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Georgia sits on the dividing line between Europe and Asia, and offers a pleasing fusion of both continents. Magnificent mountain vistas and Black Sea beach resorts such as Batumi garnered the country the nickname of the Soviet Riviera when it was part of the USSR. Road tours to historic wine-growing regions, UNESCO World Heritage sites and magnificent cities have proved irresistible to contemporary tourists and culture buffs alike.
Only one-third of Georgia’s network of roads have proper surfaces so drivers need to take it easy once off the main roads. The two-lane highways linking the main resorts and cities are fairly well maintained. Night driving is best avoided in rural districts because there are no streetlamps. Local drivers are unpredictable so it is better to keep a safe distance.
Driving licences: UK driving licences are valid, although those without the newer photo licences should also carry an International Driving Licence.
Which side does Georgia drive on: the right.
Inter-city highways: 50mph (80kph) unless signposted otherwise
Rural areas: 50mph (80kph)
Built-up areas: 37mph (60kph)
Alcohol limits: Georgia has a zero tolerance policy towards drunk driving, although police rarely breathalyse motorists.
Driving age: 18 years.
Seatbelts: compulsory for drivers and front seat passengers. Children under 12 years old are not permitted to use the front passenger seat and children younger than four have to ride in a safety seat.
Mobile phones and GPS: the country has so far not enacted any laws that prohibit mobile phone use when driving. GPS use is also allowed, but the language barrier may give English speakers problems.
Cost of fuel in Georgia: slightly cheaper than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: credit cards are not widely accepted, with petrol stations usually requiring cash payment. However, credit cards can be used at international car rental offices.
Insurance: car hire comes with third-party insurance but there are usually excess charges to pay if the vehicle is damaged or stolen. Additional insurance is recommended to cover these mishaps.
Traffic and parking: parking spaces and car parks can be found even in Tbilisi. Parking fees are inexpensive and many of the big hotels offer complimentary parking. Parking in prohibited places attracts fines and the possible removal of the vehicle. Traffic is only really a problem in the large cities during commuting hours.
Georgia has international train services from Baku in Azerbaijan and Yerevan in Armenia which terminate at Tbilisi’s main rail station. Fares on the latter route start at around £10. The country has a fairly good domestic rail system, which is a cheap, albeit slow, means of getting around. Georgia State Railway provides timetables and tickets. Tbilisi has a metro, with single fares starting at around £0.20, but fares decrease in price the more times you travel in a single day.
Taxis are cheap and widely available. A short ride in a regular taxi in Tbilisi should cost under £2. A staple of domestic travel here is the shared mini-bus taxi called a marshrutka. These minibuses operate on set routes in the large cities and passengers only need to find out what number they require for a specific destination and then flag a vehicle down. Marshrutkas also run on inter-city routes, with departure points at bus stations or markets.
Tbilisi has an international bus services from Baku in Azerbaijan and the Turkish city of Istanbul, with the fare for the latter route around £25. Tbilisi’s city bus fleet is modern, with single fares around £0.20, but travelling anywhere else may be a hardship as buses are generally old and uncomfortable. Bus travel in off-the-beaten-track areas is exacerbated by the poor state of roads.
Georgia has ferry services from locations around the Black Sea. The Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi are served by ferries from Sochi, which is a Russian port just north of the country’s border with Russia. Fares are around £70. There are also sporadic services from Ilyichivsk in the Odessa area of Ukraine, with fares of around £100.
Tbilisi International Airport in the capital receives direct flights from London, while Batumi Airport caters for flights to Istanbul, Kiev and Minsk, as well as domestic flights to Tbilisi. It is the main gateway to the country’s Black Sea beach resorts. Tbilisi’s airport is just over 10 miles from the city centre.
The highlight of a Georgia visit for many is the nation’s fabulous 180 mile (300km) long Black Sea shoreline. Resorts such as Batumi and Grigoleti boast pristine beaches and water with low salinity. Resort spas offer curative treatments for all manner of ailments.
The capital of Tbilisi features a magnificent historic quarter with grand houses, chic eateries and shops, and unique museums. A sulphur bath at Abanotubani and a drive out to Turtle Lake in the hills above the city are popular Tbilisi activities.
Tbilisi is located in the Kartli region where other attractions include Uplistsikhe cave city, Stalin’s hometown of Gori and the elegant Ananuri Castle complex.
Kakheti is close to the Azerbaijan border and a great base for trips to the provincial capital of Telavi, Tsinandali Winery and the magical structure of Gremi Castle. Lagodekhi Nature Reserve sits in the shadow of the Caucasus Mountains.
Kutaisi is midway between Tbilisi and the Black Sea coast, and home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites: the 11th century Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery. Kutaisi is a gateway for the pretty mountain village of Oni and the diverse hiking trails at Shovi.
Despite the fact Georgia is not a big country, its climate varies considerably. Rain is fairly frequent throughout the year, although autumn is the wettest season. On the Black Sea coast, temperatures range from averages of 5°C in winter to maximums of 25°C in August. In the inland eastern areas, the temperature drops to around 1°C in winter. Alpine conditions prevail in elevated mountain areas such as Bakuriani where winter temperatures are consistently below freezing and heavy snow draws skiers.