When thinking of wine country, one may automatically envision Italy or France. Very few, however, know that Georgia is considered the birthplace of wine with its 8000-year-old history of winemaking – the oldest on Earth. Kakheti, Georgia’s most eastern region, is considered Georgia’s cradle of wine and consists of three-quarters of the country’s vineyards.
From ancient fortresses (some of which UNESCO heritage sites), artisanal cheese farms, to charming mountaintop towns and monasteries, there is much to see and do in Kakheti. Wine lovers can indulge in fascinating tours where you not only try homemade wine from local wineries straight out of the ქვევრი (qvevri – underground clay pot), but also visit places like Alaverdi Monastery (built in 6th century AD) which boasts the longest continuous wine production in Georgia since 1011 AD. Monks continue making wine at Alaverdi to this day!
Check out our diverse list of Kakheti’s top attractions below for travelers of all interests and ages. Your visit is sure to be unforgettable!
Telavi – Capital of Kakheti
First on our list is Telavi – the heart of the Alazani Valley and capital of Kakheti – Georgia’s famous winemaking region. You can begin exploring Telavi by walking over to ბატონისციხე (Batonis Tsikhe – “the castle of the lord”) and explore the ancient fortress that was once the main residence of Kakhetian kings in the 17th-18th centuries. The archaeological complex also contains Telavi’s Historical Museum, the King’s bath, and remains of the King’s churches.
Standing proudly nearby is the Giant Plane Tree – Georgia’s oldest and largest 900 year old tree. It’ll be hard to hug this tree, though, as its circumference comes out to around 12 meters!
Another great way to explore Telavi is by taking a self-guided city tour with Telaviin. You can learn the history behind various buildings and monuments (including lesser known landmarks) by scanning the QR codes that have been embedded on various walls and corridors throughout the historic town. Once you scan them with your phone, an information page will pop up (in English) that will share lots of interesting facts and hidden secrets about the building (i.e. history of the people who once lived there).
Some popular restaurant recommendations:
Milorava’s Guest House & Wine Cellar – Home cooked meals (not a restaurant), you’ll need to book in advance though as they might not accept smaller groups
Take a stroll through Telavi’s rich open-air market and explore typical Georgian produce. Sample various homemade cheeses, jams, spices, and churchkhela – Georgia’s most famous dessert. Churchkhela is basically a string of nuts dipped in concentrated juice that is hung to cure for a few days. Local people describe churchkhela as the Georgian version of a snickers bar (though it has essentially no ingredients in common).
Kakheti is known for its winemaking, so be sure to sample some homemade wine and chacha (Georgian grappa – at the market you’ll often see this lethal transparent liquid in upcycled plastic soda bottles) locals make from grapes grown straight in their backyards – it’s as homemade as it gets! You won’t encounter fine wines here (more on that below), it’s definitely the very raw, homemade stuff instead.
Once you finish exploring the bazaar, grab your fresh veggies and churchkhela (and some chacha if you like!) and finish off the day by watching the sunset at Nadikvari Park – a beautiful park overlooking Telavi and the Alazani Valley. Or, visit a local restaurant nearby (keep reading to find out where!).
Try Kakhetian Craft Beer
There are several, wonderful places to try out some local craft beer in Kakheti. Some of the most famous spots are found in Kakheti’s two most famous towns: Telavi and Sighnaghi. In Telavi, you definitely need to try some at Alkhanaidze and Beer Pub Offside (also known as Apsaiti). The supply is a bit inconsistent, but even if they only have their larger available, it’s a lovely malty brew.
Sighnaghi’s most diverse brewery, the Lost Ridge Inn, is brewing a larger and everchanging range: from Belgian to west coast IPA. They also are a horse ranch and hotel all in one. What makes this brewery stand out is that they use their own well water and fruits grown in their own orchard for beer production – undeniably something to try!
David Gareja Monastery Complex (UNESCO)
Located on the border of Azerbaijan (60km southeast of Tbilisi) is the famous David Gareja Monastery – a rock-hewn cave complex of 19 monasteries built in the 6th century. Some of which have restricted access due to recent border disputes – though this should not put you off making the trip, it’s safe for tourists.
Surviving continuous attacks by the Mongols and Safavids throughout the centuries, the hand painted orthodox murals miraculously remain intact on the cave walls. Known as one of the most sacred landmarks of Georgia, there is no surprise why David Gareja was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.
Sighnaghi – City of Love
Sighnaghi – also known as the City of Love – is a small, artistic town nestled on top of a mountain overlooking all of the Alazani Valley. The cobblestone streets, charming architecture, and scenic views of the Caucasus mountains will make you want to wander and get lost in the town’s romantic mystique for hours with no clear destination in mind!
Be sure to take a stroll over to Sighnaghi’s Great Wall (former city fortress walls – the longest in Europe) and Saint Stephen’s Church where you can climb up to the top of the church and see all of Sighnaghi and the Alazani valley beneath you.
In the center of town, you’ll find Sighnaghi’s National Museum, which is another great place to check out for a deeper dive into Georgia’s turbulent history.
There are many cute, artistic cafes you’ll find along your way when looking for a quick bite. Some recommendation for food with a view are:
Okro’s Marani (also great artisan wine) – The outside terrace area is a little small though, but plenty of space inside with windows.
The Terrace – On the ridge behind Signagi, gives a full view of the whole town all the way to the mountains and valley floor.
Kusika – Friendly service, typical Georgian pub food, big open terrace area.
The Balcony – Right next to Kusika, offering exactly the same!
Bodbe Monastery is located 3km from Sighnaghi on a mountain-side overlooking the Alazani valley.
It was built in the 9th century and was turned into a nunnery in 1889. Saint Nino (one of Georgia’s most revered historical figures – known as the Enlightener of Georgia), a female pilgrim from Cappadocia, is credited with introducing Christianity to Georgia around 327AD. She died at Bodbe and is buried in the monastery.
The cathedral’s yard is adorned with beautiful flowers, vineyards, and a spring. Legend has it that the spring appeared because of Saint Nino’s prayers and has healing powers.
Tsinandali Estate (Chavchavadze Estate)
In the early 19th century, Prince Alexander Chavchavadze (a significant member of Georgian aristocracy) inherited the Chavchavadze estate from his father and turned it into a beautiful intellectual-cultural center with a grandiose garden.
All great poets of the time (Alexander Pushkin, for example) would convene at the estate as Prince Chavchavadze was fond of hosting literary evenings and many different cultural events.
The estate complex includes a museum, landscape garden, vineyard, wine cellar, hotel, and cafe. Enjoy your time by taking a tour of the vineyards, bike ride around the large garden, or try a cooking masterclass. Most importantly, don’t forget to do some wine tasting! Tsinandali Estate is where wine was first bottled in Georgia (previously wine was stored in qvevris or other vessels and not bottled in the European way), most likely sometime between 1814 and 1841.
Alaverdi Monastery (UNESCO)
The Alaverdi Monastery, also a UNESCO world heritage site, is Georgia’s 2nd largest church (after the Sameba in Tbilisi) and is located near Akhmeta.
Founded and built in the 6th century by Monk Joseph ‘Abba’ Alaverdeli who left Antioch and decided to settle in Alaverdi. In the 11th century, King Kvirike the Great expanded the church, and monks began making wine in large underground clay pots known as ქვევრის (qvevris).
Monks continue making wine at Alaverdi Monastery to this day, and the cathedral’s მარანი (marani – wine cellar) boasts the longest continuous wine production in Georgia since 1011 AD, though wines were almost certainly made there before the oldest records were made.
Taste Artisan Honey On Gombori Pass
The Gombori Pass is one of Georgia’s most scenic roads (highest point: 1,991m – Mount Tsivi) and also quickest way to get from Tbilisi to Telavi. The 65 km picturesque forest highway cuts through the Alazani and Iori valleys and is also home to local vendors selling homemade artisan honey – with the hives right there behind them. Stop by and try some of the purest alpine honey Georgia has to offer!
Take a step back in time into Georgia’s ancient history and visit one of Georgia’s (and the world’s) oldest fortresses: Ujarma. Located near the Gombori Pass, Ujarma was built in the 3rd century and was home to one of Georgia’s most famous kings: Vakhtang Gorgasali. King Gorgasali actually died in the fortress after being wounded in battle with the Persians in 502 AD.
Although the fortress was destroyed by Arabs and Mongols in the 10th and 13th
centuries respectively, and ultimately abandoned after the Mongol invasion, the citadel
still remains somewhat intact. The small, single-naved church known as the “Church of the Holy Cross” that was built inside the fortress in the 4th century, also remains intact and is operational to this day.
Visit local wineries and discover Georgian traditional winemaking
You cannot say you visited Kakheti without visiting at least one local winery and trying some homemade Georgian wine straight out of the ქვევრი (qvevri). Drink with the winemaker at their family home and learn about Georgia’s 8000 year old history of winemaking. Join A Wine Tour with Eat This! Tours for a fully guided experience with a bilingual guide (English/Georgian).
Visit a Cheese Farm (Marletas Cheese Farm)
Have you ever dreamt of visiting an open cafe, pool, library, and a cheese-tasting area all at once?! If so, you definitely need to visit Marleta’s Cheese Farm, located in the village of Shalauri (15 minutes from Telavi).
Sopo Gorgadze and her husband Leo Tsaguria moved back to the village in 2009 after getting tired of noisy city life in Tbilisi. Initially making cheese as a hobby, their cow (named Marleta) ended up producing so much milk (25 liters/day) that their hobby turned into a 10-cheese production farm!
All 10 of the cheeses are made using unconventional techniques requiring special climatic conditions. The cheese farm and cafe interior are decorated with large, artistic murals that lead out to a beautiful terrace with magnificent views of the Alazani valley and Caucasus mountains. The cafe garden also has a beautiful willow tree you can relax under while sampling some artisanal Georgian cheese.
Hike in Lagodekhi National Park
Awaken your love for nature by exploring the wild flora and fauna of Lagodekhi’s Nature Reserve.
A popular and relatively easy hike is the 3 hour long trek to Gurgeniani (“Ninoskhevi”) Waterfall. The 4.5km hike (9km round-trip) ends at a beautiful, 40 meter waterfall where you can enjoy a small picnic and soak in the views, or jump in and swim in some of the coldest and purest water around! This hike is very popular and definitely a tourist-favorite.
Experienced hikers looking for more adventure should consider hiking the 3 day expedition to Black Rock Lake. The pristine lake is situated right at the border of Russia (Dagestan) at an elevation of 2,900m. The entire hike is around 40km long and offers some of the most spectacular views of Kakheti and the Caucasus mountains. Hikers can choose to spend the night inside the Mateo and Demidovi wooden shelters for 20 lari, or can camp in front of the shelters for 5 lari. Be sure to bring a passport though!
Join the wine harvest (Late August to Late October)
Kakheti is Georgia’s wine-making region. If visiting in September, visit any village and join villagers in რთველი (rtveli) – the picking and harvesting of grapes. It is a massive collective effort and everyone will be grateful for the extra help.
Learn more about the Rtveli Wine Harvest Festival
Located near Sagarejo, the massive, walled Ninotsminda monastery complex stands as yet another enchanting corridor into Georgia’s ancient history. Built in the 6th century, its walls carry the heavy history of centuries of invasions. Bullet holes by Dagestani bandits in the 18-19th centuries can still be seen in the Hodegetria mural painted on one of the four temple apses in the 16th century.
The cathedral also has significant importance because its architectural design served as a model for future four-apse churches in Georgia. Like Bodbe, this monastery complex was also turned into a nunnery.
Cheremi Historic Site
Ancient Cheremi is a historical and archeological site in Kakheti near the modern village of Cheremi. Archeological explorations have found evidence of settlements and burials dating back to the Late Bronze Age (around 1600 – 1200 BC). The ancient city was divided into districts with a lot of the settlement built under the reign of King Vakhtang Gorgasali around the 5th century, including Saint Barbara’s church (that was restored and is operational to this day).
The Persians destroyed most of the settlement under King Gorgasali’s reign however, and the ancient city was never able to fully recover after the attack. Ceramic pottery and Roman coins from the 3-7th centuries AD were even found at the site – truly amazing indeed!
Kornabuji Fortress / Elia Mountain & Monastery (Less famous option for off-track travel)
Built on top of steep, limestone cliffs (800m above sea level) near Dedoplistskaro is the ancient Kornabuji Fortress. Initially thought to date back to the 5th century under the reign of King Gorgasali (ancient coins and written records were found from the time), archaeologists have found evidence that imply that the fortress could have actually been built at the end of the first millennium BC.
Tourists can hike the 8km narrow, forest passage from Kornabuji to Elia Monastery, a 6th century (operational) church sitting on a double-peak limestone mountain, and enjoy some of the most amazing views of Kakheti. On August 2nd, many people gather at the monastery and pray overnight to the prophet Saint Ilia Tezbiteli as the temple was dedicated to him when it was built.
Visit Pankisi (Muslim/Chechen Settlement) & learn about Kist Culture
Pankisi Valley is home to one of Georgia’s few Muslim settlements, mainly inhabited by Chechens (Chechnya is on Russia’s side of the Caucasus mountains). When visiting Pankisi, you can check out Pankisi’s Ethnographic Museum and WWII Memorial (also an Amphitheater) to learn more about the history of the area. The memorial actually sits on a ridge overlooking the entire valley, offering some great panoramic views!
Serving as an interesting contrast to Georgia’s deep Christian Orthodox roots are Duisi’s Old Mosque (built in 1902) and Abu Bakr As-Siddik Mosque which you should definitely visit. Every Friday at noon, Kist women from around the valley gather at the Old Mosque in Duisi to perform Zikr – an ancient spiritual rite rooted in Sufi mysticism.
Trying some Kisturi Ludi (Kist beer) is another must-do! A unique brewery made from highland fruits and wild herbs (including rosehip and black hawthorn), this ancient, all-natural fermented drink has a pleasant flavor and a Kombucha-like tang. In keeping with the area’s traditions, it is non-alcoholic. In Pankisi’s Omalo village, Shengeli Toxosashvili runs the Kisturi Beer Brewery, offering tastings and tours of his small production facility. His beer is also served at Cafe Pankisi in Duisi.
Some recommendations for accommodation:
Nazy’s Guesthouse – Guesthouse offering Chechen cooking masterclasses, singing lessons of Georgian/Chechen songs by Aznash Laaman (all-female quartet of folk singers), attendance of Zikr (mentioned above), horse riding, and a felt-making masterclass at Zizi’s workshop with socially vulnerable children of Pankisi valley.
Leilas Guesthouse – Guesthouse with a beautiful garden where guests have the opportunity to taste Chechen and Georgian traditional cuisine as well as try masterclasses of traditional and local khinkali.
Guest House Melissa – Guesthouse with 4 rooms, 3 double beds, 7 single beds, and a big beautiful yard. No private bathroom – just one common one. Traditional Georgian and Chechen cuisine masterclasses are also offered as well as an English-speaking host.
Bonus: Get Married!
Want to Elope? Book 1 week in advance, and get married in Signagi. It’s easy! Listen to our getting married in Georgia podcast or read our full article -> Click Here