It’s a four and a half-hour train ride from Tbilisi to Samtredia in the Samegrelo province in western Georgia. The journey takes you through some beautiful landscapes of green forests following a winding river – balm for the eyes after the city heat, so make sure you get a window seat.
Samegrelo province is distinctive for several reasons - most predominantly the food and wine. Megrelian food is deliciously exotic and spicy; a result of once being an important coastal region on the Silk route, where trade flowed from Asia to the West. People from the region speak their own language - Megrelian (although they write in Georgian), and this land was once a part of the ancient Kingdom of Colchis, the Land of the Golden Fleece in which the mythical adventures of Jason and the Argonauts are recorded.
Martvili and the surrounding countryside is incredibly pretty – so much so that I’ve returned two weekends in a row, seduced by the abundance of natural monuments in the area. There are deep canyons hiding caves and waterfalls, where snowmelt waters provide wonderfully invigorating wild swimming and fun boat trips. Spend an afternoon at the hot sulphur springs basking in the steam rising from geothermal pools. Once you’ve had enough heat, walk down to the river and make your own little rock pool into which a steady flow of hot and cold water runs to create the perfect outdoor bath.
Explore the fascinating ruins of the Martvili fortress overlooking the Tekhuri river, built to protect the local population from invading Persian armies during the 6thcentury AD. The surrounding forests are home to pelicans that nest high up in the trees. You can reach the beautifully stone carved 10th-century Chkondidi church by cable car from the centre of Martvili. The frescoes that adorn the walls and ceilings inside the church are some of the most impressive in the country, some of which date back to the 7th century. There are some lovely local wineries in the area to enjoy, and where you can taste elarji – a blend of hot cornmeal and stretched curd accompanied by a dish of sour plum preserve.