Kakheti – wine, food, and churches | Ants in Pants

Kakheti – wine, food, and churches

Русская версия   Kakheti is one of the most visited regions of Georgia, at the same time, it is still pleasant and not too spoilt by tourists. Kakheti is so popular because of its fertile lands where excellent grapes are grown, as well as wineries, food, and Orthodox churches scattered around the region.
Going to Kakheti, people often find it hard to choose: where to stay – in Telavi or Sighnaghi? We recommend Telavi, as most of the attractions are situated around it. Also, Sighnaghi is quite an artificial town, renovated and rebuilt recently, that is why it is more expensive than Telavi. Finally, it is easy to go there for one day or less from Telavi by marshrutka. By locating yourself in such a way, you can cover Kakheti in two days if you are in a hurry.
Having arrived in Telavi from Azerbaijan, we went straight to Nadikvari street to find Svetlana’s guesthouse recommended all over Internet. Svetlana is a Ukrainian, having lived in Georgia for many years. Unfortunately, her guesthouse was fully booked (there was a group of Poles staying there), but Svetlana took us to her neighbor, Katerina, where we paid 50 euros for 2 nights. Nevertheless, we had dinners in Svetlana’s place (15 laris per person) and they are strongly recommended as they include soup, second course, a lot of snacks, salads, vegetables, wine etc. Svetlana’s place is well kept, e. g. this is a picture of her garden:

Svetalana also recommended a driver to us: we had a trip around Kakheti planned for the next day. The price was 70 laris (the tour agency offered it for 100 dollars, by the way!). The driver David (famous all over the Internet) was busy, but he had several other drivers and recommended one of them to us.
The first morning in Kakheti started with the breakfast in Katerina’s (Svetlana’s neighbor) house. Katerina works in an administrative position at the hospital with a monthly salary of 120 laris (less than 60 euros). Her main income is thus from tourists.

The driver picked us up in time, and at 10.15 we already reached Akhali Shuamta, the church functioning since the XVI century.

Not far from Akhali (‘new’) Shuamta there is Dzveli (‘old’) Shuamta, a very interesting church. It seems that nobody is looking after it, but it is very clean and tidy, with lots of icons:

We were quite surprised to see icons unattended, but the driver was surprised by our surprise: why would anybody steal them? Even if it happens, we will find the thief immediately and take care of him.
In Kakheti, they don’t close cars and hoses, even though there are some beggars at the main streets.

Ikalto

includes several chapels and a graveyard, and the remains of the academy. The building seems to have been renovated from the outside, but not the inside.

Alaverdy

is huge and specious, surrounded with the fence, having grapes and beehives inside.

There are ancient frescos kept inside. This is one of the most famous:

Gremi

We spent a lot of time walking around Gremi: there is a lot to see. One can climb the tower for 3 laris (1 – for student). At the entrance, they sell berries, but you can pick them inside for free as well.

The views from Gremi are incredible:

There is even a small tunnel:

Nekresi

On the way to the next church and fortress, Nekresi, there was a traffic jam:
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You are not allowed to reach Nekresi by car, and must leave it on the parking lot, and walk for about 4 kilometers up the very steep hill. That’s what we thought, and what we did under the afternoon sun, but reaching the fortress we were overtaken by the bus designed to bring tourists from the parking lot to the fortress. Well, it was a good fitness. Also, as the locals said, we did the right thing: who comes to visit God by bus?
The views are again fascinating:

We drove back by bus, and then the driver took us to the winery in Kvareli, where you can both taste wine and eat. We paid 20 laris for shashlyk, salad, bread and cheese for three of us.

Afterwards we had wine tasting with lots of stories and legends accompanying it. Among the wines, we mostly liked Kindzmarauli (favourite wine of Stalin) and Kisi. The grapes Kisi were had been destroyed by Soviets, and, as the story goes, there had been just one bush of it remaining in the garden of a local old man, who later had brought its branch to the wine factory. Now Kisi is produced in huge quantities. At the exit from the winery you can buy wines and chacha.

At last, we visited the museum of a famous Georgian Alexander Chavchavadze, and went back to Telavi to have some Internet (there is free wi-fi at the main square). Then, we went to Svetlana’s house to have a dinner with borsh, eggplants and other vegetables, chicken, and – the main thing: this day we tried khinkali and fell in love with them for the rest of our lives. At the beginning, stupid we ate them with a fork. Remember: they are eaten with hands!

At Svetlana’s place, we also met two Belgians, and talked with them till midnight drinking Svetlana’s excellent no-hangover-in-the-morning wine. They were travelling a lot and had a lot of stories to tell. One of them, for instance, was arrested by Ecuadorian police, and waded the river with crocodiles somewhere in South America. He was also travelling around Brazil by the night bus once, left the bus to pee (leaving all his luggage, including documents), and… the bus drove away. He was desperate for almost an hour, and then the bus came back: it is normal for the drivers to visit the relatives in the villages on their ways, so he just went to visit one of them for an hour or so.

The next day we walked a bit around Telavi. Well, the tourism spoils any place. There are quite some beggars, it is dirty. We went to the open market, and bought fruit and churchkhelas:

By the way, there is a room where we lived:

How to get to Sighnaghi.

Marshrutka from Telavi to Sighnaghi leaves at 15.00 and costs 5 laris. You cannot buy the tickets in advance, but you should come an hour or so before the departure to make sure you’ll have a seat. On arrival in Sighnaghi, we had only 2 hours before marshrutka to Tbilisi, and, to be honest, it was almost enough. The town is quite pleasant, but at the same time toy and artificial. The government invested in it as in the tourist place, having built a kind of a doll’s house, which does not seem really Georgian. By the way, the prices are immediately higher.
Sighnaghi is, first of all, a renovated old town and a defensive wall around it:

The wall:

You can climb it and make nice photos:

After this galloping around Kakheti, we departed to Tbilisi by marshrutka, and spent there a terrible night and a nice day.