Imagine the landscapes of New Zealand combined with the Spanish Pyrenees, the Alps, and a sprinkling of Pembrokeshire and you're coming close to what the Georgian countryside looks like. Take a tailor made trip to this up-and-coming destination - it won't disappoint.
At this time of year in mid-April, it is beautifully warm, very green, and covered in white and pink blossom. It is more lush then Armenia and the green of the hills, pastures, meadows and fields is like a neon velvet that almost hurts your eyes it is so rich. The mountain peaks are still wrinkled in snow and the rivers flow with the melt where frogs croak hysterically and cows loll about in the fields. The air is pure, the water is sweet and it all seems impossibly beautiful - really when God created paradise he had the Georgian countryside in mind.
The Kakheti region….
I made for the eastern part of the country to the region of Kakheti renowned mostly for its wine, Monasteries, hill top villages and laid back people. I passed people picnicking under huge walnut trees, pony and traps trotting down roads and fishermen catching fat spotted trout on the river. The village of Sighnagi appears on a hilltop - a cluster of red roofs and a spire set amidst thick green forest which suddenly didn't look unlike a village in Tuscany. I visited the town's museum that shows some of the paintings of Pirosmani, who died in obscurity and poverty in 1918 and only then were his paintings suddenly noticed. He depicted labourers, farmers, beggars and the physical aspects of toil with a sort of bleak realism but there is something quite captivating about them.
Religion at the heart of everything….
I continue to discover Georgia by having lunch on a wooden table in the sunshine overlooking the valley and ancient fortified castle walls that surround the village. Religion plays a major role in people's lives here and George, my shy and practically non-English speaking driver reads from a little bible each morning before getting into the car. He crosses himself every time a church or Monastery hovers into view and once inside will kiss an icon. I'm sure he thinks I'm a heathen and must be pretty horrified that I don't back out of the church whilst facing the altar. Young and old alike pour into the churches which are most full on Sundays with many weddings and christenings all happening at once. Georgia was converted to Christianity not long after Armenia in AD337 and the Cathedral of Alaverdi was one of a few that firmly established the religion by the founding Syrian fathers of Antioch who arrived in the 6th century. This is a spectacular medieval church and one of the largest in the country as well as the highest. The Cathedral is actually called St George, who is patron saint of Georgia as well as England and whom my driver George is named after and now pleased to find we have an International connection.