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I have an old friend, Sevag, who I want to visit, so head to the bar he owns with his brother Hrach.

Calumet turns out to be one of the coolest places in town. This small underground bar is bursting with young and beautiful Yerevanites, dancing on tables, knocking back shots, flirting, snogging and generally having a blast.

By the time we leave at 3am, the party is showing no signs of slowing down.

The train ride back to Tbilisi takes about 10 hours, but there are bunks to rest on and watch the Armenian and Georgian countryside slide gently by, so time passes quickly.

The city itself is truly the jewel of the Caucasus crown, the 4th-century Narikala Fortress dominating the skyline.

A charmingly shabby Old Town takes a day or two alone to explore, with its dangerously askew balconies, rickety staircases and centuries-old churches crowding the streets.

The quirky, fairytale-esque clock tower is a good starting point for a walk around this medieval hub of the capital.

Tbilisi comes from the old Georgian word meaning ‘warm’, due to its sulphuric hot springs bubbling up from the ground.

With temperatures in July reaching 40˚C, it’s way too hot for a subterranean Turkish bath in the Abanotubani district, but for an excellent photo opportunity, take a stroll down there mid-morning and enjoy the view across the bricked domes rising out of the ground, up to the red-brick mosque and the colourful patchwork mess of the Old Town.

We join the young, bronzed and buffed of Tbilisi at Laguna Vere, a slightly run-down outdoor swimming pool, oddly appealing in its own utilitarian, concrete way.

Here, we swim a little and laze around a lot on sun-loungers, listening to summer hits blaring over antiquated speakers.

As with Armenians, the Georgians are incredibly friendly; it’s not difficult to get into conversation with this affable bunch and find yourself being invited along to dinner and then a boisterous night out in one of Tbilisi’s many bars.

Had we been in a car, we could’ve seen a lot more of both countries, as we‘ve only managed a fraction in our 10-day trip. I wonder whether hiring a local Lada might’ve been a better idea.

But no, riding through the countryside on our bikes and camping out meant we were real travellers, more on a par with the people, not just observing them as we zoomed by.

This was definitely the best way to get totally immersed and experience the unconditional hospitality of the big-hearted Armenian and Georgian people first-hand.

Must-see Georgia: Get High in Svaneti

Don’t miss the medieval villages high in the mountains of Georgia for a truly unique trip.

A peaceful place

In the far north of Georgia, close to the border with Russia, lies the stunningly beautiful, mountainous region of Svaneti.

The Svans have retained many of their age-old traditional ways due to their isolation, including an unwritten, unique dialect and simple pastoral living.

Get out and about

The area is perfect for hiking, mountain-biking, riding and more. The Grand Hotel Ushba is an ideal base from which to enjoy all of these sports and its proprietor, Richard Baerug, also offers a wealth of excursions to explore the surrounding countryside and the ancient hamlets and villages within.

Visit Ushguli

About a three-hour drive from the hotel is the spell-binding Ushguli at about 2200m, the highest village in Europe to maintain a year-round population.

It’s made up of four smaller villages, which house the fairytale-esque ninth-century stone towers, or koshkebi, that define this area.

These towers were originally used as a refuge against avalanches and rockfalls, and also as protection against unwelcome visitors.

It’s possible to stay in one of the guesthouses that have popped up in recent years in this truly medieval setting.

 

Getting there

Fly with Air Baltic from Gatwick to Tbilisi from £330 return.

Take the Gatwick Express from London Victoria to the airport
from £21 return.

When to go: For mild weather and the most beautiful seasonal colours, visit between September and October.
 

Currency: £1 = AMD649 (Armenian Dram). £1 = GEL2.6 (Georgian Lari).

Accommodation: The Old Town Hostel is in the heart of Tbilisi, right by the main square. Dorm beds from around £9pn. Email tbilisioldtownhostel@gmail.com.
Daravand Guesthouse, in Armenia’s Dilijan National Park, is a scenic and secluded spot. From £15pn.

See: armeniainfo.am
gnta.ge

Celia hired her trek bike from Action Bikes, which came with a rear pannier rack and bike transport bag. Hire from £100 per week.

Photos: Celia Topping


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Free wheeling – Cycling from Georgia to Armenia
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