A geographic region in the southeastern part of the Republic of Georgia, Kakheti is about as diverse as they come. A unique region containing arid deserts, mountains, lush and fertile valleys, and criss-crossed by rivers, the Kakheti Region is known as Georgia’s wine country. As you might expect, many of the top things to do in Kakheti, Georgia, are based around wine.
The Kakheti Wine Region is also home to many historical and cultural attractions, including David Gareja Monastery and Batonis Tsikhe Fortress. But it’s wine, especially those cultivated in the gorgeous Alazani Valley, that steals the show here. Here, the locals often make their own wine at home inside qvevri, or large clay pots that have been used since antiquity.
The diversity of the geography and climate are major contributing factors to the quality of Kakhetian wine. The mix of arid and subtropical climates, the elevation, and even the Alazani and Ivri Rivers, greatly influence the wines.
Those wines are made by some of the friendliest people I’ve met while traveling. My guide Tim from Friendly GE and I toured the area over several days, meeting home brewers, cooks, winery workers, and more.
Each one blew me away with their kindness and the way they were thrilled to open their homes to us. Meeting people is why I travel, and Kakheti did not disappoint. These are the top things to do in the Kakheti Wine Region of Georgia.
If you drive 90 minutes southeast from Tbilisi to the village of Udabno, you’ll come across one of the top things to do in Kakheti, Georgia, David Gareja Monastery. This rock-hewn Georgian Orthodox cave monastery was founded by St. David Garejeli, one of 13 Assyrian monks who arrived in Georgia in the 6th century.
It’s comprised of hundreds of chapels, churches, refectories, cells, and living quarters carved into the slopes of Mount Gareja. Despite the harsh semi-desert environment, David Gareja Monastery was a vital cultural and religious center for centuries.
Inside the complex, you can visit the original cave where St. David Garejeli lived. Inside, you’ll find icons depicting saints, as well as the graves of Garejeli and another saint. Elsewhere in the complex are closed-off tunnels and residences.
My personal favorite moment came when my guide Tim and I explored the upper balcony. From there, we had wonderful views of the courtyard below as well as the caves, tower, and distant Bacon Mountains.
As you exit, take note of the archway above you, which is inscribed with Georgian script. You can also see an ancient channel that aided in collecting water. It’s a fascinating look at one of the top things to do in Kakheti, Georgia!
David Gareja Monastery
Also in the Udabno area, not far from David Gareja Monastery, is another fascinating monastic complex. Located among the farmland and arid semi-desert is Natlismtsemeli Monastery. This monastery from the 7th century is also known as St. John Monastery.
Comprised of several cave temples and one central church, Natlismtsemeli Monastery is the full-time home to roughly three monks. The walls inside were once covered in colorful frescoes, but unlike David Gareja Monastery, they have since faded. The cave temples are fascinating to visit. There are patches of plaster missing from the walls, as well as paintings and icons.
Back outside, a thin, winding trail between boulders will lead to a stone tower. Follow the flight of stairs inside to get the best views over the entire area! From there, you’ll see why the name “Udabno” translates to “desert” in Georgian!
Of all the things to do in the Kakheti region of Georgia, dining at Oasis Club is one of them. This restaurant and accommodation in Udabno also features a bar, a lounge, a terrace, a concert stage, and pastures for cattle. It’s a quaint and cozy spot amid the arid landscape and is very comfortable!
There, Tim and I stopped for a fantastic lunch made by an elderly Georgian woman. First, we watched her prepare a sticky flour dough. She then seasoned ground lamb with a fiery spice blend that included salt, coriander, chili peppers, caraway, and fenugreek. Finally, she stuffed the dough with the meat to make a stuffed pie called kubdari.
The kubdari was excellent. As a lover of spicy foods, the amount of heat in the meat was just perfect. It was prominent without being overbearing. The crust was similar to focaccia, and the dish itself reminded me of lamb pies I’d eaten in Greece.
The woman also made us a cheesy, pizza-like dish called khachapuri. Khachapuri is essentially Georgian cheese bread, but it comes in many different forms and shapes depending on the region. I couldn’t get enough of the delicious melted cheese!
Of course, you can’t stop at a place like Oasis Club and not sample their chacha, which is a clear brandy. The tangerine flavor was strong and citrusy, while their “chacha-cello” tasted very similar to limoncello. It’s a must!
Udabno Sagarejo Raioni
Udabno 3801, Georgia
What’s a trip to the wine country without visiting a winery? Roughly a 40-minute drive east from Tbilisi is Vineria Kakheti, a local winery in Sagarejo. They produce between 30 and 35 types of wine, as well as brandy, chacha, and other liqueurs. As is the case throughout Kakheti, they have stunning grounds. Theirs feature a botanical garden with greenhouses and a pond.
There, I met a friendly man named Andrew, who took me on a tour of the property. He let me try a pickled sprout called jonjoli, which grows on local bushes and is eaten as an appetizer. I also got to see their traditional winemaking room, which contains vessels called kvevri. These large, clay amphoras have been used in Georgian winemaking for thousands of years, and most homes in Kakheti have a room containing them.
In addition to sampling wines, you can also enjoy a rustic Georgian barbecue feast there. I loved the mtsvadi, which is barbecued pork skewered over charcoal. Their sulguni cheese and dadughi (cottage cheese with mint) were also fantastic. I also highly recommend their creamy and earthy stuffed mushrooms.
Enjoy the food with some of their excellent chacha or a chilled Dugladze Rkatsitel white wine. After your meal, head over to their shop, where you can sample more wines. The clay jars give the wines a unique, earthy flavor you can’t get anywhere else.
I recommend the Dugladze Kisi Qvevri dry amber wine, the red semi-sweet Dugladze Khvanchkara, and the bold and oaky dry red Dugladze Saperave Reserve. Their VS Brandy is 40% alcohol but remarkably smooth and has a coffee-like aroma!
Sagarejo 3805, Georgia
Bread is a big part of Georgian cuisine, and there are many different styles to try. One of my favorites is shotis puri, which are long, thin loaves baked on the inside wall of a clay tone oven. They’re essentially crispy, golden brown breadsticks.
As is always the case with bread, the fresher, the better! I recommend eating the shotis puri hot out of the oven. Have it with a bit of cheese if you wish. The kind I tried at a tiny spot in the village of Badiauri, roughly an hour east of Tbilisi, was some of the tastiest bread I ate on my trip!
If you’re planning on spending multiple days exploring Kakheti—and I highly suggest it—you’ll need a place to stay overnight. My recommendation is Lost Ridge Inn, a boutique hotel in the village of Qedeli, just outside of Signagi. From the inn, you’ll enjoy gorgeous views of the valley below.
The inn contains six rooms and a three-barrel craft microbrewery. There’s also an outdoor fire kitchen, a horse ranch, and an outdoor cafe. My room, the Archaeology Suite at the Ranch, was a rustic space with a modern bathroom, balcony, fireplace, washing machine, private kitchen, and dining room in a 19th century farmhouse.
The foods you’ll enjoy from their fire kitchen are outstanding. One of my favorites was the creamy matsoni-and-tahini soup with pine nuts. It’s made with matsoni, a unique and fizzy Georgian yogurt. I’m a sucker for stuffed grape leaves, so the tolmas were fantastic.
They also served us a dish made with folded pieces of phyllo dough and ricotta cheese. It was almost like a unique mac and cheese! The fried potatoes with dill and plum sauce were a crispy treat.
And as an eggplant lover, the nigvziani badrijani (eggplant rolls with walnut paste) had me salivating for the rest of the night. If you’re a lover of great food, staying at Lost Ridge Inn is one of the top things to do in Kakheti, Georgia!
I also advise visiting their on-site microbrewery. Their Svia IPA is crisp and hoppy, while the floral Rhododendron Saison is nice and refreshing. I thought I could taste some black currant in the Blackthorn Saison, and the Hazy IPA had a smooth but slightly bitter flavor.
Lost Ridge Inn
8 Noneshvili Str.
Qedeli Village Settlement
Just outside of the town of Signagi is another special religious attraction, Bodbe Monastery. Also known as Bodbe’s St. Nino’s Convent and Bodbe Monastery of St. Nino, it’s the largest monastery in Georgia. It was founded in the 9th century by St. Nino, one of the first people to spread Christianity in Georgia.
The church is home to St. Nino’s grave as well as a holy spring. It became one of Georgia’s largest centers for Christianity and now serves as a nunnery and pilgrimage site. Though the monastery had origins that go back several centuries, it has been renovated and remodeled throughout the years.
Most spectacularly, the monastery overlooks the picturesque Alazani Valley. This fertile area is known as one of the best places to grow wine grapes in Georgia!
Sighnaghi-St. Nino Monastery
The town of Signagi (also spelled Sighnaghi) may be one of Georgia’s smallest towns, but it’s big on history and culture. It’s known as the City of Love and is characterized by its 18th-century walls and towers, Georgian Orthodox churches, and cobblestone streets.
As Tim and I explored the town, I couldn’t help but think it reminded me of old Italian towns I’d visited on countless occasions. The architecture, cobblestones in the streets, and colorful homes made me yearn for my mother’s homeland.
The town’s main square has a fountain in the middle and is bordered by a bank, a wedding palace, and a market. Food vendors and souvenir kiosks also pepper the area. Past it, you’ll find the city hall, bakeries, souvenir shops, and more vendors selling hand-knit goods.
I’m a big proponent of supporting locals when I travel, so I suggest meeting the vendors and buying some unique souvenirs. Further on is a section of the city walls with an archway and two towers on either side. Through the archway are more women selling woven carpets and hand-knit shoes, hats, and socks!
While it’s small, exploring Signagi was a dream to visit. It’s one of my favorite things to do in Kakheti, Georgia, and I think it’ll be one of yours, too.
Signagi is so small, you really only need a few hours to explore it all. Dedicate one of those hours to dining at Kusika Restaurant, a popular restaurant with a guesthouse, a pool, and a terrace. Hearty Georgian fare is on the menu here, including some dishes I hadn’t yet tried.
We started with red peppers and eggplant, both stuffed with nigvzis sakmazi (walnut paste). They also had a long, cylindrical khachapuri that was more like a massive tequeño. I loved the massive amount of gooey sulguni cheese that oozed out with every bite.
Their shkmeruli (fried chicken in a creamy, yogurt-based garlic sauce) was rich and full of flavor. I also adored the chakapuli (lamb and tarragon stew), fresh bread, and the qababi (kebabs) with onion. I also tried an amazing kebab with minced meat, eggplant, onions, chilies, and peppers stuffed with meat, all on one skewer!
The spicy meat combined with the eggplant, onions, and peppers blew me away. But it was their walnut-and-eggplant sauce that took the cake for me. It was almost like a nutty, creamy chimichurri! The food I ate at Kusika Restaurant was some of the best I had in the Kakheti region. It was everything I’d come to love about Georgian cuisine and then some. Make time in your day to eat there. It’s among my top things to do in Kakheti, Georgia for a reason!
Kusika Restaurant & Hotel
Vahtang Gorgasali 15
As I mentioned earlier, Signagi is just a hop, skip, and a jump from the famed Alazani Valley. Wine lovers visiting Georgia simply cannot miss this area, which is home to the country’s largest winery, Winery Khareba. It’s easily one of the top things to do in Kakheti, Georgia, for sure. The winery owns numerous other wineries and vineyards around the country. They also grow 25 varieties of organic grapes.
As you might expect, they offer tours at varying prices depending on which types of wines you’d like to try and how many glasses you’d like. As you move through the winery, you’ll get to see the 26,000 bottles stored in their cellar, their massive 225-liter French oak barrels, and subterranean tasting rooms.
The tasting I went with included some bread and cheese with the winery’s own grapeseed oil. They paired nicely with the dry and light Monastery Qvevri Kisi and the robust Khareba Khikhvi. But my favorites were the Khareba Saperavi 2017 and the Monastery Saperavi Dry Red, which was like a strong and bold syrah.
In the city of Telavi is a small, family-owned winery called Bardanshvili’s Marani. It has the rustic look and feel of a family farm. They have grapevines that are over eighty years old, as well as chickens running around the property. It’s run by an incredibly hospitable gentleman who couldn’t wait to let me try his wines!
Next to their vines, you’ll find the room housing their kvevri, the underground clay pots used in traditional Georgian wine-making. They were put there over 100 years ago, and the house and farm were built around them. After the wine ferments in the kvevri for six months, it’s then transferred to their stainless steel tanks.
Their Rkatsiteli dry white wine was a light and dry wine that’s actually the most common white wine in Georgia. I enjoyed the Italian farmhouse feel of the Kisi amber wine. I also liked their young rose and their strong 70% chacha!
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If you’re looking for another small, family-owned winery in the Telavi area, I highly suggest Marani Milorauli. Visiting the tiny wineries in the area are among the best things to do in Kakheti, as they’re a massive part of the culture in Georgia.
Marani Milorauli is a bit more modern, and includes as small guesthouse. Their qvevri room also has a newer, more refined look, as it was built in 2015. They bottle and make eight different wines, made from various European grapes using Georgian technology. I loved their fruity and juicy Khikhvi white wine and delicious Saperavi red. They were excellent!
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Telavi 2200, Georgia
If you’re looking for a warm, homey accommodation with an eclectic vibe, there’s no better spot than Qilimcha’s Guesthouse in Telavi. This funky guesthouse features four rooms and a wonderful rooftop terrace, but the real draws are the staff and decor.
Run by a lovely couple named Nino and Gocha, the guesthouse’s lobby is one of the most interesting I’ve ever seen. It’s bright and vibrant, and loaded with lots of unique, vintage trinkets like vinyl albums, musical instruments, gourds, old cameras, and more.
You’ll find more of Gocha’s whimsical decor throughout the guesthouse. The bedrooms are minimalistic and comfortable. Mine contained a queen-sized bed and a twin bed.
The food prepared by the owners is nothing short of spectacular. Their cheesy corn fritters, known as mchadi, are fantastic. I also loved their roasted potatoes with dill, their sweet and savory chicken with plum sauce, buttery trout, and corn on the cob.
Best of all, Nino and Gocha make you feel at home the moment you arrive. Their warm and hospitable nature made me feel like I was a part of their family! I highly recommend staying with them during your time in the area. It’s one of the best things to do in Kakheti, Georgia!
While wine and wineries are the main attractions in Kakheti, they are by no means the only reason to visit the area. In Telavi, you’ll find Batonis Tsikhe, a fortress from the 18th century. It was the home of Kakhetian kings when the region was an independent kingdom. On the grounds is a statue of a Kakhetian king, which stands in the shadow of a 900-year-old tree called the Giant Plane Tree.
The tree has a massive hollow inside its trunk that’s big enough to walk inside of. Elsewhere are the fortress’ watchtowers. I recommend heading up to the top, where you can see the southern and western gates. You’ll also get great views of a former palace that serves as a museum, as well as the Telavi area!
One of my favorite things to do in the Kakheti Region is visiting Telavi Bazaar. Bazaars are often the beating heart of towns and communities around the world. They’re where locals shop, congregate, socialize, and make a living.
Telavi Bazaar is a massive covered market with a wide selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. I walked past lots of stalls offering fresh, juicy peaches, apricots, and nectarines, as well as plums, jonjoli, cheeses, and more.
One of the highlights was seeing the colorful bundles of churchkhela hanging from the roof of several stalls. They’re essentially nuts strung together and dipped in a mixture of fruit juice and flour. When the mixture hardens, it gets the consistency of caramel, so the churchkhela is almost like a Georgian Snickers bar! It’s easy to mistake them for candles, but they’re actually a sweet!
If you’re unsure if you want to buy something, most vendors are happy to give out samples. I tried some sticky honeycomb, a salty feta-like sheep cheese, smoked ham, meat jelly, a pastry called ponchiki, and a couple of types of chacha. I loved the peach and honey varieties!
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Speaking of cheese, you can’t have a famous wine region without also having a spot that makes delicious cheese! At Tsivis Kveli, just a five-minute drive from Telavi Bazaar, you can buy and try a number of their over 200 varieties!
The family-run factory is run by a pair of brothers named George and Nick. They took me and my friend and guide Tim on a fascinating tour of their facilities, starting at their sanitation station. From there, we saw massive vats of milk being cultured and stirred by workers.
Further on, we moved on to the cellar, where they age wheels of cheese on wooden shelves. They have varieties that they age in wine, as well as others mixed with various herbs and spices. From there, you’ll see how they check the acidity of their milk, as well as their packaging center.
But of course, the cheese tasting is the best part of the tour. It included seven cheeses, including a dense, fruity one that had been aged in black wine. Tarragon is a staple in Georgia, so it’s fitting it would make it into one of their cheeses. It’s delicious!
I also tried cheeses mixed with saffron and barberry, as well as Georgia’s most famous cheese, sulguni. Their smoked roulette was like a fatty, salty pinwheel containing bacon and barberries. I also thoroughly enjoyed the ricotta, string cheese, and cheesecake balls, which contained jelly on the inside! This cheesy feast is one of the best things to do in Kakheti, Georgia!
Tsivis Kveli Cheese Factory
In my view, Georgia is an extremely underrated travel destination. But the Kakheti Wine Region, in particular, deserves far more attention. If you’re a wine lover, you would be remiss to visit this area of Georgia, a country whose winemaking history is longer than just about any other. The food there is hearty and flavorful, the history is fascinating, and the people make you feel like you never left home. Visit this region to experience the top things to do in Kakheti, Georgia today!
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