Mtskheta-Mtianeti

Territory – 805,5 km². Population -63,9 thousand. Average annual temperature in summer: +25, +35 grade Celsius, in winter: -1,-10 grade Celsius. Centre of region – c. Mtskheta. Territory – km², Population –

Stretching from the glorious ancient capital Mtskheta in the south to the soaring peaks of the Greater Caucasus in the north, the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region is Georgia as it should be. The legendary Georgian Military Highway, one of the world’s most beautiful roads, winds its way up this region, through steep wooded valleys, up ravines and finally over the 2300 meter Cross Pass and down again. The area not only takes in the amazing Kazbegi region, home to glaciers, gorges and the 5047 meter mount Kazbek, but also the cultural treasure trove of Khevsureti, and Georgia’s most developed skiing resort at Gudauri. Best of all, the whole province is just a short drive away from Tbilisi, meaning visiting the wonders of the area couldn’t be easier.

HIGHLIGTS:
MTSKHETA

Steeped in history, Georgia’s ancient capital of Mtskheta is a place that no visitor to Georgia should miss, and being only twenty minutes outside Tbilisi, there’s no reason to miss it. Situated at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has been inhabited since before 1000 BC. Sights include Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the most important church in Georgia, as well as the stunning hilltop Jvari monastery, built in the 6th century. Don’t forget to have lunch here, as the lobio, a spicy bean stew, is regarded as the best in Georgia.

ANANURI

The fairy-tale Ananuri ensemble is beautifully situated on the Georgian Military Highway, on the shore of the azure blue Zhinvali reservoir. The 16th to 17th century complex was the feudal seat of the local lords, the Eristavis of Aragvi. The complex is one of the top sites of Georgia, with two churches and a watchtower almost impossibly squeezed inside massive defensive walls with huge battlements.
The main church of “St. Mary” is covered with fabulous carvings of grapevines, chained lions and deer, while inside there are some interesting fresco fragments. Climb the walls to enjoy stunning views of the Aragvi valley.

KEVSURETI

Sheltered by the massive peaks of the greater Caucasus, hidden away from the outside world is the extraordinary land of the Khevsurs – Khevsureti. Nowhere else in Europe is there a place that feels so mysterious, unique and magical, a place where ancient pagan traditions survive, and medieval fortress villages guard the secrets of the valleys. Until the 1930 people here wore chainmail amour and carried swords and shields, the Soviet Union did much to try to destroy the ancient way of life, but rituals, songs and crafts are still preserved by the people of this proud, independent land. The main sight in the region is Shatili. This fortress village, next to the Chechen border, has withstood the ravages of time, as well as multiple invasions and sieges. Each house is a four or five story tower, connected by rooftop walkways that can be taken up if the enemy penetrates the village. Visitors, however, have the chance to stay in one of the towers, which has been converted into an extraordinary hotel. The ruined fortress village of Mutso is straight out of a fantasy movie. Poised like a bird of prey on a rocky outcrop at 1880 m above sea level, it has about thirty towers and dozens of intact death houses where plague victims would crawl in to die.

STEPANTSMINDA

The town of Stepantsminda, nestled in the shadow of the mighty Mont Kazbek, is the iconic Georgian mountain destination. The subject of a million tourist photos, book covers and postcards, “Gergetis Sameba” church – just outside the town – is the building that says ’Georgia’ like no other. Built of massive granite blocks at a height of 2170 meters, the 14th c cross-domed church and bell tower is an amazing feat of architecture and sheer human dedication. Although decoration inside the church is restricted to a few fragments of frescoes, parts of the exterior are richly carved with grape vines, animals and the sun, all of which is covered in a thick layer of startling yellow lichen, almost as old as the church itself. Framed by the ginormous bulk of the snow covered peak of Mount Kazbek, it’s easy to see why this is one of the highlights of any trip to Georgia.

GUDAURI SKI RESORT

Gudauri ski resort is perfect for extreme sports. Perched in the heart of the Greater Caucasus, surrounded by a vista of dramatic peaks and breathtaking gorges, and just two hour drive from Tbilisi – Gudauri is spectacular on every level. Set high above the clouds, Gudauri’s southern facing ensures plenty of sunshine and excellent snow conditions until late April. Gudauri’s slopes are all above tree line. They are ideal for free-riders and are generally considered avalanche-safe. This is a perfect place for intermediate to advanced skiers to test their skills. In Gudauri you truly feel on top of the world. Set at 2000 meters, just below the historic Jvari Pass – the main crossing point of the Greater Caucasus – it offers a wide range of accommodation and summer and winter activities.