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05 May 2014

Georgia on My Mind: Hotels & Sights at the Kakheti Region (Part 2)

Qvevris at Ikalto Monastery
As the bus rolls away from Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, I sat excitedly on my seat and kept up with the animated mood inside. The 6th Annual International Wine Tourism Conference has concluded with a big cheer for its next host for 2015. Elisabet Vidal of La Champagne, France gave quite a preview of the next venue for IWINETC while we drank glasses of one of La Champagne's pride, Mumm



Immediately after the conference in Tbilisi Marriott Hotel, there was an outstanding chaos of people in mad dash for their correct bus (there was more than one with different destinations) and frantic last check of their luggage. I already gave up my high-heeled shoes for more comfortable ones to maneuver my way around. It was not really highly fashionable but I was more functional as a trolley-pulling traveler. I reached my correct bus at the right time with the correct shoes and I was ready for the Kakheti region.


Our trip in Kakheti region took 3 days and it had been an extensive itinerary of wineries, restaurants and hotels to speak about, not to mention some sights. I will be dividing the Kakheti post into 2 more. This one will be about the hotels where we stayed & some surrounding sights, and the other one about the wineries and restaurants we visited. The first part, Georgia on My Mind: A Tour of Georgia's Capital, Tbilisi was wrapped around the sights, restaurants, and wineries in the city.

Kakheti is just a two-hour trip by land from Tbilisi but with misfortune, the road we were supposed to take was blocked by the police because there was ice on the the road. Our bus driver went for a longer route - 2 hours more! 

We arrived at our destination, Telavi City, the capital of the Kakheti region. Upon entry to the city, we were greeted by the beautifully lighted Batonistsikhe Castle which means Master's Fortress, home to the Kakhetian kings in the 17th and 18th centuries (which I wish I had a picture of).  

Old Telavi Restaurant & Hotel

We were booked at the Old Telavi Restaurant & Hotel for our first night in Kakheti. Even if we were a couple of hours late for dinner, the restaurant quickly fed us with the beautiful spread of food they prepared for us (which will be in another post).


The hotel is right across the road from the restaurant and the staff accommodated us with precision so check-in was very quick. Even if there were no elevators, the staff members were available to help us to our rooms.


My room was spacious and had very elaborate furniture with bold and deep colors. The bathroom was equipped with a modern shower box with confusing buttons (too modern for me!) that spurted out water everywhere except me. I think I spent more time there trying to understand how to make it work than the time I spent with dinner.


Walking along the residential part of the road from the hotel, the houses looked new on paved roads in contrast to the others I have seen in Tbilisi and the rest of the region (later on). It's one of the most ancient cities in Georgia with archaeological findings from the Bronze Age. It went through glory days of importance as being the capital of the Kingdom of Kakheti in the ancient times. In the contemporary history in 19th century, under Russian rule, it lost its capital status. 




Ikalto Monastery 

Ikalto is known for its ancient academy and monastery. The monastery was founded by St. Xenon in the 6th century and the academy (where only ruins are left) was founded by King David the Builder in the 12th century that was known for its significance as being one of the most important cultural and scholastic centers in Georgia. Shota Rustaveli, Georgia's celebrated poet was known to have studied here in the 12th century. 




The small Khvtaeba church from the 8th to 9th century stands in the middle of the Ikalto grounds with scattered qvevris. Like in any church in Georgia, the women are expected to cover their heads with a scarf while the men are asked to remove their hats. Taking pictures is not allowed.

Chateau Mere

With its name derived from the nearby village called Mere, Chateau Mere was constructed in 2011 by George Piradashvili. Chateau Mere is actually not among the hotels we stayed in but it was part of our itinerary in the Telavi area to dine in their restaurant and to have a quick visit to their winery in the premises, the Winiveria (which will be in another post about restaurants and wineries). 



While waiting for our coffee in the patio after a very filling lunch, George offered to show us one of the hotel's rooms in the tower in front of the main building. There are other rooms on the upper floors of the main building, on top of the restaurant. The place is very quiet and especially nice in summer when the weather is warm enough to lounge in the pool area with the great views of the Caucasus range.


Hotel Kvareli Eden 

Situated in the town of Kvareli, the hotel is a beautiful sprawling two-storey building set in a manicured green lawn. It's a wine spa hotel where you can get pampered in their spa facilities.  Like the Old Telavi Hotel, it can also be a good base to take tours to the nearby monasteries. 


Our stay in the hotel had been fast which didn't give us time to explore and see the other facilities they offer. We arrived there after a long day and dinner so we arrived rather late and tired. Check-in was efficient. I didn't notice any elevators so you would have to carry your luggage to the second floor. The rooms have a pleasant ambiance of comfortable and modern luxury where I slept very well. They also provided wine-based shower products which were quite interesting. I never bathed in anything with wine before! 


At the reception, there is a bar where you can relax while having some drinks. Our group converged here for a nightcap of more wines we took home from the restaurant. Don't we ever get tired of drinking wine? You might wonder. No we don't. 


 
Breakfast was an abundant amount of everything you can imagine having on the breakfast buffet. It was an enjoyable sight to wake up to and really a treat in the morning. 


Hotel Kabadoni

The hotel is located in the beautiful town of Sighnaghi at an elevated position of 790 m. above sea level. It's at the edge of the small town with an incredible view of the Greater Caucasus mountains and Alazani Valley.  It sits right next to the town's Ethnographic and Archaeological Museum and a small park. Being a boutique hotel, the rooms are beautiful, modern and very comfortable. Bathrooms are very spacious too and from my window, I had a spectacular view of the Caucasus mountains. Lugging your luggage up the stairs is not a problem because there's an elevator. Whew! 




At the end of the corridor of the third floor (if I'm not mistaken about my floor), there are a couple of sets of stairs that lead to a panoramic terrace where it is probably the best spot to take pictures and enjoy the view. 

Sighnaghi

The curved roads to Sighnaghi was panoramic and from afar you can see the hilltop town waiting for you at the end of the road. We arrived in the town late in the afternoon and our bus driver was able to maneuver his way (barely missing a few balconies) in the main road because it was a busy time in the town with other vehicles parked along the road. From afar until actually being inside the town, I was gripped by its beauty. 



Sighnaghi has undergone a significant reconstruction program and is currently considered a valuable tourist center. It's a very small town that plays an important role in producing wine and making handmade carpets. 








Sighnaghi is also known as Georgia's City of Love where you can actually get married in their town hall within 24 hours. So if you are in a hurry and want to cut all the pre-wedding trimmings, Sighnaghi is the place!

 

Bodbe Nunnery

Just a couple of kilometers outside the town is a very important place for religious pilgrimage. It is where St. Nino, Georgia's important female evangelist in the 4th century, was buried inside the church. It was originally built in the 9th century and went through a significant refurbishing in the 17th century.  It's a very tranquil place, set in a garden with cypress trees.





It's easy and cheap to get to Sighnaghi from Tbilisi

In Tbilisi, you can get marshrutkas (mini buses / share taxis) at the Marshrutkas station (behind the Samgori metro station) that travel to Sighnaghi frequently. They leave twice a day in winter and every 2 hours in summer from 09:00 until 17:00 and the last one at 18:00. From Sighnaghi to Tbilisi, the schedule is the same. The trip takes 2-1/2 hours for a fee of 6 Lari (about €2.50).  

If you want to contact a travel agency that can help you with your travel needs, contact Living Roots. They're the ones who handled our tours and the service was precisely exceptional. 

Here are some useful links about Georgia and the Kakheti Region:

Georgia: From Mountains to Monasteries (My Custard Pie)
National Wine Agency 
Georgian National Tourism Administration 
IWINETC
Visit Georgia 
Touring Georgia's Kakheti Wine Region (Wine Pleasures)
Too Much Wine and Vodka in Kakheti (Jack and Jill Travel The World) 
Deeper into Georgia: Beyond Grapes (Sarah Abbott Master of Wine)