Kazbegi has been on our must-see list since we arrived. Everyone talks about it. Everyone posts photos from here. Everyone loves this little slice of Georgian paradise. We finally managed to sneak away for a weekend in Stepantsminda for some hiking, relaxing, and much-needed quality time. Plus, Stepantsminda is the perfect spot for beautiful photos of Kazbegi Mountain (Mkinvartsveri).
The only issue…it rained the entire weekend. We didn’t see the mountain at all.
But that didn’t stop it from being a wonderful getaway.
Situated at an impressive 16,581 feet, Kazbegi Mountain is the third highest mountain in Georgia and is, naturally, surrounded by myths and religious tradition. In Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus was punished for teaching mankind to make fire and was sentenced to be chained to a mountainside in the Caucasus region for all eternity. According to Georgian stories, Kazbegi Mountain was the place of his final punishment.
Along with the mythology surrounding this gentle giant, it is also the road that connects Georgia and Russia. For millennia this mountain passage has been strategically crucial for wars fought in the region. In some areas, the cliff faces are more than 3,200 feet high, and medieval watchtowers, waterfalls, and stunning scenery make this one of the most beautiful drives in Georgia.
The entire valley of Kazbegi/Stepantsminda is stunning. Probably one of the most famous views in Georgia is from Gergeti Trinity Church (aka Holy Trinity Church), From here visitors are treated to spectacular panoramic views of both the town and Kazbegi Mountain. I was dying to get up to the top for some photos.
Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side this weekend. It rained, and there were low-hanging clouds completely obscuring the mountains. We didn’t let that deter us from hiking, however, and still had an enjoyable experience. Stepantsminda is a fun little town. Before setting out for the church hike on Saturday, we found a funky little coffee shop called Awtobus which is literally hollowed out old bus turned coffee shop. We also stopped for lunch at Wine Garden for a leisurely meal.
There are several ways to get to the top of the hill where Trinity Church sits: you can drive up yourself or hire a taxi, you can walk along the front side with a switchback trail (as shown on the map below), or you can take a left at the end of town to hike up the back. We chose the last option, which may be the most difficult, but in doing so, we passed by a medieval watchtower which made the struggle all the more worthwhile.
The entire hike took three hours, but this was in the rain with a lengthy stop at the top for photos and to catch our breath. Thankfully the rain had subsided on the way down, so we were able to enjoy the quick trip down a great deal more than the sopping-wet trudge up the hill.
After the hike, we enjoyed a comfortable stay at Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, which is an excellent option for both couples and families. The hotel has a pool, sauna, restaurant friendly staff, and cozy rooms. They also have a lovely sundeck facing Kazbegi Mountain that would be perfect on a clear day. There are several guesthouses in the area as well.
For our second hike of the weekend, we chose the Gveleti Waterfalls. If you can spend a few extra hours in Kazbegi, I highly recommend this hike. It’s relatively easy, though to reach the Big Waterfall, there is a bit of a rock scramble at the end, and took us about two hours total. We parked our car at the point below, but it is possible to drive all the way up to the “Waterfall Split” if you’d like to shorten the hike quite a bit.
It was another cloudy day, but luckily the rain held out long enough for us to complete both waterfalls before the rain started. The Small Waterfall is quite lovely, but the Big Waterfall was gorgeous. I often forget how powerful waterfalls can be, and this one was fun – albeit wet- reminder.
I loved our weekend getaway to Kazbegi, so much so that I’m already trying to figure out when we can revisit this magical little paradise. Perhaps next time we will tackle a more advanced hike, but I’d be happy to do this weekend all over again exactly as is.