Drive to the Samtskhe-Javakheti region via Borjomi and stop at Khachapuridze’s Winery (Marani) in Kvabiskhevi where father and son will greet you, serving a light local meal with their excellent red and white wines. A good place to relax after the drive and Niko Khachapuridze will accompany the food and drink by singing some Georgian love songs.
Your next stop is Akhaltsikhe with the recently restored Akhaltsikhe Castle complex. After visiting it and the beautiful areas nearby, continue on to Chobareti village, where some houses are built partly underground to mitigate the harsh winter climate. Village women will invite you to join a cookery class where you can learn how to make Meskhetian kada and khachapuri breads and the unique tenili cheese. That evening at dinner you’ll be able to enjoy the dishes you made earlier, as well as other Meskhetian delicacies… After dinner, visit the Vardzia resort and settle in for the evening with accommodation available nearby.
After breakfast, drive across the Mtkvari River to the Vardzia Cave complex, one of the most intriguing sites in Georgia. During your visit, your guide will show you the Bell Tower, which juts out from the cliff face and offers stunning views of the caves. Further on, walk through the cave complex to the spiritual centre of Vardzia, the stone Church of the Dormition with its colourful medieval frescoes. Another favourite among visitors is a natural spring, aptly called the Tears of Queen Tamar which is accessible via a low tunnel.
A few minutes’ drive from the complex is a less visited site, of great interest to the wine enthusiast. In the secluded village of Chachkari you will find the ancient wine-making facilities that supplied wines to the thousands of inhabitants of Vardzia. In the eleventh century, special presses carved out of the rock in the caves pressed the grapes to produce large amounts of red and white wine for the cave dwellers. Chachkari is steeped in oenological history and it is a treat to have lunch in the meadows under the forest canopy where 400-year-old vines are still growing. Here, we suggest contacting your Chachkari host and wine expert Giorgi Natenadze to serve you some local wines.
The next place to visit is the village of Saro, located high in the canyon above the river. This rarely visited spot has many historic attractions that span thousands of years. See below for more information.
Continue your way along the Mtkvari River Valley with its terraced vineyards till you come to Aspindza. Here we suggest a visit to a local brewery, Amphora Beer, famous for brewing tasty, cold wheat-based beer in traditional wine qvevris, large Georgian clay jars normally used for making wine. Sample the beer and enjoy a Georgian feast on the terrace.
For your overnight, we suggest staying in Akhaltsikhe, where you will find various hotels and guesthouses. In the evening we recommend walking to Akhaltsikhe Castle to enjoy a meal in the restaurant inside the fortress walls. Further information on the Castle is below.
After breakfast, drive a few kilometres to the out-of-the-way Saphara Monastery in the green mountain gorges above Akhaltsikhe (see below) and then to nearby Ude Monastery where monks and nuns grow their own vegetables and fruits and produce tasty red and white wines. You can taste some of their wonderful wines and enjoy a light lunch here.
The next stop after lunch is Mtsvane Monastery, a half-hour drive before you come to Borjomi. This religious gem is hidden in the dense forests near Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. The buildings were abandoned in the eighteenth century and almost reclaimed by nature, giving them an air of almost Tolkien mystique.
We suggest you don’t leave the region without visiting Borjomi, a charming resort town and the perfect spot for any visitor looking for willfulness combined with nature and culture (more information below). You can enjoy a wine tasting at Dimitri’s Marani in Borjomi and he will serve you different types of classic Georgian wines from four different regions.
To finish off your trip we recommend an early dinner at Restaurant Kevri in Tashiskari, located on the Mtkvari River and famous for its fresh river trout. There you will savour wonderful Georgian dishes with a modern twist, prepared by well-known chef Davit Narimanishvili – Davit Nari.