Earlier this year we had met Huw, joint MD, to discuss the possibility of a visit to Georgia and his ideas and enthusiasm convinced us that it would be our next destination. We liked the TravelLocal model whereby we could arrange our tour directly with a contact at the local tour operator in Tbilisi. Even at short notice they put an itinerary together to meet our requirements. Quick responses meant that we could make minor changes and get answers to our questions. It was real personal service; we were able to have a phone conversation and message our friendly contact in the Tbilisi team. Georgia is a fascinating country to visit; ancient Colchis civilisation, numerous very early Christian churches, a developing wine producing industry, spectacular Caucasus mountains, excellent food and very friendly welcoming people. Through Travel Local the local tour operator enabled us to enjoy them all.
Just about everything: the organisation of the itinerary according to our wishes, the choice of hotels, given that we booked at the last minute, an excellent driver and some degree of flexibility regarding order of visits. We made contact with Keti by phone and 'Whats App' before our visit and that was really good. Keti was able to answer our questions about some aspects of weather in the mountains and what clothing would be appropriate. Also, we talked about the hotels. On the occasion of my wife's birthday Keti and Sophie very kindly came to our hotel in Tbilisi and presented her with a cake to a chorus of 'Happy Birthday'. It was a very nice touch and a good opportunity for us to thank them both personally for arranging our tour and the pleasure that we had experienced.
Our driver (we didn't have a guide) for the 17 day duration of our tour was Aleksandre Kandareli. His driving was extremely good; safe, patient, no risk-taking and he inspired our trust. The comfortable BMW had a/c, tinted windows and he cleaned the car inside and out frequently. Aleks was a quiet, gentle man, which made for a relaxing trip. he always helped us with our luggage. His English was fair, easy to understand, and continued to improve and we all joked about the continuous English lessons! He was informative about his country, some of the tourist sites and its government, past and present. He had a good sense of humour and together we shared a lot of laughter, he was good company. Towards the end of our trip he took us to his family home where we met his relatives and friend for lunch. It was most enjoyable. Spending 17 days with the same driver could make or break the tour. For us, he made it. Through him we had a great trip to Georgia and feel that we have gained knowledge and much enjoyment.
Do your homework on Georgia before you go. Buy a good guidebook, Lonely Planet 'Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan' gives a reasonably good overview but Bradt 'Georgia' is far more detailed and comprehensive. Read 'Georgia Today' the online version of the twice weekly newspaper written in English. You may be able to pick up the printed version in some Georgia hotels. Print off a geopolitical map of the Caucasus Region to help understand how Georgia sits with its neighbouring countries. For more information go to CIA The World Factbook - Georgia. Buy "International Travel Map" series 'Armenia & Georgia', scale 1:430,000 If you intend to travel to Kakheti during September check out the Tsinandali Festival website. The festival is held in the grounds of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze’s palace. Try to watch the BBC film 'Great Continental Railway Journeys: Batumi to Baku' with Michael Portillo following Bradshaw's 1913 Continental Railways Guide. Beria, chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus (NKVD) was born in present day Abkazia, and Joseph Stalin in Gori, central Georgia. For a light hearted film watch 'The Death of Stalin' by Armando Iannucci.
Walking in the High Caucasus regions of Kazbegi (Stepantsminda) and Svaneti. Lunch and wine tasting at the Mosmieri winery, Tsinandali. Visiting the family home of our driver to see the grape harvest, meet family, friends and have a most enjoyable lunch and home made wine. Viewing the gold and metal artefacts of the Colchis culture excellently exhibited at the Georgia National Museum in Tbilisi and also the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography at Mestia. Evening dinner at Sakhli # 11 restaurant in Tbilisi; very good food, service, atmosphere and live folk music by local musicians.