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Dubbed the “Switzerland of the Caucasus,” Racha is one of Georgia’s most picturesque regions. Snow-capped peaks, mighty glaciers, hidden valleys, green alpine meadows and panoramic vistas over the Greater Caucasus range are just some of the region’s gems. If you’re seeking an off-the-beaten path experience with awe-inspiring views of wild, unspoiled nature, Racha is just the place for you.
Situated in the Upper Rioni River Valley and surrounded by the Greater Caucasus range, Racha is a highland area in western Georgia country. It is part of the region of Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, with Oni City as its capital.
Since antiquity, Racha has been a part of Colchis and Caucasian Iberia. Oni, its main town, is believed to have been founded during the 2nd century BC by Iberian King Parnajom. In the 11th century, following the unification of the ancient Georgian kingdom, Racha was made one of its duchies.
Rati of the noble Baghvashi family was appointed by monarch Bagrat III as Racha’s first duke. Descendants of Rati and his son Kakhaber – founder of the ruling Kakhaberisdze dynasty, ruled the duchy until 1278, when monarch David VI Narin abolished it during war with the Mongols. In the mid-14th century, the duchy was restored under the control of the Charelidze family.
The next dynasty of Chkhetidze ruled Racha from 1465 to 1769. Vassals of the Imeretian king, they rebelled severally against the monarchy, with the civil war of 1678–1679 resulting in the most severe consequences.
During this war, Duke Shoshita II of Racha (1661–1684) supported Prince Archil, a rival of the pro-Ottoman monarch Bagrat IV of Imereti. Upon Archil’s defeat, Racha was plundered by the Ottomans.
During Rostom’s reign (1749–1769), the duchy became practically independent from Imereti. However, towards the end of 1769, Imeretian monarch Solomon I arrested Rostom and abolished the duchy.
By 1784, Imeretian King David II had restored the duchy and gifted it to his nephew Anton. Local opposition tried to use an Ottoman army to take over Racha. But King David’s victory in 1786 at Skhvava temporarily secured his dominance. In 1789, the next Imeretian monarch Solomon II finally abolished the duchy and subordinated the province to direct royal administration.
In the early 1800s, the Imeretian Kingdom became part of the Russian Empire, and the territory of Racha was formed into an administrative unit. It remained as such during Soviet rule. Since Georgia’s independence in 1991, Racha became a component of the Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti region. The Georgian government has since made efforts to make Racha attractive for tourists visiting Georgia.
Nothing short of wondrous, the region of Racha is known for its beautiful Georgian nature, warm hospitality, delicious cuisine and amazing mountainous forests. Racha is divided into 2 administrative units comprising the municipalities of Oni and Ambrolauri – both of which offer an array of vacation spots in Georgia.
Situated in Nikortsminda Village, the Nikortsminda Cathedral of St. Nicholas is one of medieval Georgia’s most outstanding architectural monuments. Inscriptions on the western entrance indicate that the cruciform cathedral was built from 1010 to 1014 during the reign of monarch Bagrat III. Its chapels were added later in the 11th century.
Nikortsminda Cathedral is richly decorated with ornamentation that depicts the Transfiguration, Judgment Day and other religious scenes, the figures of Saints, as well as real and fantasy creatures. Its decoration serves as a testament to the great skill of the craftsmen and the high artistic standards.
Inlaid with light-colored brick, the facades are adorned with sculptures. Its interiors are decorated with 16th – 17th century murals, with many portraits of feudal rulers. Nikortsminda Cathedral has been included on the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Barakoni Church of the Mother of God is situated in the village of Tsesi near Ambrolauri town. Nestled atop a steep cliff, it overlooks River Rioni at its confluence with River Lukhuni just below the mountain. The church is one of the important examples of medieval Georgian architecture. It was built in 1753 under the order of Rostom, ruler of the Principality of Racha.
An inscription on the facade commemorates architect Avtandil Shulavreli who designed the church. During Bolshevik rule, the church was desecrated and closed. In 1991, it was repaired after suffering minor damage from an earthquake.
In the 1950s, the construction of a hydro-power plant was launched in the River Shaori catchment area. A water reservoir measuring 9.2 square kilometers, with a maximum depth of 14.5m, was built in the Shaori River cavity to supply water. Besides the river, the reservoir is fed by waters from powerful underground rivers in the surrounding area.
Around Shaori Reservoir are many karst funnels and wells with depths ranging from 5-15m, as well as karst caves with unexplored underground halls. An underground karst lake stretches from the dam of the reservoir to Nikortsminda Village.
The reservoir has an area of 180 square kilometers and is surrounded by the forested Nakerala range and Mount Satsaliki, which is covered with unique groves of beech, Caucasian fir and mixed deciduous trees. In autumn, the colorful trees are reflected in the reservoir waters, creating a fairy-tale land.
The reservoir is a great spot for having a picnic while enjoying the scenery. It is also popular among anglers who come fishing for its huge carp.
Khotevi is a village situated on the northern bend of the Racha Plateau, at an elevation of 1,000m above the sea level. First mentioned in the 11th century ‘Nikortsminda Annals’, Khotevi was a major trading post thanks to its location on the road connecting Lower Racha and Imereti. In the 19th century, it was a center of Racha district.
The village has remnants of the Church of the Archangel, commonly known as Khotevi Church, and a temple, both of which were built in the 13th century. There are also ruins of the 16th – 17th century Khotevi Fortress, a two-storey walled fortress that was once impregnable.
Ambrolauri is famous for its amazing wine routes and local Georgian wine “Khvanchkara” – a semi-sweet red wine said to have been Stalin’s favorite. There are several wineries in the district where connoisseurs can enjoy wine tasting tours, as well as dine on delicious Georgian food. Time your visit to Racha to attend Rtveli, the annual grape harvest festival of Georgia.
The largest of its kind in western Georgia, the Rioni River is one of the top white-water rafting destinations in the country. The best time to go rafting on the Rioni is between mid-March and early October. The Rioni is also a popular bird watching destination.
Oni is an attractive, rustic town located high in the mountains, on the banks of River Rioni. Today, it is becoming a key tourist destination for locals and adventurous tourists attracted to its remote setting, natural beauty and traditional culture. It is also the perfect base for daytrips to the surroundings regions. Attractions include its Archaeological Museum which displays many fascinating relics.
Oni Synagogue is a beautiful building with arched windows and a round silver-colored dome. The inner ceiling is inlaid with several small skylights. Decorating the ceiling panel above the Torah Reader’s platform is an Impressionist mural of colorful mountains beneath a purplish horizon. Polished wooden benches are stacked high with prayer books.
For millennia, Oni was a center of Georgian Jewish culture, with its gorgeous synagogue nestled at the heart of it all. Jewish presence in Georgia is believed to have started back in the 6th century BC, and Georgia’s long tradition of Georgian-Jewish relations has been included on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia.
Gebi Village and its surroundings have been settled since antiquity, as evidenced by findings from archeological excavations. Late Bronze Age burial mounds dating back from the 3rd-1st centuries BC uncovered interesting Georgian artifacts such as bronze belts and the head of a silver bull.
The remains of metalwork dating from the 16th – 10th centuries BC were also found during archeological digs in the area. Situated at an elevation of 1,350m above sea level, Gebi was the only tower-type settlement in Racha. Only a few towers remain standing today as most were damaged by an earthquake.
The most beautiful village in Racha, Chiora is located at a Georgian altitudinal zone of 1,360m above sea level, on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus range. In the medieval period, it boasted a large population and several defense structures. Today, only a few towers and 2 small churches remain standing.
Located 1,650m above sea level and surrounded by the high Caucasus Mountains, Shovi is a unique alpine climactic and health resort sprawled out over the plains of Racha. It is famous for its large areas of coniferous (fir, spruce, pine) and mixed (oak, beech, birch, alder, dogwood, hornbeam) forests, with permanently snowy glaciers.
Shovi has 16 amazing mineral water springs, each boasting a different composition, which are used in the treatment of various ailments. The beauty of Shovi’s natural scenery and its abundance of mineral springs has been known since ancient times, both by residents of neighboring regions and travelers making their way from Racha to Samachablo via Shovi and the Mamisoni Pass (2,820m).
Shovi is a great destination for mountain climbing in Georgia. Located at an elevation of 4,000m above sea level, the area of Kavkasioni has several virgin peaks that no man has ever climbed. Hikers will enjoy the trail leading to Mamisoni Pass that follows the amazing Chanchakhi Gorge.
At Utsera, 28 different springs gush out from the ground, bringing natural mineral waters to the surface. Today, the mineral waters of Utsera are popularly used both for drinking and taking therapeutic baths. The healing aspect of Utsera is also manifested in the natural aromatherapy of its magnificent groves of coniferous trees and mixed forests of fir, oak, pine, beech, chestnut, hornbeam and more.
Utsera lies within an area of 229,532 ha earmarked for the establishment of the National Park of Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti. The mission of the proposed park is to conserve the high mountain ecosystems found within the region.
Home to native flora and fauna of the region, Georgia and the Caucasus, these protected areas are where several endangered plant and animal species are distributed. The territory has a great potential for the development of ecotourism.
Racha weather is characterized by a kaleidoscope of green summers, colorful autumns, white winters and flowery springs, which delivers the ultimate experience to its visitors at any season of the year. Therefore the best time to visit Racha is during all its four seasons!
For Georgia flights landing in Kutaisi airport, you may take a domestic flight to Ambrolauri Airport and then hire a car and drive to Racha. But driving in the country of Georgia can be daunting if you don’t speak the Georgian language or understand the Georgian alphabet. The best option would be to travel to Racha via private transfer.
With crystal-clear rivers and wild, unspoiled forests nestled on the mountainsides, it’s easy to see the appeal of Racha. The region offers abundant attractions for travelers looking for a spot of adventure. Whether you enjoy horse-riding, white-water rafting or hiking and climbing, there’s plenty to do here. When it comes to the great outdoors, Racha has all the ingredients for the perfect year-round getaway.
There’s always accommodation available in Racha hotels and vacation rentals, but do book ahead with our travel agency if you’d like to stay in the better options. We can also arrange Racha rental cars and/ or Georgia tours with private transfers to and from Ambrolauri Airport.
Alternatively, create your own custom vacation package that includes the places you’d like to visit and things you’d like to do in Racha. Ready for your next amazing mountain getaway? Order your custom tour to Racha today and get one step closer to heaven on earth!