A mountain region in the South Georgia that borders with Turkey and Armenia. It is worth visiting because of its cave monasteries, rocky panoramas and walks through Borjomi National park.
All you need to know to plan a trip
Tbilisi - Borjomi 160 km (2,5 h drive) Tbilisi - Akhaltsikhe 200 km (3,5 h drive); Tbilisi - Vardzia 300 km (5,5 h drive)
There are 5 towns in the region: Akhaltsikhe (18000 people), Borjomi (10500 people), Akhalkalaki (8300 people), Ninotsminda (5200 people), Vale (3600 people). Akhaltsikhe is the administrative centre of the region.
The climate on the high-mountain plains is strongly continental with dry summers and in winters the temperatures might go as low as -40°C. But in Borjomi and Abastumani the climate is milder due to their location in the ravines and pine forests. People suffering from respiratory diseases come there to breathe the fresh air, and so do families in the hottest time of the year.
Hot to get there
Main attractions can be reached on a regular car. There are two options to get there from Tbilisi: via the highway through Borjomi or via the Akhalkalaki plain with mountain spirals and scenic views (through the Paravani lake). Circle route using both roads would be optimal for the trip.
Best time to go
Best time to visit the region is May, June, August and September. June is best for rafting on the Kura river which is full-flowing at this time. In August you can visit the Abastumani observatory and see the planets and star showers.
Hotels and restaurants
There are some high-class hotels such as Crown Plaza Borjomi, Likani Palace and Vardzia Resort. Ecotourism fans will love Valodia's Cottage. Medium range hotels (mainly family hotels) are concentrated in Akhaltsikhe.
Best tourist attractions
The resort is world-famous with its healing mineral water: already in the XIX century it became well known due to the efforts of Evgeniy Golovin, the tsar's viceroy, whose daughter made a complete recovery from her illness there. Borjomi water helps to clean the body from toxic agents and fortify the immune system. Walking the forest paths facilitate recovery from neurological and respiratory diseases and help to activate the immunity.
The fortress is located at the south entrance to the ravine and is clearly visible from the Borjomi – Akhaltsikhe highway. From 1579 there used to be the border with the Ottoman Empire and only after 1829 the fortress with the Samtskhe region was handed over to the Russian Empire according to the Treaty of Adrianople. Due to a sheer ascend, the fortress is not popular with the tourists, but if you like to discover the unexplored areas, we strongly recommend visiting it.
The Rabati fortress in Akhaltsikhe was built by the rulers of Samtskhe from the Jakeli family at the end of the XVI century. Due to the diversity of people that lived in the area, the fortress is an example of Georgian, Ottoman and Russian architecture. In 2011 the fortress underwent a major renovation and is now divided into the Upper (historical) and the Lower (modern) parts. In the Upper fortress there is the historical museum, the Akhmediyye mosque, madrassah, the pasha vault, an orthodox mosque, citadel and tiered stalls. Entrance fee: 6 GEL per person, a guided tour cost is 20 GEL per group.
The fortress is located on a high rocky hill on the way from Akhaltsikhe to Vardzia and represents one of the best examples of Georgian middle-age fortresses. Khertvisi is first mentioned in Georgian chronicles in relation to Alexander the Macedonian's campaigns (IV century BC). In the XIII century it was destroyed by the Mongolians and in the XV century it belonged to the rulers from the Jakeli family. After the Turkish invasion to the region, the fortress belonged to them for 300 years until it was handed over to the Russian empire in 1828. Entrance fee: 5 GEL per person.
A very interesting monastery not crowded by tourists 10 km away from the centre of Akhaltsikhe. The monastery was set up in the X century and inhabited until the XVI century, and then it was left for 300 years of the Turkish occupation. The monastery complex is hidden in a forested mountain ravine and is very attractive with its fine-drawn fresco paintings and scenic mountain views.
Vardzia cave town
Being one of the main tourist attractions in Georgia, the cave city was built in the XII century during the age of King George III and Queen Tamar. At the time, all the premises were hidden inside the mountain, but after the earthquake in 1283 somewhat 15 meters of the mountain separated and now we can see the complex broken down. 600 cells at 12 levels, a wine cellar, storage rooms and a church with the XII century fresco paintings have survived till our days. Entrance fee is 7 GEL per person.
Vanis Kvabebi monastery
The cave complex is located across the river from Vardzia and is dated back to the VIII century. Vanis Kvabebi used to be a fratry and many times became a battleground between the Turks and the Georgians. Buses with tourists do not come there, the ascend to the monastery is not fenced and you should be very careful. But if you are looking for solitude and unique atmosphere, there would be no better place than this one! UPD: in autumn of 2018 the monastery was closed for visits because of the renovation.
The monastery with a XI century church is located on ashore of the Paravani lake at a height of 2100 meters asl. According to the legend, the settlement of the same name was the first stop of the St. Nino from Cappadocia on her way to Georgia. The nunnery is famous with its various cheeses and jams that are available there.
Best trekking routes:
Borjomi National Park
One of the biggest parks in Europe (around 85000 hectares), and the first national park in the Caucasus was opened in 1995. The park has diverse landscapes, various flora and fauna. There are 11 marked routes in the park with tourist houses for 10-12 people at their upper point. There is also a place for cooking nearby the houses. Local shepherds keep the territory in order and provide firewood on a regular basis.
The Tmogvi fortress located on a high sheer rock is first mentioned in the historical sources in 914 and for long time it successfully protected the Kura valley from the enemies. 2 water collectors have survived in the fortress till our days, but it is impossible to go down there without the climbing equipment. There are two routes to the Tmogvi fortress: 1. The route from Vardzia (2 km) starts at its entrance and is marked with yellow arrows and stipes. 2. The route through the Pia village (3 km) is graveled and available to cars.
The megalithic fortress was built, supposedly, in the 2nd millennium BC. The fortress is located on the Small Abuli mountain, which is an extinct volcano, at a height of 2500 meters asl. This is a remarkable thing, because it is not clear why found a settlement at such a height without any trees or pastures. Possibly, it was used for some other purpose. The walls and towers and made up from flat rocks using dry walling technique. Although the way is short, it requires some effort to ascend to the fortress because of the unstable grounds. We recommend getting as close to the mountain as possible in an off-road car, it will make the way much shorter and easier. The walking route starts from the Gandzani village and takes from 5 to 7 hours.
You can visit Samtskhe-Javakheti in one of our tours: