At the end of the military road
Coming down the mountain from Mestia, Svaneti, wasn’t easy. Just being in the mountains is an amazing experience. You never get bored of it.
But travelling is moving, so we did.
First we headed for Tskaltubo, near Kutaisi, a bit of a strange place that used to be famous for it’s spas and fancy hotels. Now a lot of it is worn down or nothing more than concrete ruins and it lost most of its glory. There still are a few fancy hotels that attract the necessary tourists, but if you’re on a budget you better try to find a guesthouse, with the emphasis on ‘try to find’. There are plenty of guesthouses, but they are poorly indicated. A simple sign could do wonders.
It’s a good basecamp for visiting the Prometheus cave and Mount Sataplia. The first cave is very beautiful with striking stalactites, beautiful stone curtains and peculiar formations. The second is smaller, but they have fossilised dinosaur footprints. Who could say no to that.
From there it was time to hit the mountains again. Kazbegi (Stepantsminda) is an absolute must-do. The trip up there is easy, just take the A301, the military road and enjoy the scenery. The route was already used in the first century BC, but over the centuries it was converted into a modern, easy-to-drive road.
Kazbegi lies at the foot of Mount Kazbek (5047 m) and is overlooked by the Gergeti Church.
Visiting the church is almost mandatory and well worth the trip up. We did it on foot, which wasn’t so difficult. But there are a million taxi drivers who love to take you up there if you’re not much of a hiker. Like I said, the church is nice, but it gets better if you walk up to the Arsha pass. The view on Mount Kazbek and the Gergeti Glacier is spectacular and breath taking. We didn’t go al the way up to the Betlemi Hut, but still, it was a hike to never forget.
Our stay wasn’t in Kazbegi, but in a small village nearby, not far from Sno and on the road to Juta. The hiking possibilities are endless and the landscapes stunning. The fact that you know that you’re hiking in wolf territory is special. In summer they are too far up the mountains to spot them (but who knows, you might get lucky), in winter they are often spotted not far from the villages, looking for food.
While hiking you should also spare a moment to look up to the sky. It’s a bird watchers paradise: lammergeyer, griffon vulture, imperial eagle, pallid harrier, falcons,…
The question is not ‘if’ you spot them, it’s ‘when’.
In total we did four hikes. All different and all very beautiful.
The diversity is incredible. There are steep, single track hikes at 3000 m and higher with a lot of elevation, wide valleys that were formed by glaciers during the last ice age and endless trails following one of the many rivers running down the mountains. You can go out for a day or just a few hours and still be amazed. But off course a multiple day hike or a 5-day expedition to the top of Mount Kazbek are also an option. Like I said: endless…
Kzabegi is a must-do, why?
It’s a place to fall in love with. The beauty, the roughness, the vastness,… It makes you feel small and humble.
It makes you dream and rethink your life.
It brings you closer as a family.
It inspires and boosts creativity.
It relaxes you, it drags you away from your daily routine.
It’s a place where you feel whole and complete.
It makes you happy with whom you are.
It’s a place where you appreciate the simple things.
Thanks to those who made our trip even better.
We will remember the singing and dancing of the Russian guests and the laughter in the morning. We’re grateful for the night we could stay in our van, for free.
A nice, simple and clean guesthouse, not far from Kazbegi.
The breakfast is excellent and keeps you going for hours.
The best food we had so far (and that means something in Georgia) in a nice setting.
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copy by Jan Bergs
pictures by Katrien de Troch, Studio Gloria
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