Springtime in the Cradle of Wine: A Georgian Culinary Adventure - Atlas Obscura

Tbilisi, Georgia

Springtime in the Cradle of Wine: A Georgian Culinary Adventure

On this mouthwatering collaboration with Culinary Backstreets, we'll explore the birthplace of wine: Georgia. Expect a one-of-a-kind experience filled with wine tastings, cooking workshops, market tours, and more.

Tucked between the Black and Caspian Seas and in the shadow of Europe’s highest mountains you'll find Georgia—a tiny country with an astounding culinary heritage and a winemaking tradition tracing back eight millennia. We’ll be delving into this appetizing wonderland as spring bursts on the scene in all its seasonal glory—perhaps the most inspiring time of the year.


This trip is best for people who are...

  • Curious about Georgia's culinary history and hidden corners.
  • Ready to walk 3 to 5 miles a day and get their hands dirty, whether making khinkali or khachapuri.
  • Expecting the unexpected, especially when it comes to daily schedules.
  • Eager to make the most of each day—when you’re wandering a bazaar, sampling at a wine bar, and enjoying a home-cooked feast, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground.

This week-long gastronomic adventure takes place in and around the capital of Tbilisi. We’ll pay homage to Svetitskhovloba, the country’s holiest site, before dipping into some of the finest wine from one of the most underrated wine regions in the world. We’ll also spend two days in the stunning Alazani Valley, where we’ll experience the deep reverence for winemaking that defines this land. Along the way, we’ll take in unique performances, visit little-known spots, and to cap things off, explore Tbilisi’s ancient sulfur bath district, where we’ll allow our extraordinary week to fully soak in.

This trip is limited to a small group of 12 hungry explorers.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Culinary Workshops & Wine Tastings: Learn to make traditional Georgian dishes, such as khinkali (dumplings) or khachapuri (cheese bread), and badrijani (eggplant with walnut stuffing). A wide variety of wines will be on offer, from the rustic and homemade to fine natural family kvevri wines, as well as larger winery vintages.
  • Agriculture Trips: Visit local winemakers to see, feel, taste, and learn about the ancient art of making wine in kvevri, huge terra cotta vessels that are buried in the ground. 
  • Market Tours and Home-Cooked Meals: Take a guided visit through Tbilisi’s central farmers market and enjoy several home-cooked village meals, including a traditional rural supra (feast). Georgians consider visitors gifts from God and endearingly call them okros stumrebi—“golden guests.” After seven days in Georgia, you’ll understand this first-hand.
  • Performances & Demonstrations: Meet local artists and craftspeople, including a kvevri maker. We’ll also experience a private performance by polyphonic singers, who create sounds unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

YOUR GEORGIA CULINARY GUIDE

Paul Rimple, Bureau Chief
Paul is Culinary Backstreets’ Tbilisi Bureau Chief. Paul spent much of the 1990s in Krakow, Poland, before moving in 2002 to Tbilisi, where he works as a freelance journalist and performs with his band, The Natural Born Lovers. A former columnist at The Moscow Times, he's been a regular contributor to The Christian Science MonitorDeutsche Welle, and Eurasianet.org, and has written for Foreign Policy, BBC.com, and Roads and Kingdoms, among others. As a northern California native, his only regret is there are no Mexican restaurants in Tbilisi, yet.

QUESTIONS?

Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment.

Itinerary
Day 1
Arrival & Welcome
  • We encourage travelers to ease into this trip and allow some extra time to acclimate, especially as most flights to Tbilisi arrive in the wee hours of the morning. We’ll arrange private pickup from the airport to your hotel, where you’ll have time to rest.
  • In the late afternoon, we’ll meet for a welcome toast of chacha at the hotel before setting out to Shavi Lomi, a house-turned-restaurant featuring Mary Gubeladze’s twist on traditional Georgian dishes as well as classic favorites. Over dinner, we’ll properly introduce ourselves and get an overview of the exciting—and delicious—week ahead.
Day 2
Unraveling the Secrets of the Feast
  • After a light hotel breakfast (strong emphasis on “light’’), we’ll kick off the morning with a warm loaf of tonis puri, a traditional bread baked in a tandoori-like oven in the cellar of the Tbilisi seminary.
  • Then we’re headed to Tbilisi’s central bazaar, the city’s largest and oldest farmers market. It is a raw, chaotic warren of fresh victuals and the convergence point of all things food, serving as the main source of products for many of the city’s restaurants and neighborhood markets.
  • We'll sample tonis lobiani, a traditional bean-stuffed bread, fresh Georgian cheese, honey from an east Georgian family of beekeepers, and delicious churchkhelas, strings of nuts dipped in a thick roux of grape juice. Our route also takes us by Miss Iza’s special spice mixes and to the bazaar’s raffish wine section, a collection of no-frills “pop-ups” that serve authentic homemade wines and chacha, Georgia’s legendary take on grappa.
  • From there, we’ll hop in taxis over to the Dry Bridge Flea Market to browse its offbeat offerings and give ourselves some space to digest—just in time for our favorite mountain-style khinkali, iconic Georgian dumplings.
  • We'll then gather at one of the city’s first wine bars. Prep your palate for a guided tasting of Georgia’s indigenous red, white, and amber wines, made naturally following an 8,000-year-old tradition. The finale of our day’s journey will be a feast at a family-owned restaurant that offers home-style meals prepared with the freshest, most natural ingredients available.
  • If you have any energy left after dinner, feel free to wander the streets of the Sololaki neighborhood, where you’ll find no shortage of bars and cafes. Or, if your eyelids are drooping, head back to the hotel for a hearty night’s sleep.
Day 3
Shida Kartli, the Heart of Georgia
  • About 20 kilometers (13 miles) north of Tbilisi, at the junction of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers, sits Mtskheta, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the birthplace of Georgian Christianity.
  • After breakfast and the short drive from our hotel, we'll visit the city's Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. In the 4th century, this site was chosen by St. Nino for the first church in Georgia; believed to be the burial site of Christ’s mantle, it is one of the most sacred places in the country.
  • Later, we'll head to the nearby village of Ateni in the Shida Kartli region, considered the heart of Georgia. Historically, the region produced wine for the Georgian kings, and it remains an important, although glossed over, winemaking area today.
  • To end our day, we'll visit the cellar of the Wine Artisans, an association of winemakers dedicated to making traditional natural wines. Our host, Andro Barnovi, will walk us through the winemaking process and also prepare a luscious country supper. Our ride will have us back at the hotel around sunset, where you can set out on your own evening explorations or head in for a good night's rest. 
Day 4
Kakheti Explorations
  • Spread beneath the majestic Caucasus Mountains like an enormous grape basket is the Alazani Valley. Located in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia, this could very well be the most breathtaking wine region in the world.
  • This morning, we’ll depart Tbilisi by private coach for Kakheti, Georgia’s chief winemaking region. The day will include a visit to the regional capital of Telavi for lunch, a wine tasting, and to the home of a master maker of kvevri. We’ll be walked through the ancient process of making the ceramic vessels that Georgians still use to store and ferment wine.
  • We’ll end the day with an authentic village supra, a belt-popping feast that will include an opportunity to make khinkali beforehand. Tonight, we’ll stay in the Alazani Valley in a comfortable boutique hotel, dreaming of all things delicious.
Day 5
Feasting with a Kakheti Winemaker
  • After breakfast, we'll head to Akura and the 100 year-old home of local winemaker Irakli Bluishvili who will wine and dine us with his particular brand of village sophistication. We'll plan to spot and visit a local craft cheesemaker along the way—as long as they're home!
  • While dinner is being prepared, we’ll meander into the woods to visit the 8th-century Father David church and see the ruins of an ancient wine cellar. Back at the house we will indulge in elegant tomato and eggplant salads, sheep cheese, barbecued pork, and fresh bread—all washed down by unlimited toasts of organic wine. His is a home you will not want to leave.
  • After dinner, we’ll drive back to Tbilisi. We’ll wake you up when we pull into our hotel.
druli/depositphotos
Day 6
Best in Show: Khachapuri & Performance
  • This morning, skip the regular breakfast: it’s time for the iconic Adjaruli khachapuri, a baked barge of dough packing a cargo of gooey cheese topped with a mostly raw egg yolk and a slowly melting Snickers-sized gob of butter. Did that hook your attention?
  • Our breakfast is just a metro ride away, giving us a glimpse into Tbilisi’s Soviet-built underground rail system. Afterwards, fully loaded with carbs, we’ll squeeze our way to the dance studio of the Sukhishvili National Ballet to witness a rehearsal of these acrobatic dancers. If the Ballet is out of town on this day, we’ll catch a show at the legendary Rezo Gabriadze Puppet Theater. Gabriadze, a Georgian playwright, director, painter, and sculptor, collaborated with other directors to make some of Georgia’s most iconic films. His puppet theater productions have been praised at festivals across the world.
  • It's been a busy few days, so take the rest of the day on your own, whether to pop into a local tea spot with a book, visit the Art Palace, wander the Dendrology Museum, or take a nice long afternoon snooze.
Day 7
Hands-On Cooking & Polyphonic Singers
  • After breakfast, we’ll enjoy a guided brutalist architecture tour through Georgia’s communist past. We'll see the most iconic buildings representing Soviet modernism and brutalism and learn about their fascinating history.
  • After the tour, we’ll be welcomed into the private home of the Culinary Backstreet’s Bureau Chief for a hands-on cooking demonstration of Imeretian-style khachapuri and badrijani, eggplant rolls stuffed with walnut pâté. Our rigorous day will be topped off with a traditional Tbilisi supra here. A local trio will also come by to regale us with polyphonic songs and traditional folk instruments.
DaVidich/depositphotos
Day 8
Sulfur Baths & Farewell Dinner
  • Our final day, we’ll set out for Abanotubani, Tbilisi’s ancient sulfur bath district. Legend has it that Abanotubani was founded on this site when, in the 5th century, King Vakhtang Gorgasali found his hunting falcon bathing in the natural hot springs. Whether or not the story’s true, people have been enjoying the curative powers of these mineral waters for nearly two millennia.
  • A testament to Tbilisi’s multi-ethnic makeup, the neighborhood is home to the 120-year-old Jumah Mosque, renowned for being a place of worship for both Shia and Sunni Muslims. Nearby are the ruins of a Zoroastrian temple.
  • We’ll start with a visit to Sabir’s chaikhana, a no-frills, no-name tea house that is the last of its kind in the changing neighborhood. We’ll then visit Gulo’s bath house, where we’ll allow the past week’s experiences to soak into our bones. Built in the Persian tradition, these baths are heated by waters that come straight out of the earth at between 75 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Those who’d like can also request a Persian-style massage and scrub.
  • A long soak deserves a fine meal to follow, especially on our last night together. Our final dinner will be at the famed local chef Tekuna Gachechiladze’s bath district restaurant, Culinarium-Khasheria. Named after a tripe soup that doubles as a hangover remedy, the menu is Gachechiladze's ode to traditional Georgian fare, a thoroughly original blend of new takes on old recipes. After dinner, we’ll climb up to an unforgettable lookout for a farewell drink.
  • Our trip officially ends this evening after dinner, as many departing flights leave late at night or very early in the morning. However, we’ll offer the option of additional nights at our Tbilisi hotel if needed.
  • Until the next adventure!
The Fine Print

 

YOUR ATLAS OBSCURA GEORGIA TRIP INCLUDES

  • All lodging in modern, well-equipped boutique hotels throughout the trip. (Single supplement for a private room is available for $475. Otherwise we’ll work to place singles of the same gender together.)
  • All meals and wine throughout the trip, with the exception of dinner on Day 6.
  • Transportation during the trip, including in a private coach. Travel within the city will often be by foot.
  • Four experienced, English-speaking guides—three local, one foreign—accompanying you during different sections of the trip. 
  • Admission to all proposed activities, sites, workshops, and events.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that rtveli has to offer!

NOTE ON FLIGHTS

For flights in and out of Tbilisi International Airport (TBS), we suggest you arrive anytime before 3 p.m. on May 10 and depart anytime after 11 p.m. on May 17. Note that most inbound and outbound flights at TBS are scheduled for very early in the morning, so we've automatically included your arrival night so that you have a place to sleep when you land in the wee hours. We’ll provide the option of booking additional nights at our Tbilisi hotel before and/or after the tour, and are more than happy to provide suggestions for things to do and see in the city on your own.

NOTE ON ITINERARY

Itineraries are subject to change—and the weather! If any activity or attraction that is advertised is missed or not available, then we will always replace it with another activity or location of significant interest and value.

NOTE ON PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Travelers should be reasonably fit and feel comfortable walking 3 to 5 miles each day and remaining on their feet for long periods of time. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get hands-on during a couple cooking workshops.

NOTE ON DIETARY RESTRICTIONS

We encourage an adventurous palate! However, if you’d like to avoid meat, the Georgian diet is vegetarian-friendly, so we can almost always supplement a non-meat dish. Avoiding gluten, on the other hand, will be challenging. If you’d like to join but are gluten-intolerant, you'll need to bring and/or buy a steady stash of snacks to supplement your meals.

PAYMENT

You will be charged a non-refundable $500 deposit to hold your space. The final payment of $2,820 will be due by February 9, 2019. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the Terms & Conditions. For travelers wishing to have single accommodations during the trip, an additional $475 will be included in the final payment.

TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR

  • Transportation and flights to and from Tbilisi, Georgia.
  • Travel insurance (recommended).
  • Food and drink outside of Atlas Obscura offerings, including one dinner and any snacks during the day, as well as any personal expenses.
  • If applicable, applying for a Georgian visa (not required for U.S. or E.U. citizens).

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