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.

IMG_0720

An unfrozen part of Zhinvali Reservoir

IMG_0735

IMG_0740

Traditional costumes for hire

IMG_0656

Ananuri’s churches overlooking Zhinvali Reservoir

IMG_0774

IMG_0779

IMG_0651

IMG_0785

Walking down the pier

A silly video of me and Thu

IMG_0708

IMG_0799

IMG_0800

IMG_0805

Amazing view from the pier

IMG_0817

Leaving Ananuri

IMG_0831

A honey vendor and his dog

 IMG_0857

Fairy tale landscape

IMG_0862

IMG_0866

IMG_0868

Jvari Pass – the highest point along the Georgian Military Highway at 2,379m

IMG_0888

IMG_0891

IMG_0904

IMG_0920

On the way to Kazbegi – this little village also has a church up on the mountain. Can you spot it?

IMG_0929

View of Gergeti Trinity Church and Mt Kazbek (5,033m) from our hotel

IMG_0930

IMG_0755

A panoramic view of the town from a restaurant

IMG_0938

Walking the streets of Kazbegi

IMG_0994

IMG_0950

IMG_0953

A local church

IMG_0956

Stunning view

IMG_0971

Kazbegi’s coat of arms

IMG_0974

IMG_0982

Even though the sun was shining, it was freezing, so we quickly got back to our hotel.

IMG_1022

Sunrise

IMG_1002

Mt Kazbek lit up at sunrise

IMG_1017

Another mountain (on the right) was lit up

IMG_1046

Then Gergeti Trinity Church was lit up

IMG_0775

So the whole scene changed from this…

IMG_0786

…to this

IMG_1069

Starting our hike to Gergeti Trinity Church

IMG_1080

Men, cows, and cars share the same road

IMG_1083

IMG_1085

IMG_1092

IMG_1107

All the trails were covered in deep snow

IMG_1111

Into the woods

IMG_1126

Getting there finally

Going crazy again :))

IMG_0798

A panoramic view of Kazbegi down in the valley

IMG_1142

Kazbegi zoomed in

f73ff26c22bd148d01a36758853246f2
IMG_0802

A panoramic view from Gergeti Trinity Church

IMG_1169

IMG_1177

IMG_0842

Breathtaking view of Mt Kazbek

IMG_0853

Terek river

IMG_0854

Approaching our hotel, we were greeted by cows

IMG_1182

Last view of Gergeti Trinity Church and Mt. Kazbek from Hotel Kazbegi

Advertisements