A Letter From… Europe: Tbilisi, Georgia

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Gamarjoba!

Welcome to the most vibrant, exciting capital in Europe. No, it’s not Berlin or Madrid: I am in Tbilisi in the cultural melting pot that is Georgia.

It is hard to wrap your head around how old Tbilisi is. Archaeologists have found evidence that this area was inhabited in Paleolithic times, and by the late Bronze Age, it was already the largest settlement in the Caucasus. Alexander the Great invaded, the Georgians went to war with the Ancient Romans, and by the mid-4th century, Christianity had been adopted as the state religion. You can still bathe in the same hot springs that King Vakhtang discovered on a hunting trip more than 1,500 years ago, and walk along streets that show the architectural influence of centuries of not only invasions but also equitable cultural exchange with countries across Europe and Asia. The sense of history in this place is inescapable and wonderful.

What I really love about Tbilisi, however, is the energetic multiculturalism of contemporary life here. In the old town, churches, a mosque, and a synagogue neighbor one another. You hear a constant babble of different languages on the streets. In spite of the ghosts of the past, Tbilisi feels very young, with a creative, entrepreneurial population. The skyline is constantly changing, as are the bars and restaurants, galleries, and boutiques. I always make a point of visiting the Center of Contemporary Art or the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for inspiration but also to feel intellectually and creatively challenged. There is always something new, something thought-provoking to see and experience.

One of my most recent discoveries is Republic, a multipurpose entertainment and hospitality complex built on what had been a Soviet-era parade ground in the center of Tbilisi. The square was famous for a concrete monument nicknamed “Andropov’s Ears”: Yuri Andropov was the leader of the USSR in the early 1980s. Today, Republic hosts concerts most weekends, plus fashion shows and concerts. Europe’s top DJs and other electronic music artists get the dance floor pulsing at the Noble Savage nightclub, where the partying starts from 11pm. This is one of the best spots to experience the wild party culture that Tbilisi has built an international reputation for.

And then there’s the food. Georgia has one of the world’s great cuisines, but for reasons I’ve never been able to fathom, it is far less well-known than, say, Italian or Turkish food. Perhaps the Georgians are just too busy enjoying eating and drinking to bother marketing their gastronomy abroad. At Republic, there is a choice of places to eat, but my first point of call – whatever the time of day or night – would always be Republic 24, which serves modern Georgian dining from an open kitchen. Don’t miss the Adjarian khachapuri, Georgia’s iconic cheese-stuffed bread; or the board of assorted pkhali, colorful vegan pates made from spinach, red bell pepper, or eggplant, held together with walnut paste and decorated with pomegranate seeds. It is blissful comfort food, and as Republic 24 stays open round the clock at weekends, you can drop in whatever hour you finish clubbing.

On this trip to Tbilisi I am staying at the Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel, which with its glittering glass facade has become a landmark of the city center. The guest rooms here look across the rooftops to the Caucasus Mountains, or down to the Mtkvari River which winds its way through the city. It wasn’t cold last night, so I ventured out onto the Iveria Terrace to watch the flickering of the city lights and the equally sparkly stars above. In summer, there’s a restaurant here, but in the colder months it’s better to dine indoors at the appropriately named Umami, or at Filini, the hotel’s Italian restaurant.

One of the benefits of staying at the Radisson Blu is its Anne Semonin spa, a haven of peace and the ideal place to recover after a night on the dance floor. The infinity pool overlooks the city, and I felt completely rejuvenated after an hour in the Finnish sauna and aroma steam room, the essential oils softening my skin.

I’m raring to head back out and continue exploring now, so I will bid you adieu,

www.bit.ly/radisson-iveria




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