-Sir Fitzroy Maclean — British officer, spy, author and explorer
Georgia, is a land where ancient traditions are alive and culture has evolved with very deep roots connecting modern times one to bygone millennium. The Georgian landscape is strikingly beautiful and diverse with towering mountains, and fertile valleys, and tropical coasts, spotted by ancient architecture, monasteries and quaint hillside towns. The Georgian feast marriages some of Georgia’s most unique contributions to world heritage, hair-raisingly beautiful polyphonic songs, mouth watering meze style food, and flowing amber colored wine, drunk out of various ancient vessels.
Georgians started making wine from cultivated grape varieties more than 8,000 years ago, and more impressive than the deep history is that they never stopped. With 525 endemic varieties, and more than 26 unique different growing regions the diversity of traditional wines, many organic, fermented in buried clay vessels called qvevri is mind boggling. Georgian singing is hailed together with the qvevri wine making tradition as masterpieces of intangible European culture by UNESCO. The food is a living fusion reflecting Georgia’s ancient role as the gateway, the crossroads of Europe and Asia, with influences from Persian to Greek mingling with its own unique cuisine, of walnut pastes infused with marigold flowers, blue fenugreek, and coriander that jazz up all kinds of vegetables, and many forms of grilled meats tossed with fresh pomegranates, to the myriad incarnations of the khacapuri, or Georgian Cheese Pie sometimes in the form of boat of bread with a cheese fondue and egg in the middle or even like a white lasagna with layered herbs, foraged foods such as Caeser’s mushrooms, and purslane are seasonal delights. Georgians celebrate food and wine with uncompromising voracity. Come join in the fun and exploration and celebrate as locals do on our inaugural Savor Georgia Tour.
• Savor foraged and wild foods in beautiful Georgian countryside
• Enjoy breathtaking scenery of Svaneti villages as we picnic at 2100 meters
• Explore ancient cave cities, 10th century monasteries, lush botanical gardens and historic medieval fortresses
• Soak in the 8,000 year old wine making traditions and learn the techniques of a ‘tamada’ – Georgian toast master
• Indulge in music, dance, a full spread of gorgeous food and wine drinking from a ram’s horn at a real Georgian Feast
June 22nd – July 4th, 2015
September 6th – 18th 2015
For a different preferred start date or request for a private tour (5-13 people), please contact us for available tour dates and price quote.
$3900 12 dinners (wine included), 12 lunches, 12 nights lodging at boutique hotels and B&B’s (en-suite), all wine tastings as per program, live music and folklore as per program, entrance fees, transport, private guide, transfers to/from airport.
Our experiences in Georgia with you and the local guides were exceptional and our memories of the beautiful countryside, cities old and new, small chapels and magnificent monasteries are still vivid; the daily variety of food and wine offerings was remarkable, with our day and evening at Pheasants Tears with John setting the benchmark for our travels. We were so welcomed everywhere and quickly absorbed into the Georgian ways – especially the tamada and toastings at meal times. Thank you for the opportunity to visit Georgia in such a comprehensive way.
-Fergus and Valda, Australia
This is the third tour we have taken with Andrew. When he suggested Georgia we were a little tentative – was it still a Russian outpost? However knowing the attention to detail that he puts into planning the tour and knowledgeable local guides, we set off with great expectations and were not disappointed. We were seeing the country before it has become a “tourist destination” and was surprised at the quality of accommodation and hospitality along the way. From the Caucasus Mountain passes, villages and monasteries atop a mountain or carved out of the hillside, to the desert outposts of civilizations long gone, it is an experience we will never forget. To top it off I celebrated my 70th birthday at John Wurdeman’s Peasant Tears with our own Georgian singers and dancers.
-Margaret and Lyle, Australia
BBC Video of Polyphonic singing from mountainous Svaneti
CNN video on Georgian wine traditions and our hosts on this tour: John Wurdeman and Pheasant’s Tears
Video of beautiful Sighnaghi hill town, where we spend the last 3 nights of the tour
What a friendly country! Georgia is #3
Recommended Georgian wines on Forbes Travel
Cooking of Eastern Mediterranean by Paula Wolfert
borano — cheese and butter baked in clay pot called a ketsi
chanakhi — lamb and vegetable stew cooked in earthenware pot
lobio — Georgian world for ‘beans’, both dried kidney beans and fresh green beans
kharcho — aromatic lamb and rice soup
khachapuri — ubiquitous cheese bread, made with a variety of doughs
khinkali — meat or cheese-filled dumplings, the Georgian ravioli
kubdari — khachapuri-like dough stuffed with small chunks of meat, spices and onions – a Svanetian specialty
qababi (kebabs) — grilled minced meat sprinkled with sumac and onion slices, wrapped in a thin lavash-like bread
satsivi — spiced walnut sauce usually served over poultry
Overnight: Tbilisi — Airport Transfer depending on arrival time, walk through some of Tbilisi’s old quarters. Tbilisi has over 1,600 years of history, and its cuisine, music and architecture is laced with influence from Persian, and Arab culture inter-woven with strong local traditions. Meet John Wurdeman, owner of Pheasant’s Tears winery and our host for the tour. Welcoming dinner at Azarphesha restaurant introducing guests to authentic Georgian polyphony music paired with wines and food. Learn the traditions of our Georgian ‘tamada’ or toast master, a key part to any feast and the country’s wine drinking heritage.
Overnight: Vardzia — After breakfast take a short walk in Mtskheta – the ancient capital of Georgian kingdom capital (during the 3rd BC – 5th century AD) – to learn the layered history and formation of the Georgian people. Afterwards we will enjoy a lovely lunch at Iago Bitarishvili’s family’s organic winery, tasting, his rare Chinuri wines. He crushes the grapes in a large hollowed-out log, and pours the must, skins and all, directly into 300-year-old qvevri, where it stays for about six months. Then we will go onward to the southern region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, we will have, weather permitting, a picnic dinner at a scenic site en route then, check into hotel in Upper Vardzia. Overnight in the area of Vardzia.
Overnight: Vardzia — After breakfast we will explore the spectacular 12th Century Vardzia cave city complex where Queen Tamara reined and defended Georgia against invaders. This massive endeavor once held 25 wineries and a dozen churches inside. It’s a labyrinth of caves, passages, tunnels and some beautifully frescoed chapels carved from stone. Lunch at river front restaurant before we tour the recently restored Rabati fortress (covering 7 hectares) and visit an amazing historical museum, learning about the layered history of this region. Then we will drive to 2,000 meters above sea level, dinner with Kakaha Aspindze’s family in Sari with Meskhian singers. Then return to our Upper Vardzia hotel for the overnight.
Overnight: Kutaisi — Leave Vardzia for Imereti region. Tasting of Imeretian wine at Zghapari riverside restaurant with lunch from wild and foraged foods. Dependent on weather and season, such delicacies include: wild rainbow trout, ceaser mushrooms, chanterelles, and various wild herbs including a thorny vine whose tips are cut in crushed into walnut sauce will delight our palates. All this will be accompanied by Imeritian wines made from grapes such as krakhuna, tstiska, and tsolikauri, all with refreshing minerality and lime like acidity. A tour of Gelati Monastery complex (founded by David IV “the Builder” in 12th century) which boasts extraordinary mosaics and frescoes. Dinner will consist of a number of hallmark Imeritian dishes, including Corn bread cooked in a clay pot, baby chicken in blackberry glaze, and vegetable pates with marigold flowers, blue fenugreek, and coriander woven into a silky walnut paste.
Overnight: Svaneti region — Drive from Kutaisi to Becho, Gourmet Migrelian lunch en route, consisting of layered cheese in mint and yogurt sauce, veal spare rips roasted in chili and corn grits made with water buffalo cheese. This road will be full of stunning views as we enter the ancient land of Svaneti, inhabited as part of various kingdoms from sixth century BC to the seventh century AD. This mysterious and nearly impenetrable land is filled with ancient defensive towers, lush forests, mountain streams, waterfalls and snow capped jagged mountains. Dinner and overnight at Grand Hotel Ushba on Mt. Mazeri (2285 meters) where there are ruins of Princess Dadeshkeliani castle, old church and an ancient Svaneti Tower.
Overnight: Svaneti region — Breathtaking day trip to Ushguli, a series of 4 villages standing at 2100 meters above sea level and inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage list as the oldest inhabited village in Europe. Nearby is Mount Shkhara, at nearly 5100 meters it’s the highest mountain in the country. Lunch at Laerti and Elanor’s then return to Mazeri for overnight. This will be a winding drive through alpine meadows seeing some of the most pristine nature and culture of Georgia. Dinner will be hosted by Gennare Kvitsiani, a local Gourmand. Svan food, like many mountain regions, is based on various variations of cheese, meat and bread, but these two families will surprise one with such delicacies as teft and cheese stuffed bread, baked suckling pig, home grown chicken baked with wild spearmint plum sauce on the side, and a special salt infused with local foraged alpine herbs.
Overnight: Batumi — Morning exploration of another mountain village of Mestia and its ethno museum of Svaneti culture. Lunch picnic en route, then head for the Black Sea and evening arrival into Batumi – an ancient Greek colony and Roman port that’s now a fashionable seaside city mixing modern with 19th century stylings. Dinner consisting of delicacies from the Ajarian region at restaurant. The delicious and ubiquitous khachapuri cheese bread from Ajara distinguishes itself from others varieties with an egg yolk in the middle.
Overnight: Batumi — Travel off the beaten path to the Keda district. This is the historical center of winemaking in Ajara. We’ll taste the 2 typical wines from here: Tsolikauri (a white) and Chkhaveri (a rose) , learn about life of the locals, their folklore and cuisine. Lunch will include boran – a cheese and egg fondue like dish that is layered lavash in yougurt, and, roasted goat meat on a spit, this will be washed down with a light playful refreshing red called Chkhaveri, with low alcohol and palette cleansing acidity. Enjoy a hike to waterfalls in the Adjarian lush and subtropic highland nature. Evening return to Batumi for seaside fish feast with traditional bagpiper.
Overnight: Tbilisi — Enjoy a walk through Batumi Botanical gardens while we sneak in a few bottles and nice glasses for a special tasting in this tropical forest. Lunch in Jaani at Zura Topuridze’s epic revival Gurian Vineyards (45 minute walk). This location has extraordinary views, and is the cite of a historical revival of the ancient Chkhaveri grape. It is harvested in late November or December and is rose colored berries are translucent at harvest making very light refreshing wine. We will see the site with its terraces where a grand planting is being prepared, as well as some smaller vine collections of indigenous grape varieties. Head east to Mtskheta and Tbilisi for overnight and dinner in iconic bean restaurant. This restaurant has been famous for more than 4 decades and serves delicious hot kidney beans in clay pots accompanied by pickled peppers, fresh herbs, young cheese, and corn bread, a place enjoyed by ambassadors, foodies, and cab drivers alike.
Overnight: Sighnaghi/Kakheti region — Arrival into the premiere wine growing area of Kakheti, Georgia’s most iconic wine region for wine. Picnic in John’s own vineyards followed by an afternoon cooking class with Chef Gia. Gentle walk (or transport for those that don’t wish to walk the 2km) to Bodbe monastery, nested among tall Cypress trees on a steep hillside overlooking the Alazani Valley with commanding views of the Caucasus mountains. Evening tasting and dinner at Pheasant Tear’s restaurant in the region’s charming walled hill town of Sighnaghi, where we overnight.
Overnight: Sighnaghi/Kakheti region — Visit to Tsinindali to see the estate of Alexandre Chavchavadze, a famous poet, winemaker and military leader. We’ll tour the 19th Century palace, art gallery, winery and gardens and learn the story of this fascinating figure in Georgian history. Visit to monastery complex of Dzveli Shuamta (meaning “a place between the mountains”) is s a complex made up of three churches from different periods and is hidden deep inside a forest of Kakheti. Here we’ll have lunch with Niko. Afternoon wine tasting at Alaverdi Monastery which has been making wines since the 10th century, an possibly as early as the 8th century, with the historical cellar being renovated in 2005. Dinner back in Sighnaghi.
Overnight: Sighnaghi/Kakheti region — Morning to relax and explore Sighnaghi town and local museum. There is optional horseback riding for those that would enjoy this (please inquire for more details). Lunch with local woman to learn about medicinal herbs, cheese, bread starters and ancient methods of silk production. Lamara is like a walking encyclopedia of folk knowledge, she is bright eyed as she walks us through the inherited wisdom she acquired from her grandmother, and she is a great chef to boot! Tour finale with Georgian Feast. Plenty of dancing, feasting and toasting – and everyone will get to practice their newfound ‘tamada’ skills.
John’s wife heads up the Zedashe group and they will provide music all night long with their polyphonic singing with traditional Georgian instruments. Zedashe practices the ancient polyphonic singing tradition, they have been gathering songs for the last 19 years from valleys, and mountains from monastics to local bards, building archives and learning, teaching, recording and performing the music. Georgian polyphony with its hair raising harmonies, is a perfect match for the unfiltered wines of Pheasant’s Tears with their full of life expression.