Kakheti is the main winemaking region of Georgia, wineries are on every step, and if you travel there with a driver, your chances to finish you day being drunk and happy are very high. With full understanding of this situation we tried to help you planning a trip in a clever way, which allows the guests to see things and have some time for themselves.
So if you travel around Kakheti with a car for two days, you will be able to see and experience all sides of the non-highland part. You can start your day with David Gareji. It depends on you, if you are into climbing to the other side of the hill and seeing the caves of lavra. Otherwise you can just see the place, where St. David used to live in the VI century, as he and the other preacher named Dodo have started the monastery there, as well as check out the church and the old systems of channels for collecting rain water.
From Gareji headed to Sighnaghi and Bodbe, making a short stop to eat buffalo matsoni in a roadside café near the village Mzisguli. This part of the road is quite famous for such stops. For example, people think that in Kachreti is the best meat, in Mzisguli is the best matsoni etc. Near Sighnaghi there is a monastery Bodbe, where St. Nino, the main female saint of Georgia, is resting in peace. She used to start spreading Christian faith from Mtskheta, but her last shelter was here.
The bell tower of the monastery is dated back by the XIX century only, but the nunnery and the church are quite old (established in the IX century, they have been renovated in the XVII). In 1-1.2 km from the monastery you’ll find an ice-cold spring, which is believed to have supernatural power. You just have to get special clothes and get inside three times (be aware of big queues on the weekends), asking St. Nino to make your wish come true. After that be prepared to ascend back or to pay around 10 lari for the cab to get back to the monastery or 15 lari to go to the center of Sighnaghi.
Sighnaghi itself is extremely lovely: an old town, very picturesque, so if you are fine with climbing old city walls or a bell tower of a church, visiting the museum and having local food and a jug of a local wine – go there and relax. It is good for relaxation, because life there is very laid-back. The status of “city of love” and 24/7 marriage registration are interesting, but we know that they might not be relevant to every tourist, so if you need more incentives, add Bodbe to your trip.
Talking about interesting businesses around Sighnaghi, we couldn’t but mention the rancho Living Roots, where it’s possible to ride horses, and the winery Pheasant’s Tears, which has been established by an American and produces traditional Georgian wines. Staying in Sighnaghi is possible: there are quite a lot of guesthouses and hotels there.
After you are done with this part, go to Lagodekhi Natural Reserve, the first protected area of Georgia, which has been established in 1912 as a result of efforts, made by the Polish researcher Ludwik Mlokosiewicz. The information center of the park is in 1.2 km from the center of the town. You can get the information about the routes and start your trip from there, but be sure you have your ID with you: the protected area is located at the border to Azerbaijan, so the border police will ask you to show your documents. Another tip – try to get waterproof shoes, especially in spring: the rivers can go really wide there.
The shortest route will take around 3.5 – 5 hours here and back and will lead you to a fortress. The trail to the beautiful Ninoskhevi waterfall starts in 7 km from the information center in the village Gurgeniani and takes at least half of the day. The longest trail to Black Rock Lake (unfortunately it has nothing to do with Burning Man festival) usually takes three days. There are shelters on the way to the lake, and you can also rent a tent in the information center.
Camping is possible also in the yard near the entrance to the protected area. Forest atmosphere starts there immediately: the trees are tall, the birds sing, and noises of the town disappear. There is also a hotel just next to the info center.
It is enough for the first day – steppe landscapes and lavra, a visit to the monastery and “city of love” in all its sleepy beauty, plus a decent walk in the natural reserve is already something as for the first day in Kakheti. You already feel how diverse the region is and take your time for having a rest.
On the second day we can put even more culture to the plan. Though, adding wine is also important: you are still in Kakheti! Try to pass by Kvareli and wine tunnel of Khareba factory on the way. The excursion and tastings are nice; you don’t get “just” wine there: the atmosphere of former bomb shelter and now a wine storage is very peculiar.
The next steps after Kvareli are usually two historical objects: monastery Nekresi and castle Gremi. Nekresi, the IX century monastery complex, still keeps this raw medieval feeling, despite of quite many visitors a day. Be prepared to give 3 lari for going up and down with a shuttle, because the road from the gate to the monastery is steep.
Gremi has a nice museum, a wine cellar and even a hostel at the territory. It used to be quite a big trade city and even a capital of the Kakhetian kingdom in the XVI century, but then Persian invasion happened to it, like they happened to many Georgian places many times, and the capital slowly moved to Telavi. So do you – thanks God, without any help from invaders.
Walking in old Telavi and drinking coffee under the 900-years-old plane tree is pleasant, but if you have time, we would also recommend visiting Alaverdi monastery, Chateau Mere, Schuchmann Winery or the mansion of noble Chavchavadze family in Tsinandali – both places are not far from Telavi, and carry historical and wine-related value.
Before we put the last dot for today, the last point we are going to deal with is transportation, because unfortunately it’s impossible to travel across Kakheti with minibuses and be that flexible. A car + GPS + cautiousness or a car + Georgian driver are the most convenient ways. Otherwise you can get to Kvareli and Lagodekhi from Ortachala bus station or take a minibus to Telavi, Sighnaghi or Tsinandali from Isani/Samgori bus station (both in Tbilisi).