Georgia travel guide: Mountains, Monasteries and Wine

Georgia travel guide: Mountains, Monasteries and Wine - Experiencing the Globe

Georgia travel guide

Stunning mountains, beautiful monasteries, delicious wine and food (vegetarian heaven!) and interesting history… What a great combination! Georgia is by far my favorite country in the Caucasus! I can’t believe this is still sort of an off the beaten path destination. Do yourself a favor and visit before everyone else starts to! Here’r my Georgia travel guide, the best of the country in 2 weeks.

After a painful encounter with border control officers leaving Azerbaijan, entering Georgia was a breath of fresh air. The officer said good morning (sounds obvious, right? Well, it seems it isn’t like that everywhere) and I handed him my passport. He looked at me and then took his phone, probably to check if I needed a visa. I mean, how many Chileans cross the border overland at the Balakan-Lagodekhi crossing? After 20 seconds he stamped my passport and said “welcome to Georgia”. I was already biased towards liking the country!

The road to Sighnaghi, in the Kakheti region, is beautiful. You can see the vines in the yards of the houses. Only a few kilometers in and you know you’re in wine country. What a welcome!

As you might have read on my post about Azerbaijan, I took a marshrutka that was heading to Tbilisi, but I asked if it stops at Sighnaghi. They told me yes. Anyhow the driver left me in the middle of the road, 8.5 km with 500 meters of ascent to get to the town. Maps.me said it’d take me 3 hours and 8 minutes. I walked up for a while, actually enjoying the hair pins of the road, letting go of my anger, surrounded by nature. Luckily a car passed by and gave me a lift (my first solo hitchhike!). He was nice enough to drive me almost to the door of my guest house. By then Georgia already won me over!

Sighnaghi

The road was incredible. The snowed peaks in the distance, the slow climb to this charming town on top of a hill, the towers along the road…everything was picturesque. The town itself is so cute! I felt like in Tuscany, if the Alps were closer, and with much cheaper (although great) wine. Everyone I ran into was genuinely nice. The lady from my guest house offered me tea when I arrived. I told her thanks, but I wanted to go out for wine. She told me to sit and brought homemade wine and cheese. And they were good to boot!

With new-found energy and a smile on my face I went for a stroll around the Old Town. The views of the valley around it, and of the Caucasus mountains in the distance, are stunning. The best part is that you get to see them walking around the walls that used to surround the city.  Later I went to overpriced Pheasant’s Tears, and enjoyed some food, and a tasting of 4 wines + chacha. Pretty cool first day in a new country, right?

Sighnaghi, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Sighnaghi, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe


Next day I was ready to head to Bodbe Monastery. A guy form Kazakhstan that was staying in the same room asked if he could join me. So up we went, for a lovely few kilometers walk.

It’s not allowed to take photos inside the monastery, which actually might be a good thing. It forces you to look directly at the details. And there’re so many! Orthodox reliefs and paintings, little candles burning in stands filled with sand, Adan and Eve’s expulsion from heaven decorating the ceiling.

Besides the pretty monastery and the breathtaking views, there’s a steep but gorgeous path down that takes you to St. Nino spring. The simplicity of having a leaf conducting the water gives this place a really special vibe.

Bodbe Monastery, Kakheti, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
St. Nino spring, Kakheti, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe


Back at Sighnaghi I headed to the wine museum. It’s not much of a museum, but the place is cozy and the guy running it is knowledgeable and friendly. He walked me through the process of Georgian traditional winemaking, gave me a tasting of traditional varieties, and some more according to my personal taste. Two thumbs up to Saperavi Qvevri from Kvareli –priced at less than 15€ a bottle, it’s better than most classical European wines at that price range.

Tbilisi

The Kakheti region was beautiful, but I was ready to meet the country’s capital, so I jumped in a marshrutka (6 lari, 1 hour and 45 minutes –get tickets early in the morning to make sure you’ll get a seat in the evening, as a lot of people go to Sighnaghi as a day trip).

Tbilisi’s architecture is a treat, an eclectic mix of Medieval, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Soviet and Modernist structures. As this is my first time in Georgia, I can’t compare today’s Tbilisi with what it was before the Rose Revolution (the revolt that in 2003 ousted the post-Soviet Shevardnadze government), but I heard there has been tons of improvements. Anyhow, I was able to see layers, which immediately made me like the city. Nothing is in-your-face style. Everything blends well together. From the 4th century Narikala fortress, to the ubiquitous Orthodox churches, to the modern architecture of Bridge of Peace, to the hipster feel of the cute little cafes, Tbilisi will show you a different aspect of its personality with each corner you take.

It might feel like a long walk, but I advise you to skip the cable car and walk up to Narikala fortress. You’ll stroll around the Old City and feel the cool vibe of Tbilisi. Start early to avoid the crowds brought by big buses and up the cable car. Take your time to explore around the fortress, take in the amazing views of the city from above, pay a visit to Mother Georgia, chill in the Botanical Garden and walk back down through the Mosque and the baths.

Narikala fortress, Tbilisi, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Mother Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Tbilisi, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe


I wanted to check most of the landmarks off, so I headed to Europe Square, up to the St. Trinity Cathedral, passed through the Presidential Palace, crossed the Peace Bridge to Rike park, saw the Clock Tower and the angel mark another hour ringing a little bell, walked around to Gallery 27 and allowed myself to get lost in the Old Town. I finished the day with some Khinkali (this country is vegetarian heaven!) and a glass or three of wine. After walking for over 20 km, I deserved them.

I wanted to check most of the landmarks off, so I headed to Europe Square, up to the St. Trinity Cathedral, passed through the Presidential Palace, crossed the Peace Bridge to Rike park, saw the Clock Tower and the angel mark another hour ringing a little bell, walked around to Gallery 27 and allowed myself to get lost in the Old Town. I finished the day with some Khinkali (this country is vegetarian heaven!) and a glass or three of wine. After walking for over 20 km, I deserved them.

Wine and food

When Georgians drink wine, toasting is really important. First you must toast for God, then for the country, and then for those who are no longer with us. Then every time you want to take a sip you need to toast for something else. Prepare yourself! Also, you’ll hear this story a few times: when God was handing in the earth to all the nations, Georgians were too busy drinking to hear God’s call. So he handed out everything to all the other countries. When Georgians arrived, they asked for what was left. God said that there was nothing. They explained that they were drinking in his honor with their families and friends. God thought that Georgians were so nice and hospitable that he decided to give them the best land, the one he had saved for himself. That’s why Georgia is the best country in the world.

As for food, try khinkali (big filled dumplings, my favorites are with mushrooms, but they also make them with cheese and potatoes –well, and with meat), khachapuri (a round bread filled with cheese, although they have other versions, the tastiest one is called lobiani, which is filled with bean paste), nigvziani badrijani (grilled eggplant stuffed with walnut paste), pkhali (paste made of spinach or beetroot), and lobio (beans with herbs and spices cooked in a clay pan). What I couldn’t make sense of was churchkhela, the Georgian snickers. You’ll see this everywhere without understanding what the hell it is. They hang walnuts in a string of rope and coat it with what they call grape juice caramel. There’re many other versions, like with pomegranate juice or honey. This ‘caramel’ is a chewy, wax like coat. I tried 3 different ones. I ended up rescuing the walnuts from the ‘caramel’ and disposing the leftovers. Georgians, you have AMAZING food and wine, how could you fail so miserably with dessert?

Georgian food and wine - Experiencing the Globe


Day trips from Tbilisi

Davit Gareji Monastery complex

Davit Gareji Monastery was on the top of my list. The cheapest and most convenient way to get there is to take a shuttle bus from Pushkin Square (next to Liberty Square). It’ll set you back 30 lari, but you get a return bus with 2 hours and 45 minutes to explore the monasteries, plus a stop for dinner in the nearby village of Udabno.

This monastery complex is quite a sight on its own, but the landscape surrounding it takes the prize. It’s breathtaking! Literally because you have to climb a mountain, and figuratively because Davit Gareji couldn’t have found a better setting to establish his place of worship when he came to the area to spread Christianity back in the 6th century. If you visit during spring, you’ll be treated with green rolling hills, that contrast perfectly with smaller, red-shaded hills in front.

Most people stop the climb in Lavra. It’s an impressive sight, so I don’t blame them for wanting to spend their stay glimpsing at the cave monasteries. But I strongly recommend making the effort to keep going up. You’ll be treated with an impressive sight of the green plains of Azerbaijan (well, green if you go in spring). Walk along the poles that mark the border, crossing from one side to the other as you get closer to Udabno caves. The ridge of the mountain is the border between the countries, so you’ll see intimidating, armed soldiers from both sides. A simple gamarjoba/salam (hello in Georgian or Azeri –pick the right one!) will get them to smile at you. Keep going up to the peak, where there’s a Georgian flag. The views are just stunning. Continue the same path down to pass through Davit’s Tears, a cave with a spring that is closed to visitors, but that will give you the best photo spot for Lavra. When you get back to the parking, you’ll see the church’s shop, where you can buy wine made by the cheeky monks that saw a business opportunity and took it.

Davit Gareji monastery, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Davit Gareji monastery, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Davit Gareji monastery, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Davit Gareji monastery, Georgia-Azerbaijan border - Experiencing the Globe


Mtskheta (half a day)

Mtskheta is a cute, but utterly touristy town. It’s supposed to be the center of spirituality in Georgia, where the two holiest temples of the country are found. Don’t get me wrong, they’re impressive, and I can understand the historical and artistic importance. I can also respect how Orthodox are drawn to them. But there are more souvenir shops and restaurants than any feeling of God. There’s even a monk at the entrance of the town, where there’s a parking for the tour busses, ringing a bell and selling CDs.

Visit the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and the 6th century Jvari Monastery, go to the Old Taverna to eat their famous and delicious lobio, and escape before the next bus arrives.

*There are marshrutkas every 15 minutes to and from Tbilisi for only 1 lari. In Mtskheta you’ll need a taxi to go up to Jvari, which should be 20 lari return, including waiting time (find other travelers to split the cost!). At the tourism office they told me you can’t walk up, but I regret not trying. Although there’s no marked path, it should be quite straightforward. Next time!

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mtskheta, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe


The Chronicles of Georgia (2-3 hours)

The travel bible failed me. I looked and looked in my Lonely Planet for references to The Chronicles of Georgia and nothing. I’m happy I’m a nerd and I always do a ton of research before going anywhere new, because this is one cool monument. Thanks to fellow blogger Kami’s guide on how not to get there I manage to find it effortlessly. Take the metro to Grmagele station and then bus N°60, just outside the metro, on the same side of the street. Easy peacy. You’ll be left almost at the entry of this impressive bronze and copper structure, created by sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, which consists of 16 columns. Each 30 meters high column has three parts: historical events on the top, Georgian kings, queens, and other important figures on the middle, and stories from the Bible on the bottom. Looked from above, the columns form the shape of a cross.

Chronicles of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe


Gori and Uplistsikhe

I didn’t manage to get to these places, but I decided to mention them because they’re a very popular day trip from Tbilisi. Gori is the birth town of Joseph Stalin, and Uplistsikhe is a cave town, one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia. As I was going to visit Vardzia later on, I skipped this one.

Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)

Kazbegi is the image I had in my mind while thinking of Georgia: the top-of-the-hill monastery with Mt. Kazbegi’s snowed peak in the background. I was looking forward to the hike up. You can take a taxi, but in my mind a view as spectacular as that one needed to be earned.

The forecast was announcing rain for that afternoon, so I took the first marshrutka out of Tbilisi (from Didube station, 10 lari, 3 hours –it departs hourly from 8AM), quickly left my backpack in the hostel and started to walk. The beginning of the path is well signaled, just on the edge of the village, after crossing the river. From there you go through an even smaller village, Gergeti. And there’s where my problems started. I ran into an old lady-shepherd and her sheep. She signaled to wait, but I had no clue why. I was standing there, waiting while checking the path on my phone when I heard someone shout and a stone flew right next to me. I looked up and I saw the old lady disappeared in a curve and an old man heading my way, yelling and throwing more stones at me. Of course I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I got the idea he was telling me not to take photos. I tried to explain to him that I was only looking at the map, but the yelling was loud and I could see real anger in his eyes, so I just run back until I lost sight of him. I ran into a man carrying tourists in horses, so I decided to follow him. At least he could speak the language. Well, we took the same path but there was no trace of the old man. So I continue the walk questioning whether that actually happened or if I was tired enough to imagine him. I guess I’ll never know…

Well, the walk was nice for a little while longer, until the path stopped because of a landslide. There was no way to take it, so the car road was the only alternative. Longer and full of hairpin curves, I just hated it. Walking on cement is not something I particularly fancy, but when you expect a day in nature, it sucks even more. Anyway, I took it because I was going to walk all the way up. A minute later it started raining. Damn! By then my spirits were crashed. I started the day dizzy (I don’t know if it was the 3 hours ride in the mountains or the fact that I didn’t sleep more than a few hours, probably both), I was annoyed by the road, and now rain? The hiking gods were against me. So I soldiered on just to spite them! An hour and 40 minutes took me to get to the top. I sat down in a rock, dreading the way back, getting angrier and angrier at myself for not working out more so I could have actually enjoyed this hike. And then suddenly I thought that I could hitchhike my way back and use the energy I had left to see the monastery. So off I went to explore. The Gergeti Trinity Church was built 14th century and it sits 2170 meters from sea level. The views are amazing, but I’m really sorry it was clouded and raining. I’m sure it could have been way more spectacular in a clear day. Now I have the mission to go back when there’s good weather!

Gergeti Trinity Church, Kazbegi, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Gergeti Trinity Church, Kazbegi, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe


Svaneti region

Mestia

From Kazbegi I took a marshrutka early in the morning to Tbilisi (10 lari, 3 hours), and then another to Zugdidi (20 lari, 6 ½ hours), from where you can go Abkhazia and to Mestia. There’s also an overnight train, if you don’t want to spend the whole day in uncomfortable minibuses. I like to get a window sit and stare at the scenery, but I know it’s not for everyone. On the road you pass almost next to the border with the breakaway territory of South Ossetia, and I wanted to take a look (of course I only saw green fields and mountains in the background, exactly the same as in the rest of the trip). If you plan with time, look into the option of flying. There are inexpensive flights from Tbilisi (Natakhatari airport) to Mestia, but they tend to sell out fast.

Border of South Ossetia, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
The view towards South Ossetia

I spent the night in Zugdidi, to catch the first marshrutka to Mestia in the morning (I was also planning on a quick visit to Abkhazia, but the border was closed on the Georgian side when I was there). I met 3 Dutch people in the hostel and we all went for dinner. Two of them were vegetarians, so with 3 out of 4 we decided to share, that way we would get to try more dishes. We asked for what was typical Georgian and meat-free. The waiter looked confused and immediately replied ‘nothing’. It’s funny how people find the concept of vegetarianism so foreign. I’ve already tried a few dishes, so I asked if they didn’t have them. His answer was yes, of course we have them. After thinking for 10 seconds he came up with several different options. Needless to say, we had a cruelty free feast! My point was that most people assume that food has to have meat, without realizing the amount of vegetarian dishes they eat, just without noticing they’re meat free.

The next morning I was on the road again. Up to Mestia. The winding road goes up the mountains, surrounding you with every shade of green you can imagine, perfectly mixed with reds and yellows. You gotta love spring! A strong river flows on one side, high peaks stand tall on the other. Waterfalls everywhere. Every now and then a cute tiny village. It’s such a picturesque mountain road that the whole trip is picture perfect, even if the day is cloudy, like the one I had.

Nico, a Chilean guy I met in Iran told me Mestia was best described as ‘Soviet Pucón’. For those of you who haven’t visited this lovely town in the south of Chile (you definitely should!), it’s the adventure capital of the country. You have ski in the winter and climbing/rafting/rappelling/etc in the summer. The town has a volcano overlooking it, and a river crossing it. It’s mostly built on wood. And it’s full of adventure seekers and also what we Chileans call ‘zorrones’, kids that spend their nights drinking, their mornings sleeping, and their afternoons doing whatever sport is fashionable at the moment. Of course, with daddy’s money. Anyway, I think Nico was absolutely right. Mestia is beautiful, surrounded by high mountains and hills with pine trees, with Mestiachala river flowing in the middle of the town. It’s the adventure capital of Georgia. And the vibe is the same as in Pucón. It’s full of adventure seekers, and also of rich German and British kids that get drunk with chacha every night, with daddy’s money. The only difference is the buildings. Concrete replaces wood in this version of Pucón. You feel how close you are of Russia, and how much the Soviet Union influenced this country.

An effort from the government to make it a world class ski center is starting to make it lose its amazing personality, at least a little. So, come fast! From the modern sculpture of Queen Tamar, to the out-of-place St. Nicholas’s church, to the new buildings of the city center. It’s great to see money invested, but preserving architecture and traditions should have been a priority. Anyhow, it’s still an amazing place to go, especially in shoulder season, where there’s people but it’s not crowded. Actually, one of the things made me stayed for longer and longer than planned was that it starts to feel like a little community so fast. From the people you meet in the marshrutka getting there, to the ones in your guesthouse, or in Laila (where everyone seems to eat and drink in town), or the ones hiking with you. You walk in the street saying hi to both locals and other travelers. Most of them are on the same mindset, probably because not everyone would come to these highlands out of season. Anyhow, I loved it there. If I still didn’t have a few more stops in Georgia (and Armenia) waiting for me, I would have stayed much longer.

There’s a lot of history in Mestia too. It’s the capital of the Svaneti region, famous for the Svanetian tower houses erected mainly between the 9th and 12th centuries, and the Svanetian salt, a spice mix responsible for the delicious taste of the region’s dishes, which also was an important historical trade good. The region is surrounded by 5000 meters peaks that are separated by deep gorges covered by pine forests. The extreme isolation of the region, and the known fact that the Svans were fierce warriors, allowed it to retain significant autonomy until 19th century, preserving its own culture and traditions better than anywhere else in the Caucasus region.

Mestia, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Mestia, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe


Ushguli

There’s a 4 day hike I was really looking forward to do, but as soon as I arrived to Mestia locals told me it was too early in the season because there was still a lot of snow in the passes, so it’d be dangerous if you’re not a professional climber (which I’m clearly not). So I settled for a marshrutka (35 lari return trip). The road goes up and down hills, passing through dozens of tiny villages full of towers and little monasteries. The massive Caucasus range is always surrounding you.

After a couple of hours going up, first in a poor asphalted road, then in a dirt path, we stumbled into a hiccup –a landslide cut the road, and while they were trying to get it fixed, cars couldn’t go through. Walking it was! The last 6km, in a steep path. Some people in the group weren’t too excited about hiking in the mud, so they stopped a truck, and all 10-15 of us climbed to the pick up. 20 minutes later we arrived at our destination.

Ushguli is magical. Five little villages going up the hill along the river (Murkmeli, Chazhashi, Chvibiani, Zhiviani and Lamjurishi, from 2060 to 2200 meters), standing tall with their towers and their proud. They say they’re the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe, and they represent free Svaneti, since they have never been conquered –as they put it, “our people have never had princes.” Even the name tells this story: Ushguli comes from Georgian ‘ushishari guli’, translated as ‘fearless heart’. The town is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

People are extremely nice! Every person I could speak English with asked me if I think their town is beautiful. A simple yes was not enough. The town is fascinating. It’s like going back in time. In many places on the Caucasus you have that feeling, because the Soviet times have lingered. But here you go back to the 12th century, when Ushguli’s seven churches were built.

Ushguli, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Ushguli, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Ushguli, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe


The town is guarded by Georgia’s highest peak, Mt. Shkhara (5193 m), making it the start point for those who adventure to summit it. From Ushguli you can also hike up the valley to the Shkhara glacier (reports say that it takes about 6 hours to cover the 8 km there and back), but, as I mentioned, I went in early spring, and with no equipment there was no point in to even trying. So I settle for a view point at the beginning of the trail, after the last village. Still, what an amazing way to spend a day in Svaneti –do not miss it!!!

Ushguli, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe


The cross over Mestia

On my last day in town I decided to test my stamina. A lot of different people recommended a hike to a cross on the top of the hill overlooking the city. The views were supposed to be great, 360° to the whole valley and the mountains surrounding it. It was 800 meters of ascent, so I thought there was no way I could handle it. Well, if you read my story on Kazbegi, scrap it, scrap it all! I don’t know if it was because I had no pressure or expectations this time, or because I had a nice night of sleep and a great breakfast before the hike, but just putting one foot in front of the other and taking a lot of ‘photo stops’, I made it! And I thoroughly enjoyed the hike to boot! Sure I was short of breath the whole way, but it’s so beautiful! You start the walk leaving the town behind along a stream, that was actually covering the path. From there you go in a steep ascent through a forest, where you get little peeks of the town when you turn around, as you watch it get smaller. The mountains around are just magnificent. I couldn’t help but think how incredible it would be to be able to climb them. So in between all these thoughts, I arrived to the cross! Maps.me said it should take 1 hour 50 minutes –it took me 2 and a half hours.

A little hut waits for you with shade to let you rest and enjoy a well-deserved view. After a ton of photos and 30 minutes being mesmerized by the scenery I thought to try to go further up. The hike continues to Koruldi lakes, but I’ve heard they were still covered by snow and it was impossible to reach this early in the spring. I hiked another couple of kilometers and 100 meters up, and decided to stop at the top of a crest, where the views were incredible and snow covered half my calves. The way down felt even steeper, but I got back in one piece and with the biggest sense of accomplishment 🙂

For all the details on this hike I recommend this guide.

Cross over Mestia, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Cross over Mestia, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
As far as I could go… Loved every second of this hike! ❤️

For the last night in Mestia I went to the cinema with a group of people I’ve met on the previous days. The movie was Dede, based on a real story that happened in Ushguli in the 90’s, with local actors. It couldn’t have been more appropriate to finish up my visit to Svaneti. A quote from the film, and I guess its message, is “some traditions deserve to be preserved, some were not good and it’s good to let them go”. It was amazing to watch it after visiting the village, but I’d recommend it anyway to get an idea of who these warriors Svans are.

Borjomi

On the way back the weather was perfect and the road down to the country’s central valley was even prettier than on the way up. I found a direct marshrutka to Kutaisi (25 lari, 5 ½ hours, at 8AM) and from there got into another one to Borjomi (8 lari, 3 hours, leaves hourly from 8AM to 1PM). I was going to across almost the whole country again. Georgia, in so many ways, still feels like a village. Even in the highways you see cows roaming around, knowing that cars will stop, acting like they own the place (and maybe they do).

Borjomi felt very Russian, in a bad way. You can see the town was grand during the Russian Empire, but now it’s far away from its former glory. The buildings are old and crumbling. The main attraction of the place is its water springs, from where Borjomi water is bottled. Some people love it, but I found it disgusting. What I did enjoy was the greenery. The town is in a gorge surrounded by a lush forest. There’s a cable car up the central park with lovely views of the valley. Nearby there’s a natural reserve with endless possibilities for hiking.

Borjomi, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe


Vardzia

In the 12th century Queen Tamar, one of the most beloved sovereigns of Georgian history (so much that she was crowned as king), ordered the construction of a monastery in the mountains to protect the monks that were being slaughter by the Mongols. That’s how Vardzia was born, a complex of thousands of grottos carved in a mountain, 13 levels of it, to be exact, all interconnected, with tunnels for irrigation pipes that brought drinkable water to the dwellers, and with a remarkable church in the middle. An earthquake in 1283 made two thirds of the construction to collapse. Vardzia still continued to be the house of about 6000 monks, until the 16th century, when a Persian attack kill most of the monks and forced the rest to flee. Since then the site has been abandoned.

The cave monastery still stands tall and impressive. It’s carved in the slopes of Mount Erusheti, overlooking the Kura river. The whole site is dramatic –it’s hard to grasp how in medieval times something this intricate and beautiful could be built. The path is clear –at the end of the complex you’ll find a very very long set of stairs that will bring you back to ground level and to the entrance–, so get lost exploring up and down stairs, visit the wine cellars, be amazed at the jaw-dropping surroundings, and even more stunned by the treasure of the site, the Church of the Dormition, which still displays gorgeous mural paintings.

Vardzia, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Vardzia, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Vardzia, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe

From Borjomi I was planning to take a marshrutka to Akhaltsikhe (4 lari, 1 hour, departs hourly from 8AM) and then another to Vardzia (5 lari, 1 hour, departs at 10:30, 13:00, and 15:00 –and strangely returns at the same times), but the driver offered to do the same trip, also stopping at the Rabati, Khertvisi and Tmogvi castles, for 20 lari return trip, so I took it. The entrance fee at Vardzia is 7 lari.

Akhaltsikhe, Georgia - Experiencing the Globe
Akhaltsikhe fortress , the Rabati Castle

Time to leave

Instead of returning to Borjomi, I asked the driver to drop me off in Akhaltsikhe because there’s a marshrutka from there to Yerevan, my next stop (25 lari, 7 hours, daily at 7AM). The day before I was told that tickets are not sold in advance, so that I should be at the station at 6:30. At 6:55 we left. For the first time of my stay in the Caucasus a marshrutka departed before schedule and with seats available. I developed high hopes that Armenia would bring punctuality! 🙂

The road leaving Georgia is stunning. I know it departs early, but if you’re taking this road, have a good night of sleep. You’ll want to stay awake for this ride. Well, chunks of the road are dirt, and some (even if they are asphalted) feel like they were dirt, so you wouldn’t get too much sleep anyways. You go alongside river Paravani, at the bottom of a valley, surrounded by green hills. The whole way I was thinking how cool it’d be to do white water rafting in this river. It has some really nice-looking rapids and jumps. Keep an eye open for the occasional top-of-the-hill fortresses, waterfalls and cliffs, and strange bridges (I saw one made out of an old train wagon and one supported by an old upside-down tank). In Akhalkalaki the road leaves the river behind and the valley opens into a wide, green meadow. Low but snowed peaks start to come closer and closer as you approach the border, while the road gets worse and worse. You have to go suuuper slow in the mud, trying to avoid the potholes, but the scenery is so beautiful that the calm pace is even appreciated.

Exiting the country was as fast and easy as entering it. With a simple ‘gamarjoba’ the officer was smiling. He looked for the entry stamp, put the exit one next to it, and said ‘nice trip’. A ‘madlova’ won me another smile, and that was is. Two weeks in Georgia went by too quickly. But I had Armenia to look forward to…


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The best Georgia travel guide: from wine country to centuries old monasteries surrounded by magnificent mountains. The country is simply stunning! #Georgia #GeorgiaCountry #Caucasus #Monasteries #Mountains #Wine #Tbilisi #Sighnaghi #Vardzia #Mestia #Ushguli #Borjomi #Kazbegi #DavitGareji
The best Georgia travel guide: from wine country to centuries old monasteries surrounded by magnificent mountains. The country is simply stunning! #Georgia #GeorgiaCountry #Caucasus #Monasteries #Mountains #Wine #Tbilisi #Sighnaghi #Vardzia #Mestia #Ushguli #Borjomi #Kazbegi #DavitGareji

20 thoughts on “Georgia travel guide: Mountains, Monasteries and Wine”

  1. Georgia is super high on my bucket list! A friend of mine is there right now and I’m just so jealous. So, I’m reading up and gathering useful information for when the wind takes me there 🙂 Can’t wait to try the wine and enjoy nature there.

    1. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. It’s absolutely gorgeous! Let me know if you have any questions or need any advice for your trip 🙂

  2. I went to Tbilisi last year and fell in love! Your photo of the food makes my mouth water. I need to go back to Georgia and explore some of the places you explored. The castle looks so pretty!

    1. I completely understand you, Disha. I’d love to go back to explore some more of that beautiful country. Maybe, you never know 😊

  3. I’ve never really thought about a trip to Georgia but your post is definitely changing my mind! It looks so stunning and surrounded by nature everywhere! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    1. Thanks, Tamara! I fell in love with the country, so I thought that only a thorough description would do it justice 😊

  4. Last time when I went to Simla I was facing some problems because of no experience how to travel. But your site is helping me to prepare. Thanks for the inspiration and tips!

    1. That’s amazing to hear! Thanks so much for the trust!!! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out 😊

    1. I hear you! It’s so hard to stop adding things to the list!
      It’s crazy Georgia is so underrated. The whole region deserves so much more attention! I’m happy I was able to spread a bit of wanderlust ❤️

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