“A business trip to beautiful Tbilisi – and afterwards a bleisure trip in safe seclusion? The vineyards of Kakhetia are a special tip.” Sabine Galas, editor in chief Business Traveller Germany
The first surprise is waiting just behind the airport: a four-lane road leads to Tbilisi, 20 kilometres away. It is wide and busy and is called George W. Bush Street. The taxi driver has no explanation for this, not even for the huge poster at the side of the road, from which the 43rd President of the USA smiles down. The portrait is a bow to the prominent visitor, who made a flying visit to the city in 2005, is later revealed, as is the renaming of the airport shuttle, which not all Georgians acknowledged enthusiastically. Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013, did a lot during his term of office to dust the country off the grey of the Soviet era. Since then it has been moving towards the West at a rapid pace.
Techno, fashion, luxury hotels
Almost 30 years after independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia has recovered, the economy is growing again, one of the main drivers is tourism. Currently, most travellers come from Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia. But the growing number of flights from Europe alone shows that the country between the Caucasus and the Black Sea is also growing worldwide. Tbilisi in particular is a new place-to-be for young people. In just a few years, the city on the Kura River has become a techno metropolis; party-goers and DJs alike are storming it like Berlin after the fall of the Wall.
When it comes to fashion, the metropolis is also at the forefront: The first Georgian star designer Demna Gvasalia is creative director at Balenciaga and was chief designer at Vetements. The Fashion Week in Tbilisi, with title sponsor Mercedes, has become an established event on the calendar of the international fashion scene.
Tbilisi stroll adventure
Everything’s in motion, everything’s remixing. You can notice this in the cafés of the picturesque old town, the clubs, in the many new shops and in the houses that have been lovingly restored or have been forgotten. According to the history books, Tbilisi, founded in the fourth century, has been conquered about 40 times, which explains the wild mix of architectural styles. Moorish facades, Eastern Orthodox churches, Art Nouveau buildings or modernist Soviet architecture – the variety is almost limitless, every city stroll an adventure.
The old town with its alleys, neoclassical buildings with partly coloured facades, delicate balconies or oriels is a nice start for sightseeing. Then it’s on to the Abanotubani bathing district with its hemispherical domes in Persian style. Tbilisi means “warm springs” – and it was the hot sulphur springs that gave the city its name over 700 years ago. Who has time: Don’t miss the Irakli Bath, the oldest in the city, located on the fortress wall and famous for its traditional massages. If you climb up to the Nariqala Fortress on the mountain Mtazminda, you will once again be confronted with the contrasts of this enigmatic city: There are two huge tubes of steel and glass at a central point in Rike Park. They are part of Saakashvili’s architectural legacy and were originally intended as an art and concert hall. Since the current president does not like them, their use is uncertain. Nearby is the futuristic wave-shaped Peace Bridge, symbol of the new Georgia betwixt past and future.
Trip to wine country
The fact that the country is on a journey through time becomes all the more visible when you travel across the country. A two-hour drive along old roads, through lush forests and small villages, and you find yourself in the middle of the historic wine region of Kakheti.
Here it gets hot in summer, sometimes up to 40 degrees Celsius, ideal for the wine, which – one is amazed – has been cultivated in Georgia for over 7,000 years. A central place in the history of wine is the Tsinandali Estate, former summer residence of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze, who upheld the old tradition of wine making and bottled the grape juice for the first time. Today the historic estate not only houses a museum in an 18-hectare French park, but also the Radisson Collection Hotel, Tsinandali Estate Georgia, which opened in 2018. The main building, a green cube designed by the New York architect John Fotiadis, meets the historic, lavishly restored 18th century buildings here. Outside: a sculpture by the recently deceased designer Ingo Maurer, whose signature can be read in every corner of the complex.
Despite its five stars, the hotel is exceptionally relaxed. Only 141 rooms and suites are distributed among the buildings, some of them with a magnificent view of the vineyards, the garden and the Caucasus. Almost even better: the panorama in the infinity pool on the roof terrace, when you look up through the water at the snow-covered mountains. Behind it all: a well-kept spa with a considerable range of offers – a relaxed introduction to the bleisure days far from the capital.
But the most valuable treasures of this complex are hidden in the basement. In the historic wine cellar there are bottles, some of which have been bottled since the 19th century – Tsinandali, Saperavi, Château Lafitte, Châteaud’Yquem, covered by thick layers of dust, stored on wall-high shelves. Those who descend into the Radisson can be guided through the history of wine making, marvel at clay jugs and antique tools or book a master class in the vineyard – with tasting, bread baking and hearty grilled food.
The latter is also available in the three restaurants. Here, the lighting design by Ingo Maurer lends the rooms something magical, coupled with the stylish interior by Georgian artist Tamara Kvesitadze. The cuisine is Georgian, French or with an international touch. For those who would like to have it completely private: In the “Mystery Room” with hanging candles, dim light and secret door, no one will disturb you.
And if you have to go back to business, you can use the hotel’s transfer service to Tbilisi – or have your business partner come to Tsinandali. For Business and Leisure – Georgia is well equipped.
Sabine Galas …
felt as if she had travelled back in time in Georgia – back to her youth, when tourism was still manageable and the people were hospitable. Even the tomatoes tasted like they used to, sun-ripened and deep red, with bread from the clay oven and a glass of wine – happiness can be so simple.
Fotos: Sabine Galas