Borjomi, Bakuriani, Akhaltsikhe & Vardzia
In this section we discuss Samtskhe-Javakheti Region of Georgia with its most popular highlights.
The region was formed in 1995 in southern Georgia from the historical provinces of Meskheti (Samtskhe), Javakheti and Tori (Borjomi gorge). Akhaltsikhe is its capital. The region comprises six administrative districts: Akhaltsikhe, Adigeni, Aspindza, Borjomi, Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda.
Samtskhe-Javakheti is bordered by the regions of Adjara, Guria and Imereti, Shida Kartli and Kvemo Kartli, and by Armenia and Turkey to the south and southwest.
Total Length: 341 km, 6 h 30 min
And here is the link for directions on Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/SvJ6GKu3Q2N2
Borjomi is a resort town in south-central Georgia. It is one of the northwestern districts of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region in the picturesque Borjomi Gorge on the eastern edge of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. The town is famous for its mineral water industry (which is the number one export of Georgia), the Romanov summer palace in Likani, and the World Wide Fund for Nature-site Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. The bottling of Borjomi mineral is a major source of income for the area. Because of the supposed curative powers of the area's mineral springs, it is a frequent destination for people with health problems.
How to Go:
By train - From Tbilisi, Gori, Mtskheta, it is possible to get in using the Tbilisi - Borjomi train.
Minibus / Marshrutka: In Tbilisi minibuses to Borjomi depart from an area in front of Didube metro station. The price is 8 GEL and the journey takes about two hours. Marshrutkas go from the main bus station in Batumi to Borjomi and vice-verse. The ride is about 3 hours.
The town is small enough to get around on foot. It is possible to get to the entry/exit points of the national park by marshrutka / minibus or taxi.
When in town, do not miss:
- Visit the city park. Stretched along the Borjomula River, the city park contains the source of Borjomi mineral water. The first part of the park contains park amusements and cafes. The rear part of the park is a great for a walk. If you continue past the asphalted part for another 2.5 km, you will reach hot springs where you can swim at a small pool and get rest. Anyway the outstanding beauty of the nature around it will definitely make up for this walk. Near the entrance there is an option to use cable car to get up to plateau. The view over Borjomi is fantastic.By the way, near the entry to the city park, locals sell home-made jam from pine tree cones. It is claimed that the jam is useful when curing upper respiratory tract infections and is good for improving immunity.
- Visit the Borjomi Kharagauli national park. The largest national park in Georgia. By going to the administration of the office, which is a bit to the west of Borjomi (23 Meskheti str.), and get a free access permission (ID card or passport is not needed) and a map of the area with all the routes and shelters as well. If you want to take a hike in the national park, get enough supplies, water, and some basic sleeping gear with you, as the cabins are very basic (it costs 10 GEL). It also takes a one day hike from Borjomi to Qvabiskhevi (or the other way around) and then you can hitchhike or take a local bus or taxi back to Borjomi. It is also possible to take multiple day hikes. That way you get to go to the higher parts (up to 2600 meters). (For more information about this national park please visit our National Parks Page - link here)
- The Green Monastery - An ancient monastery just outside of town. Walk, hitchhike, or bargain with a taxi to take you there (it isn't far, 10 GEL should do it for a return trip). A short hike through the woods will bring you to the monastery. Very small, but beautiful.
Bakuriani is a settlement and a skiing resort in the Borjomi district. It is located on the northern slope of the Trialeti Range, at an elevation of 1,700 meters above sea level.
The region around Bakuriani is covered by coniferous forests (mainly made up of spruce). The resort lies 30 km from Borjomi and is connected with Borjomi by an electrified narrow-gauge railway. The highest mountain of the resort used for skiing is called Mount Kohta at around 2,200 meters above sea level.
The climate of Bakuriani is transitional from humid maritime to relatively humid continental. The winters are cold and experience significant snowfall while the summers are long and warm.
Originally developed as an Olympic training facility, unsurprisingly, Bakuriani is among Georgia’s most popular winter sports and recreation destinations. Enjoy the downhill ski runs, cross-country trails, horseback tours, sledding or simply take long walks through beautiful snowy forests.
Although most popular during winter time as a ski resort (you can find more information about winter in Bakuriani in our Winter Section - Bakuriani Ski resort page - link here) it is actively visited by local and foreign tourist all year round and summer time for its magnificent nature and healthy air.
How to Go:
Bakuriani is accessible all year round. Distance from Tbilisi is 180 km, from Kutaisi 155km. The journey usually takes 2.5-3 hours.
Daily mini-buses depart to Bakuriani from Tbilisi’s Didube bus station at 4 Karaleti str. Every hour.Price of journey is 10 GEL. And Kutaisi bus station, price 10-11 GEL. For more details about bakuriani please visit official Bakuriani Page: http://bakuriani.ge/ and http://www.bakuriani.ski/
Vardzia is a cave monastery site in southern Georgia. The main period of construction was the second half of the 12th century. The caves stretch along the cliff for some five hundred metres and in up to nineteen tiers. The Church of the Dormition, dating to the 1180s during the golden age of King Tamar, has an important series of wall paintings. The site was largely abandoned after the Ottoman takeover in the sixteenth century. Now part of a state heritage reserve, the extended area of Vardzia-Khertvisi has been submitted for future inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
You can see Vardzia in a day trip from Akhaltsikhe or Borjomi, but the Vardzia area is so magical that an overnight (or longer) stay is well worthwhile.
How to Go:
You can take public marshrutka from Tbilisi or Borjomi via Akhaltsikhe but you'll need to ask the driver where to drop you off.
While exploring the caves, do not miss:- Church of the Dormition. A 12th century church famous for its wall paintings. The paintings were created during the reign of Queen Tamar, probably shortly after her father's death. The church measures 8.2 meters by 14.5 meters. Around the main church is an entire monastery complex carved out of the cliff, the façade of which collapsed after an earthquake.
The capital and biggest town of Samtskhe-Javakheti, Akhaltsikhe means ‘New Castle’ in Georgian. The Rabati castle dominating the town from the north side of the Potskhovi River hasn't been new since the 12th century but it was lavishly restored a few years ago, helping to turn a town that was previously a sad case of post-Soviet decline into a reasonably attractive stop and jumping-off point for Vardzia.
The Rabati area and castle was celebrated for its ethnic and religious diversity and tolerance, in a frontier area where different empires, kingdoms and peoples met. Rabati today still has Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches, a synagogue and a mosque, and Akhaltsikhe still has a large Armenian population.
The newer parts of town are mostly on the south side of the river: cross the bridge near the foot of Rabati and bear right at two forks and you’ll be on the main street - Kostava.
How to Go:
Marshrutkas run to Akhaltsikhe main market/bus station from Tbilisi Didube market, as well as from the bus stations in Kutaisi and Khashuri.
Akhaltsikhe is on the most direct land route between Armenia and Turkey (the border between these countries is closed that and is not expected to change soon).
Apart from Rabati Castle and nearby Vardzia, we recommend visiting:
- Sapara Monastery is about 10-12 km outside of Akhaltsikhe up into the mountains. The monastery was established in the tenth century, but the principal church, St. Sabas, was built sometime in the thirteenth century. Until the twentieth century, the monastery had been perfectly preserved, as its hidden location saved it from Ottoman discovery throughout the empire's three-century long control of southwestern Georgia. Alas, the Soviets found it, and abused it in the usual soulless fashion, albeit not to the same extent as many other Georgian Orthodox establishments—the frescoed walls were not whitewashed, and remain in good condition (especially following a recent restoration). During a visit, make sure to climb up the nearby slopes towards a rocky outcropping to get lovely views over the monastery and the valleys in the distance. Also make sure not to use flash photography in the churches, unless you want to see some seriously angry monks. If you can make yourself understood, you can overnight in the monastery's chambers.
- Khertvisi Fortress looms over the village of Khertvisi. The outcrop was used as a fortress from the second century B.C., and was reputedly destroyed by Alexander the Great. The "modern" fortress, however, was built around the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries, and saw fighting during the Ottoman invasion (and subsequent occupation) in the sixteenth century. The walls on the far side drop down a sheer cliff to the Mtkvari far below, so if you fancy a bout of vertigo, pull yourself up and look straight down.