You will find Samegrelo lying West of Georgia. Samegrelo means “the land of Mingrelians”. The Mingrelians are an indigenous ethnic subgroup of the Georgian people, living mostly in the Samegrelo region of Georgia. The Mingrelians also write, speak, and read Georgian with the majority of them living in the rural regions – farming mostly in maize. Most speakers of Mingrelian live in Samegrelo. It is wonderful to visit Samegrelo, because it comprises magnificent historical sites, mineral springs, caves, and coastal marshes. It is also on the coast and consists of flatlands as well, which means it’s not really the place to go if you want to do trekking. If you want the mountains, then just further north you will find the Egrisi Mountains – with exquisite scenic lakes to enjoy. The Egrisi Mountains aren’t as high as the huge massifs that are found even further north, but there are still plenty of peaks, lakes, waterfalls, and gorges to experience in Samegrelo.
GETTING TO THE CAPITAL, ZUGDIDI
The city of Zugdidi is easy to access from all the major cities of Georgia; it is in northwest Georgia. If you want to go by train, there is a train that leaves from Tbilisi. Also, the marshrutkas will take you to Zugdidi; they are like taxi-buses, and you just wave them down. If you want to go from Zugdidi to Kutaisi, there are also marshrutkas to take you there. Zugdidi is the nearest city to the Abkhazian border, so over time, they have absorbed a lot of refugees; now it’s a stepping stone for people to get to Svaneti or Abkhazia. People often stay in Zugdidi to explore some of the lesser-known attractions that Samegrelo has to offer.
WHAT SAMEGRELO HAS TO OFFER
One thing you will love in Samegrelo is Megrelian food. For sure, Georgia has delicious food all over the country, all with its own unique specialties in the different regions. But you will find Megrelian food something unique, that is, if you like your food spicy, with plenty of cheese. The National dish of Georgia, the khachapuri, which is bread stuffed with cheese – well, the Megrelian one is also delicious. Their version is cheese inside and cheese also on top.
Some travelers also adore their adjika. It’s a condiment consisting of spicy pepper, spices, garlic, and herbs. Adjika was extremely popular in the Soviet era and a lot of countries have tried to replicate it post-Soviet, but not to the standard of the Megrelian one! So go get yours at the Zugdidi bazar, internationally recognized for its production of adjika. You will love the stalls winding from stall to stall. Another place to visit when it comes to food is the “Mendzel” restaurant for traditional Megrelian delights.
The palace of the Dadiani family
Another one of the major attractions in Zugdidi is the Dadiani family’s palace. They were an ancient family of noble descent, and they governed Samegrelo, having links with some top European powers – they were direct descendants of Napoleon Bonaparte! Their palace, set amongst the most exquisite of gardens, is now a museum. It has some fantastic memorabilia, such as 19th century paintings, religious crosses, and icons all ranging from the 10-20th centuries. Napoleon’s four bronze death masks are there too. These were acquired through the marriage of Princess Salome Dadiani and Napoleon’s nephew, Achille Murat. Many members of the Dadiani family were excellent at chess as well and won several prizes and awards in the tournaments that they played in throughout Europe.
DE-stress at the Zugdidi Botanical Gardens
The Zugdidi Botanical Gardens are vast, shady, leafy, colorful – designed by the Italian landscape architect Joseph Babini. The gardens have a labyrinth, an orangery, a plant nursery, a manmade lake, and a hothouse. There are plants in this garden that come from all over the world. Zugdidi Botanical Gardens also is home to one of the best rose collections in the world. Even a guest house was placed in the gardens when they were first created, where two ballrooms were decorated out in yellowwood ceilings, chandeliers, and ornate sculptures, surrounded by illuminated balconies. Prince David Dadiani wanted these gardens built for his wife, Ekaterine. Unfortunately, the magnificent gardens were vandalized by the Ottoman forces in 1855, “erased by the enemy”. But Ekaterine was determined to bring the park back to its former glory and started replanting all over again, restoring the park to a lot of its old charm. It was a real pity that when she died in 1882, her son neglected the palace and the gardens. Even though the plants are all overgrown and tangled and the walls of the beautiful guest house are crumbling away, it is still possible to go in and visualize the grandeur and splendor of those earlier days. There are still beautiful trees around from many countries of Italy, Indian, Italy, Japan, and North America.
Martvili Canyon and the Hanging Bridges of Okatse
Martvili is a small very picturesque town in Samegrelo. Nearby, it boasts the magnificent works of nature, the Balda and Martvili Canyons.
Martvili Canyon used to be a bathing place for the Dadiani family. Now, waterfalls and green water provide a breathtaking view. You can just simply relax as you take a boat ride along the river through the canyons, magnificent cliffs, and waterfalls. If you decide to enjoy a guided tour of the Martvili Canyon to see the waterfalls and walk along the beautiful forest trails, you will notice the old hanging bridges of Okatse canyon as well. The bridge is about 900 meters long. A tour is really nice because the guys are likely to pick you up at your hotel and on your way to the canyons will point out the charming villages and beautiful scenery that make up Georgia.
You need to get your cameras ready for all to see in the canyons. The view of the Kinchkha waterfall is also dramatic. You will love the noise that the waterfall makes as it drops down 80 meters. This waterfall happens to be one of the highest in the country. Remember to wear the right shoes for exploring the canyons as well as to take a hat, and maybe even a rain jacket.
Balda Canyon is another wonderful place for swimming and relaxing in Samegrelo. The Balda Canyon is a little bit overshadowed by the Martvili Canyon. But the Balda Canyon is like finding a secret place and swimming in the icy cold mountain water makes you feel like you are one of few who have experienced such delights. This Canyon is situated on the Abasha River and you can also reach it by car. The little village of Balda is nearby too; you arrive at it shortly after the Martvili Canyon. You drive through the village of Balda before arriving at the Balda Canyon. This canyon is privately owned so you go through a private courtyard to access it. There is a cost of around 2.5 GEL per person. Look out for the Kaghu waterfall as you explore – it is considered a masterpiece of nature; a rare, unspoiled find, cascading down with the clearest of water.
Visit Rukhi Castle, Zughidi
This impressive castle was built in the 17th Century by the Duke of Samegrelo. It was part of the defense castles of the Samegrelo dukes. You will find it just before the bridge between Samegrelo and Abkhazia. From the top, you get an amazing view of the Abkhazian landscape. It is actually an abandoned building so if you are in Zugdidi, it’s a really nice place to go and check out.
The Tsalenjikha Cathedral goes far back in time to the 10th Century. You will see both Greek and Georgian inscriptions there – the Megrelian Prince Levan Dadian II and his wife are buried there. You can find it in the town of Tsalenjikha, in the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region.
Kolkheti National Park
The Samegrelo region also boasts being close to some fantastic national parks. One such is the Kolkheti National Park. It is located in the western parts of Georgia. Here you can enjoy the Black Sea coast as well as the Paliastomi Lake basin. For nature lovers, a full day won’t be enough time to enjoy the bird-watching, kayaking, canoeing, or even taking a boat tour of the “Georgian Amazon” to see so many bird species, in fact over 190 species! Don’t feel you have to rush back to wherever you are residing; you can spend the night at the park’s own hotel located in the Visitors Center to continue the pleasure.
The Martvili Monastery (Chkondidi)
The monastery is to be found on a hill in the town of Martvili and you notice it as you come into the entrance of the town; it’s in the district of the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Province of Georgia. If you are interested in walking; it’s a nice walk. Otherwise, you can reach it by car or take a funicular as well which leaves from Martvili. The monastery was built in the 7th Century and then rebuilt again in the 10th Century after being invaded by foreigners. The entrance is free today, and women are meant to cover their heads and legs – often friendly women nearby provide scarves.
An old oak tree, a huge spreading tree, stood where the monastery stands, once being worshipped as an idol of prosperity and fertility – babies were sacrificed there too. When the native population was converted to Christianity, the old oak was cut down and the area was renamed in honor of the St. Andrew who had converted the pagans in the Samegrelo region.
The Monastery, you will notice, has many features like the typical Georgian churches. On the one hand, it has its own special architectural style; you can see evidence of this in the dome forms, and other layouts of the buildings; even the window design. You will love the inside of the church with its huge columns and high arched vaults, with many interesting frescoes, depicting the saints dating back to between the 14th and 17thcenturies.
You might even catch sight of a wedding happening here, it’s a popular and beautiful site for that.
INDULGE IN MEGRELIAN CUISINE
You can’t really talk about Samegrelo and not talk about their cuisine. The traditional Megrelian foods are full of seasonings and spices. It is because with the mild, subtropical climate, malaria used to be a threat to the residents and they ate copious amounts of pepper to prevent the development of this deadly disease. Finally, these spicy seasonings just became the tradition and it’s still like that. Megrelian cuisine means excellent wine too, and there are more than 500 vine sorts cultivated in Georgia of which 60 are cultivated in Samegrelo – number one on the list will be the Ojaleshi grapes; a delicious sweet red wine in a bright red color and faint aromas of wild roses. Doesn’t it sound irresistible?
No Georgian feast is ever complete without Khachapuri, and its texture will vary from region to region. The dish is so popular that each region adds its own particular twist to it. Other Samegrelo cuisine is the Gebzhalia; staple Megrelian cuisine. It consists of soft cheese rolls made from mint and curd cheese. Then you get Kupati which is made from a pig’s liver, lung, and spleen, all mixed and put into the intestine, which later is processed with spices. It is all sealed up and hung out to dry for a long time in the open air or in some smoke. To serve it, it gets roasted in an ordinary clay pan.
Georgian food reflects well its past, and throughout the passages of time, its food has been influenced a lot by the Mediterranean world, as well as Mongol, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman kitchens, even from Northern India. Did you know that Gomi is a staple food of the Samegrelo region in the West? Kharcho also comes from Samegrelo.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAMEGRELO
There are plenty of really excellent deals and types of accommodation that you might be looking for when you decide to stay in Samegrelo, from Airbnb’s, to guest houses, and hotels. When you book your accommodation near to where you want to enjoy sightseeing tours or do your own thing, Samegrelo is not short on a selection of friendliness, hospitality, outstanding food and wines and magnificent places to visit.