Georgia on my mind

Food and wine, Georgia, Hiking, Travel / Friday, December 29th, 2023

How to travel Georgia as a solo female traveller. Read about my experience this October.

I’d wanted to visit Georgia for a few years now, but for one reason or another, couldn’t quite get myself there. Those who know me will know that Cyprus has become one of my go-to countries this year (2023), since it’s non-Schengen and doesn’t eat into the 90 days I can spend in Europe, plus it’s an easy and affordable way to get from the UK to many other destinations in this part of the world.

From Cyprus, you can easily visit the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, Georgia, Armenia and even on to Southeast Asia. But this October, it finally happened. I took a TUI flight to Larnaca then a Wizz Air flight to Kutaisi in Georgia, all for a fraction of the price it would have cost had I flown direct to Tbilisi. I only travel with hand luggage, so I paid the bargain price of around €50 return from Larnaca to Kutaisi, including taxes.

Recommended reading: Lonely Planet Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, There She Goes, Bradt Guide to Georgia

Is Georgia safe for female travellers? I felt mostly safe in Georgia. However, I didn’t feel 100% comfortable, and that’s an important difference. Safety and comfort are on a sliding scale. It felt like a very male-dominated culture, as in a lot of the Caucasus and Balkans. So I felt strange being alone as a woman. It wasn’t the norm. Some people were friendly towards me, but others were really rude. But I met other solo female travellers who said they felt very comfortable and happy, so as with all travels, each person’s experience is different. In this post I will discuss what my personal experience was like and how you can travel Georgia safely and comfortably too.

Emergency number (fire service, police, ambulance): 112 

Some basic Georgian words:
Hello – Gamarjoba 
Thank you – Madloba 
No – Ara
Yes – Ki

Landing in Kutaisi

Kutaisi is a small town in the middle of the country, and is a good jumping-off point for Batumi and Mestia. It’s also where budget airlines like Wizz Air land into. You can take a Bolt from the airport into the town centre for around 8 euros, or a regular taxi for around 10 euros, paid to the taxi desk at the airport, who will give you a receipt to give to the driver. You can also take a direct coach to Tbilisi from Kutaisi airport. 

When I returned to Kutaisi from Tbilisi, I decided to take the handy airport coach that leaves from the city centre and takes you directly to Kutaisi airport. From there, I took a Bolt back to Bao Hostel as my flight wasn’t until the next day, although you could always do that journey in one day, if you had time. There are lots of cute cafes and coffee shops in Kutaisi, and an indoor market where you can try Georgian food and wine.

Where to stay in Kutaisi

In Kutaisi I stayed at Bao Hostel – a small, homely, feline-friendly hostel in the town centre, close to the music school. I met some great people here, who I ended up travelling with and meeting up with throughout Georgia. Bao has dorms as well as private rooms, so everyone is catered for. 

To receive a discount on your next stay, you can follow this link.

From Kutaisi you have many options for onward destinations, and I’ve included the bus timetable above. I joined three other people from Bao hostel (Richard, Patricia and Alex) to take the train to Tbilisi – something that was a real adventure, but I’d probably not choose to do again! It took much longer than the bus, went backwards as much as forwards, and it was cramped. But it was very cheap (around 2 euros) and I sat next to a really cool Italian girl who works for EasyJet and we chatted for almost the entire trip (five hours).

To learn more about taking the train in Georgia, I recommend visiting Seat61 or the Georgian Railways website, from where you can book a ticket online (we bought ours in person on the day and it was totally easy).

Onwards to Kazbegi

I’ll be writing a separate post about Tbilisi, so for now I’ll tell you about the other places I visited in Georgia. The first was Kazbegi up in the north, on the border with Russia. The journey here was pretty hair-raising, I’ll be honest. I took a Bolt from my hostel (Nomad) in Tbilisi to the bus station Dedube in the north of Tbilisi, then waited for a marshrutka minivan that would take me to Kazbegi.

I’ve added a handy pin into Google Maps for where you can catch this particular van, as I walked around aimlesslessly for ages trying to find the right spot, fending off all the men at the bus station trying to sell me expensive taxi rides or shared private minivans.

Dedube bus station is chaotic, messy and loud – it reminded me a lot of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Travelling there by yourself as a woman is very intimidating, but the second time I went there I felt totally fine as I knew what to expect, so I’m just giving you a heads up now. It’s pretty safe, just frenzied, so you need to keep your wits about you and make a beeline for where your van is. You can also pick up some fresh fruit and snacks from the well-stocked outdoor market there.

The minivan ride up to Kazbegi was nail-biting to say the least. The drivers drive like they have a death wish and it reminded me of similar trips I’d taken in minivans in Guatemala, where you have to close your eyes just to get through the experience. There were miles upon miles of parked lorries on the right hand side of the road, and the driver overtook them straight into oncoming traffic. I closed my eyes for a lot of it, but when I did have them open, I was greeted by either stunning views or a near-death experience. Anyway – as we all know by now, these trips are what makes travelling fun!

Hiking in Kazbegi

Kazbegi is in the region of Mtskheta-Mtianeti in north-east of Georgia and it’s also known as Stepantsminda. It’s 100 kilometres from the northern border with Russia, and one of the oldest crossroads between Asia and Europe passes through the town. Kazbegi is essentially two small villages sitting either side of the Tergi river, with stunning mountains all around. The hikes you can do from here are varied and numerous, depending on your level of fitness, who you’re with, and what equipment you have. The biggest draw is Kazbegi Peak, also called Mkinvartsveri, but there are plenty of smaller day hikes you can enjoy. 

Where to stay in Kazbegi

There are loads of amazing places to stay in Kazbegi, no matter what your budget. There’s a hostel and a five-star hotel (Rooms Hotel) and everything in between. I noticed many A-frame-style cabins that reminded me of being in the Alps – some also had fire pits outside so you can sit and stargaze with some Georgian wine.

For me, Kazbegi would make a great place to bring a loved one for a romantic break. In fact, Georgia as a whole felt like a couple’s paradise. Travelling solo was fun in some ways, but I do think it’s more set up for couples. There are so many incredible hotels and guesthouses to enjoy. So if that’s you – you’re going to love it. I went there feeling quite heartbroken, so this was far from ideal. But thankfully I did meet some great people, and in Kazbegi I stayed at a beautiful, family-run guesthouse called Tamta, which had incredible views of the mountains and was homely. I also noticed that many new guesthouses are being built, so I think in a few years Kazbegi is going to look quite different. Maybe they will build another hostel!

From Tamta guesthouse, I hiked up to Gergeti Trinity Church on the other side of the river. There’s a paved road that winds its way up the mountain to one side, but the hike takes you round the left hand side of the mountain, without any cars or much human traffic. It’s a beautiful hike, and I highly recommend doing it, even if you’re alone. I felt mostly safe. The views of Kazbegi and the snowcapped Caucasus looming in the distance are spectacular.

When you finally reach the church, you’re allowed to go inside, but remember to don a head scarf and apron from the basket outside, before you enter. I didn’t do that, and got a stern telling off from the priest inside, who barked “DRESS YOURSELF!!!” as walked in – as if I were stark naked. Needless to say, the men didn’t have to wear anything different. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Eating out in Kazbegi

I didn’t eat out a huge amount because I had a small kitchen at Tamta and I enjoyed cooking. However, after my hike I treated myself to lunch at the amazing Restaurant Maisi, which was recommended to me by a friend I met in Kutaisi. The prices are on the steeper side for Georgia, but it was so worth it, and was one of the best meals I ate in 2023! Maisi also has cabins and huts to rent, built in the traditional wood and stone of the region.

Sighnaghi and the wine region

My next stop was the small town of Sighnaghi in the Alazani valley wine region. Georgia is famous for its wines, and the locals are very proud of their wine culture. Sighnaghi is a great place to base yourself to do a Kakheti wine tour or wine tasting. I didn’t do any kind of organised tour (not a fan of those!) but instead opted to visit local restaurants independently, and make friends with some locals (my preferred method).

To get to Sighnaghi, you have to go via Tbilisi, and it’s a different bus station from Dedube. Again, it’s a case of asking around until you find the right minivan, and they’re not very frequent. I managed to get all the way from Kazbegi to Sighnaghi in one day, which was a mission, but doable.

Patricia and I enjoyed a delicious Georgian lunch with local red wine at Okro’s, in the town centre. Okro’s produces natural wine from Eastern Georgian grape varieties – Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Saperavi, Budeshuri, Tsolikouri, and Tavkveri. They use traditional Georgian techniques, and the grapes are harvested organically with no chemicals. Their restaurant has an upstairs terrace with beautiful views.

One evening, myself and Patricia and another girl Tash had dinner at a cozy local restaurant called Tsikara, which had an open fire. We shared plates of famous Georgian aubergine and pomegranate salad, stuffed mushrooms in a clay pot and beans in a clay pot. Many Georgian dishes come in a clay pot, I’ve since learned! You can read more about Georgian cuisine in my blog post about Tbilisi.

Georgian Wines 

Georgia is the oldest wine-producing country in the world. Georgian wine is usually a blend of two or more grapes, and is classified as sweet, semi-sweet, semi-dry, dry, fortified or sparkling.

  • Saperavi (dry, deep red in colour. The most important grape variety used to make Georgian red wines.)
  • Kindzmarauli (a natural semi-sweet wine, aged for two years, produced in the Kvareli region. Grapes are harvested later than for most other wines made from Saperavi.)
  • Alazani (a light semi-sweet wine, produced in the Alazani region. A blend of 60% Saperavi and 40% Rkatsiteli. The warmer climate produces sweeter grapes than other regions.) 

  • Rkatsiteli (dry, and the most important grape variety used to make Georgian white wines.) 
  • Tsolikouri (dry, and among the most widespread varieties, said to be Stalin’s favourite wine)
  • Kisi / Qisi (semi-sweet)
  • Mtsvane (which means green)

So that’s it. There’s still a whole lot more I’d like to see in Georgia, and I’ll definitely go back another time and visit other regions. But this was a great first-time experience. Have you been to Georgia? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy reading about my solo trip to Albania and my time backpacking around Japan.

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