The greatest numbers of visitors to Georgia arrive in July and August, the ideal months for hiking in the spectacular mountains along its northern fringe and for relaxing along its warm Black Sea coast. Yet this small South Caucasus nation (about half the size of England), on a similar latitude to Rome and Barcelona, is not just a summer-only destination. Its geographic and climatic variety are such that there are good reasons to visit at any time of year.
Summer: June to August
With temperatures passing 30C in July and August, summer can get a little too hot for comfort in the capital, Tbilisi, and the rest of the lowlands that stretch along the middle of the country. So this is the perfect time to head to the coast or the mountains. Seawater temperatures at Batumi, the flashy main Black Sea resort, reach the upper 20s C in August. And with much of Tbilisi's nightlife migrating to Batumi during this period, the party atmosphere makes up for the stoniness of the beaches.
Several mountain areas in the Great Caucasus along Georgia's northern border, each with their own character, compete for your attention. Getting to any of them along dramatic mountain roads is part of the fun. The walking season here runs from June to October (some routes are impracticable before July or after mid-September) and there's limitless scope for everything from valley hikes of a few hours to treks of several days.
In the west, Svaneti is an overland trip of 10 hours-plus from Tbilisi (or, if you can get a ticket, a spectacular one-hour small-plane flight). Svaneti is a series of stunningly beautiful valleys running down from snow-capped, 4000m-plus peak, its small villages speckled with stone towers built centuries ago to protect their people in times of strife. The only town, Mestia, has plenty of accommodation, and there are homestays and guesthouses in many villages. The most popular trek is the three- or four-day route from Mestia to unbelievably picturesque Ushguli, a Unesco World Heritage village with over 20 ancient Svan towers and Georgia's highest peak, Shkhara (5193m) looming behind it.
Hikers in the Svaneti region © Maya Karkalicheva / Getty
A shorter road trip of about three hours takes you north from Tbilisi up to the small town of Kazbegi (Stepantsminda), which revels in the most famous view in Georgia: the hilltop 14th-century Tsminda Sameba church silhouetted against the towering snowy cone of Mt Kazbek, a 5047m-high extinct volcano. Mt Kazbek is an arduous but very popular three- or four-day mountaineering challenge; the walk up to Tsminda Sameba takes about an hour (or you can taxi it); or you can reach the Gergeti Glacier on Mt Kazbek's lower slopes in four or five hours. There are many further marvellous walks in the area, and this is fine mountain-biking territory too, with bikes for rent locally.
While the roads to Kazbegi and Svaneti are kept open year-round, another supremely fascinating mountain area, Tusheti, in Georgia's northeast, is only accessible from about June to mid-October, when its single road access, the nerve-jangling, 2900m-high Abano Pass, is free of snow. Tusheti is a zone of pristine green slopes, snowy peaks, scattered villages with defensive towers, and ancient animist shrines decked with the horns of sacrificed animals. Day-hike and longer trekking options are manifold; horse-trekking is also popular; and there's a good supply of mostly rustic guesthouses in the villages.
Ushguli in Upper Svaneti is one of Georgia's most beautiful locales whatever the season © Andrei Bortnikau / Getty Images
Autumn: September to November
A good season: it's cooling down in the lowlands, and still warm enough to enjoy the mountains into October. Georgia has a LOT of trees, so the autumn colours are a delight. In a country where wine is a national passion, the grape harvest (late September to late October) is the focus of much feasting, music and merrymaking, especially in the main wine-making region, Kakheti (east of Tbilisi). Accommodation places in Kakheti (there are plenty, including some good winery hotels) can help you join in both the harvesting and the partying.
Autumn is also when Georgia's vibrant cultural and entertainment scene, especially in Tbilisi, gets back into full swing after a summer break. The city comes out to party especially hard for the Tbilisoba festival, over a weekend in October, with lots of music, dance, food and of course wine!
View of the Caucasus mountains from Gudauri ski resort © kapulya / Getty
Winter: December to March
Well, it's cold - often freezing in inland areas until February. Georgians warm up with Orthodox Christmas (7 January) and a week of festivities afterwards, and there's a lively winter sports scene, with several ski resorts to choose from. Well-established Gudauri, with the best infrastructure and skiable terrain, is 120km north of Tbilisi in the Great Caucasus; it has excellent powder, runs for all levels, good freeriding and even heliskiing. Bakuriani, in southern Georgia near Borjomi, is family-focused; and remote Svaneti in the northwest is a developing area growing in popularity, good for adventurous-minded ski travellers. Skiing in Georgia is very cheap compared to Western Europe and North America, crowds are few, and the vibe is refreshingly relaxed and informal.
Spring: April and May
There's many a spring shower, but it's not wet enough to spoil explorations of the lowlands and parts of the highlands, as the countryside blooms and temperatures reach the 20s C by May. Walking trails in foothill areas begin to open up, and the popular rafting season on the Aragvi rivers north of Tbilisi starts in late April. Georgian Easter happens now, too - up to five weeks after the Western one, with special services at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta (near Tbilisi) and elsewhere.
The buzz of Tbilisi life, with its marvellous restaurants, cafes and bars, never lets up except perhaps in August. The great majority of monuments, museums and accommodation around the country remain open 12 months. Lowland highlights such as the wineries of Kakheti, the cathedrals and churches of Mtskheta and Kutaisi, the remarkable cave monasteries of Davit Gareja and Vardzia, and the cave city of Uplistsikhe, can be visited any month, and many sites are extra-picturesque when dusted with snow!