One of the most popular tourist destinations in Georigia lies hidden among the mountains, near the Russian border. Commonly known as Kazbegi, Stepantsminda is a small village where time seems to stand still.
Already before embarking on our journey to Georgia, we had already decided that we wanted to visit the mountains that the country is so famous for. Our hotel helped us arrange a day tour (with a driver and guide) to Kazbegi in the scenic Great Caucasus Mountains. We decided to visit the mountains on our first full day in Georgia. It was a grey Friday in June.
The route we travelled is called the Georgian Military Highway. It’s a road that leads from capital Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz in Russia. If you are familiar with Russian literature you might remember the road from Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time. Actually we saw a great many fantastic sights on the way, so instead of starting with Kazbegi, we will take things in chronological order.
Day Trip to Kazbegi: Ananuri
Approximately 70 kilometers from Tbilisi one finds the castle complex Ananuri. Located on the Aragvi River, the complex was the castle and seat of the Dukes of Aragvi. This feudal dynasty ruled the area from the 13th century. There are also two churches from the 17th century on the site. One can climb the tallest of the fortress towers. From here the views are (surprise, surprise) amazing. Our guide told us that it was here that enemies burnt a whole family to death in 1739.
Day Trip to Kazbegi: The Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument
In 1783 Russia and Georgia signed the Treaty of Georgievsk. 200 years later, in the times of Soviet glory, a huge monument was built by the highway. The colourful monument, overlooking the Devil’s valley, is magnificent in its own socialist way. It depicts scenes from Russian and Georgian history. Even though the monument itself is fascinating, the view is absolutely stunning with white mountains and green valleys. The site is located between Gudauri (a ski resort) and the Jvari pass.
Day Trip to Kazbegi: Stepantsminda & Gergeti Trinity Church
Stepantsminda is a small village boasting with wonderful views. Once we arrived in the town, we immediately went to the Gergeti Trinity Church. The church is situated at 2170 meters, right under Mount Kazbek. The mountain is the third highest in the country. Located on top of a steep mountain, the church is one of the most famous symbols of Georgia. Because the church is an active establishment visitors should apply a modest dress code. One can walk or ride to the top of the hill and the church. The quickest option (and the one we used) is to go by jeep. That bumpy ride on a mountain rail reminded me of the reasons I don’t do amusement parks.
I think that both Jesper and I felt that we could have stayed in the mountains for a good while longer. Walking, resting, just breathing. The vastness of nature, and the tranquility that came with it, was tangible. As a result we both agree that the nature in Georgia is probably the most amazing we have seen.
On the day of our visit, the weather was rather poor. It kept drizzling and the mountain tops were hiding behind the clouds. However, June is supposed to be a good time to visit. The temperature was also very pleasant at the time.
Our final stop was an absolutely amazing hotel restaurant (Rooms Hotel) in Stepantsminda. There we had a tasty early dinner while sitting back and relaxing in their comfy bar/restaurant.
We arranged the day trip through our hotel. The tour took approximately 10 hours and it cost us 330 GEL (approximately 130 €). We had a driver and because we wanted to learn more about the country, we also requested an English-speaking guide. The cost excluded meals. Finding tour operators in Georgia is easy and you can hire an English-speaking taxi driver as well. Since it’s such a complex country, we recommend that you talk to people and listen to their stories – there are plenty of those.
Finally, I have written a lot about amazing sights and views, but something that really caught our attention was the amount animals on the roads. Among Russia trucks and tourist buses, the cows and sheep wandered peacefully. Perhaps that is the greatest symbol of Georgia.
In conclusion, we really recommend a visit to Kazbegi (and to Georgia). All the adjectives I can think of are positive superlatives. Just go there. Experience it. Breathe in, breathe out – you will definitely not regret it!