8 unforgettable places in Georgia, the pearl of the Caucasus

Nestled south of the magnificent Caucasus – Europe’s highest mountain chain – and on the opposite shore of the Black Sea from Bulgaria, Georgia is by all means one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Whether it’s fertile valleys, antique towns, secluded monasteries, coastal jungles, arid semi-desert plains or mind-boggling glaciated mountain peaks, Georgia has it all!

Sure, Georgia may not be a Balkan country, but I instantly felt at home in this Caucasian heaven during my two-week vacation. The warmth of the people, the dynamic landscapes, the secluded monasteries and the wonderful cuisine are but a few features Georgia and Bulgaria have in common. And there was no lack of excellent wine and rakia (or chacha, as they call it beyond the Black Sea) to keep me happy during my holiday!

From the region’s most romantic capital to the highest villages in Europe, kashkaval tourist presents 8 unforgettable places in Georgia, the pearl of the Caucasus!

1. Crossroads of Eurasian past and future: Tbilisi

Crossroads of Eurasian past and future: Tbilisi

Crossroads of Eurasian past and future: Tbilisi

Tbilisi, the romantic Georgian capital, is an excellent introduction to the culture, history, cuisine and nature of this incredible country and indeed, to the entire region. Tbilisi mixes East with West, tradition with modernity and old-town serenity with the hustle and bustle of a capital metropolis… and it does it all remarkably well!

Tbilisi’s Old Town with is quaint alleys and antique architecture will be your best bet for a leisurely walk or a casual Georgian wine dinner. Further away, the Dry Bridge flea market is a great place to buy antique souvenirs, especially if you’re curious about communist memorabilia.

Above the Old Town, the ancient Narikala Fortress on top of a steep hill will reveal vistas of the winding Mtkvari River and the ultramodern Peace Bridge crossing it – as well as the huge Holy Trinity Cathedral in traditional Caucasian style. If you’d rather spare the short but vertical walk to the fortress, you can always take the chairlift from the other side of the Peace Bridge. You’ll be rewarded with a short but exhilarating ride above the entire city!

2. Iconic hiking destination: Kazbek

Iconic hiking destination: Kazbek

Iconic hiking destination: Kazbek

Drive just a few hours north of Tbilisi along the legendary Georgian Military Road and you’ll end up in the heartland of the Central Caucasus, surrounded by peaks more than 4,000 metres high. Above the quaint medieval church of Tsminda Sameba and even further above the mountain town of Stepantsminda you’ll find the 5,047-metre-high Mount Kazbek, the mythical stratovolcano that Prometheus was allegedly chained on.

With its grassy slopes, dramatic glaciers and unmistakable volcanic shape, Mount Kazbek is one of Georgia’s prime hiking destinations. A steep two-hour walk will take you to the Tsminda Sameba Church above the village, which is perhaps the country’s most photographed location.

Add another four hours and you’ll end up at the foot of the massive Gergeti Glacier. And if you’re into some relatively light ice hiking, then you can overnight at the former weather station on the other side of the glacier, a further two hours away. Conditions at the hut are basic to say the least, but at 3,670 metres above sea level, you’ll take anything!

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7 curious examples of Bulgarian heritage abroad you had no idea about

7 curious examples of Bulgarian heritage abroad you had no idea about

For many reasons, Bulgaria has long been a country of emigrants. You may have heard about prominent people of Bulgarian ancestry like the American John Atanasoff, one of the pioneers of computing, or Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff… but there are many more unknown cases of how Bulgaria and Bulgarians left their mark on other countries in a curious way.

Including one of Uruguay’s most beloved football clubs, a full-fledged research station in Antarctica and a huge monument to a Bulgarian communist leader in West Africa, kashkaval tourist presents 7 curious examples of Bulgarian heritage abroad you had no idea about.

1. We’re at every kilometre: Cotonou, Benin

Bizarrely and almost surreally, a monument of Bulgaria’s first communist leader, Georgi Dimitrov, stands in the middle of a busy roundabout in Cotonou, the largest city of the West African country of Benin. The monument, brightly painted and significantly over-life-size, dominates the intersection which was appropriately named Place de Bulgarie, or Bulgaria Square.

How exactly this monument came to be can only be conjectured. But in the 1970s and 1980s Benin was trying hard to be a communist country, so this honour must have been bestowed to the late Dimitrov during that period.

2. The cast iron church and the dairy man: Istanbul, Turkey

The Iron Church in Istanbul is one of the most important examples of Bulgarian heritage abroad. Standing by the Golden Horn in the historic neighborhood of Fener, the church impresses with its Gothic and Baroque exteriors… and the metallic clang of its cast iron walls!

The Orthodox church, dedicated to Saint Stephen, was prefabricated in Vienna. All iron elements (weighting 500 tons in total) were shipped to Istanbul via the Danube and the Black Sea and assembled in the Ottoman capital in 1898. Today, it’s one of the few remaining iron churches in the world and a glorious remnant of the struggle for an independent Bulgarian church.

For a taste of more Bulgarian heritage in Istanbul, make sure you visit the legendary dairy shop of 88-year-old Bulgarian Kaymakçı Pando Shestakov. His kaymak cream is reputed to be the best in Istanbul and the shop was founded by his ancestors in 1895!

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