One of the main reasons we wanted to visit Georgia was the Caucasus Mountains. We were initially thinking of hiking for a couple of days, but in May when we were there it was still quite cold and the snow hadn’t melted yet, so we had to change our plans a bit, but still managed to get a bit of a mountain feel, even without the hiking.
Our second day of the trip started early (not as early as the first one) and we left beautiful Sighnaghi, still feeling a bit dizzy from all the wine we had a day before, in the direction of Kazbegi (also known as Stepantsminda). Here we would spend the night and go to the Gergeti Trinity Church, more for the view around the church, rather than for the church itself.
It’s a 255km and more than 4 hours drive from Sighnaghi to Kazbegi, but it’s impossible to get bored, looking out the window will for sure keep you busy, as the scenery is beautiful, to say the least. Especially after passing the Tbilisi area and officially getting on the mountain road.
First stop – Jvari Monastery of Mtskheta
To make the driving a bit more bearable, we had a couple of pit stops on our way. First one was the Jvari Monastery of Mtskheta, set up on a hill, offering a beautiful view over the valley and the Mtskheta town (we were also planning to visit it, but we were a bit on a tight schedule and dropped the idea).
Jvari Monastery of Mtskheta is a is a sixth century Georgian Orthodox church, built from stone, one of the oldest in the country, having a great impact on the further development of Georgian architecture and serving as a model for many other churches. It is also, together with the town of Mtskheta, an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Religion is a very big thing in Georgia and churches and monasteries are to be found all around the country. Religious tourism is also a big thing and there are many pilgrims who visit the country especially for religious purposes. For us, as religious tourism is not really our cup of tea, we checked them out mostly for the architecture and the landscape – most of the famous and big ones are set in beautiful places, surrounded by nature and with a great view over the surroundings.
You can drive all the way up to the Jvari Monastery and visit it. As it was Easter we were there, we also found lots of other people visiting it from all over the country and from Russia. Most probably it doesn’t get so crowded on a regular week day and you can enjoy a more quiet and relaxed visit.
Second stop – Ananuri Fortress
On the main road to Kazbegi, mid way from Tbilisi to Kazbegi, it’s the Ananuri Fortress Complex, also an UNESCO World Heritage Site and a good option to have a pit stop. Built in the 17th century, on the right bank of Aragvi River, the complex still has the castle, the bell tower, two churches and beautifully carved walls. Part of the complex is still in good conditions, although there are some ruins around.
The surrounding area is beautiful, including the Zhinvali water reservoir and the valley and the forests around.
Final Destination – Kazbegi and Gergeti Trinity Church
Following the E117 road, first known as the Silk road and from the ’70s as the Military Road going from Georgia to Russia, we finally arrived somewhere in the afternoon in Kazbegi, our headquarters for the night. The main reason we chose Kazbegi was to go to the Gergeti Trinity Church, somewhere up at about 2000m, to enjoy the view and breathe a bit of a mountains fresh air. But also the way there is beautiful, mountains covered in snow all over the place, a couple of sky resorts, small hotels and guesthouses.
Built in the 14th century, Gergeti has become one of the most important and well known symbols of Georgia. It’s also known by trekkers as it stands on the route to the Kazbegi Peak, one of the highest in the country (5 047m). Until 2018, getting to the church was only possible via a hiking trail (1 – 1 1/2 hours) or via a dirt road, with a 4×4 car. In 2018 a paved road was built and now you can get there with any car if it’s not a lot of snow. There is also an option to get a sort of a taxi from the village up to the church – a Mitsubishi Delica – which can drive any roads in Georgia in any weather conditions – it’s definitely worth experiencing such a trip at least once.
Again, as it was Easter time, we got to check out the area with other hundreds of people. There was a big line of cars when we got there, so we decided to park ours somewhere on the way and walk to the plateau where the church stands. The view is simply spectacular, with all the high peaks around and the Kazbegi valley. It’s a nice and enjoyable walk on the plateau, no need to actually go to the church, just sit down, open your eyes, look around and feel the mountains greatness.
This was for us the only reasonable destination to get a bit of a mountain in front of our eyes. The Caucasus Moutains stretch on the whole Nortern border of the country so there’s plenty of hiking to be done. Still, the ideal period for hiking is summer and beginning of September if the weather is still good. The most known area for hiking is the Svaneti National Park – set in the North-West part of the country, with amazing views, beautiful remote villages and long hiking paths – it’s on our list and it will happen for sure somewhere in the future.
Kazbegi, the village at the base of the Kazbegi Mountain is a well known destination, especially for Russians, as it’s a couple of kilometers away from the border. Prices here tend to be a bit higher than in other areas of the country and everybody here lives from tourism. The cool part is that everywhere you look while in the village, you see the mountains.
Dinner and Megruli Khachapuri and Kinghali cooking workshop
For dinner, we trusted completely a small Georgian Gastro Travel Agency – Culinary and Wine Expedition, that specializes in organizing food and wine trips around the country, to small farms, households and producers who still cook food using old recipes and techniques and who use home-grown ingredients. Through these trips they promote the local culture, local recipes and create a community around good and authentic food and wine.
In Kazbegi, we got the chance to have a small cooking workshop and help in cooking our dinner, which included two traditional dishes in Georgia – Megruli Khachapuri and Kinghali. Both are made using a classical flour dough. Megruli Khachapuri is a pizza shaped pie, filled with all sorts of stuff, vegetables, cheese or meat. For our dinner, we had a version filled with cheese and beetroot leaves, very tasty and filling.
Kinghali is probably the most known Georgian dish, a national emblem. They are a sort of boiled dumplings, similar to the Italian ravioli, but bigger, stuffed with minced meat and a mixture of herbs and spices. To be eaten with your bare hands. As I’m a big fan of everything that includes minced meat, I just loved this dish. Especially since the mix of herbs and spices gave it a true unique taste. Served with some chacha (their traditional spirit), dinner was perfect.
Dinner happened in a family’s house, where 3 generations of women where cooking for us and helping us with cooking as well. We didn’t speak each other’s language, but it wasn’t really necessary to understand each other, sign language was more than enough.
Photo Gallery of Day 2:
Map of the trip:
Accommodation: Hotel Noa Kazbegi – nice view, comfortable rooms, rich breakfast included
Mountain Freaks – they have a small shop and office in the center of the village, they rent hiking equipment and offer guided hiking tours. They also have a nice souvenir shop with mountains related items, most of them handmade in the country.