Imagine a red-rock desert with vibrant spring wildflowers at the edge of a deep blue sea. We found just this along the Vicentine Coast of southern Portugal, a stretch of coastline spared from development. We stumbled upon this hike rather by accident.
We spent thee days in Vila Nova de Milfontes, a town on a sandy inlet on the west coast of Portugal, south of Lisbon. Diana had booked us into an airbnb apartment that was supposed to have a view. And it did. We most likely had one of the best views in town.
Diana found us one of the most unique accommodations we’ve ever stayed in: a historic Portuguese windmill on a hilltop in a rural part of the Alentejo Province. We stayed here for three nights. The airbnb host directed us to the small village of São Francisco da Serra, where her parents have a little coffee shop. With our limited Portuguese we were able to introduce ourselves, and we got the keys to the mill.
The Republic of Georgia (not to be confused with the US state) is a small country at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains. Georgia has been independent since the early 1990s. It has recently gained a reputation as being a very friendly and welcoming place with some nice sites to visit, and on top of that fantastic food and wine. All the travel magazines and websites had listed it for “places to go” in 2016. It got our attention, so we decided to go check it out.
When we traveled from Kakheti back to Tbilisi, we arranged for a sidetrip to Davit-Gareja. Davit-Gareja is a monastery on the Georgia-Azerbajan border. The landscape here looks somewhat like parts of Utah or New Mexico, and as such it is quite different than the areas visited before. Around Telavi and Tbilisi are wooded hills and agricultural lands with vineyards, but here there are extensive grasslands and exposures of reddish sandstone.
We stayed at Neli and Zaal guesthouse. It was an absolutely wonderful place. Before traveling to Georgia we had heard about Georgians’ exceptional hospitality, and here is where we found it. We have traveled extensively over the years, and I can tell you that hospitality like this is rare. We had planned to stay for two nights, and ended up staying three. We’ll always remember our stay with Zaal and Neli.
From Tbilisi we traveled to Kazbegi in the Caucasus Mountains. The route goes up the Georgian Military Highway, which is the main route north to Russia (Chechnya). It’s several hours of driving, and we hired a driver to take us there. There were some fruit stands along the highway, and we asked our driver Gaila to stop. We first stopped at a watermelon stand on the outskirts of Tbilisi.
We spent a day hiking to Gergeti Trinity Church and the alpine meadows above it. Most tourists have themselves driven up in Lada 4x4s on a rutted, rocky road. We almost got carsick just looking at the cars bouncing in the track, and decided to hike up instead.
From our guesthouse we walked down into town, crossed the river on the bridge, and then hiked through a meadow to meet up with the dirt track. The road switchbacks up a hillside with ever-expanding views.
In the Republic of Georgia, on a steep hillside above the river Mtkvari, is Tbilisi’s a characterful old town. In a warren of dead-end streets are grand and graceful houses built in the Art-Nouveau style. These buildings are in a poor state of repair. These forlorn and neglected exteriors hint at the grandeur of a time gone by.
One of the reasons why we traveled to the Republic of Georgia was to sample the food and drink here. We had heard about Georgia’s unique cuisine that fuses Persian, Central Asian, Turkish, and other influences. When we arrived in