Finding a map of Georgia was easy. However, finding a detailed map of Georgia that wouldn’t reasonably be mistaken for a map of Disneyland was a more difficult task. As a result, route selection over the past fortnight has been quite a lottery, with the absence of any contouring and with secondary roads meaning anything from a perfect ribbon of tarmac to an un-rideable gravel track, Georgia certainly threw some obstacles our way. These problems aside, the rolling hills and vineyards of the Caucasus region proved worthy of the trouble.
Our education into Georgian wine started well by meeting George (yes, George from Georgia), who owned an exquisite wine cellar replete with some of the country’s rarest wines. He took great pleasure in educating us on the history and variety of Georgian wine; details of which would be elaborated on here had it not been for the generous samples of said wine. When not peddling his fine produce, George can be found relaxing in the shade listening to jazz music while smoking a cigar. Suffice to say that George is a pretty cool guy. The remainder of our exploration into the viticulture of the country wasn’t quite as successful, mainly due to the home-based nature of the industry simply not quite yet being ready for a tourist looking for a few free tasters.
We have met more cyclists in the last fortnight than during any other part of our journey; some on a two-week holiday, some on a three-year cycling odyssey, but all clearly seeing Georgia as a bit of a draw card. And the reason for this is simple: the cycling in this country is superb. After the long desert days of Central Asia the green hills of the Caucasus Mountains offered an aesthetically pleasing, albeit leg-burning, change. Although not as grand in scale as the peaks of Tajikistan, the punchy switchbacks and punishing inclines certainly made us work for what was thankfully some entirely worthwhile descents; most notably for any keen road riders, the 60km from Akhalkalaki to Akhaltsikhe.
While Tbilisi seemed like a capital city full of Mercedes, espressos and people in a hurry, rural Georgia delivered an abrupt contrast where horse & cart were more common sight and where food bills were calculated using an abacus. It’s an odd dynamic for a country which has clearly undergone some pretty rapid changes since independence from the Soviets in the early ‘90s, but it does seem to have an awful lot of potential and has been added on our ‘return to one day’ list. Probably once the wineries are all up and running.