Issue 3, 2013. June-July

   

10 THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT OFF THE BEATEN PATH DAY TRIPS FROM TBILISI

There are plenty of great places to visit in Georgia over the summer, from the mountain peaks of Svaneti to the shores of the Black Sea. When you are short on time, however, it is easy to think your only options are Sighnaghi, Bodbe, and Telavi. While those are all great destinations, Georgia has even more to offer: great day trips to castle ruins, pristine lakes, and the remains of the oldest Europeans are just a few of the exciting day trips just a few hours from Tbilisi.

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1 - Mtskheta...
Mtskheta and several centuries of churches: Just 27 kilometers - or 20 minutes by car - from Tbilisi (marshrutkas leave from Didube Station), Mtskheta is a natural day trip. In addition to being the site Georgia adopted Christianity in 337 AD, Mtskheta is home to several stunning churches and historic sites, including Sveti-Tskhoveli Cathedral, allegedly the resting place for Christ's robe. It is also one of the best places in Georgia to try lobio, Georgia's delicious bean soup.

2 - Gori Fotress:
If you haven't been to Gori yet, it is worth the trip. Everyone will tell you about the Stalin Museum, but the small, tidy town has more to offer than its tribute to Georgia's infamous son.
An hour drive from Tbilisi (an hour and a half by marshrutka, which leave from Didube Station), Gori is also home to an ancient fortress. Gori Fortress dates back to antiquity, and was said to have been besieged by Pompey in 65 BC. Some parts have been restored, and the view from the walls over the valley and the Caucasus Mountains is priceless.

3 - Uplistsikhe:
Once the residence of Georgian kings, this cave ruin is not to be missed. Uplistsikhe (God's Fortress) is believed to be one of the oldest settlements in the Caucasus, dating back to around 1000 BC. It was a center of paganism until Georgia adopted Christianity, and was a booming town of 20,000 in the middle ages. Out of the original 9.5 hectares and 700 caves, just a 150 are still accessible. Uplistsikhe is located right outside Gori, and is easiest to reach by taxi from the city center.

4 - Ananuri/Pasnauri:
Up Georgia's legendary Military Highway, before you reach Gudauri ski resort, are the wooden hamlets of Ananuri and Pasnauri. Located where the White Aragvi meets the Black Aragvi. There are beautiful churches, little cafes for mtsvadi, and - best for a hot summer day - a lovely lake where locals swim near the Hvtaeba Church.

5 - Tsinandali:
The former residence of Alexander Chavchavadze, one of Georgia's most famous statesmen, Tsinandali is 101.5 kilometers from Tbilisi, in the heart of Kakheti in Georgia's wine country. Now the site of a hotel andvineyard, the house is a museum dedicated to the life of Chavchavadze and his family. Tours include wine tasting and a trip to the family's famous wine cellars.

6 - Ikalto Monastery:
On the way from Tbilisi to Alaverdi, Ikalto Monastery was one of Georgia's most famous academies. Former students include Shota Rustaveli, Georgia's national poet. The academy was founded in the 6th century.

7 - Alaverdi:
Site of Alaverdi Monastery, and the Alaverdi Church. The church, built in the 11th century, is the largest medieval churches in Georgia: it survived attacks by the Mongols, Shah Abbas, and an earthquake. Parts of the monastery date back to the 6th century, and the monks who currently live there have worked hard to preserve the country's ancient wine making techniques.

Alaverdi Church and Monastery


8 - Dmanisi:
There are just 102.9 kilometers between you and the excavation site where Georgian archeologists discovered the oldest discovered skull of a Homo erectus. The site, managed by the State Museum, includes ruins of a medieval fortress.

9 - Horseback riding:
A country of mountains, valleys, and beautiful plains - Georgia was made for horseback riding. There are a variety of private tour operators, with excursions that range from a day out to a multi-day trek into the wilds of Tusheti. For ideas, check out www.wildgeorgia.ge.

10 - Hiking trips:
The ruins of a castle and a monastery so well hidden locals forgot about it are just two of the secrets tucked in the hills near Tbilisi. A hiking club, coordinated by Dutch expat Myrthe Korf and a local guide, can be reached by email.