Travelling on the Georgian Military Highway is a highlight of any trip to Georgia. This scenic route served as a link between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Today it connects Tbilisi to the Russian city of Vladikavkaz, in the North Ossetia region, and was only named “military” after Russia annexed Georgia to its territory in the 19th century.
Even though the route stretches all the way to Vladikavkaz, virtually anyone travelling on this route, will go only as far as the village of Stepantsminda, also known as Kazbegi. Not that this is an issue, since the Kazbegi area is, with no doubt, the climax of the trip. But before I explain why, we need to talk about the whole trip first.
Taxis leave from Didube station in Tbilisi, and I decided to take a private one. Once in the country, we drove past some crazy motorists, before reaching the enormous Zhinvali reservoir. A few minutes later, we stopped at the picture perfect Ananuri fortress and church, on its shores.
Ananuri is considered one of the most beautiful churches in the whole of Georgia.
We then continued our journey, negotiating the road with many flocks of sheep, before reaching higher grounds. There are many viewpoints on the way, so we stopped a few times, including at one spot where you’ll find natural mineral (sparkling) water, very popular among locals.
The most picturesque viewpoint of all, was the Soviet-Georgian Friendship Memorial, built in the 80s, with colourful murals depicting Georgian tradition. The construction itself was very unusual, but best of all was the views over the valleys and snow capped mountains.
As we approached Kazbegi, our final destination, the views became more and more stunning, proving we were definitely in the mighty Caucasus.
GERGETI TRINITY CHURCH
Most day travellers on this route will skip the town of Kazbegi, and go straight uphill to visit beautiful Gergeti Trinity Church. This is the climax of the trip. Since I was staying overnight, I left my luggage at the guesthouse, then climbed the steep mountains that tower the small town. The two-hour climb, surrounded by woodland, left me breathless at some stage.
Set against the backdrop of Mount Kazbegi, the views from Gergeti Trinity Church (Tsminda Sameba) were truly breathtaking. Although hard work, I strongly recommend anyone coming here to brave the climb, instead of a 4×4 drive.
TRAVELLING ON THE GEORGIAN MILITARY HIGHWAY
There are different ways to travel from Tbilisi to Kazbegi, including organised tours. If you prefer to do it independently, you will have to go to Didube metro station. When you arrive, climb down the stairs and walk past a dark tunnel with lots of sellers and stalls. You will arrive at a chaotic, taxi and marshrutka (van) station. There will be a lot of drivers offering to take you privately. Ask someone about taxis or marshrutkas to Kazbegi. If you read Cyrillic, watch out for taxis with a Vladikavkaz sign.
Travelling by marshrutka: If you want to go by marshrutka, make sure to arrive early, no later than 11:30am. They cost 10GEL per person (6USD, £3.50, €4.50) and will go straight to Kazbegi.
Travelling by taxi: Once you find your taxi, just take a seat and wait for other passengers to arrive. Shared taxis cost 25GEL and only depart when they get four passengers. If you don’t mind paying for a private taxi, be prepared to pay between 80 and 100GEL, making sure you always haggle! The good thing about a private taxi is that you can determine where to stop and for how long. Always negotiate details with the driver before you agree on anything.
In Kazbegi/Stepantsminda: If you’re not on a tour, your driver will drop you at the main taxi stop. There will be many locals offering to drive you here and there. They will ask for 50GEL to drive you up there, so just remember that the rule is haggle, haggle and haggle. You may be lucky and pay anything between 30 and 40GEL.
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