Tbilisi | Mtskheta | Tabatskuri Lake | Vardzia | Chachkari | Khertvisi Fortress | Nichgori | Akhaltsikhe | Goderzi Pass | Qvashta | Batumi | Tsitelmta | Tskaltubo | Martvil | Telavi | Argokhi | Tsindali Estate | Sighnaghi | Bodbe Monastery | Davit Garedji Cave Monastery | Tbilisi
Georgia is home to one of the most ancient agrarian cultures on earth. It was here, in the rich loamy soils beneath the Caucasus, the wild grapes that grew abundantly in this region began to be cultivated more than 8,000 years ago, making Georgia the oldest winemaking tradition in the world.
It is Georgia’s unique geography, combined with its chequered history, that has given birth to the extraordinarily diverse culinary and wine tradition that we see today. Straddling much of the isthmus between the Black and Caspian Seas, its distinctive biosphere means that all of the climatic zones we find between Scandinavia and North Africa are found in this single diminutive country. It is this myriad of micro climates that allow over 500 grape varieties to grow.
As reluctant gatekeepers of the land bridge between Europe and Asia, the tides of conquest and war have washed over this gentle land since time immemorial with Greeks, Persians, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, Mongols, Turkmen and Russians all – for a time – having held sway. Remarkably though, the Georgians have not only endured but flourished, and, after each occupation, the invaders left behind cultural and culinary morsels that appealed to the taste of the Georgians. It’s this extraordinary layering of foreign influences that have been allowed to intermingle with Georgia’s own indigenous culinary chords that today fuels Georgia’s food and wine revolution.
Led by John Wurdeman, one of Georgia’s most passionate expatriate vintners, our expedition is a totally immersive experience through the evolution and revolution of Georgian food and wine. Our small group will be a travelling dinner party, a movable feast sampling the country’s very best gastronomical experiences. Each day, we bring to our table Georgia’s leading chefs and winemakers, who are experimenting with organic techniques and recipes from the past to delight the present. As we travel through Georgia’s stunning highlights, we eat where the locals go, break bread with families who’ve kept their culinary traditions alive for centuries and envelop ourselves in Georgia’s rich traditions, culture, poetry and music.
On every Arcadia expedition we give you insider access to the most unforgettable and thought-provoking local experiences, curated exclusively by us for our guests. Here are some of the Arcadia Exclusives on this trip:
Day 01 – Arrive Tbilisi
On arrival at Tbilisi International Airport, you will be met at the arrivals gate by an Arcadia representative and transferred by private vehicle to your hotel. At our 6pm group meeting, you will meet our Expedition Leader and Storyteller John Wurdeman, who, over a cocktail, will introduce you to the rich history of Georgian food and wine, setting the scene for the rest of this remarkable trip.
After our meeting, we stroll through the winding streets of the old town of Tbilisi, a 1600 year old city with colourful hanging balconies and remnants of ancient castles mingling with Art Noveau architecture.
We begin our Georgian culinary journey at Alaubali Restaurant for our welcome dinner, where we will take part in a traditional feast known as the Supra offering. Whilst dining on classic renditions of Megrelian cuisine, one of the most celebrated culinary regions of the country, John will give an overview of feasting traditions and customs practiced around the Georgian table that will assist you for the rest of the trip.
Rooms Hotel, Tbilisi | Meals: D
Day 02 – Tbilisi
After breakfast, we will explore the atmospheric heart of ancient Tbilisi, visiting fortresses, ancient monasteries and seeing some of the most famed architectural masterpieces of the city. The overlapping of culture in the architectural styles we will see is also reflected in the city’s cuisine. This complex multifaceted stylistic expression is a result of the highly cosmopolitan nature of Tbilisi, being at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.
For lunch we will go to a Khinkali joint, a bistro focused on Georgia’s famed soup dumplings. We then stroll to the Dry Bridge flea market, pop in to carpet shops and art galleries and visit the jewellery studio of Kebzari, where we meet craftsmen who work with ancient silver motifs to create elegant modern jewellery.
A special dinner tonight will be hosted at Poliphonia, a wine restaurant that will give us a taste, sound and visual preview of what we will discover on the rest of the expedition. Accompanied by polyphonic folk songs and dancing, we take part in a delicious gastronomic journey through the regions we plan to visit, sampling a dish and a wine from each one.
Rooms Hotel, Tbilisi | Meals: B,L,D
Day 03 – Mtskheta - Tabatskuri Lake - Vardzia
After breakfast, we depart for the ancient capital of Georgia, Mtskheta, a UNESCO World Heritage site believed to be the seat of the throne from the 3rd-4th Century BCE. It remains the religious heart of the country, with many monasteries and cathedrals. We will visit the Tsvetkhoskhoveli Church, believed to be home to the Levitical vestments of the prophet Elijah as well as the tunic of Christ, and the iconic Jvari monastery, overlooking the ancient capital, where we learn about the wonderous story of the Christening of Georgia that took place between 327-332 CE.
We then stop by the cellar of local man Iago Bitarishvili for a short private tasting and light snacks. Iago’s is a visionary vigneron and his wines were some of the first to be exported to affluent markets and have appeared on such prestigious lists as Ottolenghi in London and the Ritz Carlton, as well as Michelin star restaurants in almost every continent.
We will continue our journey across southern Georgia to the mountainous pass of Bakuriani, descending upon the stunning alpine lake of Tabastkuri where we stop for a lakeside Crayfish Kabob picnic. We then descend to the stunning 12th Century cave city and residence of the great Georgian queen Tamara at Vardzia. Here we will sit down for a dinner focused on rare local cheeses and Meskhetian cuisine, washed down by refreshing wines grown in the local volcanic soil.
Vardzia Resort, Vardzia | Meals: B,L,D
Day 04 – Vardzia – Chachkari - Khertvise - Vardzia
After breakfast, we will tour the cave complex of Vardzia where in the 12th Century the court poet of Queen Tamar wrote his epic poem on love, ‘The Knight in Panther Skin’ -the most significant work of secular medieval Georgian literature. While we stroll, we will discover the history of Meskheti, and its impact on local wine and culinary traditions.
After Vardzia we will visit the neighbouring village of Chachkari to see a 400-year-old vine of the White Horse Breast variety and many wine troughs carved out of rock. This hamlet used to be where most of the wine and brandy was made for the Georgian Throne. We will go on to visit the Soif da Vsvam terraced vineyards and have a picnic overlooking the 10th Century Citadel of Khirtvesi. Here our Expedition Leader John tells the story of how his collaboration with iconic French wine maker Thierry Puzlat helped to resurrect 12th Century wine terraces and bring back many ancient varieties.
After lunch we will explore the Khertvisi fortress and visit the nearby mountainside village of Saro where we can see ruins of a Neolithic period fortress as well as traditional Meskhetian underground homes built in the Darbazi style. Here, whilst sampling the local wines and fruit brandies, we feast on coveted local specialties in a village home including filo dough pies, homemade pasta dishes in yogurt and caramelized onion sauce, chicken stewed in stinging nettles and wild fermented vegetables.
Vardzia Resort, Vardzia | Meals: B,L,D
Day 05 – Vardzia – Nichgori - Akhaltsikhe - Goderzi Pass
After breakfast, we will explore Nichgori, an extraordinary wine village made of some 30 interlocking wine cellars from the 16th Century. The medieval ruins of the wine cellars are hidden behind abandoned villages overtaken by forest, peppered with ancient varieties of grapes still growing after the villagers fled centuries ago. For lunch, we picnic on Meskhetian delicacies in the forest.
We then continue on to Akhaltsikhe to view the Rabati citadel where we can see a quite remarkable convergence of Greek, Armenian, Turkish, and Azeri cultures mixing with the local Georgian styles. We will also have a private guided tour of the local archaeology museum, with an interesting display of pottery, jewellery and illuminated manuscripts that also testify to the ancient and complex history of the region. Our journey continues through a slow but very scenic road through the mountains and over the Adjara pass.
We shall stop to lunch with shepherds at the breathtaking 2000 metre Goderzi Pass and share traditional dishes such as borano, a kind of Adjaran fondue, sinori, spiral dried lavash soaked in whey and spices, as well as roasted meats from their flocks.
Tonight we overnight in the glorious Adjara mountains.
Ambassadori Goderzi Hotel, Goderzi Pass| Meals: B,L,D
Day 06 – Qvashta - Batumi
This morning we take a delightful scenic drive, descending from the mountains to the Black Sea. On the way we continue down the serpentine road to the heavenly vineyard in Qvashta, famous for its Chkhaveri, where we enjoy a lovely highland meal with a local family. We swap stories with this friendly family and learn how they build and perform on a local bagpipe called Chiboni. We continue the descent to the ancient port city of Batumi.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
This afternoon our travellers can choose from the following included options in Batumi.
We meet a local chef to learn how to make some of the tasty dishes you would have already sampled in Adjara. Under the chefs watchful eye, cook and sample some of the region’s best cuisine.
Architecture tour of Batumi
This walking tour explores the delightful streets of Batumi, taking in the beguiling mix of modern and ancient architecture that gives this town its charm. Along the way, we taste the ubiquitous Adjarian khachapuri, a kind of boat-shaped savory pie with cheese, butter and egg.
Black Sea Fish Restaurant Experience
Dine on the shores of the Black Sea and enjoy freshly caught fish in a restaurant famed amongst the locals. Wash down your seafood with a glass of wine and learn of the colourful history of the Adjarian coast from your guide.
Sheraton Batumi Hotel, Batumi | Meals: B,L,D
Day 07 – Batumi – Tsitelmta - Tskaltubo
This morning we take a leisurely stroll at the gorgeous Batumi Botanical Gardens. The gardens has many different climatic zones represented including one of endemic sub-tropical plants native to Adjara and is an ideal place to enjoy Georgia’s wonderous flowers and trees while stopping to muse on vistas of the Black Sea.
We then drive through subtropical rolling hills lined with eucalyptus trees and tea plantations to the neighbouring region of Guria, famous for its distinct tea, wines and complex polyphonic songs. We visit a renowned tea plantation and take part in tea collecting, enjoy lunch with Georgian tea and sweets and typical food from this region with a friendly local host who teaches us about the history of tea in Georgia.
We continue into the Imereti region and visit the stunning 10th century monastery complex of Gelati where there was an astrological academy as well as an ancient wine cellar currently under excavation. We walk through the forest to the scenic Motsameta Monastery and continue to Tskaltubo spa resort. Tskaltubo was famous in the 19th Century for its healing mineral waters and was especially celebrated in Stalin’s time as a place for the Soviet elite to vacation. Many of the hotels are well preserved examples of Gothic and Neo-Classical styles and are a real time capsule of that era.
Imeriti, with its fertile rolling mountains and forests, has some of the finest and most diverse culinary treasures in Georgia. Here you can enjoy the most sought after Ceaser mushrooms, fresh porcini, and chantarelle, side by side with wild herbs and river fish. Imeriti’s light and fresh mineral driven white wines work wonderfully with the ethereal textures of Imeritian cuisine. We will dine at a local restaurant serving classical seasonal Imeritan cuisine.
Tskaltubo Plaza Hotel & Resort, Tskaltubo | Meals: B,L,D
Day 08 – Tskaltubo – Martvili - Tskaltubo
After breakfast, we depart to Martvili to explore the Samegrelo region, where we walk a 700 meter circular trail and take a boat trip along the iridescent green waters of Canyons River.
We then make our way to Martvili Monastery, where we enjoy lunch with a local family at their winery ‘Oda’. Here we will have a chance to taste organic qvevri wines (made from rare authentic indigenous West Georgian grape varieties) and delicious Megrelian cuisine cooked by winemaker and chef Keto Ninidze. We taste Adjika, a blend of red and green peppers used to add a bit of heat and flavour to the dishes that are famous in Megrelia.
In the evening, stroll through the streets of Kutaisi and dine at a local restaurant with traditional singers, or if you are already well satiated, return to the hotel in Tskaltubo for a relaxing spa treatment.
Tskaltubo Plaza Hotel & Resort, Tskaltubo | Meals: B,L,D
Day 09 – Tskaltubo - Tbilisi
We begin the day with a stroll through Kutaisi’s farmer’s market, where John will explain which ingredients are used in local dishes. It’s a great opportunity to purchase spices and sauces directly from the farmers and photograph the festive colours of the market.
We then set out for Tbilisi, stopping on the way to visit the iconic Nikoladze wine cellar and meet our host, Imeritian winemaker Ramaz Nikoladze. Ramaz has been responsible for representing Slow Foods in Georgia and is a pioneer in natural farming. He is regularly sought after by leading sommeliers from around the world. We taste his most sought-after wines and varieties of Chacha (Georgian Grappa).
We stop for lunch at Zghapari, a riverside restaurant known as a bastion of local Imeritian cuisine served in a no frills village manner and visited by Ambassadors and Ministers as well as local farmers. After relaxing at the hotel, we enjoy a light dinner at Ghvino Underground, Tbilisi’s internationally renowned den of natural wine.
Rooms Hotel, Tbilisi | Meals: B,L,D
Day 10 – Tbilisi
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
This morning our travellers can choose from the following included options in Tbilisi
A Cooking Masterclass with a renowned Chef
Join one of the chefs from the famed Poliphonia restaurant in Tbilisi and learn some of the secrets of preparing Georgian cuisine. Participants can choose to cook dishes from the chefs selection or to make their favourite dish tasted on the expedition so far.
Brandy Distillery tour and tasting
Tour the David Sarajishvili Brandy Factory and explore the history of production of this renowned Georgian liquor made from distilled wine. We taste some of the country’s finest brandy’s In the distillery where it was first produced, allowing the chance to savour its unique aroma and character.
Bike & Wine Adventure
Ride bikes from beautiful Lisi Lake to the wine cellar at Tsodoreti and discover the history of Georgian bread-making with local expert Esma Kunchulia, followed by a delicious lunch at the wine cellar.
Spa Treatment at a famous bath house
Visit one of Tbilisi’s best bath houses for a spa treatment and recreate the soothing relaxation experienced by merchants and Silk Road traders who traversed this part of the world for centuries.
This afternoon we join the Curator of the National Museum of Georgia to explore the ‘Archaeological Treasures’ Exhibition. A highlight of the exhibition is the Golden Fleece Colkheti, a collection of jewellery dating to the 8th-6th centuries BCE from the ancient kingdom of Colchis – known to Greek explorers as the Land of the Golden Fleece.
In the evening we have the opportunity to experience a modern twist on Georgian food by Tekuna Gachechiladze, one of the best chefs in Georgia with a pairing menu of rare artisanal wines. Part of preserving tradition is contributing to it, and this meal will underline influences and shared culinary culture with surrounding countries that made up the ebb and flow of gastronomic history in the Caucasus.
Rooms Hotel, Tbilisi | Meals: B,L,D
Days 11 – Telavi
After breakfast we continue our adventure eastwards and cross the scenic pass of the Gombori range into the wine heartland of Georgia, Kakheti, the most eastern province. Here the countryside is quite literally covered with vineyards and cellars. First we visit the 6th Century Monastery of Ikalto. Famous for its faculty of oenology (the study of wines) it was also where Georgia’s most renown poet, Rustaveli, studied in the 12th Century. The monastic grounds have ancient wine troughs, and qvevri (terracotta clay pots used for the fermentation of wine) of all sizes and time periods.
In the village of Vardisubani, we meet a family renown for building qvevri for generations and taste their wine and brandy with light fare before immersing ourselves in Telavi’s farmers market to see the bounty of eastern Georgian produce first hand.
We then check in to the eclectic Hotel Chateau Mere and, after a rest, dine next door at Restaurant Nikala. Chef Niko runs a humble restaurant sprawled through a hazelnut forest, where he will prepare a special farm to table meal for us of quintessential Kakhetian dishes with his own homemade wines. Niko has cooked for various presidents and is considered a gastro genius – his expertise is in cooking simply and deftly the highest quality local ingredients.
Chateau Mere, Telavi | Meals: B,L,D
Day 12 – Telavi- Argokhi-Telavi
After a late start and breakfast at the Chateau, we take a short drive to the Alaverdi Monastery with its 11th Century wine cellar and 6th Century monastic complex.
Here we meet winemaker and brew-master Shota Laghazidze, who introduces us to Tushetian cuisine – the food of highland shepherds and warriors. Shota is at the forefront of a new generation of Georgian organic wine makers, and the ingredients he uses for his dishes are from the mountains. After a wine tasting and cooking masterclass with Shota in the village of Zemo-Alvani, where we will discover how these hearty alpine dishes and beers evolved, we sit down to enjoy the fruits of our labour.
In the afternoon we will drive to the village of Argokhi, where we will witness a horse-racing show. We move on to the village of Artana and have dinner with Kakha Berishvili and his family of musicians, singers, and winemakers. Their home is situated next to the forest on the banks of a lovely river, where we will be serenaded into the evening. Kakha’s daughter, Keti has become internationally known for her Gogo Wines label (‘Gogo’ means girl in Georgian) and she is one of the first women to champion women-led vineyards and cellar work in a land that has historically seen wine making as a male preserve. She treads the grapes while dancing on them to evocative classical music with her girlfriends.
Chateau Mere, Telavi | Meals: B,L,D
Day 13 – Telavi – Tsinandali - Sighnaghi
This morning we stroll through the gardens of the Tsinidali Estate and explore the historic cellars. This was home of the poet Alexander Chachavadze, where he hosted Pushkin, Lermontov and hosts of other men of letters.
We are treated to a wine tasting from the creative Lapauri family estate in Kisiskhevi, who specialise in producing wine from the Kisi grape and farm culinary mushrooms in their backyard forest. We then have lunch with chef Sopo at her creamery where we taste cheeses with ethereal textures (some of the best in the country) and sample her creative interpretations of recipes that fuse French and Georgian flavours.
We continue our journey to Sighnaghi, where we check into the Lost Ridge Inn, a hotel, horse ranch and brewery in a stunning rural setting.
We then dine at Pheasant’s Tears’ – our Expedition Leader John’s first restaurant, which is hailed as one of the top culinary experiences in Georgia. While feasting on Chef Gia’s cuisine at this farm to table restaurant, we will be serenaded by the Zedashe ensemble and have the rare opportunity to talk with the singers and learn about the stories and history of their heart-warming songs.
Lost Ridge Inn, Sighnaghi | Meals: B,L,D.
Day 14 – Sighnaghi - Bodbe Monastery - Kedeli
After a traditional breakfast at the Lost Ridge Inn, we visit Bodbe Monastery where you can elect to walk or ride through an oak forest to reach St. Nino’s Convent, founded in the 4th Century. We explore the Monastery, meeting with the Abbess to stroll through the private flower gardens, hear about the history of the Monastery and a monastic perspective on the food and wine traditions and how they have been practiced in the church.
We then tour the Pheasant’s Tears vineyards and are treated to a wine tasting before lunching at the winery’s restaurant, the Crazy Pomegranate. The menu, made up of wild foraged foods, is prepared by Chef Ketevan Mindorashvili, whose cooking was written up by Pellegrino as one of the top 10 restaurants in the world in a remote location.
We rest through the afternoon at the Lost Ridge Inn and then come together for an evening barbeque and further story telling around a bonfire, as we sample Lost Ridge Brewery’s craft beers brewed with wild herbs and fruits from the neighbouring forests.
Lost Ridge Inn, Sighnaghi | Meals: B,L,D.
Day 15 – Davit Gareji Monastery Complex – Tbilisi
After our traditional breakfast from village ingredients, we drive to the mystical Davit-Gareji Monastery Complex, founded by one of the holy Syrian fathers, Davit Gareji, in the 6th Century CE. This semi-desert landscape looks like another planet and here we have time to explore and contemplate this revered centre of worship and hear the extraordinary stories connected with the life of St Davit. Those who wish to stretch their legs further can opt for hike to the natural border of Georgia and Azerbaijan to explore the stunning frescoes dating from 11th century CE, including a refectory with a fresco of the Last Supper and a neighbouring qvevri cellar in a cave on the side of a cliff with spellbinding desert views.
On the way back to Tbilisi, we enjoy a simple lunch at Oasis Cafe in the village of Udabno. We meet the creative Polish family who built this cafe in a village deserted in Soviet times. They use the milk from local shepherds for their dairy products and, with murals and a light artistic touch, turned ugly Soviet concrete slabs into a bohemian oasis that has become a gathering place for foodies, poets and artists. We have time to experience one last wine experience with Niki Antadze’s, who is also a local cheese maker and an accordion musician. We are then well prepared for our farewell dinner – a joyful evening of folk music and fine wine at a traditional restaurant.
Rooms Hotel, Tbilisi | Meals: B,L,D.
Day 16 – Departure
With the expedition coming to an end, take a private transfer to Tbilisi airport or embark on further touring.
A resident of Georgia for more than 20 years, John is an American-born winemaker who has played a major role in the renaissance of the country’s culinary and organic wine scene. Born into a family of artists in Santa Fe, New Mexico, John grew up farming vegetables, looking after chickens and sculpting in wax and clay. He went on to study art professionally at the Maryland Institute Collage of Art in Baltimore and then completed a Master’s degree in Painting at the Surikov Institute in Moscow, Russia.
In addition to visual art, John has always been interested in music and had a keen fascination with medieval and ancient folk music. When he heard Georgian polyphony for the first time on a recoding in 1991, John dreamed of going to Georgia to hear this eerily beautiful music. This dream was realised when John was invited in 1995 to Tbilisi. He returned and travelled through the wine region of Kakheti and bought a small home there in 1996. After graduating from the Surikov in 1998, John packed up and moved to his new home, dividing his time between making paintings and collecting folk songs in the countryside.
Over time, John became increasingly interested in the ethnic side of Georgian culinary traditions and wine. In 2006, with Gela Patalishvili, a renowned grape farmer, he founded Pheasant’s Tears winery, dedicated to the resurgence of lesser known ancient Georgian grape varieties, the qvevri method of fermenting wine and organic farming practices. Soon after their first vintage in 2007 they opened the Pheasant’s Tears restaurant in Sighnaghi and the famed Crazy Pomegranate at the winery. John went on to co-found Ghvino Underground, a natural wine bar in Azarphesha, and his latest project in Tbilisi, Poliphonia restaurant. In 2012 John co-founded Living Roots, a travel enterprise focused on wine, ethno-cuisine and its surrounding context.
John continues to follow his creativity whether it’s coming up with a new Cuvee, dreaming up new menus, painting the surrounding landscape or sharing his insights and discoveries of Georgia passionately with his guests.
Tskaltubo Plaza Hotel & Resort
Housed in a stately building on the main square of Tskaltubo city, the Tsakaltubo Plaza Hotel & Resort is one of the most distinguished hotels in Georgia. Opposite the hotel is the famed thermal baths of the Tskaltubo Mineral Water Park, ideal for those looking for some therapeutic rest and relaxation.
Rooms Hotel Tbilisi
Bringing old and new Georgia together in the intellectual and cultural district of Vera, Rooms Hotel Tbilisi is a beautifully restored former publishing house. This cutting-edge design hotel was conceived to highlight the industrial splendour of its structure and today is a hub for local and international creatives.
Beautifully located next to the Mtkvari River in a stunning natural setting in the hills of southern Georgia, Vardzia Resort is a charming hotel that features landscaped gardens and a gorgeous infinity-edge pool that overlooks the ancient Vardzia cave complex.
Surrounded with breathtaking views of the Alazani Valley and Caucasus Mountains, Chateau Mere is a charming boutique property in the Kakheti wine region. Housed in a stone castle, the classically decorated rooms feature antique-style furnishings with magnificent views of the valley and the mountains.
- Meals as per itinerary (15 breakfasts, 14 lunches, 15 dinners) including wine tastings, welcome and farewell dinners
- Private airport transfers (arrival and departure)
- Accommodation as stated on a twin-share basis
- Porterage at airports and hotels
- All land transport by private air-conditioned vehicle
- Services of an Arcadia Expedition Leader and English-speaking local guide throughout
- Sightseeing as specified including entrance fees to sites mentioned in itinerary
- Reusable responsible travel water bottle with daily drinking water provided
- Gratuities/tipping for local guides, drivers, hotel staff and restaurants for included meals
- All taxes
- Return international flights
- Passport and visa charges
- Items of a purely personal nature (i.e. telephone calls, laundry etc)
- Excess luggage
- Lunch and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in itinerary
- Travel insurance