The Best Things to do in Telavi, Georgia
This post is about the best things to do in Telavi. Telavi is the capital of Kakheti, Georgia’s scenic wine region at the foothills of the Caucasus mountains and close to the border with Azerbaijan.
During my first visit to Kakheti I barely touched the surface and only visited the small town of Sighnaghi. I liked the area so much that I wanted to come back. On my second trip to Georgia I decided to spend more time in eastern Georgia and based myself in Telavi.
Although Sighnaghi is slightly more picturesque, there are also plenty of things to do in Telavi.
Why visit Telavi Georgia
Telavi is the biggest city in Kakheti and is conveniently located in the fertile Alazani valley. The lush and green landscape with its warm weather was perfect for growing grapes.
Telavi is among the oldest cities in Georgia and was an important trade city as early as the 2nd century. At times it was the capital of an independent Kakheti, at other times Telavi belonged to the kingdom of Georgia.
The fear of a Mongol, Ottoman or Persian conquests troubled the city for a long time. Monasteries in Kakheti were built in isolated locations and soon started to make their own wines.
For all this history, Telavi actually feels quite modern. Most of the current day city was built in the 17th century and then renovated in 2018.
The center has an easygoing atmosphere and has lots of great restaurants and cafes full of young people. All in all, Telavi is a charming city that makes the perfect base to explore Kakheti, because its real beauty lies in the countryside.
One of the advantages of Telavi is its convenient location with good transport connections to some of the oldest and most beautiful monasteries in Kakheti as well as the best wineries
The best things to do in Telavi
The Batonis Tsikhe translates as the castle of Batoni and is one of the oldest buildings in the city.
Batonis Tsikhe was built in the 17th century by the king of Kakheti. It was a time of power struggles and political turmoil and the castle saw a number of changes throughout the years that followed.
Batonis Tsikhe became a large complex with chapels, bathhouses and palaces. All protected by thick walls and circular watch towers. Surprisingly, the design was partly Persian and inspired by the Kharim Khan castle in Shiraz.
In 2018 there were extensive renovations. Personally I felt that some of the buildings lost their history. Yet, it remains an interesting place to visit in Telavi. The thick walls with the towers and arched gates are especially impressive.
Personally I did not really see the resemblance with the Kharim Khan castle in Shiraz. The renovated palace inside the new complex with the Shebeke glass did remind me more of the Shaki Khan palace in Sheki, Azerbaijan.
Giant plane tree – oldest tree
I was surprised to learn that one of the top things to do in Telavi was a tree. The Giant plane tree behind Batonis Tshike claims to be the largest and oldest tree in Georgia.
The plane tree in Telavi is estimated to be over 900 years old. It has a massive trunk circumference of about 12 meters (39 feet) and stands around 40 meters (131 feet) tall.
The tree holds cultural and historical importance in the local community. It has witnessed centuries of events and has become a symbol of Telavi’s heritage. According to a popular legend, King Erekle II of Kakheti used to sit under the shade of this tree and make important decisions for his kingdom.
It’s a very popular tree indeed and there is almost always a queue of people taking selfies.
Telavi’s traditional homes
Telavi’s traditional homes are famous for their fine woodwork including carved balconies. Much effort was done to keep these characteristics when the center of Telavi was renovated in 2018.
Telavi features traditional Georgian architectural styles, characterized by a combination of influences from different eras. Many traditional houses in Telavi feature wooden balconies and intricately carved wooden ornaments. These decorative elements add a touch of elegance and craftsmanship to the architecture, reflecting the region’s traditional woodworking techniques.
It’s this architectural style that makes Telavi such a charming city to wander around in. It also makes Telavi different from other cities in Georgia.
The small Nadikvari park is located on top of a hill with some beautiful views. Not a must see, but a nice place if you have the time. It is not far from the center.
Telavi bazaar is the place to go for fresh fruits, vegetables, spices and preserves. It’s a lively and colourful market like most in Georgia. I recommend you to try the churchkhela and fruit leather for sale.
Churchkhela is a unique Georgian sweet made by dipping strings of nuts (usually walnuts or hazelnuts) into a grape juice and flour mixture. The result is a delicious and chewy candy that is perfect for satisfying your sweet tooth.
Try Georgian wine
Kakheti is known as the wine-producing heartland of Georgia, and Telavi is located in this region. Local wineries in Telavi and nearby areas offer a wide variety of Georgian wines, including the famous Saperavi red wine and Rkatsiteli white wine. Tasting the local wines and experiencing the wine culture is a must-do when visiting Telavi.
The best things to do near Telavi Georgia
The Tsinandali estate once belonged to Alexander Chavchavadze. A wealthy aristocrat and poet from the 19th century that loved to entertain his foreign guests.
He built a large garden and a small, but elegant and beautiful palace as well as Georgia’s oldest and largest winery.
The estate is now open to the public and still produces Tsinandali wine. You can visit the gardens and inside the palace is a museum.
Shumi winery is located right next to Tsinandali. Because I do not drink alcohol I came here more to see the process of making wine than to taste it.
Personally I found Shumi winery very touristy. There is a shop, restaurant and they have a small plot of land where they showcase the different types of grapes.
I was in Kakheti in October when it was the harvesting season. I learned more from what I saw on the road as we drove by trucks full of grapes and saw people being busy in the fields.
The 6th century Ikalto monastery is one of the oldest in the region. It was a huge center of religion and education. The academy of Ikalto had studies in theology, philosophy, astronomy, geometry, arithmetics and pharmacology as well as practical courses in pottery, metal works and wine making.
You can see the ancient qvevri clay pots that were used to store the wine in the gardens around the Ikalto monastery. Some are still underground.
In medieval times this traditional way of making wine developed mostly at monasteries like Ikalto. Nowadays it sees a revival in the commercial sector and since 2011 is on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage.
Another ancient monastery where the monks developed their own wine is the Alaverdi monastery. The Alaverdi Monastery wine is still produced and sold in the shop opposite the Cathedral.
The monastery’s history goes all the way back to the 6th century and used to be a large complex. What remains today is the 11th century cathedral that is the largest in Kakheti.
The 16th century Gremi church is all that is left from what was once a wealthy village and royal citadel. For a short time, Gremi was even the capital of Kakheti.
The most important building was the church of the Archangels built by the king of Kakheti in 1565. Because it was on top of the hill it survived the attack on Gremi by the Persians in 1615.
The church is small, but because of the frescoes I found it one of the more beautiful churches I visited In Kakheti.
Telavi Georgia travel tips
What to eat in Telavi
The local food in Telavi, Georgia, is rich in flavors and represents the traditional cuisine of the region. Kakheti is not only famous for its wine, but also its great food.
Kakhetian Mtsvadi is a variation of the popular Georgian barbecue, specific to the Kakheti region. It features skewers of marinated meat (often pork) cooked over an open flame. The unique flavors of the marinade, combined with the smoky aroma from the grill, make it a mouthwatering specialty.
Khashlama is a traditional meat dish commonly found in the Kakheti region. It consists of slow-cooked chunks of meat (usually lamb or beef) along with onions, herbs, and spices. The meat becomes tender and flavorful, resulting in a comforting and hearty dish.
Of course you can also try Georgian classics like Khinkali (meat filled dumplings) and Khachapuri (cheese bread).
Where to eat in Telavi
We had lunch at Kapiloni. Portions were huge and the food was good enough to come back a second time. I can recommend the veal ribs with ajika as well as the kebab with sulguni.
Where to sleep in Telavi
How to get to Telavi
Marshrutka from Tbilisi to Telavi leaves from the Ortachala bus station. Unfortunately this can be a confusing bus station and you can not reach it by metro. I asked for help from the locals to find the buses heading to Telavi. The journey takes between 2 and 3 hours and costs 10 lari.
When to visit Telavi
The best time to visit Telavi and Kakheti is spring and autumn when the temperatures are pleasant. Autumn is also harvest season and you can see the harvest of the grapes in action as people are working in the fields and trucks full of grapes drive on the roads.
Spring is lush and green and Kakheti is lovely with blooming flowers. Summers get warm, but this is a good time to go hiking in nearby Lagodekhi National Park.
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