This holiday season, forget the plane ticket to Milan. Cancel Berlin. And don’t bother with London. Instead, head to Georgia. (And we don’t mean hop on a local liner to Atlanta to enjoy a game of college football and a mint julep.) Georgia also happens to be the name of a tiny Caucasus country that sits under the belly of Russia and borders Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—a hidden, Black Sea–skirting gem tucked between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. The recommendation to visit is not so random either. The country has been under an international spotlight recently thanks to the Georgian-born designer Demna Gvasalia of Vetements, who is also now the creative director of Balenciaga. And it doesn’t stop at the runway: Georgian cuisine has been making a delectable move to the States. So why not head to the country to see the trove of cool for yourself? Here, the top five reasons why you should book your ticket and explore Tbilisi, Georgia—now.
The Calorie-Boasting Cuisine
Over the past few years, a wave of Georgian restaurants have become a hit stateside: homelike nooks on New York’s Lower East Side such as Oda House, or Compass Rose in Washington, D.C. And there is no doubt about why this Eastern European cuisine has crossed the Atlantic. Who wouldn’t love the rich and delicious clog-your-arteries effect? Aside from broth-y, meat-stuffed dumplings called khinkali, or badrijani nigvzit, walnut-and-garlic-filled eggplant rolls, the perfect example of an ultimate calorie-packed national delicacy is khachapuri adjaruli. In this dish, the bread is in the shape of a pinched boat, stuffed and baked with a traditional Georgian cheese called suluguni, topped with a melted stick of butter and raw egg, and then mixed together by the server or diners. Too tame to try the fresh-from-the-chicken garnish? You can also opt for a simple khachapuri. It’s still guaranteed to leave you happily full as well as soar past your daily nutritional requirements. The best way to top it off, too? A swig of Georgian wine—it’s fermented in a kveri, a B.C. tradition that involves a clay vessel buried far underground.
We’ll toast to that anytime.
Head to the Old City for Some Cobblestone Cool
A blast from the past, the Old City of Tbilisi looks intact from its ancient Byzantine-meets-Russian inception. The 12th-century Metekhi Church sits on top of a cliff, while primary color–slathered houses pop in the foreground and buildings appear as if they may tip into the Mtkvari River. As you explore the throwback section, make sure to catch the city’s famed marionette show by Rezo Gabriadze, held in a teetering clock tower, or pick up a simple souvenir. Also, remember to look toward the sky when you walk: Traditional Georgian architecture is known for its high-scooping, filigreelike take on woodwork when it comes to balconies.
Georgia’s Heart-Pumping Take on Ballet
Ready for some ballet? No, not the delicate Swan Lake–type pirouettes or wispy ballerina topknots. We’re talking swords, shields, and lots of lower body strength. Welcome to the Sukhishvili Georgian National Ballet. Founded by ballet dancers Iliko Sukhishvili and Nino Ramishvili in 1945 (it was previously named Georgian National Ballet), the Georgian style of dance is an intense, chest-puffing production, pumped with testosterone and sweat—almost like a weapon-waving cardio workout in traditional Georgian clothing. Another fun fact? The men skip the classic box-toe ballet shoes. Talk about tough.
The Down-Low Spa Experience: The Sulfur Baths
Need to soak off that jet lag? The quickest cure-all is to take a dive into the Georgian version of the Turkish hammam or Russian banya: the sulfur bath. Built on hot sulfur springs, tons of bathhouses offer visitors a dip in warm, egg-scented pools of water to rejuvenate. The ancient tradition is said to have magical healing powers, from curing muscle aches to clearing up skin. And you don’t need deep pockets to experience the poached egg moment: A typical dip ranges from $20 to $70. If you want to get the luxe treatment, you can rent out a private bathhouse, complete with a personal massage-meets-scrub and a sauna room to sweat it out.
Where to Stay: Rooms Hotel
Please, skip the adventure of booking an Airbnb or a youth-packed hostel when you arrive in Tbilisi. The place to stay is Rooms Hotel—or as the locals simply refer to it, Rooms. A part of the Design Hotels franchise that includes the Ludlow Hotel and Crosby Street Hotel, Rooms is a chic limbo that wavers between Georgia and New York. There is a throwback vibe to the decor: antique rugs, plush lounge couches, and a very-well-stocked library. Hungry or thirsty? There is a stellar cocktail bar (complete with a mixologist), and the food is locally sourced. Expect to eat up and sleep well.
by LIANA SATENSTEIN