What's the highest mountain range in Europe? The Alps? Wrong. It is the Caucasus Mountains marking the border between Georgia and Russia. While the highest peak is in Russia, Georgia lays claim to the second highest, Shkara, which at 5,193m (17,040 ft) beats Mont Blanc by nearly 400m (1,312 ft). These dramatic mountains, with their terrifying hairpin roads and hidden villages cut off at winter, are the stuff of legend. In Greek mythology they were one of the pillars holding up the world. And it was here that Zeus tied up Prometheus, to have his liver eaten by eagles. Today they are increasingly becoming a destination for climbers, walkers or skiers looking for adventure.
Georgia isn't called Georgia
At least, not by Georgians. They call their country Sakartvelo. The origins of the country's name in English are obscure. One theory points to the Middle Ages when Christian crusaders swept through the region on their way to the Holy Land. At that time, it was part of the Persian Empire and the people here were known as "Gurj". They were also devotees of St George. Theory has it that the crusaders made the connection and named the country Georgia. These days, there's no mistaking the link to St George. A golden statue of the saint slaying a dragon dominates Tbilisi's central square. He is also Georgia's patron saint and the national flag featuring his red cross on a white background is everywhere.
Spoken Georgian is like no other language you are likely to hear. It belongs to its own ancient linguistic group unlike any other language spoken outside the region. It includes rare sounds that many visitors may never have heard before. Some consonants, for example, are pronounced from the back of the throat with a sudden guttural puff of air. Georgian has its own 33-letter alphabet thought to be based on the sort of Aramaic spoken in the time of Jesus. To the untutored eye, the letters look very much alike. A squiggle too far and your "k" can easily turn into a "v" or a "p". But even without understanding it, Georgian writing is beautiful, a myriad of theatrical swirls and flourishes. Very fitting to a country of dramatic personalities