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Khevi is simply incredible, a nature lover’s dream and a paradise for hikers and mountain lovers. Most travelers are drawn to the region’s extraordinarily dramatic alpine landscape and the centuries-old churches, monasteries and fortifications that perch so wonderfully on it. High into the wild and pristine Caucasus, Khevi beckons visitors to witness Georgia’s greatest treasure, the Gergeti Trinity Church.
Khevi is a small historical-geographic province in northeastern Georgia country. It is part of the Kazbegi municipality located within the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region. Nestled on the northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus range, it consists of the 3 gorges of rivers Tergi, Truso and Snostskali. Stepantsminda town is the main settlement in Khevi.
Khevi’s landscape features alpine meadows scattered with rhododendron, high mountain passes and splashing waterfalls, and towering above it all, the colossal Kazbegi Mountains. A popular tourist haven in Georgia, Khevi is part of the Khevi-Aragvi Biosphere Reserve.
The name “Khevi” means “gorge” in Georgian, and derives from the ancient district of Tsanareti known to Georgian historians as Tsanaretis Khevi or the Tsanar Gorge. Populated since antiquity, Tsanareti was first mentioned by Ptolemy as Zanarioi – “the land of the Tsanars”, a warlike tribe.
While their origin remains unclear, the Tsanars were one of the original tribes of the northern Caucasus. Over the centuries, the Tsanars have adopted many features of Georgian culture, including the Georgian religion and the Georgian language. Subsequently, they completely blended with the Georgian people to form the ethnic subgroup of the Mokheves.
Since ancient times, Khevi has enjoyed great strategic and military importance mainly due to its proximity to the Darial Pass that connects Transcaucasia with the North Caucasus. For a long time, the Tsanars controlled this ancient trade route. But this was both a blessing and a curse as the route brought not only prosperity, but also attracted the invading armies of the Persians and later the Romans, led by Alexander the Great.
After the Arabs conquered eastern Georgia, Tsanareti became one of the main battlefields of the Arab-Khazar wars. For some time, the Arab’s controlled the province, although this was made difficult by frequent uprisings.
In their struggle against Arab occupation, the Tsanars staged a powerful uprising in the 770s, with help from the Byzantines, the as-Saqāliba and the Khazars. The rebellious tribe soon became a dominant force in the historical Kakheti region, playing an important role in the formation of the principality of Kakheti circa 787.
However, by the early 9th century the Tsanars had significantly weakened, allowing their rival clan of the Gardabanians to install their Chief Vache as a prince of Kakheti in the 830s. By the end of the 10th century, Tsanareti had fallen under the rule of the Hereti monarchy, whose king John Senekerim adopted the title of “King of the Tsanars.”
During the Golden Age of the Georgian Kingdom (11th to 13th centuries), the people of Khevi served as guardians of the northern routes. They remained free from typical feudal relations, instead living in a patriarchal society ruled by khevisberi (elected elders) who served as priest, judge and military leader. This arrangement gave the Mokheves a high level of independence.
The Mokheves were direct vassals of the Georgian monarch until the period between the end of the 17th century and 1743, when the province was put under the control of the Duchy of Aragvi. The fierce resistance of the Mokheves to their Aragvian lords has been widely documented in both local folklore and classical Georgian literature.
In the late 18th century, Georgian monarch Erekle II appointed Kazi-Beg as bailiff for the region of Khevi. Leader of the influential Chopikashvili clan, Kazi-Beg was in charge of the collection of tolls from passing caravans. In the years that followed, his clan rose to even greater prominence.
In 1804 the Mokheves revolted against the Russian Empire’s expansion into the Georgian kingdom. However, Kazi-Beg’s son, ruler Gabriel Chopikashvili, remained loyal to Russia and helped in suppressing the rebellion.
As a reward, Kazi-Beg was promoted to the rank of major in the Russian Army, and allowed to run Khevi as his personal fiefdom. He changed his name to Kazbegi and similarly, the area under his control came to be known as “Kazbegi.”
The Mokheves managed to retain their medieval Georgian traditions and unique form of society until the harsh Soviet rule altered their lifestyle through permanent repression, forcibly evicting several families to the lowlands. Since independence in 1991, the Georgian government has made efforts to promote Khevi’s attractions as a worthy tourist destination.
The road to Khevi is known as the Georgian Military Highway. Built in the 17th century along an ancient trade route, the legendary road makes for an epic journey with many photo-worthy stops and scenic tourist places along the way.
The most famous picture of Georgia is the view of Gergeti Trinity Church, as seen from Kazbegi town. Each year, thousands of tourists travel all the way up into the majestic Kazbegi Mountains just to lay their eyes on this breathtaking sight. Ranked as one of the world’s most beautiful churches, Gergeti Trinity Church is today the top visited tourist attraction in Georgia.
Perched on the imposing Kazbegi Mountains and surrounded by the vastness of Georgian nature, the isolated location of Gergeti Trinity Church has made it the iconic symbol of the Caucasus. No visit to Georgia is complete without hiking up to the staggeringly beautiful 14th century church. The surroundings are absolutely stunning and, once at the top, you will be rewarded with epic panoramas.
Commonly known as Kazbegi, Stepantsminda is the main settlement of Khevi. A small valley town steeped in ancient history, Stepantsminda is remarkable for its stunning setting among the Greater Caucasus Mountains.
History buffs can explore the Stepantsminda Historic Museum, which is situated in the childhood home of Alexander Kazbegi. The museum displays the famous writer’s library and personal belongings, along with Georgian artifacts from Khevi, archaeological findings, religious items, books and local artworks.
Experienced trekkers can hike farther from Gergeti Trinity Church to the dazzling Gergeti Glacier. The landscape is riveting with uninterrupted views of the Kazbegi Mountains from different perspectives. This roundtrip trek takes 8 to 9 hours, so set off early in the morning.
The third highest mountain in Georgia, Mount Kazbegi is a peak of the Great Caucasus range, located at a Georgian altitudinal zone of 5,047m above sea level. One of the most beautiful peaks of the Caucasus, Mount Kazbek has been listed on the 100 places where you have to travel at least once in your life.
You can enjoy great views of the Kazbegi Mountains from practically everywhere in Stepantsminda. But for the most stunning panoramas, hike up to Gergeti Trinity Church. Mount Kazbegi is the most popular mountain climbing destination in Georgia with many multi-day tours for experienced trekkers available in summer.
Mountaineers can also climb Mount Shani (4,451m), the second most prominent peak in Kazbegi. For a wilder trekking adventure, head into Khada Valley and hike behind Mount Kuro (4,041m) and Mount Shino (3,948m).
Mount Kazbegi is also steeped in legend. In the Georgian version of the Prometheus myth, Amirani angered the gods by teaching mankind how to make fire and was punished by Zeus to endure eternal torment. However, Amirani was not chained to a rock, but inside a large cave called Betlemi, found on the slopes of Mount Kazbek.
With lush green slopes and tumbling streams nestled against a backdrop of towering cliffs, Dariali is one of the most stunning gorges along the Terek River. Nestled at the base of the Kazbegi Mountains, the river gorge boasts steep cliff faces, medieval towers, waterfalls and wildlife.
Situated near Gveleti Village are 2 refreshing waterfalls nestled among verdant grasslands and small streams. Visit late in the morning when the sun is shining right into the gorge, and you can swim in the nearby Gveleti Lake or have a picnic. In winter, the waterfall freezes over and is transformed into a popular destination for ice-climbing.
Sno is one of the most prominent cultural hubs in the region, where centuries-old stone masonry and carpentry are still practiced and taught by master craftsmen.
Dating back to the 16th century, Sno Fortress is nestled on the banks of River Snotskali. Built on a stony hilltop, the tower fortification is surrounded by a circular wall with a pyramidal tower at the center. Sno also has a small church.
Biking is a great way to experience the breathtaking Sno Valley. The surrounding vegetation is a sight to behold with colorful flowers and lush green fields. Novice kayakers and rafters can enjoy the sedate rapids of the Snotskali River, a tributary of the Tergi River. The pros can get their adrenaline fix on the rushing white waters of Tergi River.
Juta is a remote village nestled within the beautiful, verdant Sno Valley that offers a complete immersion into the wild beauty of the Kazbegi landscape. Go horse riding in Juta and enjoy a unique experience that lets you explore the region like the locals. Or go biking and enjoy panoramic views of the jagged Kazbegi Mountains. Hikers can trek to the nearby Artkhmo Gorge.
Truso Valley is a gorge that offers the perfect combination of stunning valleys and landscapes dotted with unspoiled villages. The gorge is famous for its deposits of colorful sediments from mineral waters, glaciers and rivers.
Truso has plenty of cultural and historic sites, including abandoned villages. Visit Abano, a tiny village with a few houses and ancient Georgian defense towers. The gorge is covered with birch forests and provides many opportunities for trekking within the valleys of Suatisi and Mna.
Sioni Basilica rests on a mountain ledge on one of the most picturesque corners of the Terek Valley. Near the cliff stands a watchtower that traces back to the rich history of the place. Built in the 6th century, the Georgian monument manifests an ancient architectural style.
Most of the Kazbegi region boasts an amazingly diverse ecosystem. The vegetation is mainly dominated by alpine and subalpine meadow, with various endemic and woody plants, wild herbs, as well as alpine and subalpine flora.
Common large mammals native to the Kazbegi region include the chamois, brown bear and east Caucasian tur. Smaller animals include shrews, martens, squirrels and wild cats. Kazbegi National Park is also a popular bird-watching spot boasting several large birds of prey.
Khevi weather is characterized by long winters and short summers, with snow permanently covering the mountain peaks. A different world from one season to the next, each of Khevi’s seasons is distinguished by colorful contrasts. A place so beautiful, the best time to visit Khevi is during all its four seasons!
For Georgia flights landing in Tbilisi airport, you can rent a car and drive to Khevi. But driving in country Georgia can be challenging if you don’t understand the Georgian alphabet or speak the Georgian language. A better option would be to get to Khevi via private transfer.
Most visitors come to Khevi for the natural beauty of the region but stay for the fresh mountain air and panoramas of the Georgian wilderness dotted with ancient fortifications. From scenic hikes to reconnect with nature to adrenaline-filled rafting trips, Khevi guarantees an unforgettable vacation in Georgia.
Be sure to book accommodation at Khevi hotels ahead with our travel agency. If you prefer to drive, we have a modern fleet of Khevi rental cars available for hire. We also arrange travel to Georgia and Khevi that includes private transfers to and from Tbilisi airport.
You can even create your own custom vacation package that includes the specific places you’d like to visit and things you’d like to do in Khevi. So what are you waiting for? Order your custom tour to Khevi today and enjoy a vacation to remember!
Gergeti Trinity Church, Kazbegi, Oni, Georgia