Drive to Samtskhe-Javakheti via Borjomi, 2½ hours of easy driving. Our first stop is at the whimsical Borjomi Local Lore Museum for an expert-guided tour. Afterwards, walk through the Historical Park of Borjomi and saunter past the local shops offering honey, local handicrafts and a bottle of the famed Borjomi mineral water. If you are patient, you can even fill your own bottle at the Ekaterine limestone spring in Central Park.
After your walk, enjoy a sumptuous lunch at the best and most authentic restaurant in town – expect the table to be piled high with Georgian delicacies.
Your tour continues by cable car to the rim of the Park Canyon and then a drive to the Chapel of the revered Russian St Seraphim of Sarov. People come from all over to pray at this site and find solace, believing that praying at this shrine can cure serious illnesses. The last stop in Borjomi Municipality is one of the most iconic Georgian monasteries in the area – the imposing Timotesubani Monastery.
Your first day finishes with a visit to Elkana Seed Ark Farm, an experimental demonstration plot in the village of Tsnisi, nine kilometres from Akhaltsikhe. It specializes in indigenous varieties of cereals and legumes, fruits and vines that farmers have grown in the area for centuries. Here you can taste dishes that were common in ancient times, the food our ancestors ate before our diet became mainly dishes made from imported crops. These indigenous plant varieties form the basis of ancient recipes, which are not likely to feature in a modern cookbook. Taste dishes made from grass peas, faba beans, chickpeas, cowpeas and lentils as well as bread baked with indigenous varieties of wheat (more information below).
Continue your trip to Akhaltsikhe where you can settle into the boutique Hotel Taba Hall. Enjoy a sunset dinner with a full spread of Georgian delicacies and hearty wines at one of the town’s best eateries, located atop the steep ramparts of Akhaltsikhe Castle.
The morning starts with a visit to the Akhaltsikhe Castle complex, a medieval fortress built in the ninth century and originally named the Lion’s Castle. The restored museum on top of the walls is well worth visiting to get a glimpse of Georgia’s intriguing and complex past.
After Akhaltsikhe Castle, drive a short distance westward to the Adigeni Valley close to the Turkish border to see the well-preserved Zarzma Monastery. Apart from its historical and cultural significance, it is also an important Orthodox education centre, known for its tradition of male polyphonic church singing. If you plan your trip on a church service day (usually Saturday evening or Sunday morning) you can hear the church choirs while visiting the monastery (more information below).
After Zarzma next stop is Saphara Monastery which is famous as the place where for many centuries the Governors of Meskheti lived and raised one of the kings of Georgia – George V the Brilliant. On the way, you can visit Zaza Ivanidze’s small, multi-function farm, which recently opened to visitors and offers classes in Meskhetian cuisine, baking traditional tsiteli doli bread in purne (traditional Meskhetian oven of the region). The products used in cooking are homegrown. In the late afternoon, drive up the Mtkvari River Valley and check in to the luxurious Vardzia Resort overlooking the Vardzia cave Complex across the river.
After breakfast, the day starts with the Vardzia Cave complex. This site has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and developed into a sophisticated monastic and defensive site between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.
Continue your trip along the Mtkvari River Canyon where the imposing Khertvisi Castle guards the entrance to the valley (further information below). The drive will take you to the eastern part of Samtskhe-Javakheti where you can enjoy lunch at the Family Corner in Gandzani village. The owner of this family business offers delicious local fish dishes while relating interesting stories about the area. Also on offer are additional services including hiking, cycling, walking in the mountains and so on. Gandzani is famous for its small temple built of megalithic stone. Do not forget this area has more than a thousand ruins and the remains of many megalithic buildings and is famous for its large, abundant lakes.
The excursion finishes at St Nino’s Monastery in the village of Poka on the shores of Lake Paravani where you can enjoy a cup of coffee at the lakeshore. The nuns at the nearby convent make the most delicious, delicate products such as chocolate, cheese and honey.
You can reach Tbilisi from Tsalka in the late evening.
For more information please contact direction Samtskhe-Javakheti DMO!