Georgia – A Magical Place
Last summer I decided to take a trip to the cradle of winemaking, the beautiful Eastern European country of Georgia, considered historically to be the gateway to Asia.
Accompanying me last year were, Paul Hinchcliffe, who teaches business studies at The University of the West of England and is someone who has had business interests in Georgia and Alderman Derek Pickup, who true to his name, picked up everything Paul and I missed and acted as both shepherd and sheepdog when keeping us on track.
The trip held both tourist and business interests for us all. Although, in fairness, Derek’s interest was in promoting Georgia he is, after all, the first ever Georgian Honorary Counsel to the United Kingdom, and he and his wife Esther have done much over the last thirty years or so to promote a country they have both loved for many years.
My visit took in a friendly chat with Giorgi Cherkezishvili, the Deputy Georgian Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia and preceded a visit to the British Embassy, on the edge of Tbilisi, where Justin McKenzie Smith, the British Ambassador to Georgia, greeted us with the typical friendliness displayed by a hugely experienced and very highly thought of diplomat. Justin’s staff were brilliant in liaising with Derek over our visit.
I had dinner at the fabulous Azarphesha Restuarant in Tbilisi with its owner and world famous Georgian winemaker, John Wurdeman. We were joined by friends and colleagues including Dr Davit Narmania, who was mayor of the city at the time and who continues to be a member of the Government.
Georgia is an amazing place to visit. It is unlike anywhere else simply because it is totally unique.
Staunchly Christian, it strives to achieve friendly relations with its mainly Muslim neighbours. It shares a land border with Azerbaijan, Turkey, Armenia and of course Russia.
Georgia is rich in history, its winemaking industry for example dates back eight thousand years. Its ancient Qvevri method of winemaking is totally unique and involves an egg shaped earthenware vessel sunk into the ground which is used for making, ageing and storing the wine.
Although a small country with a population of about 3.7m, which makes it a little more populous than Wales but smaller than both Scotland and Yorkshire.
Georgia punches well above its weight in international politics due mainly to its determination to remain a sovereign nation and its firm commitment to democracy.
It is now sixteenth on the list of the safest places to do business.
Formally part of the old Soviet Union its focus and future is now firmly set in the west, with serious aspirations to join both the EU & NATO.
Batumi on the Black Sea Coast
Geographically, Georgia is much bigger than Wales, although it is still possible to be sunning yourself on the beaches of the Black Sea resort of Batumi at lunchtime and enjoying a glass of famous Georgia wine on the ski slopes of Gudauri in the late evening.
Tbilisi, the capital has a population of about a million and a half which is about the size of Birmingham and Bristol combined.
Driving anywhere can be a challenge though! In my experience many Georgians drive far too fast and not always on their side of the road either!
If you are going to Georgia I would avoid renting a car. Get a driver instead. They know their way around and are in fact very cheap when compared to the UK.
The vernacular railway in Tbilisi is worth taking as it takes you high above the city and gives a welcome respite from the heat which can easily be in the upper 30s in the summer.
August can be very hot but September and October are lovely months to visit this wonderful country where the people are so hospitable and the sights so worth seeing.
A visit will undoubtably leave “Georgia On Your Mind” for a very long time and will certainly make you want to return to a place where the old Silk Road from China brought wealth and prosperity and where Asia meets Europe in an infusion of mind and spirit unlikely to be found anywhere else on earth.
We flew from Gatwick to Tbilisi direct on Georgian Airways. The journey takes just over four hours. There is business and economy class on board but not first class which doesn’t really matter because the typical Georgian hospitality shown by the stewards and stewardesses will make your journey feel shorter regardless of where you sit.
Stephen Fear August 2018