Pros and Cons of Staying at a Guesthouse in Georgia
All those good things you’ve heard about Georgian hospitality are true.
We spent a month travelling throughout the country and some of our most memorable moments were the ones we shared with locals. Bakers let us see what they had baking in the oven, market vendors encouraged us to taste what they had for sale, and even gas station attendants invited us to eat with them during their dinner break. But nothing quite compares to the generosity we experienced in people’s homes.
Staying at a guesthouse in Georgia is something I would recommend to anyone headed to the Caucasus region but especially to those looking for ways to have more local travel experiences while abroad. Hospitality is a very important part of Georgian culture and something you’re bound to come across at some point or another when travelling there. In fact, you’d have to try really hard to avoid experiencing their generosity.
Georgians have a proverb; ‘Every guest is a gift from God,’ which perfectly explains why you’re likely to be treated like royalty. For those who may still be skeptical, our post breaks down what you can expect when staying at a guesthouse in Georgia as well as a list of pros (and some cons) to help you decide.
What is a guesthouse?
A guesthouse is a private home that has been either fully or partially converted to accommodate guests. They are often family-run and are a preferred lodging option among many travellers visiting Georgia. This is especially true in some of the most beautiful and remote regions of the country where you won’t find a single hotel. The actual setup of a guesthouse varies greatly depending on the property. Some hosts will have an entire portion of their home dedicated to guests while other houses are a lot smaller which provides guests with a more intimate experience. There are guesthouses for every budget from basic room and board to more upscale homes.
To help paint a picture of what it might be like to stay at a guesthouse in Georgia, here’s an overview of our very first experience in Sighnaghi.
After a fair bit of research, I booked us for two nights at a guesthouse using Booking.com. As soon as we boarded a martshrukta in Tbilisi, I wrote to our host, Maka, to let her know we’d be arriving in about 2 hours. She insisted on meeting us at the bus station even though it was only about a 10 minute walk to her place. A car pulled up to us within minutes of arriving in Sighnaghi. It was our host and her entire family who came to greet us and would be driving us to the guesthouse. But not before dropping her eldest son off at the local pool.
We waited in the car while the family went to the pool gates and I remember feeling so excited about this already memorable start. I even shared a story on our Instagram, “The whole family came to pick us up and we’re just waiting while they drop their son off at the pool!” And things only got better from there.
When we arrived to their home, Maka gave us the grand tour. We had our own room and bathroom, and there was a communal kitchen and living room area to share with other guests. A highlight for me was the balcony overlooking their backyard and beautiful views of the hills in the distance. She invited us to sit at the balcony and brought us up some homemade wine and peaches from their garden.
We’d been in the town all of 30 minutes and already she was setting the bar high for any future guesthouses. The family lived on the lower level of the home and Maka insisted we call on her if we needed anything.
For an additional 10 GEL ($5 CAD), we were treated to a homemade breakfast feast the next morning. Maka shared details about a tour she could organize for us but it would be 120 GEL ($60 CAD) since there were no other guests to share the cost of the driver with. She wasn’t pushy at all (as some tour operators are) and, in the end, we opted for an independent tour of the region.
We actually didn’t interact with our hosts much aside from the warm welcome and delicious breakfast but it was a memorable stay nonetheless. And all the more reason to book a guesthouse for every other city we visited in Georgia!
What you’ll love about the guesthouse experience in Georgia
I don’t think there’s a better way to experience another culture than by spending time in a family home. Here are some of the main draws of staying at a guesthouse in Georgia:
Local Life with Modern Comforts: Guesthouses are usually found outside of the most touristy part of the city which gives you a chance to see what neighbourhoods are like away from the crowds and hotels. They’re well-maintained and very clean. Hosts may check in with you throughout your stay to make sure you’re enjoying your holidays and have everything you need.
Delicious Homemade Meals: Look for guesthouses that offer breakfast or dinner and you won’t be disappointed. This is a perfect opportunity to sample some of those hard-to-pronounce Georgian foods you might be intimidated to order at a restaurant. We enjoyed freshly baked breads, homemade khinkali, omelettes and salads made with organic produce from the garden. And, of course, homemade wine.
Insider Tips: You’re probably not going to find the very best local restaurant on TripAdvisor. Don’t be afraid to ask for a recommendation if meals aren’t offered at your guesthouse. And even when you think you’ve read the best reviews online for a restaurant that makes khachapuri adjaruli, chances are your hosts knows a place that makes them even better.
Memorable Moments: Sure, some things might get lost in translation and there could be the odd awkward moment but there could also be laughs and hugs and stories shared. It’ll be a lot easier to embrace the experience when you go in with an open mind and a willingness to try new things.
Guided Tours or Private Drivers: Not all guesthouses offer tours but some have connections with tour operators or drivers in the region and can help arrange excursions for you. If other guests are willing to join, you will be able to cut down on costs since many charge a flat fee per vehicle.
Budget-Friendly: The guesthouses we stayed at were all around $30 CAD per night. Some included breakfast but most offered it for an additional charge. For the same price of two beds in a hostel dorm, we enjoyed a spacious, private room, air conditioning, wifi and either a private or shared bath.
Contributing to the Economy: Selecting this type of locally-run accommodation in Georgia means you’re not contributing your money to hotel chains that are sometimes owned by foreign companies. Tourism is growing at unprecedented rates in the country and opting for guesthouses is a great way to support a family that owns and runs the home you’re staying in.
The realities of staying in someone’s home
While I believe the pros outweigh any negatives, it’s safe to say this type of accommodation may not be an ideal choice for everyone. Here are a few things to consider before booking a guesthouse in Georgia:
The Language Barrier: It’s very likely you don’t speak Georgian and there’s a chance your hosts won’t speak English. We came across a couple of hosts who spoke some English and we tried our best to communicate in Russian with the rest. Whatever the case may be, Google Translate will come in handy, as well as the usual miming, charades and hand gestures we all resort to when trying to communicate past language barriers.
Sacrificing Privacy: If you prefer to have the privacy of a hotel room or the ample space of an entire Airbnb apartment, then booking a guesthouse in Georgia may not suit you. You’re staying in someone else’s house, after all. If that house is small, your personal space is limited. Naturally your host will want you to feel at home but that doesn’t mean playing music loudly, walking around half-naked or inviting other people over.
The Curfews: It’s possible that the only key you’ll be given at a guesthouse is the key to your room. Hosts didn’t provide us with a key to the main door or gate of the house and, when we asked about it, we were told it’s open and someone is home all day. Around midnight, or once all the guests are in for the night, we noticed the main door/gate would be locked. If you plan to stay out late and your guesthouse doesn’t provide you with a key to the main entrance, you may have to knock or ring the doorbell to be let in. If the family has young children, your host may suggest that you return home by a certain time.
Dietary Restrictions: A highlight of the guesthouse experience is getting to try new, local dishes which may be less exciting for picky eaters or travellers with food sensitivities. Guests that are vegan, have allergies or celiac may not be able to eat the homemade breakfasts and dinners that are offered. Let your host know of any dietary restrictions in advance and they may be able to make accommodations for you.
The Other Guests: Depending on the size of your guesthouse, you may be one of many people spending the night. The majority of our stays were quiet and peaceful with the exception of one night when all the other rooms had been booked by a large family. It was loud and a little bit frustrating but there’s really no way to know who else you’ll be sharing the common areas with.
Compromising Meal Times: If you decide to have breakfast or dinner at your guesthouse, you may be eating with others or subject to certain meal times. We stayed at a couple of guesthouses where there was only one small dining area meaning each room would be eating at separate times. If you have tours or excursions planned for the day, it’s best to let your host know a day (or more) in advance so you can enjoy breakfast at your preferred time.
Some Are Better Than Others: It’s inevitable, really. Even when you’re paying the same price for the same features, you are bound to come across some homes and hosts that you enjoy more than others. In Kutaisi we learned that you get what you pay for once we checked into what became our least favourite guesthouse in Georgia.
Travelling in Georgia wouldn’t have been as impactful if it weren’t for the moments we shared with locals. Throughout our month in the country, I lost track of how many times I turned to Wes with wide eyes hoping he could read my I-can’t-believe-how-nice-they-are expression. Many of these meaningful exchanges occurred when we were being welcomed into a guesthouse and I can only hope you get to experience the generosity of Georgians one day too.