Kazbegi - nearest Georgian town to Russian Border
15.06.2017 - 15.06.2017 20 °C
Day 22 June 15 2007
Mtskheta to Kazbegi (old Russian name) / Stepantsminda (Georgian name) / 134 km
- Gino Wellness Hotel Group provides another dismal breakfast experience. Thank goodness we have our own coffee to brew. But it is probably one of the few hotels in town. At least the views from their 4 th floor terrace are spectacular - day & night.
- There are lots of roadside fruit sellers - apricots, peaches, cherries, strawberries & more besides. All very tempting but experience has taught that local fruit must be eaten on the day of purchase. It deteriorates rapidly which makes us wonder what is put into our supermarket produce in UK to prolong its shelf life.
- After 35 km or so the scenery starts to get more mountainous. Our first stop is Ananuri Fortress (circa 13C) which sits in a stunning location beside the Zhinvali reservoir. We are not alone. The car park is already full with coaches by 11 a.m. Souvenir stalls sell the usual rubbish. There are the inevitable fancy dress photo opportunities. Why do tourists pay to look stupid?!
- The fortress is a classic example of beautiful old Georgian architecture. Within it are two 17C churches, the larger of which is called the Assumption Church. Every exterior facade has a large cross carved into the stonework. See photo.
- The little church is notable, at least to us, for its brick roof. This would seem to take the art of brick laying to a new level of expertise.
- We are driving the Georgian Military Highway. It follows the route of an ancient passage through the Caucasus to Russia. For a long time it was just a track but during Russian occupation in the 19C it was improved. Today it is a single lane highway and is not a safe road to drive. There is much dangerous overtaking. Patience is always a virtue and can save lives.
- 75 km before Mtskheta we glimpse snow capped mountains for the first time.
- This is to be expected since another 30 km further on we pass through the ski resort of Gudauri - small by European standards but at 2200 m high and with pistes rising to well over 3500 m it must be snow sure. Accommodation is not particularly attractive but then people come here for the skiing not pretty houses. Off piste skiing is apparently excellent and there are heli skiing opportunities as well.
- After Gudauri we come across a large semi circular wall 100m or so above the road. The adjacent car park and souvenir stalls indicate that this is a place on the tourist map. Despite reservations about visiting commercial stuff, we join the crowds. It is in fact the Russia -Georgia Friendship Monument built in 1983 to commemorate their ongoing friendship. Inside the monument is a large tile mural that spans the whole circumference of the structure and depicts scenes of Georgian and Russian history. It overlooks (appropriately named?) Devil's Valley.
- With Friends like these, ( Russians ) who needs enemies?
- They are neighbours, former 'political relatives' ( Georgia used to be part of the Soviet Union until 1991) but they fought each other briefly 1991-2 just after Georgia gained independence from Mother Russia. In 2008 there were again brief hostilities and Russia even shelled and invaded Gori for 10 days ( where we stayed two nights ago / birth place of Stalin ) . Did we hear about this in the Western media?
- The cause of this tension is all too familiar in our world - an ethno-political dispute that manifests itself as a territorial disagreement. It's complicated. You probably need to google if you are interested. Basically Georgia claims South Ossetia is Georgian territory. South Ossetia wants to be an independent state (There are about 55000 South Ossetians ) . North Ossetia which lies on the other side of the mountains is part of Russia. Most ethnic Georgians have left South Ossetia and most South Ossetians have abandoned their homes which lie within Georgia. Russia controls South Ossetia borders and Georgia views this as tantamount to Russisn annexation.
- As previously said it's complicated and who are we to decide the rights & wrongs. We just realise that tensions continue between Russia and Georgia. But then Russia seems to excel in the tension game.
- A few more km and we reach the Ivari Pass @ 2395m
- Some 17km further on we turn West off the Military Highway to head up the Truso Valley. We are in Georgia but this valley leads into the disputed area of South Ossetia. The very rough track ( you need a 4x4) passes abandoned 'Ossetian' villages and is dotted with ancient stone towers that were presumably defensive in purpose. The scenery is stunning but it has a sad neglected feel to it. We drive just beyond Kvemo village. Then stop for lunch beside abandoned homes. There is some sign of human activity but it is minimal. In winter this valley will be cut off from the main road for several months. It is an isolated place in all senses of the word.
- If you have more time & an appropriate vehicle you can continue past our lunch stop to Ketrisi, or beyond if the Georgian soldiers allow.
- Our destination for 3 nights and 2 full days is the Rooms Hotel in Kazbegi. Both Kazbegi & the Rooms Hotel are described as spectacular in the guide books. Some people come here for the Rooms Hotel sensation, some for the Kazbegi experience and some like us for both. This stylish hotel has been created from a former soviet Turbaza by two Tblisi designers.
- What you need to know before you look at the photos of the hotel is : a Turbaza is a Soviet era term used to describe a form of inexpensive, holiday accommodation for Russians - a tour camp or tourbase. Turbazas were commonly leased-out to firms renting the entire facility to provide holiday accommodation employees. In other words a holiday camp. The BBC series Hi-de-Hi springs to mind!
- How times have changed. Nothing could be further from the truth - nowadays. The clientele are international and predominantly young & child free. It's extremely hip. It obviously attracts the wealthy & time rich from all over the world. It is successful because it is offering a unique concept in a unique environment. Once it has competition life may not be so easy. But for now it is the best on offer and it is undoubtedly a wonderful experience in a spectacular part of the world.
- AG is very impressed with the design. SG less so. Is it shabby chic, Scandi chic, industrial chic? Whatever. The hotel has some great feature pieces of art & furniture but they may not be original, just copies. It does not matter; the desired ambience is created. The designers have been very clever in achieving maximum design effect with minimal expenditure. The exterior has been cladded with wood ( cladding - now a terrible word with fatal consequences ) to make it look more aesthetically pleasing. The concrete stairwell and corridors has been painted a trendy dark grey. The lighting is contemporary & design led. Most importantly service is unobtrusively attentive and given with a big smile. And nature plays the biggest part in the whole equation by affording amazing views. It's location, location, location!
*This evening we chill in the lounge / bar area where you can also choose to eat a la carte. (Mainly Georgian traditional food served with professional flair ). Sparkling Georgian bubbly costs 3£ a glass. So expensive as this place is, relative to the rest of Georgia, in the scheme of things ... We think we may enjoy our stay!