I asked for an early breakfast (8am) to make the tour departure time. Accompanying the genial lady who had been minding the hotel was the owner who swept in like the Mother of Dragons to inform me that I had actually arrived a day earlier at the hotel and would have to pay a supplement. Problems! Before I had even had coffee!
“No, I actually arrived as indicated in the morning of the 25th.”
“But you arrived at 6.30am and check-in time is 1pm!”
“Listen, sweetheart. I didn’t just pop in at 6.30am. We had an exchange of emails about the taxi you arranged. You knew exactly when I was arriving.”
“So there’s a problem about the money?”
“Yes, there’s a problem. The time to talk about any supplement would have been during the exchange of emails around the time I booked when I could have cancelled.” After pondering the wisdom of booking a hotel where there was nothing around. “Or, at the very latest when I checked in.” When she wasn’t there of course. “Now it’s too late”. She made a face and left in a huff.
Took a cab (no more metros!) to Meidan square to start the wine tour run by Envoy Hostel at 9am with a group of seven. We headed east along a bumpy two- lane road while our charming guide regaled as with Georgian facts. I was busy booking a new hotel on the booking.com app and was only half-listening.
First, we stopped to pick up puri, a bread baked in a circular oven called a tone. The technique came from India. This is Central Asia!
We bumped and jolted on to Sighnaghi. Our guide remarked that the town is now mainly occupied by visitors who rent the locals’ apartments.
It was certainly in good condition, clearly the product of a diligent restoration. It was also stunningly located on a hill overlooking a vast plain with mountains rising in the distance.
Yet the town centre seemed curiously lifeless. We walked along the walls and took in the sweeping views.
Then we went on to our first wine tasting at the Numisi winery which dates from the 16th century.
Traditional Georgian winemakers use the seeds and stems in addition to the grapes. All of it is fermented in clay earthenware, placed in the cool floors of a cellar.
The result is a dry very unusual wine that is imbued with the not-unpleasant aroma of clay.
Kindzmarauli in the Duruji valley was our second stop. This was a much more elaborate operation where wine is produced the modern way in vats with temperature controls. We sat down and tasted a series of about eight wines, starting with a dry white and progressing on to a delightfully complex, sweet red wine. Kindzmarauli wines are highly prized throughout Georgia and are even exported.
Then it was time for lunch! We headed to a country inn where the lady of the house shepherded us to a cool, fragrant cellar where the table was already laden with goodies: stuffed hard-boiled eggs, eggplant with walnuts, homemade cheese, fried potatoes.
The group was lively and interesting. After stuffing ourselves we had coffee upstairs in the garden before heading back on the road.
On the way back, we stopped at Gremi, the former capital of eastern Georgia.
And then made a leg-stretch stop at the Gombori pass.
We arrived back at the hostel tired but happy around 7.30pm. We all got along so well we decided to cap off the day with a snack and a beer in the old town. Great day!