Fabled as the land where Jason and his Argonauts battled for the Golden Fleece, Georgia is impossibly rich in culture and history with a church, monastery or cathedral crowning almost every hilltop – some dating from the 4th Century. In the fertile valleys, vintners tend fields and make wine by a method unchanged over 8,000 years. While in the southern deserts near the Turkish boarder, hillsides support the catacombs of ancient cave cities. Reminders of Georgia’s long and bloody history abound, with helmets, chain mail and swords from the Crusades and Mongol conquests proudly displayed in museums and some homes.
Unlike the Slavic peoples to the north or the Turks and Arabs to the south, Georgians are European in appearance, to many their tanned complexion and strong features are similar to the Calabrians of Southern Italy. Known for their poetry and staunch patriotism they, like the Italians, possess a great love of food, wine and song and at the drop of a hat they will invite you to eat with them, celebrate one of their many festivals or even be an honoured guest at a wedding.
It was this hospitality and the promise of some of the best heli-skiing in the world that had lured me to Georgia. An Austrian ski instructor friend had married a Georgian girl and they now lived and taught at Gudauri Resort. Accepting their invitation I had made the long journey to Tiblisi and then headed north, deep into the Caucasus. Fire towers and monasteries broke the lines of richly wooded ridges as we wound our way through the foothills past crystal lakes and patches of vibrant pasture until a bend revealed the irresistible vista of the high snowcapped Caucasus.