MIS­TAKEN IDEN­TITY

All this time, you’ve had the wrong GE­OR­GIA on your mind. It’s time to DIS­COVER the Far East­ern Euro­pean na­tion, which, as far as its well-known EX­PORTS are con­sid­ered, you’ve ac­tu­ally known all along.

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get a glimpse of ge­or­gia, the east­ern euro­pean na­tion that first cre­ated wine and is now on the brink of start-up suc­cess

What’s in a name? Years of con­fu­sion for the coun­try of Ge­or­gia, for starters. Al­though the small moun­tain­ous coun­try forged its in­de­pen­dence from Rus­sia 15 years ago, there are still a few stum­bling blocks when it comes to get­ting its name out there. For one, it’s the same moniker as a south­ern US state, where peaches and the world’s largest fake peanut lay their claim to fame. Step­ping out of the shad­ows of a dif­fi­cult po­lit­i­cal past has also proved to be a con­stant chal­lenge.

At the in­ter­sec­tion of Europe and Asia, with Turkey at its south­ern border and Rus­sia at its north, the for­mer Silk Road stopover has his­tor­i­cally been some­what of a grab bag for sur­round­ing em­pires. Now, emerg­ing from the shad­ows of cen­turies of op­pres­sion, Ge­or­gia is fi­nally spread­ing its wings.

Rooms Ho­tel Kazbegi, a for­mer So­viet re­sort, sits two and a half hours north of the cap­i­tal, Tbil­isi, amongst the crags of the Cau­cau­sian up­lands that di­vide two con­ti­nents. The sleepy town of Stepants­minda and its 2000 lo­cals are mostly de­pen­dent on agri­cul­ture. But dur­ing the So­viet Era, the town – and the Rooms Ho­tel Kazbegi – served as a pop­u­lar re­treat for gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials (and no won­der; the area is nes­tled be­neath the stra­to­vol­canic peak of Mount Kazbegi, the 5033-me­tre-high sum­mit stand­ing sev­enth-tallest amongst the spiked ridges of the Cau­causus re­gion).

“[Stepants­minda] was tra­di­tion­ally a place for back­pack­ers and was poorly de­vel­oped for a wider range of tourists,” says Tata Chum­buridze, sales and mar­ket­ing co­or­di­na­tor for Rooms Ho­tel Kazbegi. As such, the Rooms Ho­tel founder (the prop­erty is owned by Ad­jara Hospi­tal­ity Group and there is one other Rooms Ho­tel in the coun­try), Rus­sian casino en­tre­pre­neur Te­mur Ugulava, was in­spired by New York hote­liers to bring some­thing a lit­tle more spe­cial to the area. The other prop­erty, in Tbil­isi, is an eight-story for­mer print house that can with­stand a 9.0 earth­quake.

Te­mur se­lected lo­cal de­sign firm Ad­jara Arch Group and two lo­cal Tbil­isi-based ar­chi­tects, Nata Jan­beridze and Keti Toloraia, to ex­e­cute his vi­sion, and the ho­tel has now made the small moun­tain town a stopover spot in its own right. >

The area is NES­TLED be­neath the stra­to­vol­canic peak of Mount Kazbegi, the 5033-me­tre-high SUM­MIT stand­ing sev­enth-tallest amongst the spiked RIDGES of the Cau­causus re­gion.

Fol­low­ing an ex­ten­sive re­fur­bish­ment, which left only the ba­sic struc­ture of the build­ing in­tact, the newly mod­ernised Kazbegi ho­tel opened in 2012 and, like much of Ge­or­gia, the ghosts of its So­viet past can still be seen in­side the ho­tel, most promi­nently in the form of vin­tage So­viet and Ge­or­gian film posters dot­ted through­out the 156 guest rooms.

Thanks to its ge­og­ra­phy, the im­pact of vis­it­ing Rus­sian, Per­sian, Turk­ish, Ar­me­nian and Azer­bai­jani cul­tures has helped make Ge­or­gia (known as Sakartvelo to na­tives) a ver­i­ta­ble melt­ing pot of in­flu­ences. The ho­tel’s ar­chi­tects worked to em­body this very no­tion with the in­te­ri­ors, keep­ing a min­i­mal­ist de­sign that re­flects the coun­try’s Asian and Euro­pean her­itage.

The Rooms Ho­tel Kazbegi also has a very proud lo­cal in­flu­ence. The wood­en­clad ex­te­rior and the 150 year-old oak floors were re­claimed from dis­as­sem­bled lo­cal houses and serve as a nod to the sur­round­ing wood­lands, while the abun­dance of floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows reaf­firms the con­nec­tion be­tween the in­side of the ho­tel and its stun­ning sur­rounds.

It isn’t just the trickle of tourists that have ben­e­fited from the con­struc­tion of the ho­tel – there’s also been a pos­i­tive charge through­out the lo­cal com­mu­nity as a re­sult.

“The [ho­tel] is play­ing an im­por­tant role in the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the re­gion,” says Tata. “Lo­cals are em­ployed at the ho­tel, the num­ber of tourists has in­creased dra­mat­i­cally and a big por­tion of the sup­plies for the restau­rant come from lo­cals.” Not only that, but lo­cal vil­lagers have now started to cre­ate rooms and home­s­tays them­selves in or­der to cater to the grow­ing num­bers now vis­it­ing the area (up­wards of 25 such list­ings now ex­ist on Airbnb).

The food at Rooms Ho­tel Kazbegi, named in hon­our of a 19th cen­tury Ge­or­gian poet, is also proudly lo­cal, with guests in­vited to visit the kitchen for im­promptu cook­ing classes in or­der to learn more about tra­di­tional cui­sine. There’s a fire­side cigar menu and a sweep­ing sun ter­race. Most im­pres­sive, though, are the sur­rounds vis­i­tors can ex­plore – if heli-ski­ing isn’t your thing, you can eas­ily trek to the 14th cen­tury Ger­geti Trin­ity Church or the nearby trail that leads to the Dev­do­raki Glacier.

But no trail is as im­por­tant as the one left by Ge­or­gia’s long and troubled his­tory. For­tu­nately though, there’s plenty of space for vis­i­tors to tread a new one (and plenty of places to rest your head when you de­cide to do so).

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