Hotel promotional photographs often fail to live up to their alluring promise of relaxation, beauty and charm.
But, good as the camerawork is for Georgia's Lopota Lake Resort & Spa — and it is exceptional — nothing on the computer screen can prepare you for the beguiling nature of this uniquely charming hotel. Indeed, to call it a hotel is almost a misnomer. At times it feels like a big, happy commune where employees have natural charm rather than forced corporate civility.
The property is shaped by the soothing architectural influence of wooden balconies, climbing greenery, vegetable gardens, vineyards and a lake, alongside modern facilities and delightful restaurants.
It was suggested before we arrived that resort resembled a “fairyland” and sometimes such preconceptions can be upended when confronted with reality. Not so on this occasion.
The lake at Lopota’s heart forms the centrepoint for well-conceived apartments that house 232 comfortable rooms. Beyond them are steep, forested hills that form a rampart of November’s golden-brown hues. At one end lies the modern Chateau Buera which, although modern like all Lopota’s buildings, remains sympathetic to its surroundings.
All was created from the vision of the late Goga Maisuradze, who stumbled upon one of the forgotten lakes in the Kakheti region, nestled in the Caucasus. His daughter Ana now runs the 60-hectare site. Charmed by the surroundings and its potential, in 2008 Goga built a seven-room family hotel, with hints of Swiss chalets, that has evolved into more than a dozen other buildings, each with a unique view.
The focus on keeping Lopota sympathetic to its surroundings resonates across the resort and is perhaps the key factor in establishing such tranquillity. There is thoughtfulness in almost every step. Walk for a few minutes and you’ll find yourself amid a cluster of pine trees — but with a seat to settle into a calming moment.
Lopota effortlessly caters for a couple’s romantic getaway, a corporate gathering or a young family holiday with children. It has swimming pools, restaurants, an international-level tennis court, horse-riding, hiking and adventures into the breathtaking landscapes of eastern Georgia.
For a moment of indulgent and memorable relaxation, the forest spa, set among pine trees in the hills, offers excellent deep massages while the recipient looks out through large glass windows on to the vista below. It's a delicious, doubly soothing experience. For something more invigorating, the Slavic bath house provides steaming-hot therapy and icy plunges.
During our four-night stay in late November, the hotel went from its early week low occupancy of 40 per cent to being full by the Friday, but never did it feel like we were fighting for space or were only one among many faces scrambling to find a table.
There are family pools, complete with comfortable seating areas, or more functionary ones, such as the narrow, four-lane, 50-metre stretch where holidaymakers can thrash out their laps to build their fitness and appetite. The latter is very much required for the lavish and luscious food that Lopota offers at its six restaurants.
Foremost is the Kakhetian Corner, where wood fires cook up flavoursome local Georgian meat dishes and pastries on a balcony with a glorious view. Equally good is the new Japanese fusion restaurant Ike, where the salmon sushi and fillet beef teriyaki are sublime.
Lopota is rapidly putting Georgia into the sights of travellers seeking somewhere new, refreshing and unspoilt by development. It's a deserved reward for a country that for so long has lived in the shadow of Imperial Russia’s 18th century machinations and the 20th century subsuming into the Soviet Union.
Moscow’s land grab of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions in 2008 was a grim reminder of Georgia's neighbour’s malpractice. But October’s influx of 100,000 Russian men avoiding mobilisation for the war in Ukraine could well prove a boon, as they bring in technological skills and money.
Despite its neighbour, Georgia is a secure country whose young population is thrusting its standard of living into the modern era. BMWs and smartphones abound, as does nightlife in the capital Tbilisi, where the club vibe is said to be second only to Berlin’s.
Georgia’s central location, bordering the Black Sea and Turkey, further supports its standing as tourist hub. It takes slightly more than three hours to fly from the UAE and two hours from Istanbul.
From this month, direct flights from London will be introduced, but the seamless quality of travelling with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul is also an option. That comes with the opportunity to snatch a second holiday with the airline’s offer of a free, 24-hour, four-star hotel stay in Istanbul for those travelling economy, and a five-star stay for those in business.
The ease of travel to Georgia means that, after a dizzying two-hour drive from Tbilisi, you land in Lopota’s foothills amid a host of nationalities. Couples from the Middle East pass by European families and hearty Georgian gatherings, while electric buggies drive around with supplies of food, drink and firewood. All is sustainable, with Lopota hosting a large solar plant.
It’s always the small things that give the measure of a place. During our four-day stay, workers carefully wrapped each of the many lakeside trees in Christmas lights, creating festive magic amid the shedding of autumn leaves.
Active and inactive, Lopota caters for all. Hikes up in the hills provide warming views across the valley of Kakheti towards distant mountains. An exceptionally rewarding excursion is found on a squadron of quad bikes, which carry us down country tracks, passing the occasional sheepherder, while splashing across rivers. We entered a magical forest with a golden bed of leaves, a small derelict Georgian church and, with the engines off, a deep, rewarding silence.
Inexplicably, a large majority of Georgia's four million inhabitants are passionate about rugby, with the country abuzz about its 13-12 win over Wales when we arrive. Nearly all the younger generations speak very good English, which is the primary language, with Russian no longer taught in schools.
Georgia appears on the cusp of fulfilling its tourism potential. It has mountains said to be excellent for skiing (15 times cheaper than Switzerland, we’re told), great hiking routes, ancient monasteries and booming Black Sea resorts.
But for now, Lopota remains a well-kept secret beyond Georgia’s shores, although word is spreading. “I’ve lived in Tbilisi for 15 years and I’d heard about Lopota but this is the first time I’ve visited,” an Israeli software operator told us. “But now I’ve been here, I’ll certainly be back.”
We cannot help but agree.