You cannot get to know a country in seven days. This is not what we will attempt in our first Georgian tour. We would rather like to have a taste of all the typical regions of the country, from Svaneti’s snow-capped valleys to Javakheti’s majestic barren mountain ranges, from the misty peaks of the Georgian military highway to the vineyards of Kakheti. And to visit the most important historical monuments of Georgia: the monasteries of Gelati, Ananuri and Alaverdi, the cathedral of Mtskheta, the old towns of Tbilisi and Kutaisi, the cave monasteries of Vardzia, the fortress of Akhaltsikhe, and the medieval towers of the Svan villages.
We have already published the first summary of the tour. Below we outline the route and program of its seven days, so that those who have already registered for it can browse it in the armchair and prepare for it, and those who have not yet done so, might be enticed to join now.
The maps can be enlarged to full screen by clicking on the “More options” link in the upper left corner. Only the most important stops are indicated, but we well also stop at many other sites, at beautiful views and historical sights. If you get any ideas from browsing the map, let us know.
The places to be visited will be gradually presented on río Wang. It is therefore worthwhile to keep an eye on the blog, and on the summary of our posts on the Caucasus.
After this first overview tour we also plan further trips so as to more deeply acquaint us with some particularly beautiful and archaic regions of Georgia: the mountain villages of Svaneti, the ancient secluded settlements of Tusheti, the medieval painted churches of Racha, the fortress monasteries of Kakheti, or the long chain of cave monasteries of David Gareja stretching along the Azerbaijani border. Your recommendations based on the impressions of this first tour will also help us to decide which one to organize first.
1. Kutaisi and the neighboring monasteries: Gelati, Motsameta
Our plane arrives at dawn at Kutaisi, so we deserve a few extra hours of sleep in the hotel. Breakfast at ten, we start at eleven with the bus to the nearby medieval monasteries of Gelati and Motsameta (World Heritage Sites). In the afternoon we stroll around the old town of Kutaisi. Dinner in the hotel, where I also managed to invite a Georgian folk music ensemble.
2. Kutaisi to Svaneti
After breakfast we start up to Svaneti, one of Georgia’s most archaic mountainous regions. After Zugdidi, where the road begins to rise, we will repeatedly stop in the Inguri valley, next to the water reservoir, at the medieval painted churches and villages with residential towers. On the winding mountain road we arrive in the afternoon at our lodgings in Mestia. We look around in the old town with residential towers, and visit the rich museum of ethnography. Traditional Georgian dinner in the family guest house.
3. In the mountains of Svaneti: from Mestia to Ushguli
A full day excursion into the mountains, to Europe’s highest-lying (2100 m) settlement, Ushguli, the land of medieval residential towers. We will ride an off-road minibus, and will cover the 45-km distance in 3-4 hours, while enjoying breathtaking mountain scenery. A walk in the three parts of Ushguli village, traditional Georgian lunch. Back to Mestia, home-made dinner in the evening.
4. Mestia to Tbilisi
The longest road of our trip at one stretch: in seven hours we come down from the mountains to the valley of the Mtkvari/Kura river and along the river to the capital. On the way, we stop a few times to rest and for sightseeing, but we try to reach Tbilisi as soon as possible, because this is the afternoon we dedicate to visit the city together. Since our hotel will be in the center of the old town, in the next two evenings spent in Tbilisi you will also be able to explore the city on your own. In the evening, traditional dinner in an excellent Georgian restaurant in the Jewish quarter.
5. Mtskheta and the Georgian military highway
We start the day in the ancient Georgian capital, Mtskheta, not far from Tbilisi, which is still the center of the Georgian church. After visiting the cathedral and the Jvari (Holy Cross) church – Georgia’s first Christian church – on the hilltop at the other bank of the river, we set out on the former Georgian military highway, which leads via breathtaking serpentines and passes through the Greater Caucasus ridge across the border to Russia. At halfway we will stop at the Ananuri fortress monastery, one of the most beautiful Georgian monasteries. We will return to Tbilisi relatively late, only for dinner.
6. The valley of Kakheti
We tour around a more gentle mountainous region, in the valley of Kakheti, the Georgian wine region. We visit some historical fortress monasteries – Ikalto, Alaverdi and Gremi, and around the latter the ruins of the former capital of the Kakhetian Kingdom –, the Byzantine mountain town of Sighnaghi with its stunning view, and next to it, the monastery of St. Nino, the 4th-century missionary of Georgia.
7. The fortress of Akhaltsikhe and the Vardzian cave monasteries
The longest road of our journey, but also the best, so we will cover most of it by noon. Then we arrive at the city of Akhaltsikhe along the Turkish border, the center of the Georgian Jews and Armenians, where we visit the former fortress and caravansarai, stroll around in the old town, and then go out to the Vardzia cave monastery complex in the valley of the upper reaches of the Mtkvari/Kura river. We arrive for dinner at Kutaisi, and the next morning we leave for the airport.