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Famed for its pristine natural beauty, Samegrelo is an oasis of beautiful valleys, waterfalls, caves and lakes. A coastal region rich in cultural monuments and archeological artifacts, the region boasts ancient settlements, unique churches and fortresses.
Samegrelo’s subtropical climate creates a unique habitat for flora and fauna you will not encounter elsewhere in Georgia. To top it all off, the region tantalizes with its delicious cuisine full of distinctly spicy foods. Undoubtedly, travelers of every taste will find their own little paradise in Samegrelo.
Samegrelo is the Georgian name for Mingrelia, a historic province within the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region of western Georgia country. Formerly known as Odishi, it is mainly inhabited by the Mingrelians, an ethnic subgroup of the Georgian people who speak Mingrelian.
In ancient times, Mingrelia was one of the largest parts of the Colchis Kingdom (9th – 6th centuries BC) and its successor Egrisi (4th century BC – 6th century). Between the 11th and 15th centuries, Mingrelia was part of the unified Georgian Kingdom. From the 16th century to 1857, the independent Principality of Mingrelia was ruled by the noble House of Dadiani.
In December 1803, the principality came under the patronage of Imperial Russia through an agreement between Mingrelian Prince Grigol Dadiani and the Tsar. In 1853, the last adult prince David Dadiani died, leaving his wife Ekaterine as regent for his young son, Niko. In 1867, the Russian Empire abolished and absorbed the principality. In 1868, Prince Niko Dadiani officially renounced his rights to the throne.
Between 1918 and 1921, Samegrelo was part of the Democratic Republic of Georgia, which became part of the Soviet Union, as the Georgian SSR in 1921. Following Georgia’s independence in 1991, Mingrelia was merged with the northern part of the neighboring mountainous province of Svaneti to form the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region, whose capital is Mingrelia’s largest city, Zugdidi.
Georgia’s first post-Soviet President Zviad Gamsakhurdia was Mingrelian. Following the violent coup of December 21, 1991, Samegrelo became the center of a civil war that ended with the defeat of Gamsakhurdia’s Mingrelian supporters. Nevertheless, throughout Eduard Shevardnadze’s presidency, the central government was unable to control the region.
Stability in Samegrelo was further deteriorated by the fact that Georgian refugees from the Abkhazian war zone (who are regarded by Georgians as victims of ethnic cleansing) are predominantly Mingrelian.
After the Rose Revolution of November 2003, newly elected President Mikheil Saakashvili vowed in 2004 to resolve the conflict with the breakaway region of Abkhazia solely through peaceful means. He disarmed Mingrelian groups trying to fight a guerrilla war against the Abkhazians via incursions from Samegrelo.
Since then, the Georgian government has made even more efforts to make Samegrelo safe and attractive for tourists visiting Georgia.
A premium trekking destination, Samegrelo is renowned for its Georgian monuments, historical sites, caves, mineral springs and coastal marshes. To the north, the Egrisi Mountains boast high rocky peaks, gorges, waterfalls and some of Georgia’s most scenic lakes.
Samegrelo is divided into 8 administrative units comprising the City of Poti and the municipalities of Martvili, Zugdidi, Abasha, Senaki, Chkhorotsku, Tsalenjikha and Khobi – all of which offer an array of Georgia places to visit.
The main highlight of Martvili Canyon is boating to the wonderful waterfalls along the Abasha River, while soaking up the incredible natural scenery. The canyon is surrounded by a lush green forest that is reflected in the river’s crystal-clear waters, enhancing its emerald-green color.
Martvili Monastery is a medieval Georgian monastic complex nestled atop the highest hill in the area. During the late 7th century, a church was built here on the site of a former pagan shrine. The present-day church was built during the 10th century and features frescoes dating from the 14th to the 17th centuries.
Nestled on limestone rocks, Balda Canyon is located within the Abasha River Valley in Meore Balda Village. Balda Canyon is another wonderful place to swim and relax in Samegrelo. Close by is the Kaghu Waterfall which is regarded as a masterpiece of Georgian nature.
Formerly the residence of the Dadiani rulers, the Dadiani Palace complex comprises of the Queen’s Palace, the Prince’s Palace, the Botanical Gardens and the Kari Church. There is also a museum and library which preserve Georgian artifacts such as the Holy Shroud of the Virgin Mary and the death masks of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Built in 1840 by David Dadiani, the ruler of Samegrelo, the Zugdidi Botanical Garden is a decorative garden that showcases a wide variety of native and exotic plants. Today, the garden boasts more than 80 species of exotic plants from Southeast Asia, Japan, India, the Mediterranean, and the Americas.
Anaklia is a seaside resort with a coastline stretching 8km along the Black Sea. The resort attracts summer vacationers with its sandy beaches, sunny weather and modern hotels. Anaklia is also home to GemFest, the country’s biggest electronic music festival.
Located at the western end of Anaklia’s promenade is the Anaklia-Ganmukhuri pedestrian bridge which connects the resort to Ganmukhuri Village, on the opposite side of the Enguri River. Stretching 522m long, the cable-stayed timber bridge is the longest pedestrian bridge in Europe.
Kolkheti National Park was established to protect the Colchis Wetlands and Forests ecosystem, which has been included on the Tentative List of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The park comprises the eastern coast of the Black Sea as well as the Lake Paliastomi basin, stretching across the districts of Zugdidi, Khobi, Senaki and Abasha in Samegrelo, as well as Lanchkhuti in Guria and Kobuleti in Adjara.
Spanning 74,826 ha, the Colchis wetland and forest ecosystem is unique in that it is one of the last remains of a landscape belt, rich in tropical and sub-tropical habitats that existed about 10 million years ago, stretching almost like an unbroken line over the vast continent of Eurasia.
The ecosystem is traversed by many swamps, bog-like rivers, scenic lakes, peat bogs and wetland forests, as well as sandy dunes of the coastal zone. The warm and humid climate and dense network of water bodies have largely contributed to a rich diversity of flora. Common plant species include mosses and rhododendron, evergreen forests, aquatic plants and saltwater vegetation.
The park is a habitat for dolphins, as well as several endangered animal species, such as the roe deer, boar and otter. More than 194 different bird species are found here, including 21 migratory species from Eurasia and Africa. Home of the legendary Colchis pheasant, the park is also a haven for endangered species such as the crane, black stork and great white egret.
Located in Rukhi Village, Rukhi Castle was built in 1647 by Levan Dadiani II, the Duke of Samegrelo, and served as the principal defense fortress of the Mingrelian Dukes. The castle complex features a citadel and inner yard with 2 impressive towers.
Tsaishi Cathedral Church of St. Mary is a domed church built in the 12th – 14th centuries. It was rebuilt in the 17th century after being destroyed by an earthquake. The oldest building within the church complex dates from the 11th century.
Zugdidi is also home to some of the best Georgian food in the country. Megrelian cuisine is typically much spicier than elsewhere in Georgia and features many curry-like dishes. Be sure to try out adjika at one of the Zugdidi restaurants.
Originating from the Mingrelia and Abkhazia regions, adjika is a hot, spicy, but subtly flavored dip used to flavor food. It is prepared by boiling red hot peppers, garlic, herbs, and spices such as dill, walnut, coriander, blue fenugreek, and salt. Adjika has been included on the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia list.
Nokalakevi is a village and archaeological site built in the 3rd century BC by the Duke of Egrisi and Svaneti. It’s believed to be the mythological city of Aia, capital of the Kingdom of Colchis, and home of the fabled Golden Fleece.
Archaeological excavations at Nokalakevi have unearthed various layers of ancient Georgian civilization as well as valuable relics such as wine vessels, gold, silver, bronze and glass adornments, and pottery and ceramic objects. The ruins of ancient palaces, churches, baths and tunnels are also preserved here.
Dating from the 10th century, Tsalenjikha Cathedral is a cross-domed church whose interiors are adorned with frescoes painted by a Byzantine artist from Constantinople. Levan Dadiani II, the Mingrelian Prince, and his wife are buried here.
Located near Jvari, Enguri Dam is a hydroelectric dam built on the Enguri River. With a height of 271.5m, it’s the world’s second highest concrete arch dam. When traveling in the area, it is worth stopping by the dam for the spectacular views.
Intsra Canyon is a cave is located in Chkvaleri Village, within the Intsra River basin. Inside the cave are many stalactites and stalagmites. The water flowing out of the cave creates a beautiful 26m high waterfall.
From Chkvaleri there is nice hiking trail to Kuakantsalia, a giant rock standing on a limestone massif. What makes this place special is that a simple touch by a human hand is enough to make the giant rock shake, creating knocking sounds. Kuakantsalia is located on Kvira Mountain, which offers panoramic views of the Enguri River Lowlands.
Located in Nojikhevi Village, the Khobi Church complex consists of a church, bell-tower, palace, and the ruins of buildings. Dating from the 13th – 14th centuries, the stone church tower has 7 windows and is one of Georgia’s most prominent bell-towers. The interiors are decorated with beautiful frescos and wall ornaments.
Lake Tobavarchkhili is located within the Egrisi Mountain range, at a Georgian altitudinal zone of 2,643m above sea level. One of Georgia’s most beautiful and remote natural monuments, the lake can only be reached on foot on a multi-day trekking tour in summer.
Located in Mukhuri Village, Shurubumu boasts the most beautiful waterfall cascades. An enchanting wonder of the natural world, the area is covered in lush green moss and thousand-year old buxus trees. There is also a cave nearby with many stalactites and stalagmites.
Otsindale is a church complex located in Taia Village at an elevation of 823m above sea level overlooking the gorgeous Kolkheti Valley. The complex comprises an 11th century church, and a tower built in the 8th century. The church sits on a superbly panoramic hill with views of the whole of Samegrelo, the mountains of Guria and Abkhazia’s Black Sea coast. Visitors can enjoy stunning sunsets from here.
As with most Black Sea coastal areas of Georgia, Samegrelo weather is characterized by a subtropical climate of hot summers and mild winters, with frequent rains. The best time to visit Samegrelo is during the summer months of April through October when the weather is nice, sultry and perfect for exploring.
For flights to Georgia landing at Kutaisi airport, you may take a domestic flight to Mestia airport and then hire a car and drive to Samegrelo. But driving in the country of Georgia can be difficult if you don’t understand the Georgian alphabet or speak the Georgian language. The best option is to travel to Samegrelo via private transfer.
With its unique nature, cuisine and language, Samegrelo is a place not to be missed whilst visiting Georgia. The breathtaking scenery, delicious spicy food and lovely dialect of the Megrelian language alone are certain to delight every visitor.
There’s always accommodation available in Samegrelo hotels and vacation rentals, but do book ahead with our Georgia trip planner if you’d like to stay in the better options. We can also arrange rental cars in Samegrelo and/ or Georgia tours with private transfers to and from Mestia airport.
Alternatively, create your own custom vacation package that includes the places you’d like to see and things you’d like to do in Samegrelo. Ready for your next fantastic vacation? Order your custom tour to Samegrelo today and enjoy a Georgian holiday to remember!