Georgia is divided into several autonomous republics, municipalities, and regions. Each area is unique in its own way, be it through cuisine, distinct historical sights or particular customs. This article will help you better understand Georgia’s main regions and their distinct cultural heritage before you embark on your next trip.
Ajara, one of Georgia’s two autonomous republics (the other is Abkhazia), sits on the Black Sea coast and extends into the wooded foothills and mountains of the Lesser Caucasus. The climate is mild and humid with a lot of rain, but don’t let this put you off, there is plenty of sunshine in the summer months. The area has plenty to offer including centuries-old architecture, natural parks, lakes and archaeological sites.
Batumi, the regional capital, is one of Georgia’s largest cities. It’s bustling in summer with plenty of accommodation and dining options and experiences.
Traditional Ajarian cuisine consist of greens, garlic, various types of meat and cheese, seasonal vegetables and, of course, copious spices. While in Ajara don’t forget to try one of the region’s best known delicacies, adjarian khachapuri, a boat-shaped cheese pie topped with egg yolk and butter.
Ajara is also well known for its folk music and traditional dances. One of the most popular, the gandagana, is commonly performed at celebrations such as birthdays and weddings.
One of the country’s smallest regions, situated on the Black Sea to the west, Guria has a rich cultural, historical and natural heritage. It also borders several regions, provinces and republics – notably, Samegrelo, Imereti, Samtskhe-Javakheti and Adjaria. Bakhmaro is a top spot for winter sports and the summer resort Gomismta; it’s also home to a Georgian sport resembling rugby called lelo burti.
From the 1890s, for a period of roughly 30 years, Gurian horseriders performed under the name of Russian Cossacks in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows in the UK and US, as well as other circuses and events. Their performances, featuring trick riding and folk dance, were extremely popular and exerted significant influence on cowboys in the United States.
On the literature scene, 20th-century Georgian writer, Nodar Dumbadze is a prominent Gurian figure, who wrote humorous novels about his home country portraying Gurian characters.
The region also offers a distinct twist to traditional Georgian polyphonic singing, favouring three-voice polyphonic songs and a more complex form of polyphony named contrapuntal polyphony.
Food-wise, corn is one of the region’s most popular crops and mchadi, or cornbread, is a staple part of the local diet.
As the name suggests, this region includes two historical provinces – Zemo-Svaneti (Upper Svaneti in English) and Samegrelo. The region spans 7,441 sqkm (2,872 sqmi) of land and is home to hundreds of archeological and historical monuments, hiking trails, picturesque lakes, and nature parks.
The cuisine here is quite different to the rest of the country, featuring mostly meat, dough and potatoes. Some great dishes to try are elarji, gebjalia, and kupati in Samegrelo, and tashmijab, kubdari,and svanetian salt in Svaneti.
Imereti is rich in history, cultural heritage and natural wonders. In late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the ancient kingdom of Egrisi stretched over the territory of present day Imereti. Despite numerous Turkish and Russian invasions, some of the kingdom’s key landmarks remain intact.
The region’s capital, Kutaisi, offers a wide range of activities but, if you don’t want to be confined to the city, you can easily spend your days visiting Unesco World Heritage sites, exploring caves and canyons, relaxing at luxury spa resorts or marvelling at the natural wonder that is the Katski Pillar.
There is a long tradition of beekeeping here that dates back to the fourth century BCE, so grab a jar or two of honey while you’re here to take home with you.
Imereti is the birthplace of many Georgian poets such as Galaktion Tabidze, Titsian Tabidze, and Akaki Tsereteli to name a few. Find an English translation of their works to truly understand the rich artistic heritage of the region.
The region of Kakheti comprises of the historic province of Kakheti and the mountainous province of Tusheti. It’s overall famous for its beautiful landscapes, the cities of Telavi and Sighnaghi; it’s also Georgia’s top winemaking region, where you can learn about traditional production methods and its use of qvevri (large clay jars). This unique process, which is on the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage list, involves squeezing the juice from grapes then pouring it into the qvevri, along with the grape skins, stalks and their residue, before burying the vessels deep into the ground to let the wine ferment for up to six months.
The area is also home to several monasteries such as the David Gareja, Nekresi and Alaverdi. Another notable sight, if you want to learn more about the country’s Orthodox faith, is the monastery of St Nino at Bodbe. This is an important pilgrimage destination for locals who believe that the remains of St Nino, a fourth-century female evangelist, are shrined here.
Prince Alexander Chavchadze’s Estate, in Tsinandali, is also worth a visit. Chavchadze is considered to be the father of Georgian romanticism and as such, his estate is an important cultural hub. The grounds include a memorial house, a landscaped garden, a winery, wine cellar, hotel and a café. If you time it just right, you might even be able to attend one of the many exhibitions, concerts or literary events that are hosted here. You can even sample some of the estate’s own wine. If you would like to sample more local wines, there are many wine producers in the region that offer tours through their vineyards and organise tastings.
In terms of cuisine, the region is famous for a dish of grilled meat skewers called mtsvadi. Throughout Georgia, you might also see strange, candle-shaped items hanging from various shops; these are churchkhela, a traditional sweet snack made from walnuts and grape juice that originated in Kakheti.
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