I’ve decided to take us on a journey into the heartland of a really magical country. It’s a country which, all of my readers know, I’m deeply connected to and have been for some time. Married to a Georgian, it means that I’ve come to call the country home, and can’t really imagine myself anywhere else long term, no matter where in the world I might jump around too. I’ll still be hanging with Georgians, going to Georgian church, eating Georgian food, and so on. So, I’ve come to face the music, I’ve basically become Georgian. It’s not so bad though, as long as I can watch the calories on my xatchapuri intake.
nothing like an old church in ancient ruins
My wife’s family is from a region of Georgia called Samegrelo. It’s what I think of as the heartland of Georgia. It’s the region where all the Greek legends of Georgia come from and even has its own language—Megrelian, which is a sister language to Georgian. Lots of Georgians think it’s just a dialect, but truth be told, Spanish and Italian are closer relatives than Georgian (Kartuli) and Megrelian. But this is an argument for another day and time, and my point really is to say how unique of a region Samegrelo is. Also, they’ve their own xatchapuri, or cheesy bread. It’s got a nice, crispier top than the usually fluffy Imeretian one, so try it if you’re ever in the country.
How to get there
The capital of Samegrelo is Zugdidi, but if I had to say where the real heartland of the region is, I’d say Martvili (this is probably because my wife’s family lives near there). Martvili is one of those towns that is just booming with tourism opportunities, and it’s really beyond me why the government hasn’t picked up on this. This means that, despite of all the sites to see, there is somewhat limited access to them, and you might be best off just finding a driver and paying him some loads of GEL to take you around. There are also tour guides that will operate out of Kutaisi to cover these places, but if you really want the real feel of the Georgian backcountry, then find some ramshackle hotel in Martvili or Senaki.
Senaki, being on the main rail line to Zugdidi, is also easier to get to than Martvili, though there are marshrutkas to Martvili from Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Senaki. I’d advice taking the train to Senaki and a marshrutka to Martvili. If you do that, then when you get off the train, drop what little Georgian you might know at the carriage and use this phrase: “So gehreh Martvilish marshrutka?” That means, “Where is the Martvili marshrutka stand?” If you say that, some Megrelian might just be so happy that some random tourist is speaking in Megrelian that they just might drive you themselves. Or s