Georgia in the International Headlines

Photo by Tommo J Williams


Food bloggers reveal their cuisine hot spots

Complied by Lucy Campbell

Full-on feast, Georgia: At Baia’s vineyard, outside Kutaisi, Georgia’s third largest city, rustic tables look out on thousands of vines backed by rolling hills. The supra (Georgian feast) begins as a stream of homemade dishes are set in front of you. The food is accompanied by natural wine, created by Baia herself, a third-generation winemaker who started her own vineyard in 2015, aged 22, using 8,000-year-old techniques. You’ll salivate at the khachapuri (cheese-stuffed bread), roasted village chicken with tkemali (sour plum sauce), lobio (spiced beans), and peppers stuffed with bazhe, Georgia’s famous walnut paste, as you fill yourself to bursting point. Certainly an unforgettable experience.

Vano Shlamov/ Afp / Getty Images


Phil Jones’s Diary: Summer in the Caucasus, shadowy neighbours and a grandmother’s love for Stalin

Modern Georgia, however, is desperate to distance itself from its association with Russia, its giant neighbour. As recently as 2008, it was humiliated in a five-day war with Putin’s forces over the separatist regions of Ossetia and Abkhazia. In both cases, tens of thousands of Georgians were ethnically cleansed and thrown out of their homelands. The message is clear: don’t mess with Putin. I met 16-year-old Asa, who speaks perfect English. Before she was born, her family were forced out of their beautiful home in Abkhazia, leaving everything behind. She told me with great humanity that she didn’t hate Russia or its people, “only its leaders”.

photo by Tommo


Svaneti Cuisine: What To Eat In Mestia / Ushguli & Mestia Restaurants

Text and photos by Tommo

Speaking of ingredients, one of the most important, which is used to flavour many dishes, is Svaneti Salt. Not exactly a dish, but an essential part of Svanetian cuisine. This unique local blend adds instant flavor and the taste of Svaneti to every dish it’s added to. Though ingredients may vary, they typically include dried coriander, dried dill, blue fenugreek, dried paprika, marigold powder (which give the salt the yellow color), cumin, coarse salt, garlic. Sometimes the garlic is fresh, but if you want the salt to keep a long time, dried garlic is used.
Mestia Restaurant: Old House Hotel & Cafe: Our number 1 all round restaurant for both food and ambiance. Great versions of all the classic Svaneti food. The dough for the stuffed breads was crisped on the outside but fluffy and chewy on the inside. Great blends of flavor in every dish. As well as the standards like Kubdari, Fetvraal, Chvishtari, they also have a great mushroom & tomato stew.

Image courtesy Rynair


How Ryanair’s Cheap Flights to Georgia Will Change Travel to the Country

by Benjamin Kemper

With Ryanair launching cheap flights to Georgia in November, the destination on the European-Asian border is about to get even more popular.
Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital and main airline hub, is a non-negotiable stop for first-time visitors, thanks to its storybook old town, raucous sakhlebi (beer and dumpling halls), edgy club scene, and terrific museums. Kutaisi, Georgia’s third-largest city, is a feisty, charmingly ramshackle warren packed with honking Ladas and hollering street vendors. An ideal base for adventures farther afield, it’s situated between Tbilisi and the Black Sea and the gateway to Samegrelo, Georgia’s unsung food capital known for its pepper pastes (ajika) and stretchy cheese grits (elarji), and Svaneti, the untamed mountain region that lays claim to UNESCO-protected watchtowers and Europe’s third-highest peak, Mount Shkhara (altitude: 18,510 feet).

Ryanair’s arrival is big news for a country of 3.7 million people that’s just hitting its tourism stride. To understand why, it helps to know a bit of history. A decade ago, Georgia was hardly a blip on most travelers’ radars, still reeling from the brief yet bloody Russo-Georgian War. There weren’t enough beds for tens of thousands of Ossetian refugees, let alone for busloads of fanny-packed foreigners.

In 2009, Georgia received some 1.5 million international visitors; 2019 will see an estimated 9 million. One might assume that kvevri wine and unspoiled nature, and maybe the occasional glitzy hotel opening, lured the masses to Georgia, but above all else, it was the work of the Georgian National Tourism Administration, or GNTA, that really moved the needle. The agency rolled out global ad campaigns, hosted thousands of journalists, and incentivized local communities to claim their piece of the proverbial khachapuri by building guest houses and creating services for tourists.

Georgia’s end goal isn’t welcoming millions more visitors per year—it’s strengthening ties with Europe and the West. In July, Putin banned direct flights from Russia to Georgia in response to anti-Kremlin protests in Tbilisi, solidifying the need for Georgia to look west, not north, for untapped tourism markets. Striking a deal with a major European carrier like Ryanair, then, is a success story as political as it is economic.

Photo by Maya Oren


Why Buyers Should Source from Unsung Regions

by Maria Bastasch

The wine director of D.C.’s Maydan traces the real-time impact of a purpose-driven list
For countries looking to expand their GDP, like Georgia, wine is an incredible tool. Georgia saw a record 86.2 million bottles exported in 2018. But this took enormous efforts by both Georgians and international buyers, and a willingness on the part of Georgians to evangelize on behalf of their product. Having traveled to Georgia several times and learned the stories of individual winemakers, I found that sharing those stories with guests is a valuable tool. An example is Baia’s Winery in Imereti, run by the sisters Baia and Gvantsa Abuladze, both of whom were under the age of 23 when they began making wine.

“Georgian wine is going through a period of renaissance and is at such a critical stage,” says Noel Brockett, the director of operations and sales of Georgian House of Greater Washington (also known as Georgian Wine House), which imports wine from the country and is based in Beltsville, Maryland. “Georgia gives American wine drinkers the opportunity to drink wines that have a direct economic impact on people with a face and a human story.”

Today, Georgia exports to 53 countries, and as of June 2019, its National Wine Agency reports that sales to France, Israel, the Netherlands, and Canada have increased by double digits. The U.S., one of Georgia’s strategic markets, saw imports for the first six months of 2019 increase by 88 percent over those for the same period in 2018. (A country of only 3.7 million people, Georgia exported a total of 86.2 million bottles in 2018, a 30-year record high.)

Georgia has emerged from its 8,000-year history, perhaps unexpectedly, to become a dream destination for wine lovers interested in expanding their appreciation of additional non-European noble grape cultivars, through history and culture. Increased tensions this summer with Russia have upped the ante. It’s perhaps more important than ever for people to visit the country—to drink Georgian wines, to taste the soul.


Comets (Tamar Shavgulidze, Georgia) — Discovery

By Madeleine Wall In Cinema Scope Online, Tiff 2019

It is inevitable that any reunion will always be more than the sum of its parts. Tamar Shavgulidze‘s Comets is a slight drama where two childhood friends, Irina (Nino Kasradze) and Nana (Ketevan Gegeshidze), have their own Janus-faced meeting. The film begins in the domestic realm of Nana, who spends a morning sorting blackberries. A sudden disruption occurs when the elder Irina arrives, after which the story reframes and the two older women break off and begin coming to terms with the distance that has grown between them over the years. As the two women grapple with their respective changes, scars of unknown origin and lives shaped by various wars, each in turn lets down her guard. We learn that their friendship had developed into a love which the two would carry with them always, but which had happened during an era where they could never be together. Shavgulidze wisely braids in flashbacks of the quiet, intimate moments between her protagonists, curled up on a blanket watching a movie or playing cards, leaving the fraught moments of their youth to be recounted, absent direct representation, by their present-day selves.

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