I couldn't resist this blog title - not only was "We Don't Talk About Bruno" from Encanto the unintentional 'internal soundtrack' of my recent adventure to the beautiful country of Georgia, but it also seemed that it wasn't the most easy destination to research as other places I have travelled to.
It seemed that not many people talked about Georgia...
So I'm spilling the tea, and will reveal everything you need to know about finding the hidden gems of Georgia, and hopefully allow this to become the newest addition to your travel bucket list.
First, let me take you back to the heart of the pandemic.
We were ALL grounded.
Travel was a distant memory.
Future trips were getting cancelled left, right and centre!
And it was in this moment that travel shows, travel books, YouTube vlogs, Instagram hashtags and Facebook groups became my adventures. This was my way of living out my travel bucket list and exploring new destinations whilst stuck indoors. I even downloaded Google Earth and would drop my digital-self into different parts of the world and take a walk around. Ridiculous...I know! But honestly don't knock it until you try it! *Reader quickly downloads Google Earth*
So in the midst of all this, (and particularly through watching Race Across The World on repeat) I realised that it was time to diversify my bucket list. Many of the places I wanted to go to were mainstream, well-travelled, "Instagrammably popular" destinations. Before you get the pitch-forks out, there's nothing wrong with my basic bucket list! Of course the reason that destinations are popular is because they provide something incredible - there's a reason that tourism is popping there, right? But what I realised was that there are also a LOT of countries, particularly across Europe, that offer similar landscapes and an even more unique experience at a fraction of the price of some of these popular tourist hotspots.
So my bucket list expanded like wildfire. I had nothing but time and nothing but the ever-growing desire to travel to every corner of the earth!
It was then that I stumbled across Eco House Merisi in a Facebook group. It had a glass bedroom that hung over the edge of a two-storey cabin and overlooked the most stunning lush, green mountainous landscape. Not only that, but it had a glass platform that gave the illusion that you were walking above the clouds, a swing that looked as though swung you off the edge of a mountain and beautiful outdoor hot tubs. Once it was saved on my bucket list, it didn't take long for it to rise the the top. I got chatting with the girl who had posted about it in the Facebook group and she said that there were only a handful of cabins, so to get the one you wanted, you'd need to book about six months in advance.
The next month, I booked it!
Me and my friend Stacey were all in, and I slowly started to build the trip around that particular accommodation. It soon became apparent that there are no direct flights to Georgia from the UK - we would need to change in Istanbul. And it just so happens that four years ago, me and Stacey had spent the most whirlwind, incredible weekend in Istanbul visiting my friend who lived there. So naturally, we decided that since we were passing by, we might as well add a cheeky Istanbul visit to our itinerary.
Then, I started looking into Georgia and was fascinated by what I found! So many beautiful and unique places scattered across the country. From black sand beaches, to mountains and ski resorts. So many cultural influences from other parts of Europe, stories that I'd never heard about a conflict-ridden history and a bright future. I wanted to see more of this country and really make the most of it while we were there - YOLO and all that.
Our two night getaway soon turned into a four-night break, then into a five night trip, before we eventually settled on a seven night holiday across two countries and four cities.
I booked our train tickets, sorted out transfers got in touch with the hotels directly, and we were all set!
But even with hella organisation, the trip didn't exactly go as planned.
Arriving in Istanbul was pretty smooth-sailing to begin with. We caught the Havabus into the city which cost about £3. But then the chaos commenced! We got stuck in crazy traffic as there was a big football game on, looking out of the window was like watching a video game - there were no rules!
We then got dropped off in the city and jumped into a taxi, however shortly after were kicked out because we has the "wrong serial number" on our Turkish Lira. I still can't make sense of it, but the driver said that this serial was good to be used for shopping, hotels and restaurants but not taxis. Bottom line, use Uber - it was the easiest and cheapest way to get around the city, and we didn't get kicked out of any more taxis.
Unfortunately our hotel (The Peak Hotel Taksim) failed to tell us that it was under construction during our stay. You couldn't have asked for a better location to be in the thick of it all. Taksim square was right behind the hotel, there was a rooftop with a pool that offered great views of Istanbul. But the drilling, the noise and the chaos was not it!
We easily slinked back into travel-mode and explored the city like we'd never been before. we ate our way through the city and were welcomed positively by the locals. It was really great to be back.
From Istanbul, we headed back to the airport and got onto our second flight of the trip to Batumi, Georgia.
When I booked Eco House back in 2021, I did a forecast-check and saw that by March it was likely to be sunny and blue skies with a bit of rain. The temperature would be quite mild, although a little fresh and chilly most days - but that was totally okay with us. We had visions of sitting on the day beds wrapped in blankets, smoking shisha in the hot tub and enjoying the view regardless. The ultimate cabin escape.
All through December, January and February I stalked their Instagram page and their tagged photos - all I saw blue skies, green scenery and the most breathtaking views.
So imagine my surprise when a week before our trip in March, their Instagram account was flooded with photos of snow! Piles and piles and piles of it! I have never seen so much snow in my LIFE! A huge part of me hoped that it would have melted by the time we arrived, and thankfully that was confirmed when finalising the details of our transfer with the lodge the day before we arrived - we were so pleased to hear that they would be sending a standard car transfer rather than the jeep that they send when there is snow. (The transfer takes about 90 mins and costs 100GEL for the car and 150GEL for the jeep).
Our driver collected us from Batumi airport which is probably the smallest airport I have ever landed in. There were no other planes there, only two luggage carousels and the arrivals terminal is the same size as Bedford train station. Our driver had a smile on his face and a paper sign with "Sherilyn" written on it, we hopped into the car and off we went into the mountains.
As we drove, it started to rain a little, and as we climbed the mountain landscape, the rain turned into sleet, then into tiny flakes of snow. It was actually really beautiful to watch. The buildings were old and rustic and looked like something out of a movie as we climbed higher into the mountains and the snow set - leaving the huts, cabins and building looking like something out of a Christmas film.
The snow got heavier - unbelievably heavy! - and before we knew it, everything in our sight was covered in layers of thick powdery snow. We spotted a car ahead that had gotten stuck and there were a bunch of people with shovels trying to get it to move. At this point, nervous laughter was upon us. We had no way of communicating with our driver to ask questions due to the language barrier and as the car struggled up the mountain, we had no idea how much further we had to go. The wheels were spinning and we all held our breath at every corner whilst trying not to look out of the window at the sheer mountain drop-offs that seemed to be inches away.
After one particularly difficult climb, a jeep (the jeep from our lodge) came to rescue us, we abandoned the car on the side of the road, had a mini snowball fight with our driver, moved our suitcases into the jeep and off we went up the mountain with a LOT of engine power and nice thick, heavy wheels. We could finally relax and enjoy the rest of the drive!
Until we couldn't...😅
We must have only been in the jeep for 15 minutes before it started to struggle.The snow was coming down thick and fast and the road was completely hidden by layers and layers of snow. The driver seemed to know what he was doing - but the fear was REAL! The other guys got out and started shovelling a pathway, but it would get covered again quickly with fresh snow. We started free-falling backwards at one point and it felt more like being on a log flume than a road!
The free-falling was the final straw and we got out of the jeep and decided to walk the rest of the way. Thankfully it was only about 400 metres, but lemme tell you - 400 metres in snow up to my knees on an extremely steep incline with a sheer drop right next to me was pretty terrifying. I still can't believe that I abandoned two cars, the driver and my luggage on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Survival-mode really makes you do crazy things.
Eco House Merisi
When we finally made it to the lodge, it took a moment for everything to sink in. By the time we had arrived, it seemed that we were caught up in a full blown blizzard! We were shown to our cabin (which might I add was the most hospitable welcome I’ve ever had in a snowstorm 😅**) Our host Jackie showed us around our cabin, helped to get the log fire started, showed us how to order room service via WhatsApp and showed us how to use the facilities and where everything was It was crazy, because we are so far away from everything, (including our luggage!) But it felt like we had everything we needed.
We put on our hotel robes and slippers and chilled out for the rest of the day with a delicious Georgian feast, a bottle of Tvishi semi-sweet wine and shisha.
We stayed in the Irina cottage, which is a two story cabin and overlooks the mountains in the middle of Merisi. The funny thing was that I booked this trip specifically for the view - and the whole time that we were there we didn’t see the view! 😅 Because of the weather we were constantly caught up in cloud cover and only occasionally would it lift enough for us to see the outline of the mountains in front of it. The amazing thing about it was that we didn’t mind one bit. It literally felt like we were in our own little magical bubble.
It was so otherworldly, beautiful, relaxing and peaceful that I became a little bit of a snow-lover on this trip.
The staff could not do enough for us, I have no idea how they would deliver hot meals, shisha, breakfast platters, bags full of firewood without delay or hesitation.
One thing to remember is that you are literally in the middle of nowhere! So on the first morning when we woke up there was no electricity! The fireplace was an absolute dream, and it was so amazing to be able to sit in our cosy cabin and look out at the snow falling. There is no better place for stillness and relaxation than looking out of the window from a cosy cabin and seeing the snow fall on the other side of the window - it was just beautiful.
I work remotely, so I was also working while I was travelling, obviously was a little bit nervous about the Internet situation way up in the mountains. But without a shadow of a doubt I can tell you this is some of the best Internet I’ve ever experienced (even better than mine at home!) The only problem was obviously when it cut out for half of the first day, so I'd just make sure you do everything you need to do digitally first thing just in case. There’s also a limited amount of heated water in the tank, so be so we had to be a little bit cautious with filling up our hot tub.
The food was absolutely delicious, the facilities were great! The delicious breakfast platter that they organised was spectacular! I honestly don’t understand how they can deliver such a high quality of service in such difficult conditions. It was truly amazing.
The way down was also pretty scary, but we had become 'professionals' at dealing with snow by this point, so we took riding down the mountain in our stride. Our driver took us to the Makhuntseti waterfall which was incredible. So beautiful to see! There’s lots of touristy bits around the area so people try to get you to do zip lining and white water rafting!
You should’ve seen my face!
I know that I said I developed a bit of a soft spot for the snow, but there was no way I was about to be white water rafting in this kind of weather!
Paragraph Hotel Shekvetili
It was about a three hour drive to our next accommodation which one of the Paragraph Hotel. The drive cost us 200 Lari and took us all the way from the very top of the mountains right down to the coast and the black-sand beach past Batumi.
Driving through Batumi was really interesting because you could see there is a lot of development being done in the area. A huge casino is being built, lots of big complexes, hotels and resorts. So I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few years it becomes a lot more of a popular destination.
I heard about the Paragraph hotel on YouTube, it had been dubbed a "seven star hotel" without the seven star hotel prices. It’s a standalone resort, with very little nearby, but inside you have everything you need for an amazing holiday!
There’s an aquarium, an indoor tropical garden, a waterpark, a heated indoor and outdoor pool, a cinema, multiple restaurants, a rooftop bar.
We went from feeling like we were snow queens, to landing in the middle of some incredible Dubai resort. Our room was incredible, with a deep bowl-shaped bathtub. The restaurants and the quality of food they served was absolutely incredible. We spent our day they running around the hotel, going to the water park, walking through the gardens drinking lots of wine and cha-cha (Georgian vodka).
The service again was amazing, and I just feel like they couldn’t do enough for us. It was really nice to get dressed up and have a chilled, luxury day before the next part of adventure.
The next morning I looked out of the balcony window and saw that the entire beach was covered in snow! What was happening?! We got a taxi to Ureki Train station. From there we were about to get a five hour train journey to Tbilisi which is the capital of Georgia. The train station didn’t really have anything around, so I remember feeling nervous that the train wouldn’t show because there was only one train a day - and if it didn't show up, we'd be totally stranded.
But the lady at the train station waved me through with my pre-purchased ticket and we made our way to the platform. This was the first time that we saw a pack of wild dogs in Georgia, usually on holiday I love to see all of the stray dogs and coo over them. But these ones looked like they wanted to eat me. So me and Stacey used our suitcases as barricades while we waited for the train. Never before have I been so happy to see other people arrive on the platform. The dogs soon moved on.
We purchased first class tickets on the train so we had a little bit more space and comfort. It was around £15, for a five hour journey which honestly you can't even get a half an hour down on a train for that price in the UK so I was all over it! The seats were super comfortable and the train was lovely and warm which is how I like to travel.
It was great to look out the window and see the landscape change throughout the journey. There was a lot of snow though, it literally seemed like it was following us across the country!
When looking for accommodation into Tbilisi, there were quite a few places that popped up, but Fabrika really stood out to me!
I've stayed in a lot of hostels during my backpacking days and I always think it’s a great way to meet people and have those shared experiences in a way that doesn’t happen in hotels. We booked a private apartment style suite in the hostel, and honestly it exceeded every single expectation. The room had patio doors that covered the full length of the room and opened out onto a large corner balcony that had deckchairs and outdoor seating on our terrace (although the snow meant that we didn't use it as much as we'd have liked to!)
There was an upstairs loft bedroom, the interior was quirky and modern, and clean it was really clean and fresh. I love the fact that they kept so much of the original architecture and featured it as art throughout the hostel. Honestly it wasn’t like any hostel that I stayed in before, even the breakfast was mind blowing!
I would definitely recommend that you ride the lift if you are staying at Fabrika. It’s an old warehouse-style life where the wall moves as a lift goes up - it’s pretty cool. Right next door there are loads of different quirky food hotspots including Asian food, burgers, craft beer bars, skate shops, photography studios and a photo booth bus.
It gave me a feeling of being in Shoreditch or Camden in London, and I can only imagine how amazing it must be in summer - there’s so many outdoor seating areas and hangout spots that think will be really good to take advantage of the next time I visit.
All in all it was honestly such an incredible trip!
There is no way that I would’ve booked it had I known it was going to snow that week, but honestly looking back I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
It was like being in a Christmas postcard every single day, in some kind of magical winter wonderland.
The people in Georgia were so helpful, accommodating, and warm. Sometimes when travelling I know that there can be cultural issues, particularly as a black woman, but honestly I felt extremely safe and comfortable in Georgia. They really went above and beyond in every way they could.
Nova Siyante - Istanbul
This place offers one of the best views in the city! From their rooftop, you overlook the water and are sat right next to a beautiful mosque. Not only that, but they also have an outdoor photography studio where you can get an incredible view of the other side of the city. It looks exactly like a postcard. We ordered the grill platter for two and it was insanely delicious and I'm so gutted that we couldn't finish it!
Barbarestan - Tbilisi
A 19th century fine-dining restaurant in the heart of Tbilisi. The service here was impeccable. The food was historal with a modern twist and was extremely rich, creamy, garlicky, buttery and looked more like a piece of art on my plate than a meal. Our server even brought over the original menu from 1914 to show us the recipes that are still used today.
Mtatsminda view point - Tbilisi
Apparently we hadn't seen enough snow in the mountains, so decided to see some more. This view point was recommended to us, but because the visibility was pretty poor due to the weather we almost didn't go. I'm honestly so glad that we did! Usually it's a theme park at the top of the mountain that offers great views of the city. But in this weather, it was a little slice of snowy heaven that was just a 10 minute ride on an uphill tram. I'd recommend this in any weather.
Kvarts Coffee - Tbilisi
This coffee shop takes "personalisation" to the next level. For every drink ordered, they have an artist draw a complimentary portrait of you on the cup. The staff were so incredibly warm and friendly. I discovered that they also draw portraits on wine bottle labels too, but you need to pre-order a couple days in advance.
Balcony 15 - Tbilisi
We stumbled upon the ultimate hidden gem here. Hidden down a side street past the famous Tbilisi Clock Tower, we were drawn to this restaurant by its fairy lights. Stepping inside we were greeted with traditional music being played by a live pianist, and the smell of delicious food. One thing I would say here is TRUST THE RECOMMENDATIONS! We ordered, and our waiter said "I think you'll like this better" and let me tell you, it was one of the best meals I've had in my life. The food, the atmosphere and the service was amazing!
At the start of this blog I said that I hoped it would somehow inspire you to add Georgia to your bucket list - and I would love to hear if it has!
Drop me a comment or send me a message on IG and let’s chat about when you will be heading on your adventure to Georgia.
If you haven’t seen my story highlights from the trip on Instagram, I highly recommend that you tune in. So many people followed along with our journey in real time, and it was amazing to see the response our adventure got.
One more thing - I’m constantly getting people telling me that they would love to experience travel the way that I do! Unique, fun, exciting and incredibly memorable (without the stress of planning it yourself) So I’ve actually decided I’m going to launch my first ever group trip this year in September, and you're invited!!
It will be Cappadocia, Turkey, and I would honestly love if you were able to join me.
Check out the details here, and get ready for your magical adventure of a lifetime!