Where is Kazbegi?
Kazbegi is located in the far north of Georgia, about 12 kilometres from the Russian border and 155 kilometres north of Tbilisi.
It takes around three to four hours from Tbilisi along the Georgian Military Highway to reach Kazbegi, subject to traffic and weather conditions.
The day I went, the last 20 kilometres of the highway were closed for a few hours due to heavy snow the night before (this was early May). Luckily, my guesthouse owner came to rescue me once they had cleared the road (although that drive was one of the most terrifying journeys in my life, but that’s a story for another day!)
Is it Kazbegi or Stepantsminda?
Well, it depends on who you are talking to. The names “Kazbegi’ and ‘Stepantsminda’ seem to be used interchangeably. Stepantsminda is the official name, but most people refer to the town and surrounding area as Kazbegi.
The original name, Stepantsminda, meaning ‘Saint Stephan’, was named after a Georgian Orthodox monk named Stephan, who built a hermitage at this location.
When Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, the name was changed to Kazbegi, but in 2006, the name was reverted back to Stepantsminda. Despite the Soviet undertones, most people still call it Kazbegi.
What To See On The Way To Kazbegi
Jinvali Water Reservoir
The Jinvali (Zhinvali) water reservoir is on the Georgian Military Highway. The Soviets built the dam in the 1980s because Tbilisi was growing rapidly and needed access to a new water supply.
The locals weren’t happy because their town, Zhinvali, was a wealthy trading town with fortresses, towers and palaces and full of history.
Despite protests, the area was flooded, and the historic city is now under 75 meters of water. During the winter months, when the water level drops, it’s possible to see part of the church of old Zhinvali that was once located on a hill.
As this is a popular stop for all the day trippers, there’s a large souvenir market here.
The Ananuri Castle belonged to the Dukes of Aragvi, who ruled the area from the 13th century. Many battles took place here.
Once when the castle was under siege, the enemies could not understand how the castle occupants could survive so long. But you see, a secret tunnel beneath the castle allowed food and water to be brought in.
The enemy captured a woman from Nuri named Ana and tortured her to reveal the tunnel’s location. But she refused. The castle was then named in her honour, Ananuri.
Pasanauri Black And White River
The white Aragvi River flows down from Gudauri to Pasanauri, where it meets with the Black Aragvi River creating a two-tone river until it meets up with the blue-green Pshavskaya Aragvi River.
An opportunity to fill up your bottle with fresh mountain spring water. Far tastier than the water from Borjomi Springs. Also, toilets and snacks are available. The minibuses that run between Tbilisi to Kazbegi usually take a short break here.
Gudauri View Point / Russian Georgian Friendship Monument
The Gudauri View Point and Russian Georgian Friendship Monument are located on the Georgian Military Highway between the Jvari Pass and the ski resort town of Gudauri.
The monument is a large round stone and concrete structure that overlooks the Devil’s Valley in the Caucasus Mountains. It was built in 1983 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Georgievsk and the ongoing friendship between Soviet Russia and Soviet Georgia.
On good weather days, it’s possible to go paragliding from here.
But alas, no good weather the day I arrived, not that I would have gone paragliding. Not that brave!
What To Do In Kazbegi
Gergeti Trinity Church
The 14th-century Gergeti Trinity Church is situated on the right bank of the Chkheri River, beneath Mount Kazbegi at an elevation of 2170 meters.
In times of danger, precious relics from Mtskheta, such as Saint Nino’s Cross, were brought here for safekeeping.
During Soviet times, all religious services were prohibited. However, the church remained a popular tourist destination. Today the church is an active Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church.
You have an incredible view of the whole valley from the church terrace.
To get to Gergeti Trinity Church, it’s a seven-kilometres (4.3 miles) walk from the town, or take a shared taxi from Kazbegi Centre.
Ideally, if you’ve stayed overnight in Kazbegi, go early in the morning before the tour buses arrive. The terrain can be quite rough going up. Allow at least an hour each way to get there. And an hour once you’re there to ooh and ahh at the view.
Admire The View Of Mount Kazbegi (If You’re Lucky)
The mountain peak at 5047 metres high looms above the town of Kazbegi and goes by two names: Mount Kazbek and Mount Kazbegi.
In Georgian, the mountain is known as Mkinvartsveri, which means ‘Glacier Peak’. The mountain is also nicknamed “The Bride” because the mountain face is often hidden behind a veil of fog!
I did not get any further than Gergeti Trinity Church, but if you want to continue hiking to the Gergeti Glacier, continue along the same route past the church. The glacier trek takes around 8-9 hours, so you will need an early start from Kazbegi.
Have A Drink Or A Meal At Rooms
Rooms Hotel is just a short walk uphill from Kazbegi centre. In Soviet times, what is now a hotel was used as a sanatorium for the elite.
If you are making a day trip to Kazbegi, most tours stop here for a hot chocolate break and to enjoy the view. The lounge is lovely with lots of books, decent Wi-Fi, a fabulous view and great coffee, and you don’t need to be a hotel guest to use the facilities!
Prophet Elijah Fathers Monastery
Just behind Rooms hotel, there’s a lovely walk up to Prophet Elijah Fathers Monastery. It looks directly over the town of Kazbegi and onto Gergeti Trinity on the other side of the valley.
It takes around 45 minutes to reach the church by foot from the centre of Kazbegi. I took the road route up as the footpaths were still full of snow, and the pine trees kept dumping large lumps of snow on the ground and on my head.
Even though I took the road route, I saw no traffic on the road except two horse riders and a cow. There are a couple of ugly electric towers on the way, but otherwise, it’s a beautiful walk.
Apparently, this area is good for birdwatching too. On the way back down, I bumped into a group of very excited twitchers who had spotted a grouse that only lives in the Caucasus mountains and were excitedly pointing it out to me through their binoculars.
What To Eat In Kazbegi
Kupati is a spicy Georgian sausage made with pork or beef, onions, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, garlic, and salt. It is a very popular dish in this region.
Chikhirtma is a delicious and hearty Georgian soup and is said to be an excellent cure for hangovers. I just want to point out I wasn’t hungover when I ate this!
It consists of chicken pieces, eggs, flour, onions, vinegar, water, and seasonings such as salt, bay leaves, and coriander. It has a slightly sour flavour with a thick, creamy consistency.
Lobiani is a delicious Georgian bread filled with mashed kidney beans, coriander, onions, parsley, and pepper.
Tolma / Dolma
Tolma is a Georgian dish of stuffed vegetables such as tomatoes, courgettes, peppers, aubergines, stuffed vine and cabbage leaves.
I was expecting just stuffed vine leaves, but this came in a creamy sauce, ensuring that I would be adding a creamy, cheesy sauce to my already khinkali-stained clothes.
Most of the locals you meet don’t speak English. Being so close to the Russian border, Russian is more commonly used, but you quickly get by with Google Apps and charades. In every restaurant I visited in Kazbegi, someone spoke English.
How To Get To Kazbegi (Stepantsminda) From Tbilisi
Many people visit Kazbegi as a day trip from Tbilisi, but it’s worth staying over for a night or two.
An easy, convenient and very affordable way to reach Kazbegi and see all the major highlights of the Georgian Military Highway on the way, especially if travelling solo, is to join one of the many day tours on offer from Tbilisi and then leave the tour in Kazbegi.
It’s also possible to take a marshrutka/minivan from Tbilisi for around 15 GEL ($5). However, there will be no opportunities for photo stops along the way, which would be a shame.
If a few of you are travelling together, consider travelling with Go Trip. It’s a taxi service which allows you to create your own itinerary.
Renting a car is another possibility, but only if you’re a very confident driver, that’s all I’m saying!
Where To Stay In Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)
There’s accommodation to suit all budgets in Kazbegi . And it’s always enjoyable to experience a place once the tour buses have gone.
The Rooms Hotel is a popular place to stay in Kazbegi. But I stayed at Eastern Georgia, run by a lovely Georgian couple (although opt for alternative transport if the husband offers you a lift!) and closer to town.
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