Sunday, June 12, 2016

St Nino, Sighnaghi & Wine | Georgia Part 2

St Nino, Sighnaghi & Wine | Georgia 


The eastern region of Georgia – Kakheti, is fast becoming a major tourist draw. Kakheti, bordered by Russian Federation (northeast) and Azerbaijan (southeast) has some unmissable attractions and a landscape that beats any European country side. Easily reached from Tibilisi (in under 1.5 hours if you are driving yourself), this is also Georgia’s wine capital.

Wine Route: Being the largest wine producing region of Georgia, Kakheti is all about wine and vineyards. Which means that as you drive along, you are greeted with endless stretches of vineyards full of luscious grapes interspersed with wine-tasting centre everywhere. Be assured that if you missed one, the next one comes along rather quickly. What’s more, every home in the region makes their own wine and you could easily get invited to drink a glass of two. With over 400 varieties to choose from, you cant go wrong here.
Kakheti wine
This – ladies and gentlemen – was Stalin’s favourite!
One of the many wine-tasting centres along the road.
Georgian cheese
Along the roads, you will come across people selling cheese, bread, churchkhela and honey.
My personal favourite is of course Kindzmarauli, a red, semi sweet dry wine and I’d like to add here that the red wines pair perfectly with Kakheti’s traditional churchkhela candies you see everywhere. But that could be just my perspective. Give it a shot.
Bodbe Monastery: An old monastery in which the body of Saint Nino’s (Enlightener of Georgia) is buried. Remember that you cannot take pictures inside here – and women are expected to cover their heads when entering this place.  St. Nino, revered by most Georgians brought Christianity to the region.
Bodbe Monastery
Old Russian cars are a common sight here. This one is Lada
Signaghi: A pretty town, in fact, the prettiest town in this region, it sits on a hilltop overlooking beautiful green Alzani Valley to the Caucasus beyond. Walking down the road you could for a moment feel yourself in Italy – the town has been renovated not too long ago, the streets are quite new – but they have easily managed to retain much of the old world charm.
Town of Sighnaghi
Town of Sighnaghi
Town of Sighnaghi
View of Sighnaghi
City Wall: The 4500 m wall surrounding the city has 23 towers and was built in the 18th century by King Erekle II, to protect the area against attacks. Sighnaghi’s fortifying wall is one of the biggest in Georgia and although some of the areas have been ruined, some sections have been restored for tourism – and is a huge draw. You can climb up this wall as well for a birds eye view of your surroundings. There is a lovely restaurant here overlooking the valley and Azerbaizan beyond, that serves some fine Georgian meal – try their lobio served in a clay pot, ostri, chicken in walnut, warm breads and tkemali.
Georgian cuisine
Georgian dish of chicken stuffed with walnuts
Georgian cuisine
Sighnaghi City Wall
Sighnaghi City Wall
Sighnaghi City Wall
Sighnaghi City Wall and view of Alzani Valley
David Gareja: A monastery complex high in the mountains (also shares borders with Azerbaijan) is cut into a single big rock. While it is not easy to reach here, the views totally make up for the effort. You will need a 4WD and an experienced driver to bring you here.
Travel: From Tibilis marshrutkas run daily from Samgori station at 09:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00, and 18:00. Travel duration is 1.5 hours, cost 6 gel, with a same schedule returning.
Buy: Wine, carpets and cheese.

If you have not booked your tickets to Georgia yet, I’d say get the fantastic deal I got with Holiday Factory. I totally recommend this tour company – it was my first and I am all for it in future!

Beautiful beyond imagination – Georgia

Beautiful beyond imagination – Georgia

featured image for georgia

First, a little history.

Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing countries (800 BC), is located at the intersection of West Asia and East Europe and this stretch of land between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is also known for its beautiful women and fruits! Georgians are NOT Russians or Turks, they are a unique ethnic group, holding strong against centuries of invasions by Mongols, Russians, Ottoman, Byzantine… They are a majority Christian country (Christianity came here in the first century). Georgia was the second nation to adopt Christianity, with the evangelism of Saint Nino of Capadoccia.
Back to being a traveler in this beautiful country…

Running from the capital Tibilisi to Vladikavkaz (in Russia) through some incredibly spectacular scenery and high mountain passes, this beautiful 212 km stretch also has some must see sights along the route. Jvari Pass (Cross Pass) is the highest point on this road.
Highlights: Whether you are self-driving or on a bus, these are a few highlights along the way you should not miss.
Jvari Monastery: A UNESCO World Heritage Site near Mtshketa, this Georgian Orthodox monastery stands on a rocky mountaintop overlooking the confluence of two rivers – Mtkvari and Aragvi and the town of Mtskheta itself. The views are mind blowing. However, be careful when you stand on the rocky edge for that perfect shot – there are no protective railings in many places and the winds are fierce. Do, however, drink a cup of tea from a “car coffee shop” run by a smiling Pakistani man.
Jvari Monastery
Jvari Monastery
 River Mtkvari
The meeting of River Mtkvari and Aragvi as seen from Jvari Monastery
Jvari Monastery
The Pakistani tea seller at Jvari Monastery
Confluence of Black and White River Aragvi: From a spot on the road you can see the two rivers – the black and white Aragvi meet and flow a short distance as two distinctly coloured rivers!
Zhinvali Reservoir: A hydroelectric dam, fed by River Aragvi is a definite “stop” on this highway. The blue waters surrounded by vibrant green mountains is a photographers delight. If you have the desire to eat fresh fish, head out to the nearest village with a restaurant and ask for trout.


Ananuri: A beautiful castle on the banks of Aragvi River. Stop here for a while and walk back to the bridge for the best views of this old castle. There is a restaurant by the same name just before you reach the castle itself. The views from the terrace are fantastic, so its a good idea to stop by for a meal of trout freshly procured from the waters below!IMG_4884
Gudauri: Georgia’s mountain sport destination with ski slopes (skiing season starts December and ends in April). If you are a adrenaline junkie, time your visit to coincide with the ski season.Paragliding however can be done on any day when the weather is good. Situated at an altitude of 2200m at Cross Pass, Gudauri is a beautiful mountain town.Be warned that if you intend to stay here in the low season, you might end up being the only one at the hotel! Most hotels remain closed in the non-skiing season.

Snow covered mountains around Gudauri
Bonus pic: A sheep dog guarding his flock. It is not uncommon to find large flocks of sheep on the roads, holding up traffic!
The red rocks stained by an iron-rich spring that flows above

5. Friendship Monument: As you drive past Gudauri towards Kazbegi, you see this colourful monument covered in murals. This monument was built in 1983 as a sign of continued friendship between Russia and Georgia. This is a tourist haven and it is not uncommon to find visitors staring long and hard at the snow-covered mountains or into the blue lake in the valley below.


KAZBEGI (Stepantsminda)
The last town on the Georgian Military Highway before the road enters Russian territory. If you have the time, make this your stop for a day. The views from this tiny frontier town are fantastic, food is amazing and there is plenty for the traveler to do.
If you looking for a package tour to Georgia, I totally recommend Holiday Factory.