Our home base for this trip was Tbilisi, but there are loads of day trips you can do from the city and we tried to take advantage of that.
Day Trip #1: Sighnaghi, Kakheti (Georgia’s wine country). The landscape in Kakheti is beautiful and there are some stops along the way to Sighnaghi like the Monastery of St. Nino at Bodbe. Aside from the religious significance of the site, it is absolutely gorgeous. The views from the top are incredible, and the gardens are quite beautiful as well.
Travel tip: bring water, and be prepared to be reminded how out of shape you are if you decide to make the trek down to the Holy Spring and back up.
We made the journey down to the spring, but opted out of the full bath. You can take a white cloth dress to change into to bathe in the holy water (which is freezing), but we just filled a bucket and washed our feet with it. Rather than telling us to pray while the guide washed our feet, he told us to think about what we want (in life). When we were done bathing our feet in holy water, we filled a bottle with the water to drink later and started our hike back up to the monastery.
Following the monastery, we spent some time at Sighnaghi, visited the old castle-like walls of the city, tasted some local treats and learned about Georgian wine-making, a tradition that is apparently some 8,000 years old.
Day Trip #2: Davit Gareja, an old Georgian Orthodox monastery complex, part of which sits along the Georgia-Azerbaijan border. Again, incredible incredible views. The landscape was just beautiful. Rolling hills, wildflowers and butterflies everywhere! I’ve never seen so many butterflies. And I found one lone horse grazing on top of a hill in the distance.
After a ~2 hour drive from Tbilisi, we arrived at the bottom of the hill leading up to the main Church, below.
We made our way up the hill and explored a bit, then we began the trek up the mountain. Naturally, we went the wrong way, choosing the “very steepy” path up to the top. I was actually hiking on my tip-toes at one point, and if I put my heels down I got a nice calf stretch. That’s how steep it was. But it was so beautiful. The wildflowers and other greens were up to our waist or chest, and the butterflies were flying all around us. And the views. OH MY GOD THE VIEWS. Okay, sorry. But seriously, the views.
We had to stop every so often to breathe. Like every five minutes. But eventually we made it to the top where we found a little hut and two friendly border guards. We’re unsure which country they belonged to: Georgia or Azerbaijan. But they were nice and didn’t speak a drop of English. He didn’t mind me doing handstands next to the cliff though…
We stopped to have a snack – tomato & mountain cheese sandwiches on the delicious Georgian bread that we had brought with us. I finished my water with lunch which was a terrible mistake. Bring at least two bottles for this hike. And leave one in the car (I fantasized about the bottle I left behind for the second half of the hike).
After lunch, we headed down to the caves, hiking along the mountainside, looking out at the Azerbaijan landscape. Did I mention the views?
There were tons of caves, some just big enough to sit and pray/meditate, others with several rooms, a well, etc. and most of them adorned with beautiful ancient frescoes. The monks still use some of them too. As we were walking up to one of the last ones, we heard a beautiful prayer in Georgian, the sing-song rhythm of it blending in with the sound of the rustle of the wildflowers and the birds chirping above us. I closed my eyes and smiled, listening to the sounds.
I have no idea how long it actually took us, but if you ever have the chance, you should 100% go visit Davit Gareja. Just bring A LOT of water. And long pants, and closed-toe shoes… and a camera 🙂 This was by far one of my favorite places we visited while we were in the Caucasus. I can’t even describe the feeling of being out there in the middle of nowhere. Freedom. Joy. Adventure. It was incredible.