Local Spotlight: Q&A with local expert in Georgia
By Kati Taylor
With snow-capped mountains and sprawling, verdant valleys; Georgia is one of the most awe-inspiring countries on earth. Its landscapes will enthrall you, the hospitality and kindness of its people will make you feel immediately at home and the vibrant stories of long-ago legends are sure to capture your imagination. Still far from the average tourist itinerary, Georgia is a real treat for any traveller who loves a sense of adventure.
We caught up with Khatuna, one of our local experts to talk folklore, food and how to get the best out of this mysterious country...
TL: What is life like in Georgia? What is your fondest memory?
Life in Georgia is interesting in many different aspects. The people are wonderfully hospitable and cultural belief is that all guests are a gift sent by God. It’s common to be invited into peoples’ homes for a traditional Georgian ‘supra’ (feast) and your hosts will always do their best to please you! As well as the people, the landscapes in Georgia are completely unique. We are a little country but we boast high peaks, sprawling lowlands and, of course, the Black Sea. Georgia has a really contrasting character with social life, politics and economy all in the mix but, for me, it’s all part of the adventure of living here.
My fondest memory is connected to my first visit to Svaneti province - it was definitely love at first sight! This is the province that really invaded my mind and heart and that’s why I always recommend it to visitors.
TL: What three words most represent Georgia for you and why?
Hospitality – one of the most fitting words to describe local people.
Mountains – Georgia is located in Europe’s largest mountain system – The Great Caucasus.
Folklore – created during many centuries, it’s the best way to realize what Georgia and its culture is about.
TL: What is your favourite place in Georgia? Why?
My favourite place in Georgia has to be Svaneti province. It’s located north-west of Tbilisi in the Great Caucasus Mountains. Nature here is absolutely amazing, pristine and unique. Walking in Ushguli – the highest permanently settled village in Europe and home to 12th century defensive towers - is impressive and awe-inspiring. Surrounding summits over 5,000m make me feel as if I’m in another world!
TL: What is the Georgian culture like?
Culture is very important for Georgians and, very often, is deeply rooted in tradition. Dance and folk songs are considered an expression of Georgian national identity. Cultural life is more perceptible in the capital and big cities where popular festivals take place, like Batumi Jazz Festival for example. The refurbished Opera and Ballet House hosts lots of performances by Georgian and international stars which are certainly impressive. However, if you really want to feel what the Georgian culture is like, you have to experience the folk shows!
TL: What is your favourite Georgian food?
Almost everybody agrees that Khinkali (meat dumplings) is the most iconic dish in Georgian cuisine and its loved by locals and visitors alike. It really demands special skills and experience to cook it well. I would also list mouthwatering Khachapuri made of local white cheese and pastry and the “King” of East Georgian cuisine “Mtsvadi” – pork barbequed on spits and vine fire.
TL: Do you know any cool facts about Georgia that most people wouldn’t know?
I certainly do! Firstly, Georgia is a homeland of wine-making and was one of the first Christian countries, converting in the 4th Century. We also have our own unique alphabet, completely separate from any other, and it was recently added to the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List.
TL: What are the experiences people travelling to Georgia definitely shouldn’t miss?
If you travel to Georgia, it’s a must to taste Georgian wine made in traditional fashion in Qveri (clay jars). Another thing is our very famous cuisine – everybody falls in love with it - and of course the mountainous regions of the country.
TL: Do you have any top tips for any TravelLocal customers thinking of visiting Georgia?
Get ready for the experience of a lifetime! You will learn so many interesting facts about Georgian history, culture, traditions, and everyday life. Our country is one of legends so there will be stories to entertain you at every turn. Make sure you taste Georgian wines, take part in cooking lessons and get local advice wherever you can!
TL: What is the story behind your company? What inspired you to start the business?
The company was started by Alexander Mamulashvili in 1997. The inspiration was a friend visiting who couldn’t book a hotel online or on the phone as, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the tourism industry was basically non-existent. We now have highly qualified and hardworking staff who have made Visit Georgia the best local operator in the country. On a more personal level, having the opportunity to introduce the beauty of your country to visitors, and give them an unforgettable experience, is the ultimate inspiration.
TL: What have been your favourites and most memorable experiences as a guide/tour operator?
In the tourism sector, you meet people from all walks of life. Showing groups around Georgia has left me with lots of wonderful memories - trekking in the mountains, cooking together, taking part in traditional songs and dances. Positive feedback is the most wonderful and heartwarming thing and we’re blessed to have had so many happy customers over the years!
TL: What’s next for your company?
Visit Georgia is glad to host more and more visitors every year, make them absolutely satisfied with the country and service and give them an unforgettable experience. The company plans to offer more creative products, create unique and interesting tours and invite more guests to come and see Georgia.
TL: And we’ve got ask - do you have a dream holiday destination that you want to visit?
I would like to travel more and more around the world - there is so much to see! For now, my dream holiday destination is the United States, with its national parks, forests, deserts and all the attractions modern America offers to its visitors from all over the world.
If you want to experience Georgia for yourself, head over to our destination pages or send an enquiry to our local experts. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.