Guria: The New Paradise of Tourism

Blogs and travel magazines seem to have recently discovered Georgia as a hidden gem nestled between the Caucasian Mountains. The figures are promising too; last year the celebration of the six-millionth tourist put the country into excitement as Dutch backpacker Jesper Black was voluntarily “kidnapped” by the tourism department to meet the Prime Minister in a perfectly orchestrated PR stunt.

A little surprise turned into a year of fame for Jesper, and he’s still traveling the country, taking part in TV events such as the Georgian version of “Dancing with the Stars.” At the same time, tourism numbers keep on surging, putting the new predictions at over 7 million tourists this year. A massive success considering Georgia’s fateful economic and political difficulties just a decade ago.

Yet, the crowds tend to gather at just a handful of spots around the country, neglecting the picturesque landscapes of many other locations well-worth their attention. Adjara, Khakheti, and Mtskheta-Mtianeti are the most frequented hotspots besides Tbilisi. All four regions considerably improved their infrastructure to cope with the soon-to-come seven-millionth tourist in 2018. A souvenir of the costly tourism promotion during the reign of Saakashvili, hotels and resorts mushroomed and new roads were constructed to facilitate quick and smooth transportation.

The Georgian National Tourism Administration (GNTA), together with other governmental institutions, now hopes to detour some of the tourist buses to another regions, one of them Guria. Caught between Samegrelo and Adjara, 5-star hotels and audience-attracting events are still a rarity in this western region. Roads are at times bumpy, and it takes a while to reach the small mountain towns and villages within. However, the lack of hype should not discourage visitors.

The long beaches along the Black Sea coast offer a wealth of relaxation opportunities and Guria’s small part of that rich diversity, the village of Ureki, with its magnetic sands and access by train from Tbilisi, should definitely be on a visitor’s ‘must-visit’ list. The tourist village’s brutalist architecture is worth seeing, though be warned, these buildings are merely houses left unloved, not grand structures by Le Corbusier. Travelers of finer tastes can motor southwards into the neighboring Adjara region to stay at any of its many luxury hotels. Ureki is still awaiting its time in the spotlight of grandeur, as its accommodation options currently comprise three-star hotels, guest houses, and flat rentals, with just the Kolkhida Sanitorium able to boast anything even close to luxury. Yet, the soft sands, gently sloping beach, warm, shallow waters and beach-side tranquility to be found at Ureki make even a day-trip there worth your time.

Other recent investments aim to spur tourism figures in the Guria region. Opened in 2016, the Black Sea Arena is the biggest of its kind in the entire Caucasus region. Functioning as a concert hall and visited only be the crème de la crème of the music industry, it has so far successfully hosted artists such as Aerosmith, Christina Aguilera and the Scorpions. Adjacent to the arena, an impressive park stretches out, showing off bronze versions of the best musicians of Georgia and the West. From world-renowned composers such as Beethoven and Mozart to big shots in Georgian classical music such as Viktor Dolizde, who created the first Georgian comic opera called “Keto and Kote,” music aficionados will delight in exploring. Elton John and Michael Jackson are definitely the highlights, but Georgian star Revaz Lagidze is just as worthy of your ears, creator of Tbilisi’s hymn “Tbiliso.” Well-spaced, paved areas surrounded by wooden benches exhibit the artists in the form of statues, while speakers blast out their masterpieces. Follow the path through the park to see the numerous marvelous animal woodcarvings on either side. It seems the entire animal kingdom is showcased, with artists having created dolphins, grizzly bears, and penguins. The park and arena were both financed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili and Cartu Fund, who donated the constructions to the State after completion.

Guria also offers fantastic hills and mountain ranges for backpackers and backcountry explorers. Though not nearly as high as the glaciers on the Georgian border to Russia, the region offers beautiful gorges and rivers untouched by mass tourism. The promotion of small settlements and their most famous children is a key area for the Tourism Administration right now. The museums of two writers give enough reason to venture out into the unknown and end up in a farmers’ village, where the writers spent most of their time.

The tiny town of Kela, right across its main river, was the birthplace of Egnate Ninoshvili, whose drive for justice became evident in his works early-on, works which dealt with the oppressions the Russian Tsar exercised on the Georgian people. Writing about pain and looking for new solutions to catapult the country out of its misery, he found himself in Tbilisi creating the Marxist party “Mesame Dasi,” which later gave shelter to young Stalin’s ideological convictions.

Another museum is located in the town of Chokhatauri where Nodar Dumbadze spent many summers enjoying the solitude and the view over the Guria valley. Little cypress trees dot the valley, reminding one of Tuscany. Photos, books and paintings cover the walls of his museum house, giving a first-hand glimpse into his life. A friendly woman serving as both grandmother and tour guide provides the necessary background information upon request.

South of Poti, a salt-water lake and its surroundings have been transformed into a National Park. Cut off from the Black Sea, an estuary created it, making it the largest of its kind in Georgia. Away from the coastline, Rangers take visitors into the Park via a 20-minute boat ride, which reminds one of the CIA Miami intro, the nature there resembling the Everglades (thankfully, minus the alligators). Hideouts offer inspiration for a camping adventure, including the essential bonfire-marshmallow combination, when handled with caution and respect to the surrounding greenery.

Guria is experiencing a true transformation. The locals are eager to benefit in the same way as their surrounding regions from the tourism boom in Georgia. Be it a cultural trip or a plunge into nature, Guria offers an authentic landscape for all types of traveler.

The government seems determined to promote the region, and support is coming from all sides. From the top national politicians to the municipality leaders and mayors; all are pulling on the same string, and campaigns reinforce the many endeavors undertaken by the authorities. Soon, Guria will be offering the same luxurious enjoyment and adventure as its neighboring region Adjara: during the nights new hotels will give shelter and during days, the mountains will give explorers the opportunity to get lost in a world of green solitude.

By Benjamin Music

07 May 2018 18:40