Georgia: Backpacking in the Caucasus

For quite some time we’ve heard many promising things about Georgia: history, nature, food, wine, the friendly people. As usual, driven by the desire for adventure and for hiking in some beautiful places, we’ve decided to set off to visit this part of the world.
The holiday has been fantastic. Travelling like locals by taking the marshrutkas and hitchhiking, being hosted in local people’s houses and trekking in some of the breathtaking mountainous areas. We’ve managed to see Georgia almost as close as local people see it, we’ve experienced genuine hospitality and genuine food, plus the whole trip has been relatively inexpensive.

Our trip started easily and conventionally, travelling by train from Prague to Krakow, from here we then hitchhiked to Lviv. Crossing the border to Ukraine was tedious but the yet exciting. To get from Lviv to Kiev, we took a Pendolino train and spent a few days in the capital. Finally, we got to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, by making a flight.

Apart from Tbilisi, we spent most time visiting National Parks, mountains and historical sites.
After a few days in Tbilisi, we left for our first trekking experience in the Svaneti region by night train for the town of Zugdidi (right on the border with newly self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia). The mountains in the Svaneti region are some of the highest in Europe and divide Georgia from Russia. Here we hiked from Mestia to Ushguli, over 100km of hiking, while climbing peaks up to 3000 meters high, the overall vertical gain we rose was about 6000-7000 meters.

After the tough work, we’ve conceded ourselves a few days of relaxing by the beach on the Black Sea in the small town of Sarpi. This town is just on the border with Turkey and in fact every few hours we could hear from nearby mosques the call to prayer. We also took advantage and took a marshrutka to Hopa, a nearby town in Turkey.

The National park of Borjomi was our next destination. Borjomi is a spa town, famous for its waters back in the old days of the Soviet Union. We’ve hiked two days in the nearby National Park, following a few of the many well-marked routes and camping in one of the park’s shelters. We’ve reached a 2200 meter high peak from which there was an astonishing view. We’ve been told that from this peak, in bright days it’s possible to view Mount Elbrus which is in Russia (Europe’s highest mountain, standing at 5642 metres).

We’ve spent the last few days staying in Akhaltsikhe which we’ve used as a base to visit Rabat (a beautiful fortress built in the 13th century and later conquered by the Ottomans), Vardzia (a cave monastery excavated in the mountain dating at least before the 5th century BC) and the Orthodox Sapara Monastery.

Finally, before leaving, we visited Sighnaghi, a pretty town which dominates a vast valley. Sighnaghi is renowned for its 8000-year tradition in winemaking. Many say that this is where wine was first produced.

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