Porsche Travel Experience: the future is looking up
Long before we set off with our enthusiasts on any Porsche Travel Experience, we head out to go looking for impressive new routes. The task is to explore the traditions of the relevant country – to find out whether a local tour would be suitable for any future Porsche Travel Experience. A curious outlook is an essential piece of our ‘luggage' when we arrive at any new destination. We make sure we've packed it as we arrive in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, and pick up our Porsche Cayenne. Ahead is a journey to explore this fascinating, mountainous country. The Cayenne feels comfortable and capable, even off the beaten track, so will provide the maximum fun factor in this mountainous landscape. As we leave the bustle of Tbilisi, the roads are well-paved and in good condition. We join a serpentine convoy of trucks, mainly of Russian provenance, bound for the 6th Century Jvari monastery. Soon we spot the cruciform dome of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, enthroned on its hill. Here, just a few kilometres outside the capital, the clocks already seem to have been turned back decades, if not centuries.
We’re planning to go as far as the Russian border at Stepantsminda, journeying along the old Georgian military road. We pass by the deep blue Jinvali reservoir, overlooked by the imperious 17th Century fortified castle and church of Ananuri on its shoreline. We’re heading for the winding roads leading us further up through the now-abandoned Gudauri ski area to the almost 2,400m-high (7,900 feet) Cross Pass. If we didn’t already know that this compact country was as varied as an entire continent, we certainly do by now. Deep, verdant gorges and sleepy mountain villages alternate with the sight of the semi-wild horses of the Caucasus nomads. Sometimes we are the only car for miles. The mountain roads are empty as we steadily fill up on ever more invigorating sights.
A journey accompanied by the stillness of nature
From the Cross Pass we plan to head to the northern side of this giant mountain range. The passage over the High Caucasus is like Georgia’s version of Italy’s famed Brenner Pass, a highlight of the Porsche Travel Experience Alpine Performance. The roads in this part of Georgia offer up the occasional challenge here and there. There are a few potholes to negotiate along the way and we nearly always have to slow down to a walking pace before crossing the bridges – but there are benefits in doing so. A steadier pace proves perfect for watching the majestic flight of the mountain eagles. Our arduous journey north is worth it for this unique spectacle alone.
The distances to other capital cities in the region – Yerevan, Baku and Tehran – are shown on road signs here. By the roadside, farmers sell locally-produced honey. Behind them lie gentle mountain meadows as far as the eye can see, the source of the nectar for the bees that produces their delicious products. As the old Silk Road took this route, there are more ancient monasteries along the way too. Finally we reach the typically Georgian mountain village of Stepantsminda. Cows appear wherever you look. It feels like the last caravan passed through not so long ago. This idyllic place is home to several 5,000m white-capped peaks. The panorama is almost indescribably beautiful.
I saw wonderful things... my impressions were so new that it all felt like a dream
The cradle of viticulture
On many a Porsche Travel Experience, a glass of wine at the end of a long day’s driving and sightseeing is a real treat. But did you know that Georgia is considered to be the birthplace of winemaking? The tradition of viticulture here is over 8,000 years old. Over 500 of the world’s 10,000 grape varieties originate from this small country. To find out more, we are travelling to Kakheti in the far east of the country. It is said that the origins of winegrowing can be seen particularly clearly in this region directly to the east of Tbilisi. Every farmer has his own vineyard, and every house has its own wine cellar. We meet people who demonstrate impressive dedication to their ancient heritage. They cultivate the ancient white rkatsiteli grapes to make wine using traditional Georgian methods, storing it in large clay amphorae.
Where there is wine, there is hospitality – and the hospitality of the Georgians is legendary. Here, every guest is considered heaven-sent. It’s something we soon find out for ourselves as we sit in a restaurant with a richly laden table in front of us. Most of what you eat here is also grown here. With this kind of local artisanal approach, Georgia is fully in line with the current foodie movement towards sustainable, home-grown, seasonal produce.
A succession of plates piled with rustic fare are served. It includes Georgia’s favourite dish, khachapuri, a baked cheese-filled bread. We owe the thick, salty cheese to the cows we see grazing everywhere in this lush, wild landscape. In the end, as is so often the case, it is its food that helps us immerse ourselves deeply in the authentic lifestyle of our host countries. When it comes to Georgia, its food is undoubtedly a star. But we’ve learnt that it has so much more to recommend it as a future destination for the Porsche Travel Experience.
This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.