Davit Gareja is located close to Azerbaijan border and has totally different nature scenery than the rest of Georgia. Hot weather, dry, parched land with coloured hills and in the middle stands Davit Gareja monastery.
Probably the main reason why people travel to Georgia is hiking in Caucasus. I havent seen more beautiful mountains than Caucasus. Kazbegi is famous and often visited part of Caucasus, but plan it for spring or autumn, because the visibility of the mountain and a church is low in summer.
You make a trek usually for one week or so. Camping is not really allowed in national parks, but everybody does it and noone will ask you to go away. In villages you cross you can mostly find a small shop and buy some bread, water, cookies, wine etc.
If you make a trek close to Russian border, you can be asked by police to show your passport. No way to cross. There is no danger in the mountains but shepherds dogs. Be aware of them anywhere you go.
The possible ways to get to Caucasus are from Tbilisi by marshrutka to town like Alvani, and from there by 4 4 cars.
If you travel to Georgia, you will probably not miss the capital of Tbilisi. It is very pleasing and absolutely safe city, where I felt really comfortable. It is growing to a modern city, which is seen in every corner, f.e. a modern bridge across the Mtkvari river and surrounding park. You should not miss the Old town and its little streets, where you can feel the history of the city, also Narikhala fortress, Metekhi church, baths... Tbilisi is of three cities, where a mosque, synagogue and church stand close to each other. It confirms that georgian people are very tolerant and friendly.
I recommend to take a walk in the evening and stop in a restaurant for some food. Tbilisi has amazing lights.
Sapara Monastery dating from 1300 AD. The name Sapara comes from the term "hidden place", as it was a medieval retreat from advancing Ottomans.fcI'ts an amazing place, monstery surrounded by mountains. I've been there in october and think that this is the best time to visit it.
Take a day trip coz there is no place to stay there but you'll really enjoy it.
I'm tempted to publish this tip into the "off the beaten path" section, but at the same time I ponder what isn't in this country for travel can take considerable dedication, time and discomfort to many.
Vardzia lies in central-south Georgia, approximately the area where the country meets the borders with Turkey and Armenia.
A briefing in Akhaltsikhe with supportive guys in camo uniform helped us to locate Vardzia on the map and head southeast following the Mtkvari Valley in search for our way. At times we needed to turn back as the rocky unpaved roads narrow and worsen to a donkey-only accessibility limit. Relying on navigation skills and some help from scarce human presence, we found Khertvisi Fortress, Stone Gate and a good number of churches. Along the way, we stopped to cross a cable-suspended bridge and hike and climb even through private orchards, to check long-abandoned cave dwellings before reaching the suggestive rock-cut complex of Vardzia.
Excerpt from UNESCO description:
"Vernacular architecture, monk cells, subsidiary and public structures. Rock-cut monuments preserved in Vardzia-Khertvisi gorge comprise quite vast chronological limits - from the 8th-9th cc. up to 15th-16th cc. - to trace development of the type from simple caves up to grand, multi-tiered complexes. This gorge has preserved rock-cut villages with the unique samples of dwellings, minor and great monastic complexes, with the masterpieces of the medieval mural painting, as well as epigraphical monuments containing important historical records".
The large complex, originally meant to be a fortification, was used as a monastery where an estimated 2,000 monks lived at one time in the 12th century. It is also said that up to 20,000 people could find refuge and survive here in case of attack.
Most of this complex was hidden to observers until an earthquake occurred in AD 1283 to expose the amazing extent of hundreds of rooms carved on 13 levels. Considering that the earthquake had destroyed over half of the original complex, one can only imagine what it must have been at the climax of its splendor.
An Orthodox church with exquisite paintings dating back to the 12th century is today operated by monks.
Access fee is a few Lari and highly worth this enchanting site.
Some of the splendor of Tbilisi is displayed along Rustaveli street, where fine architecture and brand-name stores line up as a stroller's background.
Among governmental buildings, churches and artworks, Rustaveli Gamziri is a pleasant showcase of the city's elegance. At the time of my visit - Sep 08 - a few buildings were undergoing renovation and this can only add to it.
Hello again ;-)
when you arrive to Tbilisi, my sugestion is to climb to the fortress from where you can see Tbilisi from the sky ;-) Before entering the fortress protection wall, look to the left down the hill and you will see these baths. I recomend you to make prebooking for bath the same day, but earlier, because in the evening it can be booked and you have less choises. We took privat bath with sauna and massage. You come to privat area, where there are dressing place, relaxing corner with sofa, then the bath place. In the bath place there is bed/table made from stone, where you have to lie for massage and washing. There are few showers with natural mineral hot water. After few minutes massage and washing man came to our privat bath and washed each of us with special glove. For me it was a bit strange, that the man asked to take a swimming suite, what I had on, at least to take out upper part. For me it was not very cosy, but then I understood that the man is professional and he does his work many times per day. Same like doctor ;-) You should not wait anything modern in the bath, but it is nice experience and my skin was sooo soft after the treatment. Don't forget tips for the man (or lady) if you liked the work. The bath cost was about 30 or 45 Lari, we left extra for the man 10 or 15 Lari. My friends where in other private bath, so the lady who was washing them didn't do so well as this man in our bath. When masagist is comming to bath department, he is locking the door from inside, so you can feel safe about clothes you left there.
That's all ;-)
One of the most enjoyable things you can do while in Georgia is putting your best foot forward and trying to meet local people. The problem about meeting Georgians in the lack of English spoken in the street includng Tbilisi. If you are not into the whole pub scene then there are other places to meet Georgians. You can meet Georgians that speak English in the university in Tbilisi or the cinema (see my tip). Otherwise, you may be in Georgia for weeks without meeting a person who can really give you great insight into the culture etc. The language barrier is a problem but if you want additional advice you can always call or drop by the British Embassy to ask the expats where to go. Despite the language barrier, most Georgians are anxious to meet foreigners and you just need to jump at the opportunity when it is presented!
Going to Georgia and missing Davit Gareja is the equivalent of skipping the Sistine chapel when in Vatican.
Gareja. a semi-arid desert on the frontier of Georgia and Azerbaijan, 60 km south east of T'bilisi, has been a home for ascetic monks since the first foundation of a monastery there in the 6th century.
There’re many reasons why this is not just another cave complex similar to the many others throughout the whole Georgia and in the Middle East in general: original 10th century religious mural paintings, preserved on the cave walls, the “one third of Jerusalem” legend, the wild beauty of the desert.
Need more reasons? Visit my Davit Gareja page.
T’bilisi is the most charming and relaxing capital in Caucasus. Despite being destroyed a dozen times, the town still preserves numerous buildings testimony of it’s glorious past as multicultural capital of Trans-Caucasia.
To the above, add a magnificent setting, surrounded by high hills and distant mountains, cut by the Mtkvari river with its sheer cliffs, as well as numerous trendy cafes and good restaurants for a lively night life with cosmopolitan influences, and you’ll want to grasp T’bilisi to your veins.
T’bilisi can very well be used as hub for day trips to nearby objectives, such as Mtskheta, Gori, Ananuri or Rustavi.
Even though you think have seen enough churches, a day trip to Mtskheta just outside T’bilisi will lead you to the spiritual capital of Georgia since the turn to Christian faith. Some of the oldest and most important churches in all Georgia are to be found in this UNESCO listed town.
One of the most romantic fortified churches in Georgia, Ananuri is located on the shores of an artificial mountain lake on the way to Kazbegi. The fort is on the main road between two mountain villages, but there’s no bus stop, so a little hitchhiking on the way back may be needed.
Apart from the landscape and the church itself, you may want to:
-look for the mongoloid appearance of the reliefs of the saints on the church outside walls (apparently, to prevent the church from being destroyed by the Mongol invasions, based on the speculation “hey, they look like us”)
-swim in the mountain lake and sunbath on its shores, just outside the fort
Borjomi is about 2 1/2 hours from Tbilisi by car which means you could do this a day trip, or use it as a base for exploring attractions farther afield (such as the cave monastery complex of Vardzia which is what we did). The main attraction in Borjomi is the Borjomi Mineral Water Park - where the ubiquitous bottled Borjomi water comes from. It's a nice place to walk around and in the summer there are places you can swim. The walk from the train station to the water park is also very scenic as some impressive old houses line the streets.
The town of Gori, Stalin's birthplace, is about 1 1/2 hrs from Tbilisi by car. The Stalin Museum was built around the tiny house that Stalin lived in until he was 15 - which is lovingly preserved and protected from the elements. The museum itself is full of Stalin memoribilia and the tour guides (Russian language only) talk of him as if he were a hero which gives the proceedings a bizzare air.
The highlight for me was Stalin's train carriage (outside of the museum) which he actually used. It even has a tiny kitchen (which he probably did not use).
Admission is $1 for the complex and extra if you want to take pictures. They also sell picture postcards which make great gifts for all of your Stalin-admiring buddies. ;)
From a sleepy mountain town at the border with Russia, Kazbegi has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Georgia, probably second only to T’bilisi. And for every good reason this is true: a 14th century church built on a mountain peak at 2200m above sea level (Tsminda Sameba) and a 2nd class mountain of 5200m (Mount Kazbeg).
While Georgians go to Tsminda Sameba in pilgrimage on religious celebrations, foreigners look for the scenery, the local atmosphere, the trekking routes in the mountains and the legend of Prometheus chained on Kazbeg mountain.
For further info, can visit my Kazbegi page.
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