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Georgia’s Picturesque Winters And Extended Festive Period Make It A Magical Winter Escape

With a calendar of festive celebrations lasting well into January and a fast-expanding snowsport scene, Georgia is an ideal destination for travelers to enjoy the coldest months of the year.

Winter brings celebrations in many parts of the world. But in Georgia, local orthodox tradition means festivities last even longer – spanning well into January. With a plethora of snowsports also on offer in the country’s many mountain resorts, Georgia is the perfect place to head for an exciting winter getaway.

With arguably some of the best Christmas lights in the world, Georgia’s historic capital, Tbilisi, is a must-see during the festive period. The lights transform the city and stay illuminated until at least mid-January – ideal for bringing color to the darkest and coldest months of a European winter . Every neighborhood puts on its own light show in line with the annual theme – though Rustaveli Avenue and Orbeliani Square are usually the most extravagant – and each year is an opportunity to outdo the last. Don’t miss the traditional Centerpiece Tree (the largest in the city) on Republic Square.

Tbilisi also boasts an array of Christmas markets that spring up all over the city, where you’ll find street food, handicrafts, Georgian candies, and mulled wine, among other festive treats. The most popular are at Orbeliani Square and Republic Square, both of which host a variety of theatre shows and children’s entertainment alongside live bands, DJs, and even the occasional A-List performance. The markets also stay open until mid-January, so there’s plenty of time to indulge.

Photo by Natalia Tark

New Year is so important for Georgians that they celebrate it twice. Festivities start on December 31st, when they exchange gifts and celebrate with family – usually with a ‘supra’  featuring traditional dishes including ‘satsivi’ (turkey with walnut sauce served chilled), Gozinaki (caramelized walnuts), and ‘basila’ (a sweet cake made with raisins). Children get sweets and presents from ‘Tovlis Papa’ (Grandfather Snow). Head to Tblisi’s First Republic Square, which usually hosts a New Year Gala concert and marks the countdown with a spectacular fireworks display.

One of the most charming aspects of Georgian New Year is ‘Bedoba’, meaning “a day of luck”, on January 2nd. It’s believed this day sets the tone for your luck throughout the year, so Georgians try to spend the day as cheerfully as possible.

Because the Georgian orthodox church uses the old Julian calendar, Christmas Day is celebrated on 7th January. Each year, people all over the country take part in a traditional march called Alilo, often wearing traditional Georgian costume and carrying flags, or dressed as characters from the Nativity. With carol-singing, plenty of sweets doled out to children, and food collections for distribution to orphanages and people in need, it’s an occasion that transforms villages, towns, and cities all over Georgia.

Gudauri, Georgia’s largest ski resort

The second, ‘Old New Year’ celebration happens on January 14th. A more laid-back affair, Georgians consider it a chance to say goodbye to the old year and meet the new one with positive energy. A few days later on January 19th comes the Orthodox Epiphany, when the burning of a traditional Christmas tree – a ‘chichilaki’ made from dried hazelnut or walnut branches – is a symbolic way to purge the trials and tribulations of the previous year.

For a very different side of winter in Georgia, head to the picturesque mountains. Georgia’s skiing and snowboarding scene is fast expanding; new resorts are popping up  in key locations. The largest, most popular resort – with over 40km of piste and a lift pass costing less than 20 USD – is Gudauri in the Greater Caucasus, just north of Tbilisi. If you’re coming from Kutaisi, a six-hour drive north will land you in one of the newest (and as-yet relatively unknown) resorts in Europe, Tetnuldi – perfect if you want to avoid the crowds.

The mountainous Svaneti region offers a host of winter sports

For something even further off the beaten track, try exploring one of the more remote peaks, which are popular for backcountry skiing. And for a very different kind of experience, try heliskiing in the northwestern area of Svaneti, or the northeastern area of Kazbegi. A helicopter will drop you off in a prime location, leaving you to ski back to a pickup point.

If you’re after an adventure packed with hospitable culture, stunning natural scenery  and magical escapism this winter, Georgia will tick all your boxes. And with 40 airlines now travelling direct to 76 destinations – including renewed routes from Venice, Barcelona and Berlin – it’s just a short flight away.