“Though roads make skillful drivers”, people say. That would definitely be the case on the Georgian Military Highway in Georgia. The road is harsh. The landscape consists mainly of ice and rocks. The marshrutka, as the mini buses are called in Georgia, takes you through the most breathtaking landscapes.
After a couple of days in Tbilisi, we left the city to explore the mountains in the north. One of the things I wanted to see desperately was Gergeti Trinity church which is located in Kazbegi National Park. We took a mini bus from Tbilisi to Stephantsminda. What supposed to be a three hour trip, became almost an eight hour one.
The green landscape was replaced by high mountains, rocks and a lot of ice after a while. Although people told us the road was open, there was still one point where the road was blocked due to the snow and we had to wait for a couple of hours so the road could be cleaned again. Ending up in a traffic jam, it was interesting to see what was happening at that time. People got out of the car to make a chat or to enjoy the view on the mountains.
Luckily we found some nice people to hang out with and a hotel to keep ourselves warm. We got some company from some really big dogs on the way to the hotel. They didn’t do any harm, but walked after us the whole way. The dogs looked beautiful, like wolves, but still it was a bit scary. You never know what those dogs do when crossing a crowd.
Finally, after 3,5 hours of standing still we could continue again. Unfortunately the driver thought of putting on the tire chains after a while when the bus got stuck in the snow. Sitting by the window, I had a good view over the driver while he was doing the chains. You could see the icy cold wind blowing in his face. Though job!
In the evening, when it was already dark, we arrived at the village of Gergeti. We had to walk for 10 minutes or so and while we were walking with our suitcases, those big dogs accompanied us again. Pretty scary in the dark. Luckily the owner of the hostel knew we were coming and apparently the bus driver let them know that we had arrived, so he came to pick us up. The lady from the hostel was waiting for us and was kind enough to make us some food, as we didn’t bring enough food with us. That was a really nice welcome!
Having only one day, we went up for a walk to Gergeti Church to have a fantastic view over Mount Kazbeg and to experience the rituals of the priests at the church. We brought some beers, so we found a good spot to sit and having an amazing view, while drinking some beers. One of the most beautiful days of the trip!
Georgian Military Highway
The Georgian Military highway is actually already centuries old, but was improved during the second world war to make a better road between the South and the North Caucasus located in Russia. It connects Tiblisi with Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia. The road runs through the greater Caucasus mountains and a couple of the highest peaks of the region can be found there.
As soon as you leave Tiblisi the mountains get higher and the landscape more dramatic. On the road there a a couple of things you can see along the way as well. One of the most beautiful is probably Ananuri monastery. Be sure to take your time while driving on this road!
The village of Gergeti
Across the river of Stephantsminda, lies the small village of Gergeti which is named after the church higher up the mountain. Time stood still here. It mainly exists of big farm houses and a couple of pensions. People live very basic lives and mainly of their own land. The only modern thing you can find is the wifi connection probably. We stayed at HQ of Nove Sujashvili. The rooms are basic, but the owners were lovely! The village is also a good place to start your hike to Gergeti church.
Hiking to Gergeti Trinity Church
One of the most popular hikes in the park leads to Gergeti Trinity church. It is a fairly easy hike as it takes about 1,5 hours to reach it and there are two ways. One way is to go via the main road (which we took) and the other goes through the forest. The last one is a really small path though and as there was still a lot of snow we decided to stay on the main road. The forest path is probably more adventurous, but I think you would miss out on the spectacular views that you get staying on the main road. As you get higher, you can enjoy the views down to Stepantsminda, the road to Russia, the dramatic landscapes, the church and mount Kazbeg.
If you want to see this beautiful place for yourself, this is how to get there!
The best way to go is by car, taxi of public transport from Tbilisi. Theoretically you can just take the main road to the north (the Georgian Military Highway) and it would take you about three hours to get to Stephantsminda. Unless the weather is bad, then it could take up a lot longer (as you can read in the personal part of this post). Just make sure to take enough food and drinks with you! A taxi is a good way to go there as well. It is only 7 euros a person and if you ask you can make a pit stop at Ananuri monastery as well. Or they take you there themselves, as ours did.
There is a main square with a bus stop, taxi’s and some restaurants. Hotels and hostels are walkable from the square. The village of Gergeti is a 15 minute walk.
What to do
1. Walking up to Gergeti Trinity Church! That’s probably also the main part people go here. It takes about three to four hours to go up and down and is quite easy (I was not trained myself). You can take the main road or go through the forest (which is harder when there is snow).
2. When you want to stay for a couple days, there are other hikes you can do as well. Most of them are probably harder than the walk up to the church though.
3. When you are able to get a Russian Visa and have plenty of time, you could consider going to Vladikavkaz. It is the capital city of North Ossetia and from there you can go to Dargavs (also known as The City of the Dead).
4. Another thing this place would be perfect for is going offline for a bit. Just enjoy the Georgian village life and nothing more. (: