The Jerusalem Post

Lopota: A dream trip to a historic region of Georgia - review

 Buildings surrounding Lopota Lake in Georgia. (photo credit: LINDA GRADSTEIN)
Buildings surrounding Lopota Lake in Georgia.
(photo credit: LINDA GRADSTEIN)

Lopota is a two-hour drive from Tibilisi, and the hotel can arrange a driver. I’m already dreaming about my next visit to Lopota Spa and Resort.

After my husband Cliff and I checked in to the Lopota Spa and Resort in the former Soviet republic of Georgia on a recent Thursday, our luggage was loaded onto a large golf cart, with room for about 10 people. Suddenly a dark-haired woman sat down in the row in front of us. I didn’t pay much attention, distracted by the beauty of the lake in front of me surrounded by green mountains.

A few minutes later she got out, and we were on our way.

“Do you know who that was?” Marketing Director Anre Kiladze asked me.

I shook my head no.


“That was Salome Zourabichvili, the president of Georgia,” he told me. “She comes here a lot.” (Like in Israel, the president is a symbolic position, while the government is headed by the prime minister.).

 The Chateau Buera winery at Lopota with a large Ukrainian flag draped over the entrance. (credit: LINDA GRADSTEIN)
The Chateau Buera winery at Lopota with a large Ukrainian flag draped over the entrance. (credit: LINDA GRADSTEIN)

My journalistic instincts kicked in and I asked, “Would she like to do an interview with The Jerusalem Report?”

“She’s very private,” he answered diplomatically.

Spending a special weekend at a Georgia spa and resort

That encounter was my first clue that I was in for a special weekend. My next came as we drove to our room, passing people dressed in shorts, women wearing hijab, and others wearing niqab (the full-face covering where only the eyes can be seen). While there were guests from at least a dozen countries that I met over the weekend, the largest number of guests seemed to come from Israel and Saudi Arabia. Maybe this is where secret normalization talks are being held?

Lopota reminded me of an upscale Catskills resort. The two-story wooden buildings surround a lake. The rooms were large and came with robes and slippers. Each room had a balcony, which was a great place to watch the sunset, a glass of wine in hand. The showers, which came with premium toiletries, were large enough to hold meetings in, if you should choose to do so.


There were comfortable chairs in sitting areas scattered around the property, along with playgrounds for kids, and seven (!) outdoor swimming pools. The pools were spotlessly clean, were heated, and were surrounded by plenty of lounge chairs. 

Each pool had a smiling young attendant (I swear, they all looked like they were 12 or 13 years old), who handed out large bath towels. At each pool there was a sign encouraging people not to take more than one towel for environmental reasons.

But I couldn’t linger at the pool, as I was scheduled for a Slavic Bath, which is supposed to get the toxins out of your body. Cliff and I arrived at a wooden hut and were given robes and towels.

“You speak Russian?” blue-eyed Aleksei, the master of the Slavic Bath, asked hopefully.

“Sorry, no,” we shook our heads.

Aleksei is from Belarus; and his wife, who supplied us with tea during the treatment, is Ukrainian. Just as an aside, we encountered a lot of support for Ukraine at Lopota. The winery on the property (more on that later) flew a large Ukrainian flag that can probably be seen from space. In 2008, Russia took over 20 percent of Georgia’s territory. In fact, while we were there, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that Russia should withdraw from these areas. Several locals told us that since the beginning of the war in Ukraine in 2022, tens of thousands of Russians have moved to Georgia, and there were fears that parts of Georgia would lose their unique character.

But back to Alexei. Somehow, we managed to communicate that Cliff’s grandfather was from Pukovichi, not far from Alexei’s native Minsk, But after that, it was all hand signals.

Alexei had us sit on a bench in a sauna-type room that was festooned with dried eucalyptus branches. He poured hot water over coals until the room was blistering hot. I like heat, but it was almost at the level that I couldn’t bear it.

Just at that point, he motioned us to follow him to a large pool outside, and we jumped in. Unlike the other pools at the resort, this one wasn’t heated; but after the heat inside, it felt good. Aleksei instructed me to dunk completely three times, which felt reminiscent of a mikve.

After we got out, he led us upstairs to where hot tea and honey awaited (there is amazing honey in Georgia), as well as plates of orange and lemon slices. We enjoyed the tea and went back downstairs.

Aleksei then told me to lie down on the massage table as he cranked the heat up again. He took a bunch of dried eucalyptus leaves and tickled me with it, then pressed the bunch on various parts of my body. It felt a little strange and made me realize that I prefer the classic type of massage where the therapist rubs your body with oil.

Now is where it got funny. Just as I was about to pass out from the heat, Aleksei led me outside and had me brace my arms against the wooden wall of the hut.

“Sure, why not?” I thought to myself.

Aleksei pulled a string, and a huge bucket of very cold water was dumped directly on my head. Not expecting it, I screamed, which had both Alexei and my husband laughing. Glad they could bond at my expense.

Then it was back in the pool. This time, Alexei told me to lie back as he held me in the water and moved me gently through the pool. It was very similar to watsu, which I’ve done a few times, which is a form of aquatic bodywork for deep relaxation. I liked this part more than the eucalyptus branches and much more than the bucket of very cold water!

In the hotel, every guest room included breakfast, served from 8 to 11 am. There were dozens of choices, such as smoked salmon (one of my all-time favorite foods), local cheeses, and homemade crepes and waffles. In fact, the only major difference between Lopota and any five-star Israeli hotel is that at Lopota, nobody cuts the omelet line.

At breakfast, we saw a lot of families and heard a lot of languages. The cherry juice seemed especially popular with the younger set.

When it came time for dinner, the resort had four restaurants, and we took on the tough job of trying all four. There was a Georgian restaurant that had the traditional khachapuri cheese-filled bread, but it came on a skewer; the only place I saw it served that way. There was an Italian restaurant with excellent pasta dishes, a French restaurant inside the winery, and a beautifully decorated Japanese restaurant that had a great tuna sushi roll. We also found plenty of vegetarian dishes at each place.

Lopota is in the Khaheti region of Georgia, which has a wine-making tradition dating back 8,000 years. Besides being the oldest wine-making country in the world, Georgia is known for a specific wine-making technique of fermenting and aging the wine in qvevri, or clay jugs.

Wine is big in Georgia, and one large winery, Badagoni, which makes 13 million bottles a year, has made a kosher run of the well-known Saparavi grape. I visited the state-of-the-art Badagoni winery and tasted the kosher wine, which has just now arrived in Israel. It can also be found in some wine stores in Brooklyn, New York.

At Lopota, the Chateau Buera, which is beautifully lit up at night, is a popular place for weddings. The first night we were there, we saw a chuppah set up outside the winery and learned that a Russian Jewish man was marrying a Ukrainian woman there.

We did a tour of the winery and a tasting, and I was impressed with the quality of the wines, which were also served at the winery’s restaurant. Georgia’s “amber” wine, which is called “orange wine” in other places, has become quite trendy in the US. It is made when white wine grapes are treated like red grapes and fermented with their skins, giving the wine an amber or orange color. It’s an acquired taste but worth checking out.

One spirit I stayed away from was cha-cha, also made from grapes and happily drunk all over the country. I got a little nervous when I saw our bus driver on a long perilous drive to the Kazbegi mountains sharing a shot with another bus driver before we made the trek back to Tbilisi.

Before visiting Lopota, we had spent three days in Tibilisi, a lovely capital city with a lot to see. There was a well-preserved medieval town, several good museums, and sulfur baths that have been used for hundreds of years.

For kosher travelers, there is a kosher hotel called the Cron Palace that has a very good kosher restaurant on the second floor. There is a Jewish museum and several synagogues. There are also four kosher restaurants in the city.

Lopota is a two-hour drive from Tibilisi, and the hotel can arrange a driver. I’m already dreaming about my next visit to Lopota Spa and Resort.  ■

The writer was a guest of the Lopota Spa and Resort (