Georgia, a nation known for its range of hiking options, fantastic food scene, and storybook architecture, announced that it will reopen to international tourism on July 1. With only 731 confirmed coronavirus cases and 12 deaths, it has successfully dealt with the pandemic and is eager to welcome tourists back. The government announced that domestic travel will resume from June 15, with international visitors allowed two weeks later. As the low-cost airlines Wizz Air and RyanAir resume their routes, Georgia will be within reach from most European capitals, providing people with the perfect opportunity this summer to explore the region.
Diverse, rugged landscapes for hikers of all abilities
Georgia is sandwiched between the Black and Caspian seas, bordering Russia to the north and Turkey to the west. With diverse natural landscapes, its rugged mountains and coastal access offer plenty of trails for hiking and camping. Perhaps the single most iconic hike is the route to Tsminda Sameba church — a centuries-old structure flanked by the imposing Mount Kazbek that rises like a rocky tidal wave.
Another option is the challenging and rewarding 12-mile trek from Mazeri to Mestia via the Guli Pass. Hikers get a front-row view of Mount Ushba and the crystal blue Koruldi Lakes. The Latpari Pass is another picturesque trail connecting the upper and lower regions of Svaneti. The route passes through a number of sprawling meadows — a view reminiscent of The Sound of Music.
For years, Georgia has drawn nature enthusiasts looking to explore remote landscapes without the crowds. This has become one of the country’s competitive advantages in the wake of the post-pandemic reopening. “Social distancing is better in the remote areas and mountains, though the risk is still everywhere,” Grigoli Paghava, who works with tour operator Budget Georgia, shared with Lonely Planet, adding that his company has already received bookings for as early as July 7.
Georgia’s capital Tbilisi rivals any major European city
A sea of red-roof buildings that sit at the foot of Mount Mtatsminda, Tbilisi embodies thousands of years of cultural history and tradition that rival any European capital. Split by the Kura River, the city’s cobblestone streets, narrow alleys, and dozens of cafes offer the perfect scene for sightseeing and cultural immersion. There is plenty of affordable entertainment for travelers, including tubing along the river, taking in the views from the cable car that ascends to the city fortress, and exploring the many museums and galleries.
Georgia’s food and wine scene is seriously underrated
A mix of Turkish, Russian, and Mediterranean influences, Georgia’s cuisine relies heavily on organic ingredients whipped into comfort food — like a treat you’d expect when visiting grandma’s house. Dining here is all about family and involves an elaborate feast known as supra, which is a hearty meal that features dishes from all corners of the country.
Local specialties include khinkali (mushroom and cheese-stuffed dumplings), badrijani nigvzit (doughy pockets filled with roasted eggplant and walnut sauce), kebabs, and khachapuri (cheese pastry).
Georgia is known as the birthplace of wine and is home to over 500 grape varieties. Local hosts often crack open a quevri, a buried clay pot used for wine-making at home, and toast with a kantsi, a drinking horn. Wine varies by region, with the most popular varieties being Tsinandali, a dry white; Akhasheni, a semi-sweet red; and Kindzmarauli, a medium-bodied fruity red.
Although the circumstances are most certainly extraordinary, the post-pandemic reopening to tourism might be Georgia’s chance to shine on the global travel stage with its rich cuisine, natural assets, and hearty hospitality.