Georgia – the country, not the US state, is wedged right between Europe and Asia with Russia to the north and Turkey and Armenia to the south and Azerbaijan to the east. The High Caucasus Mountain range spans from left to right with majestic peaks souring above 5,000 metres high, whilst the Lesser Caucasus provide a lower, yet equally as impressive range of mountains slightly to the south.
Snow.Guide Ski Editor Rob Stewart recently visited the country in search of snow – we get his take on some the things about Georgia you didn’t really know, but do now.
1. It’s not all about the heli
Most of the articles I’ve read about skiing in Georgia involve Heliskiing. The country is portrayed as a wild backwater where only the most extreme and adventurous skiers dare to go. But actually, anyone can go skiing in Georgia, even beginners, as there’s three ski areas with modern lifts and well-groomed slopes just like in the Alps. OK, the resorts aren’t nearly as large as the major Alpine ones, but they are well maintained and have slopes for all levels of skiers.
2. There’s some amazing backcountry opportunities all over the country
Georgia has so much scope for expanding its ski offering there’s really no end to it. The High Caucasus currently provide the bulk of the commercial skiing and resorts are being developed, but don’t discount the Lesser Caucasus that can get even more snow….powder from December to March here is normal. Yes there’s Heliskiing and some Cat Ski operations popping up, but if you’re into ski touring then you have a whole country to look forward to.
Gudauri ski resort
3. Svaneti is possible the most amazing place I’ve ever been to
There’s a mountainous area in the Northwest of the country called Svaneti with peaks pushing towards the 5,000 metre mark that is not only absolutely stunning in terms of scenery, but also has some amazing history. The town of Mestia, close to the new ski resort of Tetnuldi, is so remote that its people developed a style of architecture that’s totally unique. Towers that over 1000 years old span the valley, originally built as defences against their enemies, but are now well preserved monuments that provide visitors with a sense of going back in time to a medieval past….totally spellbinding. The best way to get there is to fly from an airport close to Tbilisi, as the roads in and out are long and windy.
Tetnuldi ski resort
4. The Prime Minister is personally overseeing the expansion of ski resorts in Georgia
I was lucky enough to meet the prime minister at dinner one night and he told us that he takes the responsibility of project managing the expanding ski resort industry personally. Giorgi Kvirikashvili understands that the country has huge potential to attract international skiers. This is great news, but I would also say that getting the local population into the sport is also really important.
5. Georgia has some fantastic contrasts within a small area of land
You can drive down from the mountains and you’re suddenly in a sub-tropical zone where palm trees, exotic fruits and rain forest dominate the scene. We went from snowfall to hot sunshine in one day.
6. The hotel industry is flourishing and there’s some great places to stay
If you want some of the best hotel accommodation to be found at a reasonable price then the capital city of Tbilisi can provide it – just two hours away are the slopes of Gudauri where you can also find a whole range of options to stay over from friendly guest houses costing the equivalent of around 20 Euro’s a night to large four star hotels that you’d expect to find in any major ski resort in the world.
The lovely Rooms Hotels: roomshotels.com
7. The food is awesome
The Georgians love their food and fortunately for visitors, they love showing it off too. But that’s no bad thing because it can be really good. Generally it’s not refined, flashy fare, but it’s just really tasty, healthy and varied. Bread with cheese is common, but then vegetables such as aubergine and spinach are innovatively blended into delicious salads. Grilled meat that is always tender, spicy beef in flatbreads, tasty sausages that you won’t stop eating and chicken in walnut sauce that just sounds weird, but trust me, it’s amazing.
A place I will need to visit in London: www.iberiarestaurant.co.uk
8. Oh and the wine is pretty good too
Yes, Georgia is well known for wine and since the fall of the Soviet Union (where Georgia provided the vast majority of wine for the whole bloc), the focus has been on quality rather than quantity. Some of the wines I tried were right up there with what you’d consider to be very good wine from more well-known wine producing countries – well it should be, they have been making it for well over 9,000 years, possibly more than any other country.
9. Georgia is a safe country to visit
When I told people I was travelling to Georgia, some remarked that they thought it could be a dangerous place to go to. It’s not always been a smooth ride for the country since the fall of the Soviet Union, but during the past 3 to 4 years there has been a renaissance in the attitudes of the people and politicians alike. Crime is relatively low and I did not once feel unsafe walking the street – people are friendly even when they struggle to speak English. The roads are perhaps a little different to what we expect in Western Europe – livestock is common, driving is a little looser than we’re used to, but after travelling around for a week I didn’t see one vehicle accident at all, despite being a little scared at times.
10. Once you have been there you will want to go back
I’m not sure if it’s the skiing, the mountains, the food or wine, the people, the history and the culture or the fact that it’s just very different from anywhere else I’ve been. One thing I know for sure is that I want to go back – probably to explore those mountains a little more and experience some of that powder they get during the winter months.
Visit Georgia: gnta.ge