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This Lesser-Known Ancient Country In Europe Is Breaking All Tourism Records

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Concentrating several of the world's most iconic historic landmarks, like the Colosseum, the Eiffel Tower the Berlin Wall and what have you, Europe is everyone's go-to destination for sampling culture and soaking up some fascinating History.

Interestingly, it remains largely undiscovered by tourists, especially Americans, who in their vast majority are still wary of going off-path, and exploring beyond the continent's Western boundaries, even though there are countries in the Eastern front that are just as worthwhile.

View Of A Historic City Clock In Old Town Tbilisi, Capital Of Georgia, Eurasia, Eastern Europe

For starters, have you ever wondered where wine was invented? It's got to come from somewhere, and no, it's not Italy; or perhaps where Stalin, one of the most emblematic and polarizing figures of the 20th-century, former leader of the Soviet Union, was born? If you're thinking Russia, wrong again.

Georgia (not the U.S. state, the country) is the answer to all of these questions and many more, and it's among the fastest-growing destinations in Eurasia:

The Cultural Hotspot That's Been Overlooked For Far Too Long

According to Maia Omiadze, Head of the Georgian National Tourism Administration, tourism in the country has exceeded the pre-crisis reference year of 2019 by a whopping 90 percent, with over 3 million international visitors being registered.

Aerial View Of Ananuri Fortress, Georgia, Eurasia, Eastern Europe

Though confirmation on the part of European authorities is required, it means a record increase in bookings for Georgia, a country tourists have historically bypassed, either due to misinformation or unfounded fears it is unsafe due to its proximity to Russia.

Spoiler: it's not.

In case you need some help figuring out where Georgia is, picture it at the outermost border of the European continent, where it merges into Asia. More specifically, east of Turkiye, South of the Russian border, and straddling the Eastern Black Sea.

Yep, it's far, far East, but it's still considered geopolitically European, having been recognized by the European Union (EU) as a potential candidate as of last year and being one of the first states to have adopted Christianity as a religion as early as the 4th-century AD.

Sameba Cathedral In Georgia, Eurasia, Eastern Europe

However, Georgia came into existence a lot earlier than that: one of the world's oldest nations, with evidence of human development traced back as early as 8,000 years ago, when wine was likely to have been invented in the territory of the current country.

Georgia Is Jam-Packed With Historic Ancient Towns

Needless to say, Georgia is littered with archaeological finds and historically-charged towns with origins lost to time.

Its national capital, Tbilisi is your quintessential European city, home to a central fortress, a cobbled Old Town and an eclectic architectural heritage.

Home to around 1.5 million inhabitants, roughly a third of Georgia's population of around 3.7 million, it has been under the rule of several consecutive predatory powers, including the Persian and Russian Empires and, most recently, the Soviet Union.

Cable Car In Tbilisi, Georgia, Eurasia, Eastern Europe

It is one of a handful of world capitals where you'll find waterfalls and unspoiled nature (under the protected domain of a National Botanical Garden), thermal baths with sulfur-rich, medicinal waters, medieval castles, and modernist structures all within short walking distance of each other.

Tbilisi is a city of many layers, and the deeper you dig, the more likely you are to come upon unique gems like Baratashvili Bridge, a pedestrian crossing housing hidden art galleries and political interventions, the quirky-looking, brutalist Iveria Hotel and Stalin's Underground Printing House.

What To See Beyond The National Capital

Aerial View Of Gori, A Historic City In Georgia, Birthplace Of Stalin, Eurasia, Eastern Europe

Speaking of the man with the stash, Stalin was born in a small town named Gori, not too far from the capital (more precisely, a short one-and-a-half marshrutka ride away).

Though marshrutka are not exactly comfortable – these jam-packed mini-vans are the most popular intercity public transport in the country – they will get you where you need to be, and between Tbilisi and Gori, there is nonstop service all day every day, year-round.

Controversy aside, you can't come to Gori and not pay the Stalin Museum a visit, just don't get your hopes up: it's mostly a selection of Soviet-era propaganda and forgotten memorabilia. Other than the former Soviet leader, Gori is famous for its ornate Orthodox churches and slow-paced living.

Still can't get enough of the culture?

Ancient Gergeti Church On A Mountain Top Near Stepantsminda, Georgia, In The Caucasus Region Of Eastern Europe

Head to Mtskheta, the first official capital of Georgia, located at the confluence of two scenic rivers, where an imposing castle and hilltop churches await discovery (if you think these names are unpronounceable, wait until you see how they're spelled in their native Georgian alphabet).

One of Georgia's most iconic postcard views, the remote church at Stepantsminda, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains, at the literal border between the European and Asian continents, is also an easy day trip for tourists, with multiple tours departing from central Tbilisi.

To our hiking and nature enthusiasts out there, we see you: in the Northern reaches of Georgia, Svaneti and its footpaths traversing snowcapped peaks, sleepy villages and their medieval towers, and deep gorges will take your breath away.

Literally.

Tourist enjoy view of Ushguli village in Georgia.

Other natural wonders worth mentioning are:

  • Borjomi National Park, one of the largest in Georgia, covering roughly 1.5% of the national territory, and a thermal bath hotspot
  • Prometheus Cave, near Kutaisi, one of the cultural capitals of Georgia, and an underground labyrinth of stalactite, stalagmite and helictite chambers that look almost otherwordly
  • Katskhi Pillar, a free-standing limestone pillar atop which rests a solitary monastery, still in operation, similar to Meteora in Greece
  • The Black Rock Lake, a serene body of water in the heart of the Caucasus, surrounded by rare fauna and flora
  • Mtirala National Park, considered a UNESCO's World Heritage Site due to its unique Colchic rainforests and wetlands

Yeah, yeah, we know what you're thinking: what about that millennia-old wine-making tradition?

Georgia Is The Land Of Wine

Moldovan Winemaker Producing Wine, Moldova, Eastern Europe

If you're a wine connoisseur, Kakheti is that sweet spot. This charming wine country has rolling green hills as far as the eyes can see, dotted with vineyards and romantic, historic settlements, including one of Europe's prettiest towns, Sighnaghi.

There are plenty of wine-tasting tours available from Get Your Guide, as cheap as $14, and trust us, you don't want to miss out on an opportunity to taste their world-renowned Georgian red and signature orange wines.

We're the biggest advocates for traveling light ourselves, but on a visit to Georgia, you'll want to bring a carry-on luggage with you. You know, in case you're bringing a case or two of full-bodied Saperavi back to the States with you.

Akhaltsikhe Vineyard Facing A Reconstructed 9th Century Rabat Fortress In Akhaltsikhe, A Small Town In Georgia, In The Caucasus Region Of Eastern Europe

Looking for an off-season beach getaway instead?

A Balmy Coastal Resort

Have we already mentioned Georgia straddles the Black Sea Coast?

Dubbed by Travel Off Path experts the New Mediterranean, it is anything but dark-colored, with azure waters that get just as warm, if not warmer, than the neighboring basin.

Batumi is Georgia's leading Black Sea resort and arguably the country's most beautiful city, with a high concentration of Reinassance-Baroque buildings, a lively boardwalk lined by innovative high-rises and upscale hotels, and a seriously overlooked food scene.

Aerial View Of The Batumi Marina, On The Black Sea Coast Of Georgia, Caucasus Region, Eastern Europe, Western Asia

Georgia cuisine is officially the 26th-best in the world, as voted by TasteAtlas, and if you're expecting to go on a life-changing gastronomic journey, you should definitely add Batumi to your itinerary, seeing it is where national dish adjaran khachapuri originates from.

A fluffy bread stuffed with at least four different types of cheese, topped with a runny egg, this tummy agitator is Georgia's pride and joy. As you'll soon learn in your gastronomic journey, kartvelian cuisine is not exactly… light on the stomach.

From the delicious khinkali soup and meat dumplings to the comforting kharcho spicy chicken soups to the hearty chakapuli lamb and white Georgian wine stew, you'll be leaving this country some 11lb happier. You're on a vacation, so it's ok.

Khachapuri Dish Served In Georgia, Eastern Europe, Western Asia

Weather-wise, Batumi is probably the warmest part of Georgia in spring, with temperatures ranging from a pleasant 70°F to 77°F during the day, with plenty of sunshine to be expected, and only moderately-chilly evenings.

Is Georgia Affordable?

There are no direct flights from the United States to Georgia, and flying to the Caucasus normally requires a stopover in other European countries or the Middle East, and considering it is that far away, you may be wondering whether it's even affordable enough to visit.

It may be very pro-EU and pro-NATO, which is great news for American visitors, but Georgia is not an EU country just yet. In other words, it's not Euroized, and its lower consumer prices compared to the much more developed Western bloc make it incredibly budget-friendly.

Couple in Tbilisi, Georgia, Eurasia, Eastern Europe

According to Budget Your Trip, a one-week trip to Georgia for two people costs $461, including accommodation, food, local transportation and tourist attractions. On average, travelers spend around $24 per night on hotels, $8.85 per meal and only $5.85 on commuting.

Prices can increase significantly if you're a high-end traveler, but even if you're treating yourself to a luxury, beachfront hotel in Batumi, or going for a full-body scrub in a fancy Tbilisi spa, your weekly expenses will likely cap at only $690.

How Safe Is Georgia?

Kutaisi Georgia

Culture and affordability aside, we suspect you're still pondering whether it's safe to visit, what with neighboring Russia waging wars in Europe and fellow Caucasus states Armenia and Azerbaijan currently at loggerheads over border delimitations.

Believe it or not, Georgia is one of Europe's safest countries, despite being surrounded by geopolitical conflicts, and this is attributed to the local government's friendly relations with both Eastern and Western powers, and a high level of societal development.

It is the only country at Level 1, meaning Americans should exercise normal precautions when visiting, and with the exception of two Russian-controlled territories in Northern Georgia, the country is effectively low-risk.

Atskuri Fortress Ruins, Georgia, view from the fortress to the valley

The Most Generous Visa Policy In The World

Additionally, long-term visitors will be exhilarated to know that Georgia is not a Schengen country, nor does it apply strict visitation rules.

Across most of Europe, Americans can only stay for three months out of any 180-day period, yet in Georgia they're issued a whole one-year visa.

You will automatically get a 365-day entry stamp, and should you wish to renew it, and spend a second, or third, or fourth year exploring this culturally-wealthy nation, all you have to do is leave for a day ahead of the expiry of the current visa, and come back.

Georgia has the friendliest visa policy in the world, and it's no wonder digital nomads love it.

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com

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