Our 4th day in Georgia started, as usual, very early, although we didn’t have that much to drive, but still we wanted to have a full day of exploring, especially since the sun was up and the sky was clear.
As we spent the previous night in the area of the Katskhi Column, mainly because the way from Kazbegi to Kutaisi was way too long, we also checked out this place before heading to Kutaisi.
The Katskhi Column is a natural limestone monolith located at the village of Katskhi, near the town of Chiatura. It is approximately 40 metres high, and overlooks the small river valley of Katskhura.
The rock, with visible church ruins on a top surface dating from the 9th or 10th century, has been venerated by locals as the Pillar of Life and a symbol of the True Cross, and has become surrounded by legends. Religious activity associated with the pillar was revived in the 1990s and the monastery building had been restored by 2009.
Kutaisi is the traditional rival of Tbilisi for capital status, and has since the days of the Golden Fleece been considered the capital of Western Georgia (then Ancient Colchis). It’s Georgia’s second largest city and, considering that the Government moved there from 2012 to 2018, a lot of work has been done to restore streets, buildings and parks.
A lot less touristic that Tbilisi, the city has quite a lot to offer for a couple of days city break, especially on a warm weather. Walking around the city center is nice, you will get to see everything from the nice restored old buildings, lots of green areas with big trees and shade, the local market, modern street art and a lot of the typical Georgian traffic jams.
We spent 2 nights in Kutaisi and our apartment was right in the city center so it was easy to walk around. On our second day, we also caught a National Holiday (2nd of May) and all the streets were closed for cars and open to the people. In the main square there was an open air party, perfect opportunity for us to mingle a bit with the locals and get some free drinks – it seems that Georgian people are very open to serving you alcohol anytime they get the chance to.
The local market was also another place where we mingled a bit with the locals. Here you will find everything you can imagine, from fresh vegetables, to wooden tools and tobacco. Everybody there was always trying to find out where we are from and how we feel about their country. Plus the exterior of the market building is very beautiful and worth checking out.
Eat out in Kutaisi
I have to admit I worked hard before the trip to find some places to eat out that would satisfying our need of local, authentic food. I asked around and I only got a couple of recommendations, enough actually for the amount of time we spent in the city.
Bikentia’s Kebabery – this was one of the coolest places to eat out, by far, from the whole trip. A very classical standing tables place, quite small, as to fit 10 – 15 people at a time, with just one dish on the menu – tasty kebabs covered in spicy tomato sauce with white onions and fresh coriander, served with a cold draft beer. Instead of forks and knives you would get bread to make sure you don’t leave any of that tasty tomato sauce behind.
Baraka – this was our dinner spot in our last night, after waiting a bit in line for a table – the place tends to get full in the evenings, so maybe it’s a good idea to book a table in advance. Baraka is the classical traditional Georgian cuisine restaurant, where you can try all the traditional dishes in the country. The menu was a bit too much for us, we had too many warm and cooked dishes with lots of meat and sauces. A bit heavy for what we were expecting, but still very tasty. The local wine they had was also quite a treat.
Restaurant Papavero – we only tried the place for drinks, as it was very close to our apartment and it had a very nice outdoor terrace.
Dinner at Mushroom Art House – “Nikvi’s Communa”
During the first night in Kutaisi, we talked again with the lovely ladies from Culinary & Wine Expedition and they took us out of the city to Kursebi, a nearby village to meet Mariam, to cook with her and her family and to hear about the community of Kursebi and how Mariam is working on reviving it.
The area around Kursebi is very rich in wild mushrooms and Mariam is strongly working on building a community around mushroom foraging that would in the end translate into having more tourists in the village, into selling the mushrooms in the country and allowing the people to live a decent life in the village and not be tempted anymore to leave for big cities or to work abroad.
For us it was a true pleasure to meet such a dedicated woman, really believing in the potential of her village, also passionate about the gastronomy and traditions of her region. We cooked together, using lots of local ingredients, all fresh, we admired her family working around the house and we enjoyed a delicious dinner, in the garden, with mushrooms,local cheese, jonjoli, new potatoes and excellent wine.