20.03.2015. You would never have known it was 3 a.m. in Georgia's Tbilisi Airport when our Lufthansa plane landed. Flights were arriving and departing, passport control was packed and the airport was brightly lit.
In fact, most air service in and out of Georgia takes place in the middle of the night, and locals are clearly used to these arrivals, for, like the airport, the Holiday Inn Tbilisi was fully staffed and busy when I checked in.
Admittedly, these quirky arrival times, along with a few other drawbacks we encountered in the days to follow such as long stretches of roads without basic amenities and an unsophisticated tourism infrastructure, could be an issue for the casual or inexperienced Europe visitor.
For the right traveler, however, these inconveniences are minor in return for what Georgia has to offer: ancient castles and churches as beautiful as anything in Italy and France, but without the crowds; a wine culture of increasing international renown; a stellar cuisine; and a warm reception from locals, who seem to have hospitality in their DNA.
"We know this is an unusual trip," said Max Johnson, founder and head of product development for the Great Canadian Travel Co., which, together with the Georgian National Tourism Administration and Living Roots, an inbound travel company, arranged the itinerary.
"We know travel agents may have only one or two clients who are looking for new, interesting programs like this, and we focus on them," he said.
The biggest draw for most of us, and the reason Georgia is slowly making its way onto mainstream radar, is its wine, which we sampled during a prelunch wine tasting at Vino-Underground, a wine cellar in Tbilisi.