Biggest city in Khaketi, Telavi was destroyed over the centuries first by Mongols (XIII century) and after by Persians (XVII century). In 1744 the Persian king designed Erekle II as a governor of Khaketi and Telavi became the capital of the region. Erekle II promoted a progressive policy similar to western ones and today he is still widely appreciated in the area. Nowadays Telavi doesn’t offer much a part of a castle (locals told us that is not worth the visit inside) but it’s a great location to explore the numerous wineries and monasteries of the area.
Telavi wasn’t on our original route but because we wanted to go to Sheki and Telavi was on the way we decided to stop over there for a couple of days before heading towards Azerbaijan. In Telavi we decided to use Couchsurfing and we were accepted by one guy, called Tengo, who was also the one who told us about the rugby match of the previous day.
We arrived around lunchtime and we went straight to Tengo’s place, which actually revealed to be a “very local” hostel with just dorm rooms; he just wanted to offer us a place for free. However, we preferred going to another place and have our room. He was fine with that and he actually invited us for dinner with his family.
After lunch we decided to walk a bit around the city first and go to Tsinandali later on during the afternoon. Tsinandali is a little village located around 7km far from Telavi, you can easily get there by marshrutka. There is no much there a part of a couple of wineries (Shumi is quite famous in the area) and Chavchavadze palace. Aleksandr Chavchavadze was a famous Georgian poet and translator who contributed to bring into Georgia the ideals of European enlightenment. His palace and the park surrounding it were meant to be nice and there was a wine tasting included in the visit; we then decided to go for it.
We arrived quite late and we realised that we didn’t have much time there but the lady at the entry told us that there would have been plenty of time for us to do everything. That wasn’t the reality. In fact, we visited quite quickly the park than we had to go back to the palace because the tour (included in the ticket) would have started soon. The guide rushed through the rooms of the palace and the service at the wine tasting was very bad, even though the wine was ok. To sum up, we weren’t happy at all but maybe if you go there earlier you may enjoy it better. That night we had dinner with Tengo and his wife at Badia restaurant; if you ever go to Telavi, go there! Good food, good wine, nice environment. Tengo told us that that’s the best restaurant in the city.
The day after we followed Tengo’s recommendations and we decided to go to Nekresi monastery, have lunch at Kvareli and stop at Gremi monastery on the way back. These are apparently the best monasteries of the area and the most accessible ones with public transportation. We then took a marshrutka from the old bus station of Telavi towards Kvareli and we ask the driver to stop at the junction with Nekresi monastery. Arrived there, we were in the middle of nowhere…good, we didn’t expect that! We then saw a car parked a few hundred metres far from where we were, we walked there and the owner of the car drove us up to the beginning of the road of the monastery. He couldn’t go further and if you want to go up to the monastery you can decide to either take a bus (there must be at least 10 people though and sometimes you have to wait for a long time) or walk but it’s very steep! We were lucky, we just waited 10 minutes and other 4 people showed up (other 4 were already there) so we took the bus and we went up to visit the monastery. Isolated and remote, Nekresi monastery is a not-to-miss experience of Kakheti region. Its elevated position is ideal to have a look at the grape plantations and have an idea of the monastic life.
After the visit, we went down by bus, we hitched down to the main road and then we took another marshrutka (we stopped the first marshrutka on the way) to Kvareli. The city of Kvareli is pretty awful, there is not much to see, we had a very bad lunch but we decided to go for another wine tasting, this time at Khareba winery (AKA the tunnel). Well, again don’t miss that! In our opinion it was way way better than the wine tasting at Tsinandali…great guide, good wine, nice location, just a little bit more expensive but definitely affordable!
On the way back, we hitched again and we stopped at Gremi monastery. After Nekresi we didn’t remain so impressed by it but the frescoes inside are definitely worth a visit so, if you have time, why not stopping there 10 minutes?
We then again hitched back to Telavi and this time a girl who was learning how to drive picked us up. Her boyfriend was sit next to her checking the situation but she seemed very distracted and we were constantly going out of the road…not the safest journey but we survived. That night, again, we had dinner with Tengo, this time at his house. We had an amazing night, we drunk beer, we had the best kinkali ever and we laughed a lot with him, his wife and his friends…such nice people!
On the third day, we woke up quite early. We were going to Sheky, in Azerbaijan, and we suspected it would have been a long journey…we were right, it was, but that will be on the next article…