to taste from Sarajishvilli Brnady:

It’s a pity that you didn’t make it, but we will be glad if you will contact us next time and visit our factory. Best wishes. – Inga Bakuridze, Sales Manager, JSC Sarajishvili

Farewell dinner was at  Azarphesha restaurant with private polyphonic singing.

Pre-dinner drinks in hotel

Pre-dinner drinks in hotel

View of Tbilisi from bedroom

View of Tbilisi from bedroom

Day 14 (Wednesday 21): Departure

We checked out of Betsy’s Hotel after breakfast and drove the short distance to the Funicular Railway Station. The ride up Mt Mtatsminda (holy hill) on the recently reconstructed Funicular was spectacular, as were the views from the top.

We drove across Tbilisi to the excellent Ethnographic Museum which is a village created on another hilltop featuring traditional housing from the many regions of Georgia.

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Back in the centre of Tbilisi we had a good lunch at Kasheria – another new venture of the celebrated Georgian chef Tekuna (traditional cucumber and tomato salads, olive and aubergines pates, tripe soup, meat balls, cheese etc. washed down with excellent Rkatsiteli and Saperavi). After a brief visit to buy wine T-shirts from Vino Underground, we drove to Tbilisi Airport, said goodbye to our driver Grigori and excellent guide Professor Merab Kobakhidze and took the 5.30 pm Turkish Airlines flight back to Manchester via Istanbul. We landed in Manchester at 11 pm and Dave from AYS drove us home, arriving in Harrogate at 1.30 am.

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My dear Bernard and Ramani, 
Thank you, for everything, I am very happy to have worked with you!!!
I wish you all the the best, and good luck! I love you very much, you are my friends, always will be glad to be with you,
Looking forward, with great love, to seeing  you again in Georgia!
My regards to all of your friends. 
Respectfully, – Merab Kobakhidze, Tbilisi, Georgia

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  • The all inclusive cost of the tour was Euro 2400 per person.
  • Turkish Airlines flew us to Tbilisi from Manchester via Istanbul for £279 return pp. The baggage allowance was 40 kg pp.

 

image001The tour was arranged by Living Roots LLC, 3, Ingorokva st, Tbilis,i Georgia, +995 599 48 00 86  www.travellivingroots.com

I am Packing for Georgia…

“Georgia is just over two weeks away. I need to be ready for cosmopolitan Tbilisi, wettish western Georgia, high, snow covered Caucasus mountains and the dry, flat plains of Kakheti in eastern Georgia. I will be on the move most of the time and instead of a hard-shell case, my bag will be a light, wheeled Eagle Creek with its individual pouches for slacks, shirts, toiletries etc. Georgians are informal but they dress smartly in Tbilisi. I will pack good slacks, shirts, shoes and a jacket for the cities and more casual wear for the country. Birding in the wetlands of western Georgia will require neutral-coloured, lightweight outdoor clothes, a cap and comfortable shoes. I will take a Field Guide of Birds of Europe and a Georgia bird check list, the Bradt guide and note books. There will be field glasses a zoom lens and the Apple Mac to keep the Hedonist going, in a small bag. For the mountains, a merino wool west, fleece-lined slacks, a light sweater, a wool cap, scarf, gloves, a fleece, hiking sticks and Brasher hiking boots are essential. Kakheti will need swimming trunks, sunglasses, sun cream, a spittoon and gift wrapped bottles of Port for my hosts. And finally, I hope I will have the will to eat enormous meals and drink copious amounts of wine that surely will be offered so graciously. It will be sacrilege to say “too much.” Georgians think “guests are a gift from God.” – BD, 23 August 2016

Comments

  • “We’ve unpacked, we’ve washed clothes, we have stared at a pile of ironing to equal the heights of the Caucasus, we have woken at 4am (7am Georgian time) and we have reminisced and dreamed of our time in Georgia. It was a wonderful two weeks and on behalf of Renna and myself I would like to thank you for all your efforts and time that went in to making this such a memorable trip.
    From the start, with the most superb lunch at the Literati, through the countryside – the Caucasus mountains are so beautiful made even better by their lack of tourists, cars and the shear absence of other people, although it took strong nerves to look out of the car window sometimes when the hillside fell away into a bottomless ravine inches away from the wheels!, to the wonderful views of birds, I have never seen that many raptors ( eagles, Falcons and buzzards) in my life before as I saw on a single day in Georgia and then to cap it all the repeated close views of Lammergeier (bearded vultures) both on the ground and soaring above us on their massive wings – magic!, finally of course the wines. Once again you succeeded in getting us into some the of best and certainly the most interesting of producers. The highlight for me was the Alaverdi Monastry where their wines were a revelation. Following on from the Gerogian wine tasting held at the club recently I was not a fan of Georgian wine however my fears of not enjoying the wines were totally unfounded. We drank wines that were fresh, subtle, deep, interesting and powerful, a revelation.
    The company throughout also made the trip so enjoyable and we would like to thank Ramony, Stephen and Ann for their conversation, knowledge and friendship.

    The trip opened up our eyes to the beauty of the Georgian countryside, the subtlety and flavours of a whole new cuisine, and to some truly wonderful wines.

    Once again our thanks for organising such a great experience.”
    Tony & Renna, 27 September 2016
  • “What a great report of the trip. Thank you for sharing. It’s pity that I was away from the country while your tour, but it was important for Living Roots’ future networking to participate summits in Germany and at Alaska. We all highly appreciated your efforts to bring fantastic people to Georgia. As always you are among our exceptionally preferable guests J. Thank you for bottle of Porto, I will open it on a special family dinner. I hope you are back home safely and recovering after journey. It’s surprising how you wrote such a fantastic report in so short time, what journalists can’t do normally J. My best wishes.” – Ia Tabagari, Living Roots, Tbilisi, 27 September 2016

  • “Thanks for the link and all the lovely photos, etc. Quite an itinerary. This time I think you really went to town! Makes my mouth water looking at all the food.” – Padmini, Flamingo Tours, Sri Lanka, 26 September 2016
  • Thank you for information. I was pleased to read the article. Now next time you will be able to visit our factory.” – Inga Bakuridze, Sarajishvili Brandy, Tbilisi, Georgia, 25 September 2016
  • “Dear Bernard, Greetings, I am so happy to hear your trip back home was safe and nice. First of all I would like to thank you for choosing Georgia and for choosing us, this means a lot to us. I read the article and it is amazing, while reading and watching the photos I was thinking “I would like to go on that tour”. Do you mind if we share your blog on Living Roots Website and  facebook page? I will keep eyes open for some new cool places for your next trip. Please send my warmest regards to Ramani and salute the team from me. Sincerely,” – Tamara Natenadze, Tbilisi, 24 September 2016
  • “Dear Bernard,
    Wonderful! Excellent! 
    Thank you very much I am so happy! 
    Looking forward to your coming again to Georgia
    With great love – Merab. My regards to all of you friends and to you dear wife.” – Merab Kobakhidze, Tbilisi
  • “Another great trip has ended and Ann & I greatly enjoyed our return to Georgia. Great food and Qvevri wines, two weeks seeing mainly new places but also revisiting well loved past sites. You arranged a great itinerary and our local guide, Mareb Kobakhidze was  a constant source of information and history, also ever attentive to our needs The Qvevri wines were generally well received and many outstanding. Three highlights were  our lunch at the Littera cafe in the Writers House in Tbilisi, Alaverdi Monastery and our meal at Pheasants tears in Sighnaghi, a really beautiful little hill top town. Bird highlights were the many raptors, eagles, buzzards and hawks, especially 4 Bearded Vultures, the family group of four Egyptian Vultures and the family of six Great Rosefinches seen near Parsma, after a steep hill side walk to this remote village. I really hope other HMWS members will take up the chance to visit this fascinating country if you decide to set up an itinerary next year. Thanks for the hours of work and the effort in setting up our trip.” – Dr. Stephen Cameron, Pick Hill, 23 September 2016

Worth Reading:

Georgia Entry requirements

  • Visas: Georgian visa rules changed with effect from June 2015. British nationals don’t need a visa to enter Georgia. You can visit for up to a year, visa-free. Contact the Embassy of Georgia in London or visit the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for more details on entry requirements and how the new rules might affect you. If you wish to stay for longer than 1 year, you’ll need to apply for a long term visa. If you’re living in Georgia you should contact the Justice House or Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia for advice.
  • Passport validity: Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required. The Georgian authorities have confirmed they will accept British passports extended by 12 months by British Embassies and Consulates under additional measures put in place in mid-2014.
  • Travelling with medicines: You should carry a doctor’s prescription if you intend to travel with prescription medicine and declare the items on your Customs Declaration Form. Possession of these items, even with a doctor’s prescription could, if not declared, or if the quantity held exceeds legal limits, lead to administrative or even criminal proceedings. Check legal quantities of medicines before you travel with the Georgian Embassy London.
  • UK Emergency Travel Documents: UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Georgia.
  • Travelling with children: If you are travelling with a child other than your own, you must be able to be able to demonstrate that you have the consent of the child’s parents or guardians.

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The Group:

  1. Benson, Renna
  2. Cameron, Ann 
  3. Cameron, Stephen 
  4. Dias, Bernard 
  5. Dias, Ramani
  6. Lee, Tony
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