Stellies and Safari

Our recent 10 day trip to South Africa was split into three parts, four nights in Cape Town (you can read about it here and also about all of the amazing food that we ate here) three nights in Stellenbosch and two nights at a safari lodge – the Garden Route Game Reserve. Each part of the trip was completely different to the other, with each area having a totally different vibe.  This is one reason I loved South Africa; the abundance of activities and beautiful places that it has to explore.

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch, or “Stellies” as the locals refer to it, is only a short one hour drive from Cape Town. We had pre-booked a driver however, we soon found out that most people simply book an Uber to take them, this is a much cheaper option, although having our hotel transfer was very convenient. As you leave Cape Town, the terrain changes entirely, the towns become more dispersed, it’s much greener and you can see mountains and fields for miles.

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Zorgvliet Wine Estate

When deciding on our accommodation for Stellenbosch there was a huge selection to choose from. So many lovely boutique hotels; farm houses; luxury guest houses and so on. One of our criteria was that we wanted to choose accommodation that was directly connected to its own vineyard, but within a reasonable budget so we decided on Zorgvliet Wine Estate.

When we arrived the sun was beaming down and it was a gorgeous 27 degrees! The hotel only has 12 rooms which sleep from one to six guests so it had a very personal feel to it. From checking in the staff were extremely friendly and helpful and we were able to head straight to our room. We decided to take a walk out through the vineyards and explore the estate. Everything was so beautiful. We made our way round to the chapel and wine tasting room. You are able to hire the hotel and grounds out for private weddings, I kind of wish I knew this a year ago!

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Situated around the back of the hotel was a cute little farm shop (which I spent far too much money in) and they had a picnic basket menu …. yes, a menu for selecting your picnic basket. It was so cute! We chose a basket that came with chicken wraps, cold cuts of hams, a cheese selection, salad, baguette, chocolate brownie and, most importantly, a bottle of white wine! We sat on one of the little picnic benches enjoying our picnic and it was just lovely.

The Fat Butcher

That night, we ventured out of the hotel to visit the Fat Butcher steak restaurant which is located in Stellenbosch town centre. We drove through the university campuses to get there so it was nice to see a bit more of the town. From the outside, the restaurant looks very quaint and relatively small, inside was a different story! There were several different rooms all full of people dining. We were sat in the main room, close to the bar. The interior was lovely and the staff were all wearing lovely brown leather aprons. To start, I ordered the carpaccio which was really thick compared to the usually wafer thin slices of beef, I was almost full with the main part yet to come! Ryan had the bone marrow which most other people appeared to order as well! For our main we shared an 850g T-bone steak with truffle mash, seasonal veggies and a bottle of red wine. There was no room for dessert, but there was space for an espresso martini! The overall bill came to just over £50, we couldn’t believe it. I don’t know if we are just spoilt with Dubai prices or if South Africa really is super cheap!

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Delaire Graff Wine Estate

The next morning, Ryan headed out to De Zalze golf course for a round of golf and I had booked myself in for a spa morning at Delaire Graff Estate. I had a 60 minute body massage followed by a 60 minute facial and then headed out to the infinity pool for a chill, what a treat. Ryan joined my shortly after and we sat and had a few glasses of champagne while chilling around the pool. We had a wine tasting session booked in where we sampled five of their wines, followed by lunch out on the terrace. The food was amazing! I had the pork belly and Ryan chose the sea bass. By the time we left I was quite tipsy and very full. We arrived back at our hotel and Ryan went for more wine tasting (I don’t know how he managed it) whilst I had a little snooze around the pool.

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On our final day in the winelands we headed across to Franschhoek. We had booked a transfer with the Wine Tram company in advance but it wasn’t actually required as it was only around a 15 minute drive from our hotel and we definitely could have got an uber there. The Franschhoek Wine Tram was one of our favourite days in SA! You definitely need to book in advance online to avoid disappointment and do a bit of research to decide which vineyards and route you would like to do for the day. I let Ryan choose this for us and he decided on the orange line. We started by getting on a bus to the first part of the tram line for the orange route. Once we sat on the tram we were each given our first glass of wine of the day … it was 9.36am!

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At the start of the day you’re provided with a schedule which outlines each of the stops, the time that the tram or bus arrives, and the time that it will depart. They stick to the schedule by the minute! The tram/bus picks you up from each stop after every 35 minutes / 1 hour 10 / 1 hour 45 and so on, so you can plan your day according to how many stops you wish to visit.

The first vineyard we visited was Noble Hill. We sat out in a cute little terrace for the wine tasting followed by a stroll around the grounds. We allowed 1 hour 10 for this stop so we didn’t feel rushed and it was just the right amount of time.

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Next, we visited Babylonstoren and spent just under three hours here! As you leave the bus stop on the left hand side they have a small gift shop that sells soaps and creams and you can make your own foot scrub and face clay! I had far too much fun in here mixing up the little potions. We also saw the small factory at the back where they extract lavender and rosemary oil from the leaves harvested around their grounds.

Their wine tasting room was a lovely bright area with floor to ceiling windows so you could look out across the vineyards. It was absolutely packed full of people in there but we managed to get a seat and enjoy the tasting. Some people were pairing their wine tasting with food platters but we had made a lunch reservation at a different restaurant on the grounds, Babel. Just outside the restaurant were two huge turkeys, I made a joke that they were getting ready for Christmas to which the waitress replied “those are actually our pets”… awkward.

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The food in Babel was amazing, honestly we didn’t have a bad meal during our entire holiday! I had the steak with my favourite glass of red wine I had tried during the tasting and Ryan ordered the pork belly. I could have spent all day at this vineyard as there were so many parts to it and if you follow them on Instagram they show different activities they have on at different times of the week, such as gardening and activities within their farm.

Our penultimate stop was at Vrede En Lust. By this point I was 11 glasses in and actually needed a break, Ryan soldiered on though and sampled another six wines there. This was my favourite vineyard for views. We sat outside on the little terrace looking across the vineyard with the mountains in the background and you could see the tram line and watch the tram arrive into the platform.

Our final stop of the day was at Boschendal it was stunning and by far the largest
estate that we visited. I decided to do the Rose Garden tasting which included two “tastings” of champagne which actually turned out to be full size glasses! I’m not sure how we were still standing by the end but we headed back to Stellenbosch and decided to chill in and have dinner at the little restaurant within the hotel.

Safari

The last stop of our trip was a two night stay at the Garden Route Game Reserve. It was a four hour drive from Stellenbosch to the reserve so we booked our driver in advance via the Game Reserve itself. The journey really wasn’t too bad and on the way we saw baboons and a little giraffe out in the distance. As we turned into the Game Reserve I was so excited.

We checked in and were given our itinerary for the three days. We had just enough time to drop our bags to our cute little hut before heading out on our first sunset safari. Our jeep held ten people plus our guide and we headed out in search of the Big Five.

The reserve’s land stretches for hectares! It is separated into different sections housing certain animals. Firstly is the elephant enclosure. The reserve has two elephants, both of which were rescued from elephant back safaris and are now living at the Reserve. As they have been used to human contact, and due to the huge amount of food that they eat per day, the eles have a bit of help from the staff with their food but you still cannot get close enough to touch them.

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The second area houses cheetahs, rhinos, hippos, zebra, water buffalo, ostrich, antelope, gazelles, springbok and many more. All of these animals live life as if they are truly out in the wild. There is no human contact whatsoever and you really have to drive around searching for the animals! We were lucky enough to see a Mummy, Daddy and baby rhino! When asked how many rhinos the reserve has our guide informed us that they are not allowed to disclose the exact number as rhinos are a protected animal and in danger of poachers so they have to keep their rhinos safe!

We were also lucky enough to see a cheetah with her four cheetah cubs! The cubs are around five months old, still a bit fluffy and super cute! The mum has a collar on her neck and when we asked why this was, our guide informed us that they track the mum to ensure that she and the babies are safe while they are growing. The reserve is also part of a cheetah conservation programme whereby when the cheetah cubs are old enough they will be sent to another game reserve to live. This ensures that the cheetahs bloodlines stay pure and there is no interbreeding within the families.

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Part way through our safari we pulled over for a little picnic, we had wine, beer some snacks and watched as the sun was starting to set. At he end of the Safari we were dropped back to the main part of the reserve where the staff had lit some bonfires and stood around having a glass of wine before heading to dinner. The perfect end to an amazing day.

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We were up bright and early the next morning to head out on the sunrise safari. We were told the animals were likely to be more active than the previous evening and we set off in search of the King of the Jungle in the lions section. The gates opened and as we drove through we saw the first of many springbok carcasses abandoned in the grass. As we approached we saw the big daddy with not one but four female lions around him. We stopped nearby, but still at a safe distance, and watched them go about their morning. One of the females started walking around and pulled a funny face that looked as if she was about to sneeze (our little cat Ted actually pulls the same face at home sometimes) and our guide informed as that she was picking up a scent of prey to catch for their lunch! This enclosure also homes springbok, antelope, gazelles etc so the lions are required to hunt for their prey; and the prey are still required to run!

The Safari ended at around 7.30am so we had breakfast and by this point the rain had set in so we sat out in the balcony at our hut over looking the watering hole and decided to crack open a bottle of champagne before our massage at midday!

Our final Safari that evening took us to yet another enclosure, this time in search of the final animal on our Big Five list, the giraffes. This enclosure is the newest piece of land that the reserve owns and only opened last year as it took four year to create the correct terrain for the giraffes and to plot the route for the safari to take. We were searching for around an hour before eventually sighting the giraffes. We stopped off again for our sunset picnic before driving back to the main reserve. As it had been raining that day we were lucky enough to see a hippo out of the watering hole grazing.

We had such an amazing time at be Garden Route Game Reserve and I would highly recommend it for those who don’t have enough time to head down to Kruger or other national parks that are much further away from Cape Town. It’s clear that all of the staff at the reserve are extremely passionate about the welfare of the animals and focus on the importance of allowing them to remain living in the “wild” whilst in the safe boundaries of the reserve.

Our Wedding Day

Oh, our wedding day. When I try to put into words how I feel about our wedding day the only word I tend to use is amazing. I’m not the type of person who can say I have always dreamt about what my wedding day would be like or that I had it all planned out as a young girl because honestly, I had never even thought about it until we got engaged! But our day really was everything I ever could have imagined it to be, and more.

Throughout the day I had to keep stopping to remind myself, “this is actually your wedding day… you’re getting married today” to make sure I tried to take it all in. Like when I was sat having my hair done in the morning by Sheree, or just as me and Dad were about to walk down the aisle, I just had to take a moment to process it all.

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t exactly have the best start to the day. Katie and I shared a bed the night before as Ryan was in with his best man, Harry. I think I got a total of about 90 minutes sleep the night before the wedding… it was without a doubt, the worst night’s sleep of my entire life. At one point, I was convinced the entire wedding party had food poisoning from the BBQ and I called my mum at 2.30am in tears saying “Mum, everyone’s got food poisoning, there’s not going to be a wedding, everyone’s ill!” I needed Mum to be the voice of reason and tell me, that actually, no one has food poisoning and I’m probably just feeling a bit nervous!

The morning of…

So on the wedding morning at 7am, my Mum, Ryan’s Mum (Lisa), Katie, Sheree and Jemma came to the bridal suite to start getting ready for the day. I am so lucky to have such an amazingly talented best friend as Sheree and she was not only a bridesmaid, but also our hair wizard. Kelly, from Perfection, also travelled across to France to do everyone’s makeup. Me, being me, prepared a schedule for the morning, broken down by every 15 minutes so that we knew who had hair and makeup at what time and to avoid the issue of running late or anyone feeling stressed out.

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I have to say that getting ready was one of my favourite parts of the day. It was such a lovely, relaxing morning. We had presents, champagne, croissants and just all had such a lovely time. At around 1pm the flower girls and page boys came up to the bridal suite for some photos and to prepare for walking down the aisle.

We had suggested a hotel nearby for the wedding party to stay at and, for ease, arranged transportation to and from the wedding venue for the BBQ day and wedding day. At about 1.30pm, the wedding planner came to me and said “I don’t want to worry you but there’s been a slight issue with the coach… it’s broken down, so we’re going to be slightly delayed!” Can you believe the entire wedding party kept the bride waiting?! I just popped open another bottle of champagne! Both the photographer and the videographer wanted to capture me getting into my dress so, as we had time, I did it twice so that they could both get the shots they wanted.

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The Ceremony

The guests all pitched together and made their own way as a lot of people had hired cars for the weekend anyway. Once we were informed that guests had started to arrive, that’s when the nerves started to hit me. Luckily the ceremony had only been delayed by 30 minutes but by this point I was itching to get started. Our ceremony was supposed to be outside but the weather on the morning was very hit and miss with a bit of rain and so the wedding planner and florist decided it would be best if the ceremony was held in the barn. As we walked from the Chateau to the barn we were all holding umbrellas, my dress was tucked right up and I could hear the cellist as we were approaching. Everyone told me how cute and well behaved out little page boys, Rufus and Rafferty, were. Now that we’ve received the video back I can see the nerves in my whole body as I walked down the aisle with Dad.

The ceremony itself seemed to go so quickly for us. As part of our ceremony, we had a Wine Ceremony. Ryan and I had to write a note to each other which is to be stored in a wine box alongside a Polaroid picture from the wedding day. If our marriage is ever experiencing any difficulty we are supposed to sit together, open the bottle of wine and read our notes to one another, to remember the reason why we got married and the reason we fell in love. The aim though, is that our marriage never comes into difficulty and that we are supposed to open the wine and enjoy it together on our 5th wedding anniversary.

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After the ceremony, we had the cocktail and canapés reception. We had arranged for the band to play an acoustic set during this time and when we visited France in April we sampled all of the canapés that would be served at this time. We even had a live station where the chef was carving a leg of Serrano ham. I’ll be honest, this is the part of the day that I was most looking forward to (obviously apart from actually marrying Ryan!) But, we were taken away during this bit with our photographer and videographer to capture some special moments together. I did manage to make my way in for some of the Serrano ham though, and it was lovely!

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By this point, it was still drizzling and my dress had started to become a bit muddy. I had a bit of a bridezilla moment when mum said “don’t worry Lou, we can have it dry cleaned” I snapped back “but I need it clean NOW!” (Sorry Mum!) Everyone told me throughout the day that all the best wedding dresses end up covered in dirt and wine and that they tell a good story of the day but it was just a little heart-breaking seeing the bottom of it getting so muddy and wet in the rain. Thankfully it doesn’t show up in any of the photos!
We then had the family portraits which seemed to go on for ages so after that, Ryan and I decided to go for a little walk around the back of the Chateau, just the two of us, have some champagne and just spend a little bit of time together. That’s another thing so many people had told us in the lead up to the wedding… “make sure you get to spend some along time together on your wedding day”’

The Dinner

One thing that we really loved about our venue was all the space that could be used for different aspects of the day. Originally, we had planned to have the ceremony outside in front of the Chateau but thankfully had the backup of the gorgeous barn. The wedding breakfast was then held in the marquee which was attached to the barn and the barn itself had the stage and the band and was essentially our party room.

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The marquee looked absolutely gorgeous, so much more beautiful than I could have imagined. Rather than having the tables set with name tags for people to find their seat, we had polaroid’s held in corks (all of the photos were taken of the wedding guests the day before at the BBQ)! Ryan and I entered to Luther Vandross “Never Too Much” being played and joined our family at the top table. The speeches were lovely, and I’m so glad we have our video which includes all of the speeches as when we watched it back, I couldn’t remember half of what was said, it all seemed like such a blur!

One of my favourite parts of the room was the corner where the cake was. Our wedding planner had set two oak barrels with flowers either side of a trolley on which the cake sat, I thought it looked gorgeous. The marquee was clear so you could see through to the Chateau in the background, and once the sun had set the festoon lights connected from the tree to the marquee looked beautiful. We cut the cake and then had our first dance, ready to get the party started.

The Party

Our band were absolutely incredible our first dance was to Robin Es “Show me love” as an acoustic version which then sped up into the dance version. It got everyone straight up on the dance floor and I literally didn’t leave for the rest of the night! The band were honestly brilliant and made the evening for us. It was so amazing to be surrounded by our family and friends, dancing and laughing and just having the best time. We had a sparkler send off at around 9.30pm after the bands second set and the proceeded to DJ for the remainder of the night. It was only the next day that I remembered that we had arranged for burger sliders and bacon buttys to be brought out for the evening food – everyone else polished them off and I didn’t even have one!

As we had to use up all of the alcohol that we had ordered for the wedding day, we started to hand out bottles of the champagne so, me being the classy bride, had one glued to my hand for the rest of the night! The coach was arriving at 1am to pick up the guests and take them back to their hotel so Ryan and I slipped off at 12.55 as we were told we should leave before everyone else starts to leave.

Writing this has made me wish I could just live the whole day again. It really was the best day of my life.

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The Lead up to Our Wedding

I really don’t know where to start with writing this. I also cannot believe how quickly the time has gone. We’ve already been married almost three weeks. In the build up to the wedding everyone told us how fast the day would go but you don’t realise it until you’re actually there, in the day. I had to stop and have a few moments to try and take it all in.

Ryan and I arrived in France on the Wednesday with a luggage allowance of 75KG! We picked up our hire car and headed straight to the venue. The weather was a bit hit and miss on the drive to the venue but I didn’t want to let it put a downer on things so we headed straight out to Ikea and Carrefour to get some of the final things we needed for the weekend. As our wedding was dry hire it meant that we had to source everything through vendors. However, there were somethings that were definitely cheaper to source ourselves, for example the caterers wanted to charge €2 per shot glass whereas you can get a pack of 6 for €1.60 in Ikea. The same with water and soft drinks. So after approximately 5 hours in the shops with a stop at McDonalds in between we were tired and headed back to the Chateau. On the drive back the heavens opened and I was sat in the back of the car surrounded by Coke and glasses and just cried. I thought, I can’t believe everything we have planned over the course of the last year is now going to be ruined by the weather.

We got back to the Chateau and unpacked everything into the caterers kitchen connected to the marquee and sat in the lounge with a bottle of wine and wrapped up our gifts for our family.

The Family Night

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The next morning we went out to the shops again and stopped at a local bakery to order some sandwiches ready for when the family arrived. We asked the lady if she could speak English and her expression was shocked so she ran to get her son to help! We ordered 20 huge baguette sandwiches and some eclairs and little pastry bits for the family lunch and headed back waiting for them to arrive. Literally as the coach turned into the Chateau the sun burst through! It was so exciting to have all of our family there to show them what we’ve been talking about for the past year. We showed everyone to their rooms and all gathered in the marquee for lunch. It was exactly what we wanted, having all of our family there just relaxing and enjoying time together.

That evening was the first event of the wedding weekend and we had hired the caterers to prepare a 3 course meal. It was so lovely having all of our family together and the food was amazing. As people were on the first night of their hols and it was the first night we could properly relax and enjoy ourselves a few of us got a bit rowdy and didn’t make it to bed until almost 2.

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The BBQ

The morning of the BBQ, Ryan wanted to laze about in bed and nurse his hangover but I was up and out of bed at 8am to tidy the barn as we had a list of tasks we needed to do that day! Me, Ryan, Mum and Ryan’s Uncle headed back out to the shops to pick up the remaining soft drinks and some bits for lunch for the family. The soft drinks were one of the things we were really struggling with, how do you quantify how many cans of coke are going to be needed for 80 people for a two day event?!

When we got back to the Chateau the weather was beautiful and everyone was sat outside in the sun so we had a little picnic, opened some wine. It was just perfect. It was exactly how we had pictured having all of the family together and one of the reasons that we decided on a destination wedding in the first place.

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That afternoon, we had a rehearsal with all the people who would be walking down the aisle. Ryan and his best man, our mums, the flower girls and page boys, the bridesmaids and me and dad. That was the first time I got emotional and had to fight back tears a little bit. Ryan’s little cousins Rufus and Rafferty were so funny and I was kind of hoping they would be a little bit naughty walking down the aisle on the wedding day, but they were absolutely perfect on the day.

After the rehearsal, Sheree (bridesmaid/hairdresser) took me upstairs and treated me to a hair wash and blow-dry so I could get ready for the BBQ. Luckily the weather held off for the BBQ and we still had lovely sunshine. For the BBQ we had a selection of garden games and our wedding planner had set up some picnic blankets under the trees for people to sit and chill out. We had giant connect four,  corn hole, Bowles, beer pong and rounders. The rounders was a hit and at one point almost everyone was there playing rounders together, I even managed to run in my dress and heels! It was so surreal seeing so many of our amazing friends and family from all different walks of life playing games together, drinking and just having the best time.

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We had the same caterers for the family night, the BBQ and the wedding day and the food was amazing. We had chosen a selection of meats such as lamb chops, pork, sausages, chicken, salmon skewers and it was all so tasty. At around 10pm it started raining, to be honest I’m just glad the rain held off that long! Our wedding planner, Sarah, was on hand straight away handing out umbrellas and pashminas to keep us dry. At around 10.30 the fireworks started. They were brilliant. I was stood next to Ryan and Dad watching the fireworks under an umbrella just trying to take it all in.

When the fireworks finished, me and Katie snuck off and went up to get ready for bed as Ryan was spending the night with his Best Man, Harry. I can honestly say that that night was the worst night’s sleep of my entire life! Me and Katie were convinced that we had food poisoning which resulted in me calling my Mum at 2.30am in tears as I had convinced myself that there wouldn’t be a wedding because all of the guests were ill with food poisoning! That obviously wasn’t the case and it must have just been a combination of nervousness and excitement. Katie also wanted to keep the light on the whole night as she was worried about seeing a ghost in the Chateau (which I did actually see the previous two nights). I managed about an hour and a half’s sleep and once we noticed it started to get light outside, Katie turned the light off. Then within about 15 minutes our alarms went off to start getting ready!

Georgia Part 2 : Tbilisi

The second part of our trip to Georgia was a flying visit through Tbilsi! We left Gudauri at around 1pm and our taxi drove us through the mountainous terrain back down into the city. When we arrived in the city centre, the first thing that caught my eye was the quaint cobbled paths and the charming coffee shops located above street level on the terraces. Our poor taxi driver hadn’t been given clear directions to our hotel and didn’t speak a word of English! We were just as useless with only having the hotel address written in English! One thing I would advise is to screenshot a copy of the hotel’s address in the local language – this is a tip we picked up when visiting Asian countries as it makes the taxi journeys much easier!

After driving around the cobbles for a short while we found our hotel – to the delight of all in the car! We stayed at No.12 Boutique Hotel and it was just lovely. The hotel was located down a side alley but was well lit and had several hidden coffee shops / bars on the short walk to the hotel. The staff were very welcoming upon arrival and showed us straight to our room. When searching for hotels online, this one really caught my eye because I loved the homely vibe, the décor was so quirky and felt very cosy. Our room was perfect for our needs for the one night and we literally dumped our belongings and headed out to explore.

Before heading to Tbilisi, I had done a bit of research online and the one place that I was set on visiting was Abanotubani, an ancient district of unique thermal baths within the city. On route, we stopped for a coffee (Ryan had a wine – both priced the same!) I had pointed out one of the terrace cafes and was happy to get a seat outside on the balcony. I love people watching and although we were only sat there for a short time whilst eating khatchupuri and cake we saw so much life in just a small part of this city!

After, we walked to find Abanotubani and this is where I really felt the life of this city shine through. I could feel the mix of history and culture with the European city feel coming through from the architecture, but also a Turkish / Arabic influence from the colourful buildings. After forcing Ryan to hold a mini photoshoot for me, we carried on wandering around the thermal baths. We found a lovely hidden waterfall, Waterfall Leghvtakhevi, hidden within the remains of the old city walls which was a delightful surprise.

In the evening, we went for dinner at Orshimo, a quaint Piano Wine Bar just a short distance from our hotel. The waiters were clearly very passionate about their wine and we got to try some of the great unfiltered Georgian red wine. The food was excellent Ryan had river trout, and I had fried pork and potatoes, followed by the most amazing chocolate brownie cake and ice-cream (I had clearly given up on my diet by this point!) During the meal, a pianist was beautifully playing a range of songs but my night was made as soon as he started playing Robbie Williams, She’s the One. After we had finished our desert, we headed outside onto the small terrace which had only two tables set out. The waiters brought us a blanket each and we finished our wine, looking out over the street below. We could also see the castle on the hill (cue Ed Sheeran singing) and it was a wonderful way to end the evening, and our trip to Georgia.

Before flying back to Dubai on our final day, we had breakfast at the hotel, which I must say was AMAZING. The ‘restaurant’ was nothing more than a kitchen you would find in a regular home, with cute farmhouse style cupboards and two ladies cooking the food fresh! At the back of the room was a selection of pastries, toast and fruit and on the chalkboard listed any items you could order, freshly made. I ordered scrambled eggs and porridge, both were cooked fresh and brought straight over to me! I can’t say the breakfast was the highlight of the trip, but it wasn’t far off!

We went and sat out in one of the coffee shops for a while before heading back to the airport to finish off our trip. I guess the only downside of Tbilisi was the airport itself which had only one restaurant and allowed people to smoke!

We definitely did not spend enough time in Tbilisi, or in Georgia as a whole so I would love to return for a summer visit. If anyone has any recommendations of sightseeing / city breaks in Georgia, please feel free to comment!

Georgia Part 1 : Gudauri

My partner and I have just returned from our first trip to the beautiful country that is Georgia. We spent 2 nights in Gudauri for a skiing trip and one night in Tbilisi Old City. We experienced so much that I am going to write a separate blog about Tbilisi city.

The flight from Dubai took just 3.5 hours, in that short period of time we moved from 25 degrees to -9! We always do these killer night flights and during it we always regret the decision! But we arrived in Tbilisi at 4.30am and our driver was ready and waiting for us for the 2.5hour drive up the mountains. We slept almost the entire car journey and arrived along a bumpy path up to the hotel. We stayed at Hotel Carpe Diem which was a ski out hotel and thank our lucky stars that we were able to pay for an earlier check in so we could get in bed for a few hours when we arrived at 7am! When we woke up at 9am and opened the curtains I was so excited to see so much snow! Usually when it snows in England you worry about all of the inconvenience it’s going to cause. Not here! We are still trying to be relatively healthy so stuck with eggs and porridge for breakfast, although I did treat myself to French toast and bacon a few days!

The first day of skiing I felt excited but nervous. We rented boots, poles and helmets which came to GEL 305 (AED 452 / £88) for two of us for three days! then paid GEL 240 for two 3 day ski passes (AED 356 / £69) and we were good to go! I don’t have much to compare this to as I have only ever been on one previous ski trip with the school but I was amazed at the price! I had taken four lessons at Ski Dubai (Mall of the Emirates) before our trip which were great for teaching me the basics!

On our first day, we skied from 10am until 4pm with a break for lunch in between! Unlike the large ski resorts in Europe, Gudauri was much quieter on the Apres Ski front but you could still buy wine / beer and khachapuri (traditional bread with cheese) up the mountain so we were more than happy.

I felt like I skied well for the most part of the day but lost my confidence and snow ploughed my way down for the final half an hour! Dinner was included with our hotel package and even though it was buffet we had a lovely selection and bought some of the local wine (which went down far too easily)!

On our second day we had another full 6 hours of skiing although I had a tumble on the first slope so had to stop for a coffee break to sort myself out before we went up again! Ryan was so amazing the whole time we were skiing, I was worried about holding him back because he is a great skier and very confident. But he pushed me outside of my comfort zone which allowed me to experience so much more and really boosted my confidence on the slopes. We decided to eat outside of the hotel on our second night as we had found a restaurant called Power Bar Gudauri. The restaurant offered a taxi service for GEL5 (AED 7.5 / £1.5) which was much more appealing than the 20 minute mountainous walk! Ryan was happy with the craft beer and I was more than happy with the local wine – so happy that by the end of the night we had 13 on our bill! The food was amazing but the highlight of the evening was the owners two cocker spaniels! The friendliest dogs ever and one even sat on my lap after we had finished eating so I was dog-stroking with my left hand and wine-drinking with my right!

Saturday was our final day in Guduari so Ryan got up to ski the black slopes. I was more than happy to stay in bed and nurse my slight hangover from the red wine! Our transfer collected us at 1pm and drove us to Tbilisi city. It was lovely to do the drive in the day time as the mountain range was even more beautiful to drive through in the day. We passed through several small villages and followed a stream for, what felt like miles!

We were so pleasantly surprised with our short stay in Gudauri, the food was amazing, the wine was even better and the people were all very friendly. Although we found barely anyone spoke English which proved a struggle at times but we got there in the end! We would definitely recommend staying at Hotel Carpe Diem as it was cosy with spacious rooms, a modern bathroom and relatively cheap considering it included breakfast and dinner!

I will write separately about our stay in Tbilisi. Georgia really is a beautiful country with so much to offer, I can’t wait to go back!