Sunday, August 7, 2022 - 12:45

When we woke up this morning we cautiously looked out the window and were very pleased to see that the weather forecast had got things completely wrong for a second day in a row. Rather than thunderstorms, there was bright sunshine and mostly clear skies, with the storm forecast pushed out to the mid afternoon. This meant we headed straight to see Vardzia after breakfast. The drive was only a few minutes along the mountain before we crossed the river Mtkvari and came to a junction with signs for Vardzia and Upper Vardzia. A quick check of the Google map suggested there was a church of some sort at Upper Vardzia, so we headed there first before going to the caves at the actual Vardzia.

The 2km road to Upper Vardzia was a single track road past a few farms on the hillside with cows roaming around freely as we have been used to. It reminded me a lot of driving in the far North West of Scotland, or perhaps the Isle of Skye, with the road and landscape looking extremely similar, just with cows instead of sheep. At the top of the road we came to a dead end with a few well kept buildings. One was a monastery complex which wasn't open to the public, where we could see some nuns all dressed in black walking around. The other was a small church where it looked like Sunday mass was just finishing since there were quite a few people coming out of the hall and hanging around outside talking. We had a quick peek inside, took a couple of photos, then got straight back in the car since there wasn't anything else to see here.

Driving back down to the real Vardzia, we came to a parking area with a couple of restaurants along the river, toilets, souvenir stalls, and a ticket office for the site. The tickets only cost 15GEL (about £4.50) each and that included a free shuttle ride up to the starting point of the caves. Unfortunately the audio guide system wasn't working (would have cost an extra 45 GEL) and there were no tour guides available. Before we could take the shuttle, we first had to go back to the hotel to drop off Summer (see below), and on the way we stopped at the main viewpoint on the other side of the river. From there we had a panoramic view of the whole cave complex, which made for some fantastic photos. Once back at Vardzia, we took the shuttle to the top and the rest was all on foot from then on. This was certainly not a buggy friendly environment, or for anyone who has any difficulty walking, with many staircases up and down the cave complex, and some quite claustrophobic walkways inside the caves themselves.

It was a real shame the audio guide wasn't available since there was no other information about any of the sites around the complex other than the title for the audio guide chapter. So we knew something was a chapel, or a wine cellar, or a house, but no further details than that. There was also no information about when anything was built or who lived here, but luckily at one point of the walk we did manage to eavesdrop on a guide taking another group around. We overheard that at some point up to 1200 people lived here, and there were 12 churches on site. He also mentioned a secret escape route inside the cave network which was booby trapped so they could shut it off if they were ever invaded; we got to walk up this rather narrow tunnel but one at a time since it wasn't baby friendly. I've had a read up on Wikipedia since we left, and would encourage anyone interested to do the same. It seems the complex construction peaked around the 12th century and it fell into disuse during the Ottoman times before eventually becoming a managed museum by the Georgian government during Soviet times. One of the highlights of the complex was the primary church, the Church of the Dormition, which had elaborate paintings all around the interior, in an orthodox style very different to what you would find in a Western church. Outside the church are some bells which are still rung every morning at 7am by the five monks who live in the complex. We also could see a separate gated section of caves which looked much better kept with flowers and plants outside - presumably where these monks live.

The complex is very well maintained, with modern staircases connecting the different cave levels, and tourists free to explore almost all of the caves as they wish. I explored a few of the caves off the main walkway, though eventually they all start to look rather similar! One common theme was a main larger cave at the front overlooking the mountainside, with a small cave or two off it at the back. These smaller caves were much cooler and often had holes in the floor, probably for storage or to keep things cool (maybe the audio guide would have explained this!). Once we had completed the main path through the highlights of the complex, the way out was via the 'secret tunnel', which was a rather precarious staircase through tunnels inside the mountain and along the edge of it. This was fairly hard work with Lucy in the baby carrier, and Lucy amusingly had a very concerned face as we slowly went down the stairs. Eventually we made it to the bottom and back to the riverside for lunch.

I probably should have mentioned above that throughout the entire cave complex, the views out onto the mountainside and over the valley below are stunning in every direction. It was a photographer's paradise and not too busy either, so there wasn't much patience required to get great photos of all the different perspectives of the cave and valley. Overall, quite a unique place for us other than perhaps the caves at Matera, though we hear Cappadocia is somewhat similar, and there are other cave complexes around Georgia which we don't have time to visit.

The rest of today was spent relaxing at the hotel as the storm on the forecast finally rolled in.

Dog Notes: 

When we got to the ticket office in Vardzia with Summer they told us dogs weren't allowed up to the caves. We weren't very happy about this but it turned out this wasn't an arbitrary banning of dogs but with good reason as the tiny steep stone staircases would definitely not have been suitable for a dog. In the end Summer had a relaxing 3 hour nap in the hotel room before getting some extra ball playing time later on.

Miles Driven: 
Vardzia Resort


Did you meet any troglodytes? We did in the cuevas in Spain on the way to Granada

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