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Georgia Imereti & Samegrelo by Janet Efrati

Little did I know about this amazing country in the Caucasus, bordering Russia, Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, with a population of 3,7 million. I heard Georgia is beautiful, but many places on earth are beautiful and I have seen many of them already. What truly stole my heart and makes me want to come back as soon as I can, were the people! Hospitality in Georgia is above all. Although it is not a rich country, on the contrary, nevertheless they will gladly share their food and wine with guests. You make friends instantly, furthermore, they are known for their great sense of humour, with a hint of sarcasm, we were laughing the whole trip.

We mostly stayed in the area of Imereti but also visited shortly Samegrelo. We arrived with Wizzair from Vienna to Kutaisi, a 3 hours flight and there we were. During our 5 days trip with our excellent guide Archil, owner of @exotic.georgia (Instagram) we had such an unforgettable adventure. We had a hard-core Jeep tour, mountain track of over 10 km, climbing, fishing, cooking masterclass, wine tasting and so much more. We stayed at an authentic guesthouse called Argo guesthouse about 15 Min. drive from the Kutaisi Airport. The owners were so kind. The food is Bio, fresh and delicious, the lady speaks fluently German, the rooms were clean and air-conditioned. I can highly recommend this place.

Every county I visit, I go to the local markets, away from the tourists and mingle with the locals to get a feel for the place. This little market exposed sadly but very clearly the bad economic situation, especially for the elderly. Old ladies were sitting there all day in the hot market hall selling their own produce, 1-2 bags of beets or green from their garden, other than that, there was not much to buy and also hardly any buyers in sight.

On the way to the Market in Kutaisi...No wheels ... No problem!
This is a Vet. Believe it or not, the doggy is getting his vaccines
Boutique... if you don’t find a dress, you can always buy some cheese
Our driver told us: "In Georgia, if one man is working, 3-4 other men are sitting and giving him advice how to do it better..."

Driving out of the city towards the old villages, I fell in love with the houses in the countryside. They were shabby-chic, par excellence!! Just charming!! The Georgian houses have the "main house", where the family, usually a few generations live together and a separate small house - the kitchen. All the “action” happens there, this is where the family and guests meet, eat and drink.

Interestingly, in Georgia, it is not common practice that only women cook. Men cook festive dishes, meat, grill etc. Women deal with the dough and starters, salads and sweets.

Proudly presents her hand made Khinkali
Khinkali - delicious cooked dough with minced meat filling
Khinkhali are cooked in boiling water, served hot. Eaten with the hands, they insist. You have to bite it in a way that the juice from the meat stays inside until u finish the meat and eat the dough with its juices. Takes a bit of practice, but very rewarding!

The animals, pigs, cows and horses roam around freely. The cows return home before dark by themselves, unusual isn't it? The pigs get these wooden “stoppers from harassing the neighbours”, I have been told.

Cows on their way home before nightfall, they just come back. Never heard of that before, cows can be trained? Maybe their cows are more intelligent than ours here.

Folklore singers on our big festive dinner at our guest house

Popular (men) game, called Nardi
Getting ready for the evening
Archil is preparing a traditional dish called Dzakapuli

Men are masters in the kitchen, they prepare meat and other festive dishes. I was taught how to cook this incredibly delicious dish!! The meat was so delicate and soft, infused with the taste of the green little sour fruits, which gave it a hint, but not too much, tangy flavour combined with the deliciousness of healthy herbs. I have never tasted anything like it. Oh my god! It was heavenly !!!!

Can you smell how delicious....
Oh we were sooooooo pampered ...
What a feast it was, we stayed out all night

This charming family invited me to their home, after Tamara the mother, spotted me taking a photo of their house. Tamara asked me with a hand gesture if I would like to come in and take a closer look. First I felt awkward and I wasn’t sure, so she came out to me and with a big smile, took my hand and led me in. Within 2 minutes she called her entire family to come and sit with me while she prepared coffee and brought out sweets. Every house you enter, they have the urge to feed you so well that you won't be hungry for at least a week, just in case... and of course - offer you their homemade wine even at 8 in the morning. I was amazed. Imagine this happening, let's say in Switzerland .... hahahahah, or Germany, or Austria .... it will never happen in Europe. If in Europe someone catches you taking a photo or their house, they call the police...

This is Tamar’s family, they came out to have a coffee with me, a total stranger, who just passed by and took a photo of their house...
This was once a happy home,..

In the villages, many houses are deserted. Some are and many look as if. Often people don't have enough money for repairs. Many young people moved to the city, or abroad seeking a better life and also work opportunities. After the separation from Russia and the war, the scars left are visible. The industry and factories were gone, left people unemployed with no opportunities, a very sad reality for such a wonderful country and its people.

Houses of imereti
Typical house with a small kitchen on the left
You shall not pass
My personal favorite

Now that you are all well familiar with Georgia’s cute little houses, I will share more from our trip.

One of the things Georgia is famous for is their wines! Wine for them is like religion. Georgia has over 300 types of grapes, more than in the entire world put together. Archaeological findings show that their wine dates back to 3000 yrs BC. Every family in the countryside makes its own wine.

This construction is over a hundred years old, Tamara proudly told to me. Here the family presses the grapes with their feet and store it in the “Kvevri” for the fermentation, storage and ageing of the wine. The Kvevri are buried in the ground or in cellars to give the wine a constant temperature to develop.

Archil Gunijava - Vintner
3 generations of winemakers

The wine tradition is passed from generation to generation. Most of the trade stays within the family. I met his father and sons at our wine tasting.

This is a kvevri, this particular one has a 2 ton capacity.
Old grapes press
Corn and grapes, I have not seen this in Europe
The wine tasing was delicious, with fresh homemade cheese, homegrown veggies and of course home backed bread

MASTER of Kvevri

From traditional to crafted kvevris of all sizes

Zaliko Boshadze - Kevevri production

Hard labour job at its best

Zaliko and his 2 sons are producing by hand from scratch this clay kvevris for wine storage. I had the privilege to meet them and watch their work. I can unquestionably call it ART by all means! The precision, dedication and the working conditions are as you think you can see on the photos, is nothing compared to actually watch them do it. First, imagine the heat and humidity, they spend hours and hours hunched down on this narrow wooden steps forming the clay the hard clay, moulding it forcefully, building up daily only a few centimetres at a time. The borders of the vessel have to be kept moist to a certain degree around the clock so that the new layer of clay can be moulded on top. This means 24/7 someone has to attend to it and keep it moist. Everything is done by them BY HAND! I find this extraordinary!

The birth of a kvevri
His son is preparing the clay for the molding
You can’t imagine the physical strength he has to apply to stick it on the top

After the kvevri is completed they put it in this room, which is their “Oven”. They have old bricks outside the room, which they are carrying in every time and literally build a wall, so the fire stays only within this room. The fire has to burn for a few days, depending on the sizes of the kvevri. Then they let it cool and remove the brick wall one by one to the side for the next time... can you imagine the amount of work...

What a pleasure to meet Kaliko, a humble friendly man, kind and proud.
His son is following his footsteps
View from the Kvevri factory
GOCHA - the shepherd on top of the world
From June to Sept. Gocha and the herd live here. No electricity, no water, no internet

To get to Gocha, was NOT a walk in the park, trust me! We crossed rivers with glacier waters, climbed mountains, wrestled through a forest for over 10 km, walked for hours. I was not prepared for such a hardcore trekking experience, nor have I done anything similar. I don't even know how I made it. Seriously, anyone who knows ME, won’t believe it, but luckily, I have witnesses and photos to prove it. I can proudly say, I MADE IT! Now I can do (almost) anything.

Now I know, their trick was to tell me that „going back is further than reaching the goal...“ which was a damn lie, they told me this for hours...., then to lift my desperation, they promised a much easier way back, which was even more of a lie, but long story short ...I was motivated because they told me that once we get to the cabin, I will taste the best cream cheese I ever tasted in my life - Now this was no lie !! Here it is!

No electricity! No water! NO INTERNET, now I don’t know which one of the three is the worst ... Nature pure and simple, like hundreds of years ago. In the little wooden cabin, built by his grandfather. Gocha, his 3 caucasian shepherds dogs and the herd, live all summer because down at the valley it is too hot and the cows won’t produce a good quality of milk. For water, he has to go down to the river, about an hours steep walk and then carry the water on the climb up.

This is Gamma, our great trekking guide, hard core as a rusty nail. He led us through the forest and the mountains to the cabin..

Gamma carved walking sticks for me. I don't know what gave me away ... but those sticks were worth millions at that time. My hero! When he first started to remove branches I was hoping he is building me a "stretcher".

Yayyyy, walking sticks ... bring it on now!
That was so much fun, at some point we were waist down into the cold water. Still fun! I know it may look harmless, slippery as an eel.
A bit less fun ... I felt like in the jungles of the Amazonas, we saw a snake, it was dead though.

Making of Elarji

Sulguni cheese stretched out after heating

The "Supra" a festive meal prepared by Gocha the shepherd, who prepared especially for us the "Elarji", a dish from Samegrelo region, made from coarse cornmeal, cornflour and Sulguni cheese. He prepared it from scratch on a fireplace in his wooden cabin in the middle of the day, while outside the temperature was around 40 degrees.... so the temperature in the cabin must have been like in a Finnish Sauna around 100 degrees... in case you are wondering, why we are all so „shiny“.

The Elarji is spread out and cut to pieces
Delicious hot Elarji - OMG, I would walk up the 10km again just for a taste of this again
The Supra, a traditional festive Georgian meal with wine, wine and more wine

Mr. Givi Todadze,

Architect, painter, poet, author

This remarkable gentleman is 94 years old, he was the main architect of Kutaisi. He is a famous author, poet and painter. I had the pleasure to meet him and spend some time with him in his atelier and accompany him to one of the churches he built. Georgians are very religious people.

Mr. Givi said that he carries his little sketch book with him at all times. Can you see the curly head sketch? That's me.

The Masters Atelier

View from the Bagrati Cathedral

Sunset from the Bagrati, overlooking Kutaisi

Kutaisi
Old churches on the way and on mountain tops. Here the frescos date back 900 years
Original frescos

Prometheus caves

What are you looking at???

Got to love their sense of humor !!! A room with 3 solid walls, front is open !!! The sign „emergency exit“ pointing into the open space ... makes total sense, how can one guess where to run in case of fire?
Bizarre sight, a horse inside a ruin, finding shelter from the heat
This is Goga, our host from the guesthouse, fishing for dinner
Nature in this area is just breath taking
Martvili canyon
Locals cooling down, no tourists in sight, this is a hidden place, only a few know
Good bye beautiful Georgia - see you soon

by Janet Efrati - www.janetefrati.com

big thanks to Archi Skandeli from @exotic.georgia

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