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From its amazing position perched on a lofty hilltop with the snow-capped Caucasus Mountains looming in the distance, Sighnaghi is arguably Georgia’s most attractive town. Brimming with 18th century architecture and a vaguely Tuscan feel, the town has an easy charm that makes for a lovely place to spend your days in Georgia.
The administrative center of Sighnaghi Municipality, Sighnaghi is a town in Kakheti region of eastern Georgia. Sighnaghi is located on the eastern foothills of the Gombori Range, a watershed between the Alazani and Iori valleys, within a thriving agricultural and fruit-growing region.
Sighnaghi has been settled since the Paleolithic period of prehistoric Georgia. The town was known as Kambechovani in ancient Georgia, and later as Kisikhi or Kisiki, named after the local population.
During the Middle Ages, Kisiki came under the rule of the unified Kingdom of Georgia. In the 1460s, after the disintegration of the Georgian kingdom, Kisiki then became part of the independent Kingdom of Kakheti. From the start of the 16th century, the Kakheti Kingdom fell under intermittent Persian rule.
Evidence of Sighnaghi as a settlement is first recorded during the early 18th century. After uniting the kingdoms of Kakheti and Kartli in 1762, King Heraclius II of Georgia constructed Sighnaghi town and erected a fortress to defend the area from marauding Dagestani armies. By 1770, Sighnaghi was settled by 100 families, mainly merchants and craftsmen.
In 1801, the Kartli-Kakheti kingdom was annexed by the Russian Empire. A year later, Sighnaghi was officially granted town status and became a center of Signakh Uyezd within the Tiflis Governate. In 1812, Signakh, along with the rest of Kakheti, rebelled against Russian rule. Due to its proximity to Dagestan, the town served as a strategic location during the Caucasian War.
Under Soviet rule, Sighnaghi quickly increased in size and population, but was greatly affected by the severe economic crisis of post-Soviet Georgia. After independence, the Georgian government launched a major reconstruction project to modernize Sighnaghi’s infrastructure by building new hotels and museums to attract tourists.
Although it is one of the smallest towns in the country, Sighnaghi is today a popular tourist destination thanks to its stunning beauty and its fantastic location at the heart of Georgia’s wine region.
Nestled at the heart of rolling vineyards overlooking the Alazani Valley, Sighnaghi is one of Georgia’s most charming towns. Visitors will be delighted by its ancient fortifications, medieval monasteries and a fascinating museum, among other amazing places to visit in Georgia.
Sighnaghi Museum is a modern museum with numerous exhibits of Georgian artifacts that focus on Kakheti’s archaeology and history. The museum also hosts temporary exhibits on European paintings including a major exhibit on the works of Pablo Picasso.
Upstairs, the museum has a permanent exhibition of 13 paintings by Kakheti-born artist Niko Pirosmani (1862–1918). This is the largest collection of the self-taught painter’s work outside the National Gallery in Tbilisi, and features several notable works such as “Vintage and Feast in a Grape Gazebo.”
Sighnaghi town is surrounded by a great wall that stretches over 4.5km, and comprises of 23 towers and 7 gates. Built by Georgian King Erekle II in the 18th century, most of the defensive wall is still standing today, with each of the gates named after a local village.
A section of the wall stretches along Chavchavadze Street on the hilltop situated on the northwestern part of town. From here you can visit St. Stephens Basilica, built inside a tower, and which offers incredible views over the city. The best section to explore stretches down beside Gorgasali on the northeastern part of town. Here you can climb up one tower then walk along the walls down to 2 more.
The wall formerly served as a refuge for the locals who were under constant threat from marauding armies. The towers were mostly built with cobblestones, as well as red brick in small portions. Each tower had a gateway with mobile mechanisms for fast opening and closing.
The Monastery of St. Nino (also Bodbe Monastery) is situated at Bodbe, 2km south of Sighnaghi. Nestled among tall cypress trees, the monastery offers a pleasant stroll along country roads. It overlooks the Alazani Valley from where it commands panoramic views of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. Bodbe Monastery still functions as a nunnery today.
Bodbe Monastery is one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Georgia, as it is the final resting place of Saint Nino, the country’s patron saint. Saint Nino is credited for bringing Christianity to Georgia. The small church was originally built over the grave of Saint Nino in the 4th century by King Mirian. Covered in silver and turquoise jewels, Nino’s tomb is located inside a small chapel.
The present-day church dates back to the 9th century, and its construction follows the classic design of Georgian architecture. The interior has a few 9th century frescoes, with many additions from the 12th to the 17th centuries. When Tsar Alexander III visited Bodbe, a Russian bell tower was constructed, and frescoes in the main church were reworked with Russian influences.
Dubbed the “city of love,” Sighnaghi is a popular romantic getaway destination with many couples visiting just to get married. Sighnaghi’s wedding chapel was the first to operate around the clock, putting the town on the map as a honeymoon destination.
One of the biggest joys of visiting Sighnaghi is simply taking a leisurely walk around the historic town, as you absorb the pleasant atmosphere. Oozing with old-world charm, Sighnaghi is regarded as one of the prettiest towns in Georgia.
This becomes apparent as you stroll along its cobblestone streets and alleys that give the town a romantic mystique. Wanderers can admire the pastel-colored houses with red tile rooftops and carved balconies. An array of gorgeous viewpoints overlook picturesque landscapes.
With a viticulture history dating back 8,000 years, Georgia is one of the world’s oldest wine-making regions. Thanks to this long history, the ancient Georgian wine-making process has earned its place on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
The ancient Georgian wine-making technique involves the pressing of grapes and thereafter pouring the juice, along with grape skins, stalks and pips into a kvevri (egg-shaped clay pot). The pot is then sealed and then buried underground for a few months for the wine to ferment before being drank.
The inclusion of skins, stalks and pips in kvevri wine-making produces a unique 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 chacha – the potent, grappa-like, firewater. The drink is distilled from the pulp left over after the wine is drawn off. Despite containing between 45 and 60% alcohol, Georgians manage to down chacha like water!
Located in Kakheti, Georgia’s premier wine region, Sighnaghi has several wineries that you can visit so as to taste some excellent vintages.
One of Sighnaghi’s best-known wineries, Pheasant’s Tears is located at the center of town. Pheasant’s Tears produces top-class natural wines using the traditional kvevri method at its vineyards out of town. It offers wine tastings and delicious Georgian food, which one can enjoy in a quaint garden courtyard.
Marani is a small, family-run wine cellar. The lovely winery makes fine wines using traditional methods. The unique fact about this winery is that they do not store their wine in plastic bottles, but will instead serve you directly from the kvevri – the underground clay pot used to make wine.
Located in the center or town, Okros Winery offers tastings and a short tour of the kvevri facilities. Tastings begin at three wines and a chacha, or you may simply enjoy a glass of your choice on their beautiful rooftop terrace that overlooks the lush countryside.
Beyond the fortified city of Sighnaghi, its environs within Kakheti are notable for being home to some amazing Georgian monuments including ancient churches and impressive monasteries.
Located in Sagarejo district along the disputed Georgia-Azerbaijan border, David Gareja Monastery Complex is an important sacred site and monument of Georgia’s cultural heritage. David Gareja is a rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox monastery complex. The complex comprises of nineteen medieval monasteries with about 5,000 cells serving as dwellings for monks.
The site features a unique combination of historic architecture, pre-historic archaeological sites, rich paleontological fields and significant bio-geographical features spread out over the arid and semi-arid landscape of the Iori River plateau.
Decorated with unique frescoes, the cave monasteries are excellent examples of man-made structures built in harmony with the dramatic surrounding landscape. Regarded as masterpieces of medieval Georgian art, the monasteries are a testament to the traditional principles of sustainable living.
Archaeological excavations in the area have also uncovered the remains of various ancient human settlements including the Trialeti culture. Urban settlements from the Late Bronze and Iron Ages were also discovered.
The monastic complex was established in the Gareji desert during the first half of the 6th century. It was founded by Saint David Garejeli, one of the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers, and his disciples including Lukiane and Dodo. Along with the Lavra, they also founded the monasteries of Virgin (Dodos Rka) and St. John the Baptist (Natlismtsemeli).
In the medieval period, the David Gareja Monastic Complex was one of Georgia’s most important pilgrimage and monastic centers. It was a royal monastery that the kings themselves patronized and took care of.
Besides the churches, chapels and cells, there are many other caves for everyday use such as living quarters, refectories, bakeries, barns, smithies and livestock shelters carved out of the rock face of Mount Gareja. Terraces were also built for farming.
The monasteries have preserved several unique mural paintings, the oldest dating back to the 8th century. Paintings on the church exteriors date back to the late 10th century. The Monastery of Dodos Rka boasts the oldest murals found inside one of the smaller churches. Murals from the 10th century are found inside the Udabno and Tsamebuli Monasteries.
Between the end of the 10th and the start of the 13th centuries, the Gareji monasteries experienced their golden age during which the Gareji School of Painting developed. One of the school’s main features is its representation of episodes from the life of Saint David Garejeli, as well as the canonical scenes.
The oldest example is found within the first layer of paintings inside the main church chapel of Udabno Monastery. The abundance magnificent realistic portraits of Georgian Kings and other royals is another key feature of the school.
At the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, the murals found in the Bertubani Monastery were created, which remain the Gareji School’s greatest achievement. These are impressive freestyle works distinguished by entire renditions of the Life of the Virgin Mary.
The small Annunciation Church of the Udabno Monastery has paintings dating to the second half of the 13th century. Inspired by the Bertubani paintings, an artist created murals of the Annunciation in a canonical manner in a similar freestyle, but with darker colors.
During the first half of the 13th century, Mongol invasions brought monastic life at Gareji to a stand still for some time. New murals were not painted until the 17th and 18th centuries, when attempts were made to revive monastic life, albeit on a smaller scale.
Alaverdi Monastery is a Georgian Orthodox monastery. While parts of the monastery date back to the 6th century, the present-day church was built by Kakhetian King Kvirike at the start of the 11th century, replacing an older church of St. George.
Located 25km from Akhmeta in the Alazani River valley, the monastery facades feature monumental arcades and decorated niches. Its spacious interiors boast a beautiful harmony with light entering from high windows. An area enclosed by a fortified wall contains houses, the monastery’s refectory, wine cellars and baths among other structures.
The monastery was established by Yoseb Alaverdeli, one of the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers who came from Antioch and settled in the small village of Alaverdi which was then a pagan religious center dedicated to the Moon. Located at the heart of the world’s oldest wine region, the monks of Alaverdi make their own wine.
Alaverdi Monastery is also the focus of the annual Alaverdoba festival, a religious and folk celebration that traces its roots to the harvest festival. The festival lasts several days, culminating on 28th September, the feast day of Yoseb Alaverdeli. Visitors can sample lots of delicious local food and fine monastery wine.
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. The 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.
Located in Akhmeta district, Tusheti is one of the most charming areas in Georgia. It boasts untouched nature and the unique remains of ancient villages with medieval defense towers. The historic region is exceptional for its picturesque landscapes of alpine meadows and coniferous forests. As one of the country’s most remote regions, Tusheti is only accessible via 4×4 off-road adventure tours.
Spanning 244 square kilometers, Lagodekhi National Park is located high in the Caucasus above the little town of Lagodekhi. The remote park boasts some of country’s best-preserved forests, deep river valleys and alpine lakes. The nature reserve is home to fauna such as the East Caucasian tur, roe and red deer, chamois and brown bears.
Since 1912, grazing, hunting and wood cutting have been banned in the reserve, making it the best place to see Georgian nature in its rawest state. Visitors can go hiking in Lagodekhi Reserve on a trail leading through beech forest and alpine meadows, all the way to the crystal-clear waters of Black Rock Lake.
Located in the center of Telavi, Batonistsikhe is a well-preserved castle that served as the residence of the Kakhetian kings during the 17th to 18th centuries. The castle complex consists of a Persian-style palace, 2 churches, bathhouses, and a modern Georgia art and history museum.
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.
Prince Alexander Chavchavadze (1786–1846) was one of the most colorful and influential figures in the Georgia’s history. 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 exotic plants and old trees. Also visit Alexander’s winery where you can sample a great collection of wine.
Founded in the 6th century in Kvareli, Nekresi Monastery is a Georgian Orthodox monastery. Perched on the eastern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, the monastery features a complex of buildings including a basilica, mortuary chapel, bishop’s palace, refectory and defensive tower.
Vashlovani National Park in Dedoplistskaro district is a fantastic off-roading destination in Georgia. The reserve is notable for its unique desert vegetation and shallow forests. The park also has impressive fauna including the brown bear, lynx and a diversity of native bird species.
Although it’s possible to visit Sighnaghi on a daytrip from Tbilisi, we recommend spending the night so you can indulge in wine. You are in Georgia’s premier wine region after all!
There are several good Sighnaghi hotels and plenty of guesthouses, some of which are located near the historic Gorgasali Street. While many Sighnaghi guesthouses have modernized to hotel standards, hospitality remains as traditional as ever.
For a town of its size, Sighnaghi has some great places to eat. Foodies can enjoy traditional Georgian food paired with fine Georgian wine at Sighnaghi restaurants such as Pheasant’s Tears. Also found in Sighnaghi, Pancho Villa is the best Mexican restaurant in the country.
For flights landing at Tbilisi airport (113km), you can hire a car and drive 2 hours to Sighnaghi. However, driving in Georgia can be challenging if you don’t speak the Georgian language or understand the Georgian alphabet. A more convenient option would be to get to Sighnaghi via private transfer.
Arguably the prettiest town in Georgia, Sighnaghi boasts cobblestone streets lined with charming houses, an old city wall and views to die for. And to crown it all – wine flows freely here… So forget the villas of Tuscany and the vineyards of France – a holiday in Sighnaghi is worthy of any bucket list.
If visiting in summer, be sure to book Sighnaghi hotels ahead with our travel agency. If would like to drive around Sighnaghi, we have a modern fleet of rental cars available for hire. We also offer Georgia tour packages from Sighnaghi that include private transfers, ideal for travelers who are pressed for time or would prefer to be as hands-off as possible.
You can even create your own custom vacation package that includes the specific places you want to see and tourist activities you want to do in Sighnaghi. Looking to escape the hectic pace of modern life? Order your custom tour package to Sighnaghi today and enjoy a glorious vacation in Georgia’s prettiest town!