‘Georgia Rediscovered’ - Exploring Authentic Georgia through Gastronomy & Crafts

As a response to the COVID-19 impact on the tourism sector, the Georgian Tourism Industry Alliance has launched the campaign ‘Georgia Rediscovered,’ which aims to support domestic tourism by encouraging local visitors to rediscover the marvels of their own country. The initiative is an awareness-raising campaign which highlights the authentic and lesser-known aspects of Georgian culture, gastronomy and crafts.

As a starting point of the campaign, a tour to Shida Kartli, the historical heartland of Georgia, was held on June 15. GEORGIA TODAY went along to see a snippet of what this beautiful region has to offer.


Artists Residence in Garikula (Otar Vepkhvadze Ceramic Workshop)

The drive past Mtskheta and into the valley in which Kaspi lies is awash with flowers and the varied colors of the earth. It is a true breath of fresh air after the weeks of lock-down, and a perfectly inspiring escape from city life.

Our first stop is the village of Garikula, which houses the up-and-coming Artists Residence in Garikula, run by graphic designer Ia Gigoshvili, and her ceramicist-designer husband Otar Vepkhvadze.

Garikula village is home to some 4000 people. In Ia’s childhood, it was known as an artists’ settlement, particularly for ceramicists, and there were no less than five functioning kilns. Today, only Artists Residence in Garikula’s wood-fire kiln remains.

The happy, friendly and multi-lingual couple started building the house 11 years ago, and while it is still a work in progress, it has everything, comfort and aesthetics-wise, to accommodate visitors, offering a modern-rustic and light style that instantly wipes away the stresses and strains of daily life. Indeed, it has already hosted two symposiums from Holland and Russia, and once served as an architects’ residence which challenged the professionals to create works in a new medium: ceramics.

Photo by Kakha Gogichashvili

Ia and Otar live there in spring and summer, taking up residence in their small house and studio 500 m further up the hill on the grounds of a stark white modern home designed for guests with a large open living-room ideal for exhibitions, such as the one that was there when we arrived.

Future plans include offering camping, training for youth- particularly those with disabilities, such as autism, and continuing to provide an inspiring and relaxing place to escape and create.


The Tsnuli Weavers

On the edge of Kaspi town, tucked behind a rough-edged block of flats, is a haven of creation: the Tsnuli weaving workshop. Having started out as a son and wheelchair-bound father making baskets in their living-room, it now boasts five permanent and 20 part-time weavers who create up to 40 different products- everything from flax plates and flower pots, to elaborate furniture and ornaments. Their latest innovation is an exquisite and surprisingly light-weight flax and leather ladies’ shoulder bag, which they plan to export to Europe and sell at around EUR 700, foreseeing high demand particularly from the US and Scandinavia. Last year, owner Dato and his father opened a large workshop with machines that sped up the weaving process from days to hours.

What makes this whole enterprise so special is that it employs firstly other wheelchair-bound gentlemen, and also disadvantaged men and those who have fallen on the wrong side of the law. It gives them hope, a purpose, and a way of escaping the limits of social benefits.

Future plans include teaming up with the new Kaspi Vocational College to share the age-old knowledge of weaving with future generations, and thereafter perhaps countrywide.


Nika Vacheishvili's Marani & Wine Guest House

Heading away from the valley and into the winding mountain roads of Ateni, with a dip of the road and into the river (4x4s only, otherwise park-up and cross on foot), we were introduced to the paradise of Nika’s two guesthouses of over 19 rooms, set in a mountain gorge of slate and vineyards. The slate is key to the taste of the nine wine varieties, both red and white, that the family makes. Fermented in plastic barrels, and replete with iron and minerals, wine here fills 5000 bottles per year. Atenuri wine is well-known and highly recommended, and even has its own polyphonic song. Nika and his family also make their own cows and goats’ cheese, honey and dried fruits.

Photo by Kakha Gogichashvili

The guesthouse offers dining and wine-tasting, and has plenty of play-space and play equipment for younger guests to join in with the family’s children. In the vicinity are a number of easy and moderate marked trails into the mountains. Some 40km further along the track is the Borjomi-Karagauli national forest park. The small escape-from-civilization is already popular with visitors from the US, Australia and Germany.

Future plans include offering horse-riding and making their own ice-cream.


Château Ateni

Close to Kaspi town, this family home offers a wine cellar and store where you can taste wines of the Chinuri, Goruli Mtsvane and Takveri grape variety, grown on a one-hectare vineyard just 400m from the house; producing enough wine for 5000 bottles a year. Half of this serves the local market, while the other half is sent to the US.

Photo by Kakha Gogichashvili

On our visit, Château Ateni owners Soso Vanishvili and his wife presented their sparkling ‘Atenuri Tshriala Elizabeti’, which had been fermented first in a tank, then for a second time in the bottle. It was served with syrup made from their garden roses- a fragrant juice that set off the sparkling wine in a way that even strawberries would pale in comparison to. We also enjoyed cherries from their trees and were given a masterclass in simple local hot dishes, which we then got to enjoy while seated in their large outdoor covered area, the blooming garden around us.


‘Wine Artisans’ - Andro Barnovi

Out into the wilds again, into a valley with ruins of ancient fortresses on the hills above, and we came to Wine Artisans. The gate spoke volumes of the friendly and laid-back reception we could expect: with a sign reading “Caution! Drunk People!”

The traditional house hides a treasure in the back garden- a shallow wine cellar cut out of the basement, with tradition clay Qvevri in the ground, where Andro’s 8-9 varieties of wine (red, whites, and roses) are kept for nine months, and then, at 6 meters’ depth, the much cooler storage area for keeping the wine another year before bottling.

The landscaped garden and stone path led us to a beautiful, rustic, wooden outdoor dining area, where we were offered fruit, nuts and local bread to soak up the three wines were got to try, as the owner jovially regaled us with the stories of their creation. Inspired by his family tradition of winemaking, Andro set up this business just four years ago, and regularly entertains local and foreign guests, as well as selling his bottles at an ambitious price to those who value the taste of his labors. A standard wine tasting will set you back a mere 30 GEL (10 EURO), making the drive well-worth it on a weekend escape or regional exploration!


The Giorgi Tatulashvili Museum-Workshop

Back to civilization, we head to Gori next, to the Giorgi Tatulashvili Museum-Workshop, entered through a small courtyard and rose garden, with a feast of ceramics art for the eyes. In the cellar beneath the family home is the yellow brick kiln the original ceramicist built in the 19th century- now only used for display and nostalgia. That ceramicist was Nestor Tatulashvili, grandfather of the current owner, Givi, and a Master Craftsman and Member of the Guild of Ceramics Makers. Gori, like Garikula, was also once a center of clay-works, but this too faded, and now Gori has just this one studio, which Givi keeps running with his young apprentices and income from the sales of all their products. They also see some income from visitors to their small museum, which describes the 100+ year history of the studio and puts on display photographs and objects pertaining to local history and the progress of ceramics there.

Photo by Kakha Gogichashvili

Givi learned the craft from his father and brother Omar, who took on the business after graduating secondary school. Givi is happy to share his skills, giving visitors a go at the wheel, with soft brown Gori or Metekhi clay, for a small fee of 20 GEL. He also works with local children. The studio focuses on extraordinary wine-serving/drinking vessels, as well as more traditional tableware- something for everyone in search of a unique Georgian souvenir.

Photo by Kakha Gogichashvili


Shin da Gori

Our tour was brought to a close by a delicious dinner at Shin da Gori, a restaurant tucked into a Gori courtyard, which offers a delightful smooth-voiced soloist singer accompanied by a very talented pianist. There, we saw the makings of the local sweet eye-shaped nazuki bread, and the cheese and beetroot-leaf khachapuri. Professional staff, an open kitchen and optional in or outdoor dining put this restaurant high on our list of recommendations.

During the tour, we were introduced to the Shida Kartli Crafts Workshop Guidebook, offering a focus on the arts and crafts employing those in the region, and those artists who welcome visitors and buyers to their workshops. Also available is the same guidebook to Samegrelo, Samtskhe-Javakheti and Akhmeta.

As you can see from the short list touching on the Shida Kartli region, many treasures await just an hour or so outside of Tbilisi: weekend stays, wine-tastings and gift-buying, all of which go towards supporting the local community and keeping alive some of the most beautiful crafts Georgia has to offer. Go explore!

The tour was partially funded by the US Embassy in Georgia and the USAID Zrda project, in the framework of the Georgian heritage Crafts Association’s project ‘Enhance Artisans/Crafts-makers’ Business Skills in the Shida Kartli Region.’


By Katie Ruth Davies

Main photo: Nika Vacheishvili's Marani & Wine Guest House. 

25 June 2020 19:06