By Ido Vock
Not only is the capital of Georgia one of the crossroads between Europe and Asia, but it offers a very low cost of living by European standards.
Georgia, nestled in the Caucasus mountains between Russia and Turkey, is strongly pro-western and has made strides towards democratisation since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 as it pursues its ambition for EU membership.
Tbilisi is the political heart of Georgia and the site of its institutions of government. In recent months, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to protest against a Russian MP being allowed to address the country’s parliament. Two breakaway Georgian territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have Russian military support.
Tbilisi is where deals are done. The World Bank ranks the country as the sixth-easiest in the world in which to do business, based on measures such as the time it takes to start a company, putting it above Norway and the US. Though still poor, Georgia has experienced some of the most consistently robust growth in the former Soviet Union, averaging about 4.5 per cent a year over the past decade.
The capital hosts the headquarters of the country’s largest companies, such as Georgian Airways and Liberty Bank. Several international schools, including the Georgian-American School in the western neighbourhood of Vake, cater for Tbilisi’s growing expat community, which ranges from diplomats to digital nomads.
Low cost of living
Tbilisi is one of the world’s least expensive cities for expatriates, coming 202nd out of 209 cities in consultancy Mercer’s latest annual cost-of-living survey. According to Numbeo, a consumer prices database, rents are about 80 per cent lower than in London, averaging £500 a month for a three-bedroom flat in the city centre.
Though Georgia is notable as the birthplace of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and his secret-police chief Lavrenti Beria, for millennia Tbilisi was closer to European and Middle Eastern empires than Russia. Tbilisi was quarrelled over by the Romans, Turks and Persians before coming under Russian control.
Modern Tbilisi combines all of these influences, as seen in the Soviet modernism of the Bank of Georgia headquarters, which contrasts with the 1,500-year-old Zoroastrian ruins at the Atashgah of Tbilisi temple.
Though well known for khatchapuri, an artery-clogging mass of cheese-stuffed bread, Georgian cuisine is diverse, incorporating Persian, Middle Eastern and Caucasian influences. Pomegranate, walnuts and aubergines feature prominently in the stews, dumplings and soups that gave Georgian food one of the best reputations in the Soviet Union.
Restaurants such as the cosy Shavi Lomi and high-end Barbarestan put modern twists on classics such as iced asparagus soup with lemon sorbet.
Photographs: Getty Images/iStockphoto; AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze; Vincent Mundy/Bloomberg