Tbilisi to Gudauri

Tuesday, August 16, 2022 - 18:30

Today was supposed to be the day we reached Baku, but with all of Azerbaijan's land borders firmly closed, we have changed our itinerary from Tbilisi and are heading northward instead of eastward. This is taking us to a part of Georgia we weren't going to have time to visit previously, and it turned out to be quite a silver lining, with what has probably been the best scenery of the trip so far.

The roads out of the centre of Tbilisi reminded us how confusing the road system is here, with navigation not for the faint hearted. The dual carriageway along the river has exit ramps on both sides, and we had to be very careful not to take any wrong turns; it reminded me quite a bit of some of the confusing motorway systems I've seen in larger cities in the USA. Eventually as we left the outer limits of the city it became a nice stretch of fairly 'normal' motorway, though this was short lived as we turned off to head north. This northern road is single carriageway the whole way to the Russian border, and it was a bit of a nightmare due to the number of lorries clogging up the road. This didn't seem to be the same excess of Turkish lorries we had come across previously at the Turkey/Georgia border, since they likely go up through the Russian occupied territory of Abkhazia. Instead it was a good mix of Russian, Georgian, Armenian (mostly carrying fruit), and Central Asian licence plates. A bit like the road we had driven to get to Tatev in Armenia, this one was completely unsuitable for lorries in places, with sharp hairpin turns, steep inclines, and parts of it literally collapsing where you had to wait for the other side to pass first. On top of that there was the usual good helping of roaming cows, and they continued to get away with drifting as they pleased across the carriageway. It seems the Georgian's have realised how unsuitable this road is because there was a road building project going on which looks sponsored by the Chinese a bit like the motorway we saw under construction from Batumi to Borjomi. It was very early stages though, and we could only see a couple of tunnels under construction.

One such example where a part of the road had disintegrated was just before a hairpin leading up to the ski resort of Gudauri. This meant the police had to stop one side of the road completely at a time, and we ended up being nearly an hour delayed in the resulting traffic. What made things worse was that many drivers got impatient and decided to just push past everyone else, creating a second lane in the middle of the road, and some very dangerous situations when traffic eventually came the other way. After a while some more police came and started shouting at all the people pushing in, so they merged into the traffic and single-file returned. It was quite amusing watching all this and seeing how people got away with pushing in - it seems to be quite acceptable in the culture here, and presumably Russia, since many of the people pushing were Russians.

The delays were worth it however, since we were entering the Caucasus mountain range at this point, with the mountains getting higher and more rugged as we drove past. It looked fairly similar to parts of the Alps we have seen, though the peaks here are a bit taller, pushing 5,000+ metres in places. As we got deeper into the range, each turn brought new jaw-dropping scenery, and it was difficult to know when to stop to take pictures because it simply got better and better as we went. The scenery peaked (pun intended) as we reached the town of Stepantsminda, which also happened to be the furthest point in our planned itinerary, since it is where the Gergeti Trinity Church is found. This is a famous church which sits on the peak of a mountain at 2150m altitude, and provides stunning scenery for 360 degrees. As we started to drive up the rather new road to get up to the church, we found that the road was closed due to roadworks (later found out this was due to recent rain damage and it is closed all summer) and there was a diversion up a rocky track suitable only for 4x4s. This has of course turned into a bit of a local business, with a line of old right-hand drive Japanese 4x4s waiting to take you up the track for the price of 70 GEL (about £20) per family. We hadn't come all this way to miss out on the views from the church, so we obliged, and all got in one of the old vehicles, which the driver actually handled impressively given the terrible conditions. Turns out the driver loves rugby and asked me if I knew Jonny Wilkinson. He also told us how he won a green card in the green card lottery for the USA and is moving there with his family in January!

Once at the top the driver told us we had exactly 25 minutes before we had to get back for the return trip, so we got Lucy in the harness and walked the short path up to the church. From this point we already had incredible views, with snow-capped Mount Kazbek behind us, and the wall of mountains surrounding Stepantsminda on the other. The views were so impressive that the church almost felt secondary, though we did take a look inside to see the rather bare and dark interior which is apparently typical of Georgian Orthodox churches. Overall we both agreed that this church topped the visit to Tatev Monastery in Armenia and the views we saw there, though we are still glad we did both since they are different enough to be worth it.

It is also worth noting that from Stepantsminda, we were at the most north-westernmost point of our trip to the Caucasus, only 12km from the Russian border. This was 4800km from home, not quite as far from home as our furthest point in Armenia, but the difference now is that everything from this point is going to be the return trip. We took a family photo with the car with Mount Kazbek in the distance to mark the milestone, before setting off on the first leg of the return trip. This simply involved turning around and driving back the way we came. However, since we were repeating the same road, we now knew the places we wanted to stop to take photos before reaching our hotel for the night in Gudauri. We also came across another sight accidentally, when we stopped to buy water on the side of the road and I noticed a strange looking white and orange stone on the side of the mountain opposite. On closer examination we could see water pouring all down the stone, and I did a quick Google to find out it was called the Travertine Mineral Springs and is a flow of water so rich in minerals that the minerals deposit on the side of the mountain. I walked over and was amazed to find that the completely smooth layer of minerals wasn't slippery at all despite the thin layer of water running over it, but almost like walking on rubber. This was something I've never seen before, which doesn't happen everyday, so I made sure Melisa also went over to have a walk on it too!

Our final stop for the day was at a viewpoint simply called the Gudauri View Point, but with a 'Russia-Georgia friendship monument' overlooking the beautiful valley below. The monument had a large mosaic commemorating 200 years of friendship to 1983 when it was built (I guess they had to be friends in Soviet times!), with arches to balconies providing different views from different angles. This was another moment of being spoilt as a photographer, and I took what was by then my 4th panorama of the day.

Finally after a day of unbelievable scenery we are at our hotel in the ski resort of Gudauri, about 2,200m above sea level. As with many places we have seen in the Caucasus, it seems to be mostly under construction, with new apartment blocks and hotels popping up all along the highway. We can see the ski lifts and gondolas sitting unused in the distance, but photos online show this places is transformed in the winter months. For now we are enjoying a cooler evening than the last few nights in Tbilisi, and imagine this is probably similar to visiting the Alps in the middle of summertime.

Dog Notes: 

The Gergeti Trinity Church in Stepantsminda is dog friendly except for the inside of the church itself. Some nuns ushered Summer into the complex enthusiastically and she was getting a lot of attention from the tourists. Luckily our driver up to the church was also dog friendly and he was happy to have Summer in his car where she was very well behaved despite the very bumpy ride!

Electric Vehicle EV Notes: 

Our hotel for the night has a 7KW Type 2 charger in the car park outside which is free to use for guests, so very nice and easy today!

Miles Driven: 
Ati Ambavi Boutique Hotel


Incredible scenery. Something amazing around every corner

Add new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.