How to visit Kakheti, Georgia’s wine region
I grew up in a wine region, so the idea of visiting another wine region sounded appealing, but it was not the thing I was most excited about visiting in Georgia.
However, when I saw those hundreds of Soviet trucks extra loaded with tons of grapes and the many wineries still making wine in the traditional way, using their hands inside huge ceramic jars (qveries); plus the many monasteries inhabited by monks who have been producing wine for centuries.
I realized that the wine culture in Georgia is unique, and then I remembered that, according to archeological evidence, Georgia was the first country ever to produce wine.
Welcome to Kakheti, Georgian’s wine region.
In this guide, you will learn how to visit Kakheti, including places to visit.
Why harvest season is the best time to visit Kakheti
Kakheti can be visited all year long, meaning that you will still be able to visit cellars and drink wine but, during harvest season, from September to October, you will actually see how the wine is produced and, if you go to a micro-cellar, you will see how they produce it in the traditional Georgian way, so the experience will be quite different.
By the way, Moldova is another very traditional country with a very similar wine culture, and you may want to check my travel guide to Moldova
How to travel around Kakheti region
Kakheti is a region which is best explored by car.
I mean, you can move around by marshrutka, but many wineries and monasteries are not in the villages themselves, so reaching them can be a bit tricky, and you would need several days to make the best out of your visit.
If you don’t have a car, perhaps you may want to join a tour.
Moreover, I strongly recommend you take the town of Sighnaghi as your base from where to visit the wine region. To be very honest, Sighnaghi is not my favorite place to visit in Kakheti but since it is the most touristic town, it is well-sorted of accommodation, bars and restaurants.
Where to stay in Sighnaghi
Budget guest house – Guest House Vista – We stayed in this lovely guest house which was run by a very accommodating local who showed us how to make homemade wine. Highly recommended.
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Mid-range hotel – Boutique Hotel BelleVue – Really nice hotel with stunning views of the valley.
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Places to visit in Kakheti in a 3-day itinerary
Technically, Tusheti and Davit Gareja belong to the region of Kakheti but I haven’t included them in this guide because they do not belong to the area where wine is produced
We visited the following places in 3 days.
On the first day, we just went to Sighnaghi, stopping in Ninotsminda. On the second day, we drove around the whole region, including Gurjaani, Telavi, Alaverdi, Artana, Gremi and Kvareli. On the third day, we went back to Tbilisi, stopping in one winery and Davit Gareja.
Ninotsminda (off the beaten track)
The first village we stopped at was Ninotsminda, where you find Ninotsminda Church, which has been a place of Christian worship since the 5th Century, and the half-ruined Church that still stands dates back from then.
I recommend you stop here for 15 minutes, to take a break from the journey.
How to get to Ninotsminda
Ninotsminda is a relatively big village, so I am sure there are marshrutkas coming from Sagarejo or Sighnaghi but, to be honest, unless you have your car, I am not sure that it is worth it.
The first big town coming from Azerbaijan is the walled city of Sighnaghi, commonly named as ‘’the City of Love’’ by the locals, a European-like town with its hilly cobbled streets and set up, so different from anything you have seen in Georgia.
Located high on the hill that rises from the flat Alazani Valley, with the Caucasian mountains of Dagestan in the background, Sighnaghi is a truly postcard town.
It is so pretty, but you also need to remember that this is a very touristic town, where you can even find a Mexican restaurant and actually, some people working in the different businesses are not very welcoming precisely.
We had a few bad experiences, like when the lady of a café brought me a cappuccino which was cold because she poured milk directly from the fridge but then, very rudely, she refused to change. Stuff like that.
To be honest, after checking out the few viewpoints, I found Sighnaghi very boring and, despite being a popular day trip from Tbilisi, I would prefer going somewhere else.
However, we spent 2 nights here because it is a great base to explore the region, plus it is the only place with a relatively nice atmosphere in the evening.
Is Kakheti worth the day trip or not? – Well, it depends. Are you coming by yourself in a marshrutka? Then, it is not because, in only one day, you will be able to visit Sighnaghi and, in my opinion, there are other places in Georgia which are far more interesting, starting with Davit Gareja or Chiatura. Nevertheless, if you have a car (or you are going on a tour) and plan to visit several places across the region, then yes, a day trip to Kakheti is worth it.
Things to do in Sighnaghi
- Check out the different viewpoints – Especially the one located here: 41.614291, 45.921477 – From where you can see a panoramic view of the town, the valley, and Dagestan.
- Bobde Monastery – This beautiful monastery is where St. Nino is buried, the woman that converted Georgia to Christianity. It is also a pretty cool viewpoint of the city.
- Explore the town, souvenir shops, city walls, etc. – If you don’t have much to do, I recommend you go around to check the town.
Where to eat in Sighnaghi
Pheasant’s Tears – The most famous restaurant in Sighnaghi is also a winery. It is a bit pricey but they have good food. You need to book in advance.
How to get to Sighnaghi
Marshrutkas leave from Ortachala Station in Tbilisi all day long.
Gurjaani Kvelatsminda Church (off the beaten track)
If you go north after leaving Sighnaghi, after 30km, you find Gurjaani, famous for having the only ancient double-domed church in Georgia, from the 8th century.
The church is located out of town, and you need to walk for 10 minutes from where you leave the car.
The priests living there were surprisingly welcoming, more than any other church we have been to.
How to get to Gurjaani
You may find marshrutkas going to Gurjaani but then is a really good walk to the church.
Telavi is the largest city in Kakheti (but only 28,000 inhabitants) and today’s regional capital.
What I like about it is that it has a very local vibe, but it is not as charming as other towns and villages.
However, I didn’t visit it much, but we just passed it through in our first visit, and then, on my second visit, I just came here to find transportation to Tusheti.
If you have time to visit it, then great but, otherwise, I don’t think it is worth the trip, even though I believe it could also serve as a great base to travel around Kakheti.
How to get to Telavi
You find direct marshrutkas from Tbilisi and, definitely, from all surrounding towns.
Alaverdi is known for having the Cathedral of Saint George, an impressive church surrounded by dreamy vineyards, which contains one of the oldest wineries in Georgia, whose brand has been sold since the 11th century, even though they have been producing wine since the 5th.
Here, the priests make the wine most traditionally but remember that, if you want to visit the ”wine” part, you need to book in advance. This is their very confusing website.
On the other hand, the Cathedral can be visited at any time, and it contains some impressive frescoes from the 11th century.
Don’t miss Alaverdi in your Kakheti itinerary.
How to get to Alaverdi
I am sure you can come here from Telavi but, in any case, the monastery is a bit out of town.
Artana (off the beaten track)
When we visited Kakheti, we had something very clear, and that was that we wanted to visit a traditional wine cellar. We had no idea where to find it, but we just kept driving, stopping in the most random villages, until we found Artana.
Artana is a tiny village with absolutely nothing to see, but 1 or 2 cellars which are definitely worth stopping for, as they still produce wine in qveris and do pretty much everything by hand.
Those micro wine cellars sell actual branded organic wine, pretty good, not like the industrial crap – as my Georgian friend says – that popular wineries sell.
Since we visited Kakheti during harvest season, we were extremely lucky to visit a cellar right during the production process.
We saw how they manually put the grapes in a small machine that shreds them (but they still need to keep making pressure with their hands) and then put them in the qveris.
That winery belonged to some guys from Tbilisi, and they allowed us to enter and observe how they do all the process, and even invited us to have some wine.
Visiting this micro-winery was by far, the best things we did in Kakheti.
How to find the right, traditional wine cellar
If you want to find one of those micro-wineries that make wine in the traditional way, go to random villages. We entered a couple, but the one we had the best experience was at the one in Artana I told you about before. Just remember that the famous ones don’t traditionally make wine anymore, plus they are filled with tourists.
With its turquoise roof and its patterned mud-brick, the Citadel of Gremi is the perfect example of adapting a church to the Persian style of architecture, like most mosques you find in Iran.
Gremi, today a tiny village from the Kakheti region, used to be the capital of Kakheti until it was invaded and destroyed by the Persians in the 17th century.
By the way, very close to the church, where you leave the car, there is a restaurant run by an old lady serving all types of traditional food. We ate there and had a great time.
I don’t recommend it
The only thing I will say here is that Kvareli is home to the largest and most visited wineries in Kakheti: Khareba and Kindzmarauli.
These two wineries are, basically, monster corporations that produce wine in mass production. Like my Georgian friend says, they sell chemical crap.
Moreover, the visiting areas tend to be absolutely packed with tourists, so if you ever try to book a tour to Kakheti, make sure they don’t take you to either of these wineries.
On the other hand, Kvareli also became famous when former Georgian President Saakashvili bought a house here. Hence it became a prime tourist spot among locals and wealthy Russians.
Because of this, I believe that there must be some good restaurants and fancy accommodation, but in any case, this is not what you came to Kakheti for.
More information to complement your trip to Kakheti
Don’t forget to check my list of the best books on Georgia
Are you going to Azerbaijan? Sighnaghi is the closest big town to the Azerbaijan border. Don’t forget to read my Azerbaijan backpacking itinerary
Also, for more information on visiting the country, check my travel guide to Georgia
Iran is also a pretty common destination for those overlanding around the region. Check my Iran travel guide and remember that, if you enter Iran by land, you will need to arrange your Iranian visa in advance.