Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan chapter Georgia has to say about Tbilisi:
From its green valleys spread with vineyards to its old churches and watchtowers perched in fantastic mountain scenery, Georgia is one of the most beautiful countries on earth and a marvelous canvas for walkers, horse riders, cyclists, skiers, rafters and travellers of every kind.
Equally special are its proud, high-spirited, cultured people: Georgia claims to be the birthplace of wine, and this is a place where guests are considered blessings and hospitality is the very stuff of life.
A deeply complicated history has given Georgia a wonderful heritage of architecture and arts, from cave cities to ancient cathedrals to the inimitable canvases of the artist Pirosmani.
Tbilisi has come a long way since the Rose Revolution of 2003 ousted the post-Soviet Shevardnadze government.
To Tbilisi’s eternal charms of a dramatic setting in the deep valley of the swift Mtkvari River, picturesque architecture, an ever-lively arts and cultural scene, and the welcoming Georgian lifestyle, have been added a whole new 21st-century dimension. All of which make it a much easier, and more fun, city to visit and live in than it was less than a decade ago.
But the old Tbilisi is still very much here too. The Old Town, at the narrowest part of the valley, is still redolent of an ancient Eurasian crossroads, with its winding lanes, balconied houses, leafy squares and handsome churches, all overlooked by the 17-centuries-old Narikala Fortress.
Neighbourhoods not far from the centre still retain a village-like feel with their narrow streets, small shops and community atmosphere. Small traders still clog up the pavements around metro stations selling fruit, vegetables, cheese and nuts fresh from the countryside.
The city’s location, commanding a crossing of the Mtkvari River on age-old trade routes between Asia and Europe, has always been prized. Russia annexed Georgia in 1800 and recreated Tbilisi in the imperial mould, laying out wide streets and squares.
The Soviet era saw huge growth as Georgians flooded in from the countryside. The city was a centre of opposition to the late Soviet regime and a battleground in the civil war that erupted after Georgian independence in 1991.
The 1990s were dark years – literally, with frequent electricity blackouts – as living standards sank and corruption and crime became rife. But since the Rose Revolution of 2003 crime has almost disappeared and Tbilisi has enjoyed a flood of investment and refurbishment.
Tbilisi grew up below the walls of the Narikala Fortress, which stands on a ridge above the west side of the Mtkvari River. The buildings along the twisting lanes of the Old Town have been renovated at a fairly fast lick over the past decade, but behind the pretty facades and off the main streets you’ll still find picturesque dilapidation aplenty, with half-overgrown courtyards surrounded by carved wooden balconies. Many buildings here date from soon after the Persian sacking of 1795, and still have the Eurasian character of earlier times.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We spent two weeks in Tbilisi - longer that we had initially planned because we wanted to be wherever the weather was the best. Until the end of October, Tbilisi had the highest temperatures in the country and no rain at all. Many days it was 18 - 20 degrees and clear blue skies with lots of sunshine. It was perfect for us, though after a summer with 40 - 45C, it was clear that the local people thought it was cool and they put on all their black clothes and wore warm jackets and scarves.
During our two weeks in Tbilisi we made two-day trips out of the city with the young man who was our landlord at our AirBnB. We made one half-day trip to see the churches at Mtskheti, the place where the two rivers join. So beautiful. Our second trip was a full day from 8:00am to almost 8:00pm and we went northeast to the wine-growing region of Kakheti. We had a great time, toured a famous winery and did some wine tasting, as well as seeing the beautiful churches and monasteries in the area.
We really enjoyed the Georgian food - we both loved all the dishes though, neither of us likes walnuts much so we avoided one of their favourite ingredients. I am so fond of mushrooms and they are relatively expensive at home, so I usually had a large dish with mushrooms at every meal.
We were very lucky that we had had the flexibility to travel around Georgia when we wanted to - the apartments and hotels were not fully booked - and the train had seats for us when we wanted to travel. I’m sure that would not be so easy in the busier months.