I never have an appetite for cold weather, and of all places, I chose to go to Georgia in winter. Wasn’t it an irony? I was dying to visit Svaneti, an amazing mountainous area in the northwest of the country, until I was horrified to discover that the temperature there already dropped to -10 degree Celsius in mid Dec. My plan A was frozen to death, on the spot.
I still wanted to see some mountains though, so we opted for Plan B – Kazbegi with a quick stop in Ananuri. We left Tbilisi at 9.30am on a foggy morning. Bidzo, our driver, assured us that he could get it there in less than 2.5hrs. We cruised along the Georgian Military Highway for about 1h, listening to Bidzo’s collection of dance music. Then Ananuri appeared like a castle from a fairy tale. Perched on a hill overlooking the frozen Zhinvali Reservoir, Ananuri with its two 17th century churches offered spectacular panoramic views of the mountains, the reservoir, the Georgian Military Highway. After spending some time walking on very slippery icy grounds and climbing its tower, my friend and I decided to take a detour and walked all the way down a pier leading to the reservoir. The view was incredible, and there was nobody around. We were both so pumped up that we ended up spending quite a good amount of time down there jumping around, laughing, taking photos and videos, without knowing that our other travel buddy and the driver got worried and launched a mini search mission to look for the two of us without success. Bidzo did not look happy at all when we found our way back to the car, while we had big grins on our faces.
We then continued our journey and arrived at Hotel Kazbegi at around 2pm. Kazbegi (also called Stepantsminda) is a small town in northeastern Georgia near the border with Russia and surrounded by large mountains on all sides. We went out for lunch, took a walk around town, and quickly got back to the hotel to enjoy the comfort and warmth of our rooms with a spectacular view of the tiny Gergeti Trinity Church (aka Tsminda Samebe Church) against the towering peak of Mt Kazbek. It was freezing outside. In the evening, our charming host even asked us to leave the faucet in the bathroom open to prevent frozen water pipes. We felt so thankful for having a working heater in the room.
The next morning started on a slow note, and after much debate we decided to hire a local guide to take us up to Gergeti Trinity Church. The trail from Kazbegi to this cultural landmark is very popular for hikers (and for lazy people travelling in cars) during warmer seasons, but in winter, all paths leading to the church are blocked off by deep snow. Once we got to the edge of the town, our guide decided to take a shortcut, and took us up a steep slope. He used his boots to carve out steps on the snow. It should have been an easy job for us to trail behind, but we all stumbled so many times, getting our feet deeply sunk in fresh snow. After that, it was an easy stroll, until our guide asked us whether we’d like to take another shortcut or continue along the hiking trail. We all strategically opted for the second option. It turned out to be not that easy at all, as we soon faced another steep slope. But the reward at the end of the climb was simply magical. A wide panorama of winter wonderland spread out in front of our eyes. Snow-covered peaks soared into deep blue sky. Gergeti Trinity Church simmered in the winter sunlight. In the valley down below, Kazbegi town appeared like a toy scene. The best part of it was that we had it all for ourselves, not a single soul was within sight. Time seemed to stop there as we sit down on the rock cliff, dangled our feet, munched cookies, and soaked in this breathtaking view in total quietness.
Getting back down was good fun. Instead of walking and risking falling down the slopes, we simply sit down and let gravity do the work. We got back to the hotel at around 2.30pm, cold, wet (on our bumps), and hungry but thrilled by that exhilarating experience.
An unfrozen part of Zhinvali Reservoir
Traditional costumes for hire
Ananuri’s churches overlooking Zhinvali Reservoir
Walking down the pier
A silly video of me and Thu
Amazing view from the pier
A honey vendor and his dog
Fairy tale landscape
Jvari Pass – the highest point along the Georgian Military Highway at 2,379m
On the way to Kazbegi – this little village also has a church up on the mountain. Can you spot it?
View of Gergeti Trinity Church and Mt Kazbek (5,033m) from our hotel
A panoramic view of the town from a restaurant
Walking the streets of Kazbegi
A local church
Kazbegi’s coat of arms
Even though the sun was shining, it was freezing, so we quickly got back to our hotel.
Mt Kazbek lit up at sunrise
Another mountain (on the right) was lit up
Then Gergeti Trinity Church was lit up
So the whole scene changed from this…
Starting our hike to Gergeti Trinity Church
Men, cows, and cars share the same road
All the trails were covered in deep snow
Into the woods
Getting there finally
Going crazy again :))
A panoramic view of Kazbegi down in the valley
Kazbegi zoomed in
A panoramic view from Gergeti Trinity Church
Breathtaking view of Mt Kazbek
Approaching our hotel, we were greeted by cows
Last view of Gergeti Trinity Church and Mt. Kazbek from Hotel Kazbegi