Why Georgia Reminds Me of Scarlett O'Hara

Nailya Bentley
“Scary Azeri” on her first first trip to Georgia – is it really more beautiful than Azerbaijan?
A view of the old city in Tbilisi, Georgia in April, 2019. Image: Lukas Bischoff Photograph/Shutterstock 

My mother reckons I had been to Georgia before. When I was four years old, growing up in Baku, Azerbaijan. Of course, that just does not count, does it? So I’m claiming this as my first ever experience of my ‘neighbour’ country Georgia. 


In hindsight, it’s surprising that - when I lived so close to it - I had not visited. I remember Baku-based ex-pat friends of mine going there skiing in winter. I always heard it was beautiful. But still, for some reason, I never went. In recent years though, I kept wondering about it and wanting to visit. My mother had been back twice already and was absolutely in love with Georgia. 


By this stage, I was based further away in Qatar. But this recent Eid, we lucky government sector employees got a ten-day break during which there were not many options of where to travel to without quarantining for weeks on end. I absolutely had to see my mom after all this time in lockdown. But rather than me flying home to Baku, we decided to meet up in Tbilisi. Finally. 


My boss, cheekily and tactlessly, mentioned to me once that he had heard Georgia was nicer than Azerbaijan. More beautiful, he said.


My boss, cheekily and tactlessly, mentioned to me once that he had heard Georgia was nicer than Azerbaijan. More beautiful, he said. 


“According to whom, may I ask?!” I was quite outraged. 


“Now you can judge for yourself!” he teased as I told him about my plan. “When you’re back, let me know which one you really think is more beautiful.” 


A few days later, as my late-night airport taxi drove through empty leafy streets into Tbilisi, I felt for a moment I was back home in Baku. Not the Formula 1 Baku of glitzy towers and boulevard vistas but the old shabby buildings and dodgy-looking little shops. Yes – Tbilisi’s outskirts had that unmistakable look that, I suppose, all post-Soviet cities have, to a certain extent. 


The view from Nailya’s hotel room. Image: Nailya Bentley 

Altogether less Soviet was the five-star hotel I had chosen. I’d told my mother that this first post- lockdown vacation was going to be special, and that this time I would refuse to not travel in style. However, the five-star rating was a little exaggerated. The hotel reminded me of Scarlett O’Hara, attempting to look rich by making herself a dress out of velvet drapes. Poor, yet proud. 


The room I booked was in the old, historic part of the hotel, with views of the old town. As I glanced out of the window, all I saw at first were tattered buildings and fenced-up construction sites. Hmmm, I thought. 


But, when I opened the curtains in the morning, I saw beauty. And it took my breath away. Once I saw it, it could not be unseen. It was everywhere I looked for the rest of my visit. Behind the poor old shacks and broken fencing, the old Tbilisi was charming and unique, with those gorgeous, intricately woven old wooden balconies, light and elegant. The beautiful old churches. And even the tatty fencing had cute artwork on it. 


Streets of the ancient Georgian capital, Mtskheta. Image: Yulia_B/Shutterstock 

Georgia is breathtakingly beautiful. There is no doubt about that. However, it isn’t only its beauty that bewitched me. I am pretty spoiled, in that I have visited some truly stunning spots in the world. There is something about Georgia that is difficult to describe but impossible not to feel when you are there. It is everywhere. Georgia has an immense amount of soul. That’s probably the only way to describe it. It is in their wine and the way they drink it- making drinking wine a form of art. It is in the intensity of the emotions in the voice of the Signakhi street singer. It is in their stunning valleys; it is in their food and people. It is in those balconies, in the mountains, rivers and monasteries. It is a country that I would want to escape to as I grow old, to spend my last peaceful days, gazing at the valleys below, drinking wine and writing my memoirs, just like that old hobbit in The Lord of the Rings did. 


If Georgia were in The Lord of the Rings, it’s where the elves would dwell. It is that magical.


If Georgia were in The Lord of the Rings, it’s where the elves would dwell. It is that magical. 


Everything is so old. Because the country is poor yet still maintains its historic charm and pride, it gets right to your heart and makes you love it — immediately and forever. 


The Holy Trinity Church near the village of Gergeti in Georgia, nestled under Mount Kazbegi is just one of hundreds of breathtaking views. Image: irisphoto1/Shutterstock 

Georgians are funny, too. The first time you see their faces, they appear very stern — especially men. “Excuse me?” you say as you approach someone, and you get this majestic stare back. But don’t let that exterior fool you. Georgian people are charming and welcoming. They are generous, even when you know that their financial situation may not be at its best right now. 


Two different tour guides I hired during our trip both went that extra mile. 


When we stopped at a local pottery-making stall in the ancient capital of Mtskheta, our first guide, Dima, suddenly asked my mum which fridge magnet she liked the most and bought it for her. 


Our second guide, Kostya, while taking us around the mountain-fringed wine region of Kakheti region, stopped the car to buy us fresh local strawberries off the road — “you have got to try these!” And later, as we stood in the middle of endless Kindzmarauli vineyards, he surprised us with full glasses of wine which he, like a circus magician, pulled out from the back of his minivan. It was that type of kindness and attentiveness that I found everywhere during our stay. 


In Kakheti, Georgia’s primary wine producing region, the vineyards go on and on. Image: Yulia Grigoryeva/Shutterstock 

Kostya wouldn’t let us drink the wine at lunch without teaching us proper Georgian toasts. “Wait, wait!” he would exclaim every time I raised my glass. Each time the toast would have its particular subject. To Georgia. To friendship. To women. “This one,” he declared at last, “is to thank God for everything we have today. Because look!” — he waved at the valley stretching out endlessly below us as we sat in a small guest house café on the top of the mountain, “Look how blessed we are today!” 


“And now we must drink to peace. This is one of the favourite Georgian toasts.” 


To peace, we nod, ordering another jug of local white. 




Of course, I cannot claim that the place is more beautiful. That would be like a mother saying her child is not as good-looking as the neighbours’ one.


So how does Georgia compare to Azerbaijan? Of course, I cannot claim that the place is more beautiful. That would be like a mother saying her child is not as good-looking as the neighbours’ one. The two countries are quite similar in many ways - they both have that soul. Georgia certainly is gorgeous and unique in its own way. How can somewhere so beguiling not be the most thriving tourist destination, I kept wondering. Why aren’t the locals filthy-rich by now? I suspect I know the political reasons, and I am not going to go there now. But, with all my heart, I wish Georgia success and happiness. The people deserve it.