Akhaltsikhe, located in southern Georgia, is a city with a rich history and a beautiful blend of Georgian and Ottoman architectural styles. The name "Akhaltsikhe" means "new castle" in Georgian, and the city is indeed dominated by the imposing Rabati Castle, which has stood since the 9th century and has been expanded and renovated numerous times throughout history.
In addition to the castle, Akhaltsikhe is home to a number of other historical and cultural landmarks, such as the 13th-century Atabegashvili Tower and the 18th-century Ottoman Mosque. The city is also located near the breathtakingly beautiful Sapara Monastery, which was founded in the 10th century and boasts stunning frescoes and carvings.
One of the most interesting facts about Akhaltsikhe is its multicultural history. Due to its strategic location on trade routes between the Ottoman Empire and Persia, Akhaltsikhe was home to a mix of Georgians, Armenians, Turks, and Persians throughout its history, and this diverse cultural heritage is reflected in the city's architecture, art, and cuisine.
Another fascinating aspect of Akhaltsikhe's history is its connection to the myth of the Argonauts, who were said to have sailed through the nearby Kura River valley in their search for the Golden Fleece. Some legends even claim that the famous warrior-hero Jason visited Akhaltsikhe during his journey.
Today, Akhaltsikhe is a bustling city that offers visitors a glimpse into Georgia's rich past and a taste of its vibrant present. The city's markets are filled with colorful spices, textiles, and local crafts, and its restaurants serve up delicious Georgian and Ottoman-inspired cuisine. For those interested in history and culture, Akhaltsikhe is a must-visit destination in Georgia.
The easiest way to get to Akhaltsikhe by car is to rent a car in Tbilisi or Kutaisi, which are the two closest major cities.
From Tbilisi, the drive to Akhaltsikhe takes approximately 3-4 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. You can take the E117 highway south from Tbilisi and follow it until you reach Akhaltsikhe.
From Kutaisi, the drive to Akhaltsikhe takes approximately 2-3 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. You can take the E691 highway east from Kutaisi and follow it until you reach Akhaltsikhe.
The closest airport to Akhaltsikhe is Kopitnari Airport in Kutaisi, which is served by international flights from various cities in Europe and the Middle East. From the airport, you can rent a car and drive to Akhaltsikhe.
What to see
- Rabati Castle - a medieval fortress that was originally built in the 9th century and was later expanded and renovated by various rulers. It features a mosque, a church, a synagogue, a palace, and a citadel. Legend has it that there is a secret tunnel that leads from the castle to the riverbank.
- Jakeli Palace - a 19th-century palace that belonged to the Jakeli family, one of the most powerful feudal families in the region. It was built in a fusion of Georgian and European architectural styles.
- St. Marine's Church - a 14th-century church located on a hill overlooking the town. It is known for its beautiful frescoes and its stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
- Sapara Monastery - a 10th-century monastery located in a remote mountainous area near Akhaltsikhe. It is known for its beautiful frescoes and its well-preserved architecture.
- Tmogvi Fortress - a medieval fortress located on a rocky hill overlooking the Mtkvari River. It was built in the 9th century to defend against Arab invaders.
- Khertvisi Fortress - a medieval fortress located on a rocky hill overlooking the Mtkvari River. It was built in the 2nd century BC and was later expanded and renovated by various rulers.
- Tamari Fortress - a medieval fortress located on a hill overlooking the town of Akhaltsikhe. It was built in the 9th century and was later renovated by various rulers.
- Atskuri Fortress - a medieval fortress located on a rocky hill overlooking the Mtkvari River. It was built in the 10th century to defend against Arab invaders.
- Akhaltsikhe Botanical Garden - a beautiful botanical garden located on the outskirts of Akhaltsikhe. It features a wide variety of plant species and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
- Green Lake - a picturesque lake located in a scenic mountainous area near Akhaltsikhe. It is a popular destination for hiking, camping, and picnicking.
These places are all easily accessible by car or by public transport, and they offer a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the region.
Where to eat
There are several good cafes and restaurants in Akhaltsikhe that offer delicious Georgian cuisine as well as international dishes. Here are some recommendations:
- Khachapuri House - This cozy cafe is known for its freshly baked khachapuri, a traditional Georgian cheese-filled bread, as well as other Georgian pastries and coffee.
- Restaurant Tsikhe - Located within the Rabati Castle complex, this restaurant offers a wide variety of Georgian dishes, as well as stunning views of the castle and the surrounding area.
- Restaurant Pirosmani - This restaurant specializes in Georgian cuisine, with a focus on dishes from the region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. They also offer a selection of Georgian wines.
- Kavkasioni Restaurant - This restaurant offers a mix of Georgian and Armenian cuisine, with a focus on grilled meats and kebabs. They also have a good selection of Georgian wines.
- Cafe Little Venice - This cafe is located in the center of Akhaltsikhe and offers a range of Georgian and European dishes, as well as coffee and pastries. The atmosphere is cozy and relaxed, making it a great spot for a casual meal or coffee break.
Where to stay
Here are a few highly-rated hotels in Akhaltsikhe:
- Hotel Lomsia - located in the city center, this hotel features modern rooms, an on-site restaurant, and free parking.
- Rabati Palace Hotel - situated within the Rabati Castle complex, this hotel offers luxurious rooms with stunning views of the castle and surrounding mountains.
- Hotel Tiflis - another centrally-located hotel with comfortable rooms, a restaurant serving Georgian cuisine, and a terrace with panoramic views.
- Akhaltsikhe Palace Hotel - a budget-friendly option with clean and cozy rooms, an on-site restaurant, and a convenient location near the city's main attractions.
- Guesthouse Mefisto - a traditional Georgian guesthouse with comfortable rooms, a garden, and a terrace with great views of the city and surrounding mountains.
These are just a few of the many options available in Akhaltsikhe, so be sure to do your research and choose the one that best suits your needs and preferences.
Parking in Akhaltsikhe
Parking in Akhaltsikhe is generally easy and not too much of a hassle. There are several public parking lots in the city, particularly near popular attractions and restaurants. Visitors can also park on the streets, but it is important to pay attention to signs and markings indicating parking restrictions, as some areas may be reserved for residents or have time limits. It is also recommended to take precautions and not leave valuable items visible in the car.
Tips for drivers
Here are some tips for drivers visiting Akhaltsikhe:
- Be aware of the local driving culture: Georgian drivers tend to be more aggressive than drivers in other countries, and there may be less adherence to traffic laws. Be cautious and aware of your surroundings.
- Watch out for pedestrians: In many parts of Akhaltsikhe, pedestrians may not always use crosswalks or follow traffic signals. Be on the lookout for people walking on or near the road.
- Take caution on mountainous roads: If you plan to drive to nearby mountainous areas, be aware that the roads can be narrow and winding. Drive slowly and carefully, and be prepared for steep inclines and declines.
- Avoid driving at night: Roads in Akhaltsikhe may not be well lit, and there can be unexpected obstacles on the road. If possible, avoid driving at night.
- Be prepared for road conditions: Some roads in Akhaltsikhe may be in poor condition, with potholes, gravel, or uneven surfaces. Drive carefully and be prepared for unexpected bumps.
- Follow parking rules: Be sure to follow parking rules and regulations to avoid fines or towing. Check for signs indicating where parking is allowed and avoid parking in restricted areas.
Remember to always drive defensively, wear your seatbelt, and obey traffic laws to ensure a safe and enjoyable driving experience in Akhaltsikhe.