A GEORGIAN GETAWAY: THE TSINANDALI FESTIVAL
With UK travel restrictions on the verge of being eased, we were thrilled at the opportunity to go behind the scenes of the greatly anticipated Tsinandali Festival taking place from the 8-19 September 2021.
Whether you are musically inclined (or not), culturally curious, a wine connoisseur or simply a travel enthusiast the beautiful 17th century wine estate of Tsinandali in Kakheti, Georgia’s wine country offers the perfect luxury getaway for all.
From Georgia’s lush green valleys with vineyards in an abundance to its ancient churches and monasteries positioned in fantastic mountain scenery, Georgia never disappoints. In recent years Tbilisi has emerged as one of the trendiest cities in Europe, with a developing club and bar scene, excellent restaurants and natural wine bars that easily make it the hippest spot in the region. Georgia also claims to be the birthplace of wine, archaeologists have traced the world’s first known wine creation back to the people of the region in 6,000BC. These early Georgians discovered that grape juice could be turned into wine by burying it underground for the winter in clay pots.
You are forgiven if your first thoughts of Georgia turn to the Peach State in the USA as even online search engines can appear confused when doing your homework. Georgia (The Country) is located at the important crossroads where Europe and Asia meet, neighbouring with Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Black Sea, giving the country very unique cultural heritage, traditions and most importantly cuisine. Tbilisi, the capital city is well known for its diverse architecture and incredibly Instagrammable Old Town cobbled streets. Georgia is also one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world, which being another great reason to visit.
Despite there being no direct flights from the UK to Georgia there are multiple convenient options from London Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted via many major cities for example: Athens, Istanbul, Kiev, Munich, Riga and Vienna with a flight time of just over 7 hours including transit. Tbilisi International Airport is well connected with many buses, trains and endless taxis including BOLT the UBER equivalent also with luxury cars available. The drive to central Tbilisi is around 30 minutes and costs not more than 10GBP. If time allows, we would highly recommend a few days in the capital either before or after your visit to the historic Tsinandali Estate.
The scenic drive to the region of Kakheti takes around 1.5 hours. We would suggest you prebook a car for this trip to avoid any delays or confusion, which the hotel will be happy to assist with. Be sure to have your camera at the ready for some stunning photo opportunities as you meander along the mountain roads ensuring to have a quick stop at the 1620m above sea level view point along the way.
The Tsinandali Festival
The founders of the internationally-renowned Verbier Festival were approached due to their extensive experience in bringing world-class classical musicians together, to create the Tsinandali Festival which had its debut in 2019. The Tsinandali Festival is a non-profit foundation focusing on promoting the language of music in the Region. The Festival is showcasing a full 12 day programme of 23 unforgettable concerts by 24 world renowned artists with many returning to Tsinandali to show their solidarity and reaffirm it as one of the world’s leading festivals following the disruptions of last year. This years Festival kicks off with Rachmaninoff’s third Piano Concerto and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé played by the Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lahav Shani, with pianist Yefim Bronfman.
The Tsinandali Festival also founded the Pan-Caucasian Youth Orchestra in 2019, uniting 80 young musicians from Georgia and its neighbouring countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Ukraine). The project aims to deliver a message of peace and unity between Georgia and its neighbouring countries. The young musicians are given the opportunity to train and perform with world-class conductors, coaches and musicians. The estate also boasts a 1200-seat and 600 seat concert halls.
The festival offers not only a wonderful opportunity for passionate young musicians and music lovers but also for guests simply wanting to enjoy a luxury getaway filled with great wines, delicious Georgian cuisine, fantastic hospitality and culture all while having the opportunity to appreciate the splendid Tsinandali Estate immersing yourself in a piece of history and Mothers natures glory.
The Tsinandali Estate founded in 1690 by the poet and public figure Prince Alexandre Chavchavadze and his family has recently undergone a $60 million renovation with a vision to preserve as well as revive history. The estate also has the status of a Cultural Heritage Monument of Georgia.
Chavchavadze House Museum: Having invested over $12 million since 2007 in the museum, with a complete renovation of the house itself and restoring over 100 unique exhibits. The museum showcases many personal belongings of the Chavchavadze family including various literary editions of the 19th century, 18th century manuscripts, photos of Dmitri Ermakov, and paintings and lithographic works can now be found at the Museum, alongside Georgian, Russian, French furniture, and other 18th-19th century household items. A grand piano, and Chinese, Japanese, European, Georgian and Russian dinnerware take special place in the museum display.
Oenotheque: Tsinandali Wine Museum showcases over 16,500 bottles including the oldest label in Georgia from 1841 which is stored in the private cellar. The large clay wine jars buried in the ground here by Alexandre Chavchavadze later become the prototype for the classic Georgian winery.
The Park: 19th century landscaped gardens spanning 18 hectares with over 1600 exotic plant species from all over the world provides the ultimate place to escape and wander. Since 2008 the Estate has focused on the rehabilitation of the gardens and consequently was listed in 2019 on the European Historic Heritage Gardens list.
Vineyard: The 40 hectare Tsinandali vineyard is located 700 meters above sea level and boasts 11 varieties of Georgian grapevine: Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Kisi, Khikhvi, Usakhelouri, Alexandrouli, Mujuretuli, Tsolikouri, Tetra and Ojaleshi. In addition to the Georgian vines, Pinot Noir, the only foreign grape variety there, is also grown. Both the European and traditional Georgian method of wine making are used: Fermented from the whole grape (skin and stems) in a clay vessel called a Qvevri – is UNESCO-listed for its cultural value and unlike any wine tradition you’ve experienced before. The estate host many tours and wine tastings in either the vineyard itself or Gaumarjos Wine Bar.
The recently opened Radisson Collection Hotel incorporates parts of the 19th century Oenoteque of Alexander Chavchavadze along with a new purpose built wing home to the public areas and 124 rooms: 18,000 individual plant pots adorn the hotel structure allowing it to blend beautifully into the vineyard and distant oak forest.
The two wings of the hotel are joined by a glass bridge and thoughtfully positioned body of water, allowing the reflection of the two buildings to appear unified despite being built centuries apart.
The mood for your luxury getaway is set right on track with a chilled glass of sparkling wine from the Tsinandali Estate vineyards while you check in. Everywhere your eyes wonder you can feel the high levels of attention, love and respect for the building that the architects and designers had. Our room (414) was well appointed and of a good size with some thoughtful touches including some local Georgian treats, which are always well received. The east facing balcony overlooks the winery, terrace and 19th century landscaped gardens ideally positioned to wake up with the sun rising over the mountains in the distance.
The hotel boasts two swimming pools; one ideally located for a sunrise swim or relaxing throughout the day on the rooftop, and the other (our favourite) with a retracting glass roof and walls located on the edge of the valley. This pool is made even more ideal with the addition of a resident DJ creating a laid back vibe and many of the estates finest wines to sip while watching the golden sunset over the Caucasus Mountains.
The Anne Semonin Spa, Sauna and Fitness club located on the rooftop is a must as well as the regular yoga classes that the hotel host in the grounds of the Tsinandali Estate. All hotel guests can also enjoy complimentary Land Rover Bicycle use to explore the estate which we found to be a great way to start the day prior to breakfast.
What we ate and drank in Georgia
Georgian cuisine is like no other partly due to its unique location giving it influencers from the Mediterranean, Turkey and the Middle East with endless quantities of walnuts, honey, cheese and pomegranates. The hotel has 5 F&B outlets including 3 bars all showcasing the best wines and ChaChas the estate can offer. For those (like I was) thinking ChaCha was some style of dance: It is a local liquor made from grapes with a silent kick to it. Also ensure to go in search of the secret room where the suspended bee wax candles drip into the centre of the dining table developing art pieces throughout the duration of your dinner.
Prince Alexander Restaurant: The all-day dining restaurant opens with the perfect breakfast buffet spread including the crispiest of bacon, fluffiest homemade brioche and most indulgent chocolate eclairs and crème patissière filled choux buns (yes at breakfast) all perfectly paired with fresh orange juice topped with Tsinandali sparkling wine. Lunch and dinner offers an international affair appealing to all taste buds.
Natella: Georgian classics inspired by local Kakhetian cuisine with a real focus on local and seasonal produce. Pkhali, Chicken Dolma, Khinkali and Kachapuri are all must tries. Georgian salad may sound simple however until you have tried the local tomatoes, cucumber and Kakhetian vinegar you have simply not lived. We highly suggest a table on the terrace with a view of the charcoal grill and bread oven.
One of the most memorable moments was meeting the Baker who is described as having a PHD in Shoti: Shoti is a local canoe-shaped bread baked in a traditional sunken stone oven. Watching the baker dive head first into the oven to position the dough with his feet flipping into the air was terrifying, entertaining and brave all at the same time: A true must experience and one you can watch here.
In a nutshell
The Tsinandali Estate in Kakheti really has all one needs for a true luxury getaway and with the annual opportunity of the Tsinandali Festival fast approaching from the 8th-19th September 2021 it is the perfect time to visit the estate and region.
To discover more about the estate and festival visit: tsinandalifestival.ge/what-is-on
Leading image courtesy of Jarvis Stuart. Other imagery courtesy of Jarvis Stuart, The Radisson Collection and The Tsinandali Festival.