In June 2017 we are so excited to be leading our first cycling and hiking adventure through Georgia, specifically the vineyard-covered plains of Kakheti and the high mountains of Tusheti National Park. Our very own Sally is hosting the trip but it's being led by a fantastic local guide called Eka. Finding the words to describe Eka is not easy, but force of nature isn't a bad start and she is, for good reason, wonderfully enthusiastic about her homeland. When we last saw her we asked her a few questions about her life, family and the place she calls home. We hope you enjoy her answers, and that they inspire you to join us - and Eka - in Georgia one day.
2017 sees you leading your first adventure for The Slow Cyclist. What are you most looking forward to?
I live for adventure. I started guiding in 2005 but have been taking people to the mountains for much longer. I am particularly excited about working for a British adventure company as I like British people. They are very polite and have a great sense of humour. It will be fantastic to introduce The Slow Cyclist guests to our beautiful country so they can go back home and become ambassadors for Georgia. My aim is for everyone to leave with happy faces and tears of joy because they are saying goodbye to a country they have fallen in love with.
You have spent many years living in the United States. How did that come about?
I love equestrian sports and used to compete in lots of races when I was younger. In 1999 I entered the Tushetoba Horse Race, held every year as part of the Tushetoba Festival in Tusheti National Park (the festival celebrates Tushetian cultural heritage and is traditionally opened with a hotly contested bareback horse race). It’s a very important event and is always attended by the President of Georgia. In 1999 I was the first female to ever participate in the race. I won it, and I was only 15. I'm still the only female to have won. Everyone was pretty shocked. An American couple, John and Cathy, who were visiting Georgia at the time, saw the race and were so impressed that they invited me to America, to live with them for a while. A year later I moved to the U.S. and did exactly that, completing my studies at school in Richmond, Virginia. It was an amazing opportunity and I feel eternally grateful to have been welcomed so warmly into their family. Everyone in life has angels. John and Cathy were - and are - mine. I try to get back there once a year to visit. I am planning my next trip in January.
We know that family is important to you. Can you tell us a bit about yours?
After I had graduated from college I got a job working for the World Bank on a project developing tourism in the national parks of Georgia. It was there that I met Olaf, my Danish husband. We now have two gorgeous children, Nicholas and Nino, and a vineyard in Kakheti. In Georgian families we all take care of each other. There is a saying, “it takes a village to raise a kid." So my kids are very close to my extended family. During school term, they live with me in Tbilisi and they spend the summer holidays in Tusheti with my mother, like I did as a child. My father is very important to me. He is a very respected Orthodox Priest. I like to think of him as an Art Nouveau priest: very cool and open-minded. He played football for Georgia when he was younger and now, alongside his priestly duties, he has a successful business producing and selling honey. During the winter holidays Olaf and I and the kids like to go overseas. We love going to Europe. Italy is my favourite place to visit as the people are very similar to the Georgians. They are always smiling, eating, drinking and having fun.
Can you tell us a bit more about your vineyard?
Georgia is thought to be the birthplace of wine making. Vines were discovered here 8,000 years ago. Olaf and I found a piece of land in Argoichki, where Kisi grapes grow very well. This is a Georgian grape variety which produces a unique dry white wine with a taste of ripe quince and a citrus aroma. We bought the land and in 2011 and we planted over 10 hectares of vines. We produce 100,000 bottles of boutique wine a year and export to Scandinavia, America, Hong Kong and Ukraine. The UK will hopefully follow soon, so I can't wait to party with your guests at the vineyard this year!
Where do you belong?
Horses are like meditation for me. When I am with them I feel happy. They relax me. I was riding before I could walk. I also love the mountains. That's where I belong. I have been coming up to Tusheti for as long as I can remember, living with my grandparents, riding and hiking, milking cows and making butter. My grandfather was a shepherd and I would help him look after them when I was a child.
Vineyards, Wildflowers & Mountains of Georgia, our cycling and hiking adventure to the heart of Kakheti and Tusehti, two of Georgia's most beautiful and fascinating regions, runs from 10 - 17 June 2017. It costs £1,795 per person excluding flights but if you book before Saturday 14 January you will receive a £100 discount. For further information, including a brochure, click here.