Which country has the best wine? It’s a controversial debate, but Georgia is a respectable competitor. Georgia’s viticulture goes back to the neolithic period and its said to have one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The heart of it lies in Kakheti. A region also known for its delicious food and hospitality. With its mediterranean climate it offers the perfect conditions for cultivating grapes. Even though I don’t really like wine, my travelbook convinced me there were enough other reasons to make a stop here on my overland journey to Azerbaijan. The area is excellent for making hikes through vineyards and past ancient monasteries and churches. Sighnaghi, the capital of Georgia’s wine region, is an old medieval town with beautiful mountain vista’s and cosy homestays. It is also the city of love, because of its wedding house where couples can get married any time of the day.
My journey started at Tbilisi’s bus station at my first morning in Georgia. The road to Sighnaghi was recently renovated with help of the World Bank in an effort to boost the economy of Kakheti. Because not all is well here. An economic crisis and the collapse of the Russian market for wine after the war in Ossetia turned Kakheti into one of the poorest areas of Georgia. Families still grow grapes and bottle their wine, but tourism is more than welcome, because it is a much needed additional source of income. Sighnaghi is now only 2 hours from Tbilisi and makes a nice daytrip or weekend break. I was on my way to Azerbaijan and it made a perfect stop-over in what would otherwise be a very long journey.
I was glad I stayed in one of Sighnaghi’s homestays to experience the wonderful Georgian hospitality. The lady of the house was also the teacher at the local school and wasn’t home yet when I arrived. However, the neighbour children blindly trusted me that I was their guest and gave me the key. I settled on their balcony with a beautiful view on Sighnaghi and the Caucasian mountains surrounding it. When the lady of the house arrived she immediately prepared a hot cup of tea for me and a delicious lunch. Fresh bread with vegetable soups, aubergines stuffed with walnut, slices of goat cheese and of course home made wine.
It was tempting to spent the rest of the afternoon on their lovely balcony, but there were more things to see. Sighnaghi itself is not that big. There are two churches, the wedding house, a war memorial and a local market where you can buy wine in reused plastic bottles. However, there are some nice hikes to make in the area. Two kilometers outside of Sighnaghi is the Bodbe convent. A nunnery whith the burial place of the holy Nino and some well kept gardens. Further down the hill from the monastery you find the Nino spring where you can wash yourself with holy water. The hike offers some more nice views over Kakheti and the mountains.
Overall, Sighnaghi is a touristic place, as far as it can be touristic in Georgia. The knitting ladies of Sighnaghi try to sell their knitten goods with a friendly smile and the restaurants and homestays make it their job to make Georgia’s delicacies. There are also plenty of places to taste and buy wine. If you have more time at your hand you should consider renting a car and driver for the day to show you around the countryside to visit more wineries and churches such as the Nekresi monastery, the Kvelatsminda church and the Gremi church. I only visited Sighnaghi, but Telavi is also a pleasant town.
If you want to know more about Kakheti I can recommend this 3 day itinerary from wanderlush
From Tbili’s Samgori metrostation there are daily minivans to Sighnagi at 9:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00 and 18:00. From Sighnaghi they return at 9:00, 11:00, 13:00, 16:00 and 18:00. (6 GEL as of June 2017 – 2 to 3 hours)
For Telavi and Lagodekhi take a taxi to Tsnori (15 minutes down the mountain) and take a minivan from there.
If you want to visit David Gareja as well, it is better to rent a taxi. Also keep in mind that even though it looks to be midway between Tbilisi and Sighnaghi it takes a long time to get there. The road to David Gareja is not too good and you are probably better off making a day trip from Tbilisi
Where to eat
The best place to eat is your homestay. For Georgian food and winetasting Pheasant Tear’s is very good. Georgian food is delicious, but if you really want something else you can visit Pancho Village. Probably the only Mexican restaurant in Georgia and one with a nice view.
Where to sleep
I stayed in Abramichi Guesthouse. It was one of the cheapest options and I was very happy there. The people are very friendly and their balcony has a lovely view on Sighnaghi and the mountains. It is a bit difficult to find as it is at the end of the town. After the main square, go under the old town port and walk along the street with the knitting ladies. Then the road continues along two paths. Take the right road where the pavement will stop. Abramichi guesthouse will be on your rightside.