Kazbegi

Kazbegi

Things to do - general

This is most people’s destination on the Georgian Military Highway: a valley town at about 1750m altitude, just 15km short of the Russian border, with the famous hilltop sil- houette of Tsminda Sameba Church and the snowy peak of Mt Kazbek towering to the west. Now officially named Stepantsminda, but still commonly known as Kazbegi, it has easy access from Tbilisi, plentiful inexpen- sive accommodation and great walking and mountain-biking in the area.

The highway brings you straight into the main square, Kazbegis moedani, with Hotel Stepantsminda on its west side. Be prepared for a bit of hustle from guesthouse owners and taxi drivers when you arrive. From the square Kazbegis qucha forks to the right, while the main road leads down over the Tergi River then continues north to the Russian border in the dramatic Dariali Gorge. Immediately after the Tergi bridge a side road turns up to Gergeti village on the west side of the valley, almost a suburb of Kazbegi.

Country Georgia
Region Mtskheta - Mtianeti
CityStepantsminda
Population1800
Languages spokenGeorgian, Russian, English
Phone Code345

Sights

There are many wonderful walks and some good mountain-bike and horse routes in the valleys and mountains around Kazbegi. Taxis to outlying destinations are available on Kazbegis moedani but you may get better prices through your accommodation. The walking and climbing season is from May or June to October or November, depending on the weather.

Gergeti Glacier

If you’re up for another 900m of ascent from Tsminda Sameba (p88), this quite strenuous walk rewards with spectacular views. The path heads straight up the ridge behind the church; an alternative route, more protected on windy days, runs up the left flank of the ridge. The two meet at a cairn at 2960m altitude, from where a path leads on up to- wards the left side of the Gergeti (Ortsveri) Glacier. Head up here for about one hour for views of the glacier, then return. Allow up to nine hours to get up there from Kazbegi and down again the same day.

If you have a day in hand and are expe- rienced on ice or have a good guide, and preferably an ice axe and crampons, it’s pos- sible, with a further 600m of ascent, to cross the glacier and climb to the Meteo Station, a former weather station at 3652m where you can sleep. The station has around 50 beds and space for a total 200 people. Bring food, a warm sleeping bag and cooking gear. Camping is free but the wind can be fierce.

Mt. Kazbek

This 5047m extinct volcano towering west of Kazbegi has much folk history. The Greek Prometheus was supposedly chained up here for stealing fire from the gods, as was the Georgian Amirani, for challenging God’s omnipotence. Amirani’s legendary abode was somewhere near the Betlemi (Bethlehem) cave, 4000m above sea level, where resided a hermit and many very sacred objects – Christ’s manger, Abraham’s tent and a dove- rocked golden cradle whose sight would blind a human being. There were taboos against hunting on the mountain and climbing it. Not surprisingly, the first to conquer Kazbek’s peak were foreigners: Freshfield, Tucker and Moore of the London Alpine Club in 1868.

There is indeed a cave at 4000m, near the Meteo Station, which serves as the base for Kazbek ascents today. Somewhere around 5000 people a year climb to Kazbek’s summit but it’s not for everyone: this is a challenging mountaineering experience that requires fitness and acclimatisation to altitude. At the Meteo Station you may be able to join a group heading to the summit for 50 GEL to 100 GEL – but to ensure guide services you should organise them beforehand with our Company.

The ascent is technically straightforward, though there is some danger in crevasses. It generally takes three or four days from Kazbegi, with nights spent at the Meteo Station. The second day is usually spent acclimatising with climbs to the Maili Plateau (4500m) or Ortsveri Peak (4365m). On day three you start for the summit from the Meteo Sta- tion in the early hours of the morning. The ascent takes around six hours, with the steep final 150m involving about three rope lengths of 35- to 40-degree ice. The descent to the Meteo Station for the third night takes up to another six hours.

Stepantsminda History Museum

The museum is set in the childhood home of writer Alexander Kazbegi (1848–93), 300m north of Kazbegis moedani. Kazbegi made the unusual decision to become a shepherd after studying in Tbilisi, St Petersburg and Moscow. Later he worked as a journalist and wrote the novels and plays that made him famous. The museum’s ground floor contains photos, paintings, traditional clothing and domestic artefacts documenting local life; the upstairs is devoted to the man. His grave lies under a large stone sculpture near the fence outside: he asked to be buried where he could see Mt Kazbek. To one side is a church, dated 1809–11, with a striking relief of two lions above its door. To its ea and west are the tombs of Alexander’s fathe and mother.

Sno Valley & Arkhoti

The Sno valley runs southeast off the Georgian Military Highway 4km south of Kazbegi. The small village of Juta (2150m), inhabited by Khevsurs from over the mountains to the east, is about 15km along the unpaved valley road and a starting point for some great hikes.

One beautiful short walk from Juta goes southeast up the Chaukhi valley to the foot of Mt Chaukhi (3842m), a multipinnacled peak popular with climbers, 11⁄2 hours from Juta. With more time you can continue up the valley to the 3338m Chaukhi Pass, and in a long day you can get over the pass and down to Roshka in Khevsureti.

A 10- to 12-hour walk eastward from Juta leads over the 3287m Arkhotistavi Pass to the intriguing Arkhoti area, with no roads and three Khevsur villages: Chimgha, Akhieli and Amgha. From Arkhoti you can cross the Blosghele Pass south to Roshka. The Chaukhi and Arkhotistavi passes are passable from about July to mid-October. Horse rental in Juta costs around 100 GEL to the Chaukhi Pass (one-way), 150 GEL to Roshka (one-way) and 200 GEL to Arkhoti and back.

Truso Valley

This beautiful valley, source of the Tergi River, heads west off the Georgian Military Highway 17km south of Kazbegi. A good plan is to drive to Okrokana, 5km up the valley, then walk or ride to Abano village, 8km further. You’ll pass mineral-water geysers, ancient towers and abandoned villages once inhabited by Ossetians. Truso is also noted for bird-watching. Georgian soldiers will probably prevent you from going much beyond Abano (the South Ossetia border is close).

Activities

Sleeping & Eating

Kazbegi is very well supplied with guesthouses and homestays, all providing meals Those mentioned here are just a selection and (except where stated) have shared bathrooms with hot showers. Many are closed outside the main season (May to early November).

The eating-out choices boil down to a handful of cafes around Kazbegis moedani, serving staples such as khachapuri, khinkali, mtsvadi and salads.

Paragliding

We are highly experienced paraglider who takes inexperienced flyers on tandem flights in the Tbilisi Sea and Rustavi areas close to Tbilisi, from March to October, for 60 GEL (minimum two take-off attempts), or from Gudauri ski resort in winter for 120 GEL, transport included. We can also provide logistical support for groups of experienced pilots who want to fly in other areas including Gudauri (best August to mid-October) and Kazbegi.

Culture and history info

Georgian Military Highway

This ancient passage across the Caucasus towards Vladikavkaz in Russia is a spectacular adventure. A track through the challenging mountain terrain was first properly engineered as a road in the 19th century with the Russian occupation of the Caucasus. The road clings to the side of the turquoise Zhinvali Reservoir and passes the sublime architecture of Ananuri and the ski resort of Gudauri before reaching its highest point, the Jvari (Cross) Pass. It then descends the Tergi valley to Kazbegi, a superb base for walking, climbing and bird-watching. The Russian border at Larsi, 15km beyond Kazbegi, was reopened to CIS and Georgian travellers in 2010 but remained closed to others.

Tsminda Sameba Church

The 14th-century Holy Trinity Church above Kazbegi at 2200m has become almost a symbol of Georgia for its beauty, piety and the fierce determination involved in building it on such a lofty, isolated perch. In 1988 the Soviet authorities constructed a cable-car line to the church, with one station behind Kazbegi’s History Museum and the other right next to Tsminda Sameba. The people of Kazbegi felt it defiled their sacred place and soon destroyed it.

Vakhushti Batonishvili wrote in the 18th century that in times of danger the treasures from Mtskheta, as well as St Nino’s cross, were kept at Tsminda Sameba for safety. The beautifully weathered stone church and bell tower are decorated with intriguing carvings, one on the bell tower appearing to show two dinosaurs. The church interior is not particularly unusual, but certainly worth a look.

There are several ways of walking up to the church from Kazbegi. For the shortest and steepest, walk up through Gergeti village to a T-junction 1.25km from the highway (80m after signs indicating the car track to the right). Go 80m left from the T-junction, then 80m to the right and take a narrow path between metal posts. The path passes under a couple of wire fences and climbs steeply to join the car track after 350m. Follow the car track uphill to the fourth right-hand zigzag, where a path heads off up to the left: this reaches the church after a steep upward 700m – approximately one hour from Kazbegi.

For an alternative route avoiding the steepest parts and taking about half an hour longer, turn right at the previously mentioned T-junction in Gergeti, and go immediately up a narrow path to the left. Follow this up and out of the village to meet the vehicle track after 600m. Go left up the vehicle track and follow it up through the woods for approxi- mately 2.5km until it emerges in a grassy clearing. About 150m along the clearing, a path starts up into the trees on the left. Take this and after five steep minutes you’ll rejoin the vehicle track in grassy meadows with the church in view to the left – just 10 minutes’ more walk.

Mountain hotel

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Tour to Mount Kazbek

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Kazbegi Jeep tour

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