Georgia’s premier wine region, Kakheti is famous for its ancient wine-making techniques, breathtaking landscapes, snow-capped peaks with serpentine passes and beautiful cities. One of the country’s most diverse areas, Kakheti makes for a fantastic stopover during your Georgia tour.
THE HISTORY OF KAKHETI
Kakheti is a region in eastern Georgia formed from the historical province of Kakheti and the small, mountainous province of Tusheti. The region has a distinct linguistic and cultural identity, and its population mainly comprises of indigenous Kakhetians, an ethnic subgroup of Georgians who speak the Kakhetian dialect.
From the end of the 8th century, Kakheti was an independent principality. At the beginning of the 11th century, it was incorporated into the unified kingdom of Georgia, but this didn’t last a decade. It was only at the beginning of the 12th century that King David the Builder was able to incorporate Kakheti successfully into the Georgian kingdom.
Following the disintegration of the kingdom of Georgia in the 1460s, Kakheti became an independent kingdom. From the early 16th century to the early 19th century, along with its neighboring kingdom of Kartli, Kakheti fell under the intermittent rule of the Persians.
In 1616, Shah Abbas destroyed the region and deported hundreds of thousands of Kakhetians to Iran, during a punitive campaign against Teimuraz I, formerly his loyal subject. For over a century, the region remains an important part of Iran, supplying many notable public figures and workers for the Persian overlords.
Under King Heraclius II, the kingdoms of Kakheti and Kartli were united to form the Kartli-Kakheti kingdom in 1762. Following the sacking of Tbilisi and the Treaty of Georgievsk, the Kartli-Kakheti monarchy was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1801. In 1813, the Iranians recognized Russian sovereignty over Kakheti and the rest of Georgia in the Treaty of Gulistan.
Kakheti was part of the independent Democratic Republic of Georgia from 1918 to 1921. It was then part of the Transcaucasian SFSR from 1922 to 1936, and part of the Georgian SSR from 1936 to 1991. Following the independence of Georgia in 1991, Kakheti became a region of the Georgian Republic.
Kakheti was one of the first regions to be developed for tourism by the post-independence Georgian government. Their efforts paid off and today Kakheti is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Georgia.
PLACES TO VISIT IN KAKHETI
Georgians are famous for their viticulture, feasts, hospitality and picturesque nature, and Kakheti is the best place to discover all this and more. Rich in history, Kakheti boasts incredible monasteries, beautiful hilltop towns and extraordinary castles and churches, among other fantastic Georgia attractions.
David Gareja Monastery
David Gareja Monastery is a rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex. The complex features hundreds of cells, chapels, churches, refectories and living quarters carved out of the rock face of Mount Gareja.
Although many caves are in ruins, some have beautiful frescoes dating from the 10th to the 13th centuries. Located along the disputed Georgia-Azerbaijan border, the area also has evidence of some of the region’s oldest human settlements.
Alaverdi Monastery was built by Kakhetian King Kvirike at the start of the 11th century. Located 20km north of Telavi, its exterior features magnificent rounded arches with minimal decoration. The spacious interiors boast a beautiful harmony with light entering from high windows. At 50m high, the majestic cathedral was Georgia’s tallest church for almost a millennium.
Nestled at the heart of native vineyards overlooking Alazani Valley, Sighnaghi (also Signagi) is one of the smallest towns in Georgia. It is also one of its most charming, with gorgeous landscapes, cobblestone streets and pastel-colored houses with carved balconies. Dubbed the “city of wine and love,” Signagi is a popular romantic getaway destination for honeymoons.
At Signagi Museum, visitors can see exhibits on Kakheti history and archaeology, as well as paintings by famous Kakheti-born artist Niko Pirosmani (1862–1918). Or take a walk along the ancient defensive walls of the city, past historic towers and gates.
Boasting great scenic beauty, Telavi is the capital of the Kakheti region and one of Georgia’s oldest cities. Located in the center of Telavi, Batonistsikhe is a well-preserved castle that was the residence of the Kakhetian kings during the 17th to 18th centuries. The castle complex comprises of a Persian-style palace, two churches, bathhouses, and a modern Georgian art and history museum.
Lagodekhi National Park
Spanning 244 square kilometers, the Lagodekhi National Park (also Lagodekhi Protected Areas) is situated high in the Caucasus above the little town of Lagodekhi. The remote park boasts some of the country’s best-preserved forests, deep river valleys and alpine lakes. The nature reserve is home to the East Caucasian tur, roe and red deer and chamois, as well as brown bears.
Located in Akhmeta district, Tusheti is one of the most charming rural areas in Georgia. The region boasts untouched nature, ancient villages and medieval Georgian defense towers. Visitors can explore Tusheti National Park, and villages such as Omalo, built in harmony with the surrounding nature.
Constructed in the 9th century, the Monastery of St. Nino is located at Bodbe, 2km from Signagi. Bodbe Monastery is one of Georgia’s most important places of pilgrimage, because Saint Nino, the country’s patron saint, is buried there. Overlooking Alazani Valley, the monastery still functions as a nunnery.
Ikalto Monastery is a monastic complex founded by Saint Zenon, one of the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers, during the late 6th century. The monastery was one of Georgia’s most important cultural and scholastic centers.
During the early 12th century reign of King David the Builder, an academy was founded at the monastery. The Academy of Ikalto trained students in theology, astronomy, rhetoric, philosophy, geometry, geography and chanting. Practical skills such as pottery, metalwork, viticulture, wine-making, and pharmacology were also taught.
Gremi is a 16th-century Georgian monument comprising of the royal citadel and the Church of the Archangels. Located in Kvareli district, the complex is what has survived from the once-thriving Kakhetian capital of Gremi. This picturesque Gremi Church features frescoes painted in 1577, while a small roadside museum contains displays of old Gremi, as well as Georgian artifacts discovered there.
Prince Alexander Chavchavadze (1786–1846) was one of the most colorful and influential figures in the history of Georgia. As such, the palace and gardens he created at Tsinandali village are a must-visit on any Kakheti itinerary.
The palace tour takes you around several rooms restored in the 19th-century style and relates interesting episodes of the family’s history. The English-style gardens are beautifully laid out with old trees and exotic plants. Also, visit Alexander’s winery where you can sample a great collection of wine.
Kakheti Wine Tours
With a viticulture history that dates back 8,000 years, Georgia is one of the oldest wine-making regions in the world. Thanks to its long history, the ancient Georgian wine-making process has been included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
The ancient Georgian wine-making process involves the pressing of grapes and then pouring the juice, along with grape skins, stalks and pips into a kvevri (egg-shaped clay pot). The pot is then sealed and thereafter buried in the ground for several months for the wine to ferment before being consumed.
The inclusion of skins, stalks, and pips in kvevri wine-making produces a distinct flavor different from most wines of the world. It’s also the reason why Georgian white wines tend to have a more amber tint than other white wines.
The kvevri wine-making process also yields the potent, grappa-like, firewater known as chacha. The drink is distilled from the pulp left after the wine is drawn off. Despite containing between 45 and 60% alcohol, Georgians manage to down chacha like water!
Wine is the blood of the country of Georgia and Kakheti is its most important vessel. Kakheti is home to numerous vineyards and wineries that you can tour and at which you can taste excellent vintages.
Schuchmann is a winery located near central Telavi. Of its total production, 30% comprises Georgian wine fermented in kvevri (under the Vinoterra label), while the rest is European wine fermented and aged inside stainless steel tanks (under the Schuchmann label).
Twins Old Cellar
Twins Old Cellar is a family-run winery near Telavi that produces both kvevri and European wines. Visitors can tour their kvevri wine museum and taste up to three wines and one chacha. The winery also has a restaurant and a fancy hotel overlooking the vineyards.
Shumi is a small winery that produces a variety of wines under the Shumi and Iberiuli labels. The winery has a vineyard with over 400 vine varieties and a museum that houses some very old wine-related objects. Tastings take place inside a beautiful garden.
Georgian Polyphonic Singing
Singing is highly valued in Georgian culture. More specifically, polyphonic singing in the Georgian language is a secular tradition in Georgia that has been included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. Rtveli, the grape harvest festival held in Kakheti is one of the best venues to experience Georgian polyphonic singing.
There are 3 types of Georgian polyphonic singing. The complex polyphony is prevalent in Svaneti; the polyphonic dialogue over a bass background is common in Kakheti, and the contrasted polyphony with 3 partially improvised sung parts is typical of western Georgia.
Sung at festivals and ceremonies, the Chakrulo song belongs to the first category. The song is distinguished by its use of metaphor, the krimanchuli (yodeling) and a “cockerel’s crow” that is performed by a male falsetto singer.
Some of Georgia’s polyphonic songs are linked to the cult of the grapevine, with many dating back to the 8th century. Byzantine hymns also incorporated the Georgian tradition of polyphony to such an extent that they became a significant expression of it.
Traditionally, Georgian songs covered all areas of everyday life. The Naduri, which incorporates sounds of physical effort, was sung during work in the fields, and the Alilo were carols sung at Christmas. There were also songs relating to the curing of illnesses.
THINGS TO DO IN KAKHETI
Kakheti is a charming region of vast rolling vineyards, inviting wineries, beautiful sights, rich history and, of course, delicious wine. Whether you’re planning a week-long adventure or a whirlwind wine tour, the region offers an array of marvelous tourist activities to enjoy.
Enjoy horse riding in Tusheti as you race over steep mountains and along lush green valleys and alpine meadows. Ride through tiny mountain villages such as Dartlo, past herds of sheep and ruined ancient fortresses. The surrounding Greater Caucasus Mountains offer a picturesque backdrop for riders.
As one of the most remote regions in Georgia, Tusheti is accessible only via 4WD off-road adventure jeep tours. Vashlovani National Park in Dedoplistskaro district is another fantastic off-roading destination in Georgia.
Up until the last decade, golf wasn’t popular in Georgia, especially in comparison to other sports such as football, basketball, and rugby. Today, there are two sizeable golf courses near Tbilisi and Kachreti where golfers can enjoy their sport on vast green valleys surrounded by majestic mountains.
Since 1912, hunting, grazing and woodcutting have been banned in the Lagodekhi Nature Reserve, making it the best place to see Georgian flora and fauna in its most natural state. The Lagodekhi Reserve hiking trail leads through beech forest and alpine meadows, ending at the crystal-clear Black Rock Lake.
One of the most unique things you can do in Kakheti is a bike tour that lets you go off-road through the vineyards! Kvareli district has several bike trails leading through Kakheti’s rolling vineyards. Biking in Kvareli lets you enjoy and stunning natural scenery, picturesque villages and ancient historic sites such as the 6th century Nekresi Monastery.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT KAKHETI
Many tourists are drawn by Georgian nature and cuisine. However, to truly experience Georgian culture and its fascinating traditions, you must attend some of the country’s amazing festivals. September is the best time to visit Kakheti as travelers can participate in the annual grape harvest festival.
Spring in Kakheti (March, April, May)
If visiting during the shoulder season of March/ April, you can enjoy sightseeing in pleasant Kakheti weather. At this time of the year, Kakheti is not too busy with tourists, and the cherry blossoms and colorful wildflowers are out in full bloom.
Berikaoba Festival: March
Traditionally celebrated in March, Berikaoba is a masqueraded folk theatre that traces its roots to the pagan festivity of fertility and rebirth. Berikaoba typically involved several men disguised as animals by masks and costumes. The men would walk in a procession performing theatrical scenes, after which the locals would indulge in the Georgian supra (feast of food and wine)).
Tushetian Cheese Festival: May
The Tushetian Cheese Festival is a traditional festival celebrated in the region of Tusheti, which is famous for its goat cheese. Held in Akhmeta during the last week of May, the festival attracts cheese producers from nearby districts. Visitors can sample regional specialties such as guda cheese, watch diverse sporting activities including horse races, shop for handicrafts and listen to local folk music.
Summer in Kakheti (June, July, August)
Mid-May to early July is the shoulder season for Georgia tourism in Kakheti. During this time of the year, the region is less crowded than in the peak season. Moreover, Kakheti weather is still sunny and lovely which allows for pleasant sightseeing.
Tushetoba Festival: August
Held in Tusheti every August, Tushetoba is a festival that celebrates the region’s cultural heritage. Traditionally, the event begins with a horse race whose winner gets a flag and a sheep (Tushetians are the best sheep breeders in Georgia). One of the best reasons to attend Tushetoba is to see how locals make khinkali, the famous Georgian meat-filled soup dumpling.
Autumn in Kakheti (September, October, November)
In autumn, Kakheti becomes even more beautiful when clad in red and golden leaf colors. Autumn is the high season for tourism in Kakheti as it is grape harvest time. This is the best time to experience the Georgian tradition of wine-making at colorful festivals with great wine-tasting opportunities.
Rtveli Festival: September
Rtveli is a grape harvest festival that normally takes place in late September, lasting several days. In Georgia, where wine has iconic significance, the tradition of Rtveli dates back to ancient times. Locals start harvesting and pressing grapes in the early morning and end the day with a Georgian supra, accompanied by traditional vintage-themed folk songs and Georgian dances.
Alaverdoba Festival: September
Alaverdoba is a religious and folk celebration that traces its roots to a harvest festival. It focuses on the Alaverdi Cathedral from which it derives its name. The festival lasts several days, culminating on the 28th September, the feast day of St. Joseph of Alaverdi, the 6th-century founder of the cathedral, and one of the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers. Visitors can sample lots of delicious local food and fine monastery wine.
Winter in Kakheti (December, January, February)
In winter, Kakheti experiences its low tourism season. During this time of year, the region is least busy with few tourist crowds. Visitors traveling to Kakheti on a budget can enjoy savings from lower accommodation rates.
WHERE TO STAY IN KAKHETI
With a beautiful array of Kakheti hotels and guesthouses, Telavi and Signagi offer the region’s best accommodation options. Wine enthusiasts may prefer to stay on a vineyard, many of which offer everything from basic guesthouses to all-inclusive luxury lodgings.
WHERE TO EAT IN KAKHETI
Traditional Georgian food paired with Georgian wine is a highlight of the Kakheti region. Foodies are guaranteed excellent meals, be it at a winery, a guesthouse or one of the fantastic Kakheti restaurants in Telavi or Sighnaghi.
Every region in Georgia boasts its own distinct cuisine and Kakheti is no exception. Meat lovers will find their niche here with mtsvadi (grilled meat), which is usually served with shoti (fresh bread baked in clay ovens).
Although it is found everywhere in Georgia, khashlama (boiled veal/ lamb with local vegetables, fresh herbs and spices) never tastes as good as it does in Kakheti restaurants. At the Rtveli Festival, you can try churchkhela, a sausage-shaped Georgian candy made from natural grape juice and various nuts.
HOW TO GET TO KAKHETI
For flights landing at Tbilisi airport, you can hire a car and drive to Kakheti. That said, driving in Georgia can be challenging if you don’t speak the Georgian language or understand the Georgian alphabet. The best option would be a private transfer.
KAKHETI TRAVEL TIPS
- Food is offered only once. So don’t be shy, accept it or else you will be left with nothing.
- If offered khashlama, take a piece of meat with your hands. Do not use a fork. Khashlama is just one in the long list of Georgian dishes that are expected to be eaten by hand.
- Almost everywhere you go in Kakheti, you’ll be invited to drink a glass of traditional kvevri wine. But beware: Kakhetians are masters of drinking. If you dare challenge them, be prepared to be drunk under the table!
- People from Kakheti are generally very straightforward. Try not to get upset if they say something blunt.
- The older generation will likely only know Georgian and Russian. But after a few glasses of wine, they will speak your language and you will understand theirs. That is the magic of Kakheti – and its wine!
In a country of wine lovers, everyone agrees that the best wines come from the fertile region of Kakheti. But wine is not all that Kakheti has to offer. Its rich history has bequeathed Georgia with some of its finest examples of religious architecture. Add to this the hospitality and easy-going nature of the people and it’s easy to understand why a holiday in Kakheti offers the ultimate pleasure.
If traveling in summer or during the September harvest, it’s best to book Kakheti hotels in advance with our travel agency. If you would like to drive around Kakheti, we have a modern fleet of rental cars available for hire. We also offer Georgia tour packages from Kakheti that include private transfers.
Even better, create your own custom vacation package that includes the specific places you want to visit and things you want to do in Kakheti. In the mood for some fine wine? Order your custom tour to Kakheti today and enjoy an amazing vacation at the birthplace of wine!