What associations does Adjara bring to your mind? Is it Batumi? Any particular landmark? Maybe the Boulevard? How about the moving Statue of Ali and Nino? Or the narrow streets of the old city, those interwoven and yet all leading to the sea? If that’s all you think of, yet think you’ve seen it all, then it’s about time you discovered a new Adjara, a smaller one, with colorful and sunny coastal villages full of merry people.
Text by Manana Qveliashvili, Special Reporter from Batumi
Let’s start with Sarpi, a coastal village divided into two sections. One part is in Turkey and the other is in Georgia, with an enormous fence dividing the two.
Most of the village’s population is of Lazi descent. There are about 2,000 Lazis living in Georgia, mostly in the Sapi-Kvariati area, in Adjara. Besides Georgian, you can also hear Lazi speech in Sarpi. Lazi is a Kartvelian (Georgian) language reportedly spoken by more than 1.6 million people. Most of the Lazi people live in Turkey.
Sarpi has the smallest Black Sea beach located on the Georgia-Turkey border—not the quietest place on earth, not least because of the main highway passing just above it and connecting Sarpi to Batumi. Nonetheless, this section of the beach is swarming with people in the summer. Why? Because of the beach’s crystal-clear seawaters and Kvaomakha, a mammoth cliff protruding into the sea. The word “Kvaomakha” in the Lazi language means “a ridged, cracked stone”. The horizontally layered cliff offers terrace-like areas for tourists and locals to gather in summer. Jumping off Kvaomakha into the sea is in a way an extreme sport activity.
If you ascend the path to Sarpi, you will suddenly find yourself in a mountain village overlooking the sea. And the views are the main attraction of the village, where every elevation offers a spot to enjoy the sight of the sea, to snuggle in the meadow and take in the peaceful, swaying infinity.
In September, the annual Kolkhoba festival is celebrated in Sarpi. The villagers gather by the sea to hold various performances. The festival’s guests can listen to Lazi songs, try local dishes, and familiarize themselves with Lazi handicrafts.
Besides in Sarpi, Lazis also live in Kvariati, a small Black Sea coastal village with a beautiful, peaceful, and special location. Kvariati, similar to Sarpi, consists of two parts: Coastal Kvariati and Hilly Kvariati, with a highway in between. Kvariati, scattered on a mountain slope, offers fantastic views of the infinite horizon. There are numerous family-run hotels in the village. Looking for a tranquil and pleasant place ten minutes from the beach? Then, Kvariati is your best vacation destination!
Unlike Sarpi, Kvariati’s coast features rows of café-bars and bungalows, of which the Rakushkebi Café is something else. Rakushkebi is located where the sea has chiseled out a small bay between Sarpi and Kvariati. Known for its original, colorful design, this café has been Kvariati’s calling card for years. People come from Batumi and other cities to this place, because this small café offers an atmosphere unseen anywhere else.
The boundary between Kvariati and Gonio is hypothetical. Yes, the road sign reads that you have just exited Kvariati and are about to enter Gonio, but visually almost nothing changes. The only difference is that Gonio’s coastline is a bit noisier and has more tall buildings. Pretty much every family rents out an apartment here in the summer. Tourism is the main source of income for Kvariati’s residents. In the summer, cafes and bungalows operate in every corner, playing all kinds of music and offering all kinds of services.
Gonio includes Gonio-Apsaros Museum-Reserve, complete with an ancient fortress. Historians believe that the earliest human settlement in Georgia must have been built in the area around the fortress. The Gonio Fortress itself, found by the seashore, was built by the Romans and is believed to be the resting place of the Apostle Matthew. At the time of construction, it was of crucial strategic importance, serving as a key crossroads between the Kolkehti Plain and the Near East. After the 1547 conquest of Chaneti by the Ottomans, the Gonio Fortress housed an Ottoman imperial garrison for a few centuries. The Ottomans maintained control over the fortress until 1878, when it was handed to the Russian Empire by authority of the Treaty of San Stefano. The ancient Greek historian and philosopher Arrian links the story of the legendary Argonauts to Gonio-Apsaros. According to him, while fleeing from Colchis, Jason and Medea murdered Medea’s brother, Apsyrtus, there. Legend has it that King Aeetes buried his son where today the Gonio Fortress is.
Similar to Sarpi and Kvariati, Gonio’s beach is a clean, perfect place to rest. Gonio and Batumi are separated by the Chorokhi River and unpopulated areas.
North of Batumi there are the Botanical Garden and Green Cape. The Green Cape coast, with its semi-virgin landscapes, is uninhabited and easily accessible from Batumi’s side, near the entrance of the Botanical Garden, which means that you can also reach the place by public transport. Urban legend has it that the Black Sea is the clearest around the Green Cape.
In the summer, you will come across tents all over the Green Cape, a place favored by campers.
To get from the Green Cape to Chakvi, you will have to return to the main highway. Chakvi is a coastal settlement with two-story homes and crystal-clear sea waters. The coastline is more or less developed, with one five-star and several smaller hotels.
Besides the sea, Chakvi used to be famous for tea plantations. In November of 1893, one Liu Jun Zhou, a Chinese tea cultivation expert, arrived in Chakvi in the company of nine other Chinese specialists at the invitation of the Russian merchant Konstantin Semenovich Popov. They brought thousands of tea saplings and hundreds of sacks of tea seeds. Liu Jun Zhou started growing tea in Chakvi, Kapreshumi, and Salibauri. His product was known as Princely Tea, which received a gold medal at the 1900 Tea Exposition in Paris. Liu Jun Zhou stayed in Chakvi until 1926. The house where he and his family lived has survived and stands out from the other buildings in Chakvi with its exceptional architecture. The idea of opening a tea museum here has yet to materialize. Still, we recommend visiting Liu Jun Zhou’s house. It has no doors or windows, nor is a ticket required to enter. Your Instagram account, though, will be several gripping pictures richer, inspired by the house’s interior.
Tsikhisdziri, another seaside village, is also near Chakvi.
There are no cafes, bungalows, or beach infrastructure in Tsikhisdziri. Instead, there is a sea with the clearest blue water and an isolated coastline with giant coniferous trees. Tsikhisdziri is your kind of place if you steer away from noisy, crowed beaches, and prefer peace and quiet.
Besides the sea, Tsikhisdziri features the unique Petra Fortress, the only fortification in Georgia built on an inaccessible cliff by the sea.
In the 5th century AD, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great ordered his court official John Tzibus to build this fortress, which played a significant role throughout the Middle Ages.
Today, only the ruins of the fortress have survived. The views from Petra will make a lasting impression on you. Today a citrus orchard is arranged in the fortress. The green terraces have survived from the communist era, and are now an integral part of the monument, putting the finishing touch on the appearance of the fortress’ ruins.
And if you happen to stay in the Petra Fortress at sunset, don’t rush back, but wait for the burning red sun-disk to sink into the sea. The horizon turns purplish at first, then grows darker eventually to give way to the dusk enveloping the sea. The tranquility instilled by contemplating the sea and horizon will last you a whole year until you revisit this now familiar landscape.
Off the Beach
what to see in Adjara
If all that Adjara brings to mind is the sea and Batumi, it’s probably about time you familiarized yourself with the sunny, mountainous, alpine pasture of Adjara. There is much more to Adjara than just the sea or Adjaruli khachapuri cheese bread, the pearl of local cuisine though it may be. Hardworking people with big hearts live here. They are the uncontested champions when it comes to putting one’s heart into singing and dancing: It just runs in their blood.
Adjaruli men plow and plant at the top of the mountain. They tend vineyards on steep mountain slopes and grow different grape varieties that make for the most delicious wines. And it is up to guests to pick their choice of wine to enjoy, whether it be Ojaleshi, Chkhaveri, or Tsolikauri.
Adjaruli women are up with the chickens to milk the cows, process the milk, and make cheese, butter, and kaimaghi sour cream. The agricultural goods produced by mountainous Adjara eventually end up in Batumi’s farmers’ market.
Adjara, especially its mountainous section, is a land of hardworking, dedicated people who love hosting guests, and are really good at it. You will never regret traveling there.
Let’s start our journey from Mtirala, along the Kobuleti-Chakvi Ridge, a destination offering an equally unforgettable experience all year round.
Mtirala National Park
In the village of Chakvistavi, near the visitor information center by the entrance of Mtirala National Park, you will be offered several routes. One will take you down a trail with direction signs, leading up and down hills, allowing you to jump over mountain brooks and, after the final uphill, find yourself facing an enormous waterfall listening to the water crashing on the rocks. Enjoy some rest in the bosom of nature and take the same trail back.
The second route leads into the village. You will find several small cafes and restaurants on your way, where you can take a break and enjoy authentic Adjarian coffee, or you can just keep on pushing. The path, which stretches along the Chakvistskali River, is simply gorgeous. At the end of the road you’ll find a manually operated cable car built by a local man taking people across the river. All you have to do is pay a couple of GEL, snuggle into the car, and the next thing you know you are on the other side where the second footpath with signs for directions leads up to Mtirala Waterfall.
If you are into extreme sports, you have two options. You can team up with an instructor and go zip-line flying, or venture solo into the adventure park with a rope course to overcome numerous obstacles. The village of Chakvistavi is an integral part of Mtirala National Park. One may say even that it is right in the middle of the park. In recent years, the village’s population has returned, and the place is especially animated and lively in summer. You can reserve a meal at one of the households, visit the park and the waterfall, and come back just in time to enjoy some Adjarian dishes.
The waterfall is called Mtirala (weeping in the Georgian language) for a reason—it seems to rain here all the time. If you are lucky enough to come here in good weather in the morning, it will surely rain in the evening, so make sure you always have a raincoat with you.
On your way from Mtirala to the Machakhela Gorge, you will pass along the seacoast, where I strongly recommend dropping by Cape Green for a couple of hours of tanning or just listening to the sounds of the sea on the beach. Whenever you are ready, you can continue your ascent of the mountain.
How to get there:
From the Chakvi Settlement, where any public transport can take you, you will have to hire a cab for 25-30 GEL to the Mtirala visitor information center.
Where to stay: The visitor center offers standard double rooms for 50 GEL. There are several family-run hotels in the village where you can spend a night for 20-30 GEL.
A zip-line ride costs 15 GEL, and the adventure park offers two routes: the short one with 6 barriers costs 20 GEL, and the long one with 11 barriers is 30 GEL. For 50 GEL, you can hire a horse. All you need to do is get in touch with Khvicha Kontselidze at 558 65 39 62.
On your way from Batumi to mountainous Adjara, you will bump into the village of Acharistskali. The road sign will tell you to turn right for the Machakhela Gorge. So you turn right, and that’s when your true adventure begins. Just past the entrance, you will see the statue of the Machakhela Rifle, a monument erected by the local residents. Some 150 years ago, they were unrivaled in all of Adjara in flintlock manufacturing. Equally famous were the Machakhela blacksmiths whose weapons were held in high esteem not only in Georgia, but also throughout the Ottoman Empire. Fans of ethnography are advised to visit the village of Zemo Chkhutuneti. Its ancient mosque presently houses a museum of ethnography and preserves the history of the gorge in general.
The museum was founded in 1984 by Nugzar Nagervadze, a local resident who used quite a peculiar method to collect artifacts. He put the residents of Zemo Chkhutuneti into two teams and held a competition in donating exhibits. For example, a donated family dagger or a Machakhela rifle equaled 100 points, a wine jar or other household item garnered 5 points. Most of the museum’s artifacts were collected during this competition.
The museum’s exhibits reenact how people lived in ancient Adjara, what they wore, what kitchenware they used, and how they entertained themselves.
If you love wandering through pristine nature, you have three routes to choose from in the Machakhela Gorge. One is called Mtavarangelozis Biliki (Archangel’s Trail), stretching 4 kilometers and ending by the foot of Mount Mtavarangelozi. From the top of the mountain, you can enjoy magical views of Batumi, a truly lasting experience.
The second route is called Kokoletis Biliki, a path you can cover either by car or on foot, wander through virgin nature, camp, and relax. The third route is known as Chanchkeris Biliki (Waterfall Trail), which makes sense because it takes you to a waterfall, by car or on foot, just the same—the choice is yours!
How to get there: It is easiest to take a car to the gorge.
Where to stay: There are many family-run hotels in the Machakhela Gorge. A one-night stay costs 10 GEL, and a day with three meals 45 GEL.
Tago is the only village in the Khulo Municipality connected to the outside world via a cable car stretching from the center of Khulo to Tago at 1000 meters above sea level. It usually takes 8-10 minutes to find yourself in a quintessential Adjarian village with log houses, bright green pastures, and warmhearted people.
There are about 70 households living in the village, mostly pursuing horticulture and cattle-breeding. The cable car, appreciated by tourists as something exotic, is the shortest and fastest way of connecting to the region’s center for the locals. A ride costs only 20 tetri. Tago’s villagers use the cable car to transport their goods for an extra price. For example, they pay an additional 20 tetri for a hay bale and a sack of potatoes. The cable car has a set schedule, opening at 8:30 AM, taking a break at 1 PM, resuming at 3 PM, and closing at 7 PM. The village itself is an exciting site, especially the narrow path running between fences from the cable car station to the center, with quaint houses lined up on either side. A mosque and a school are the key features of the village’s center. Potato farming and cattle-breeding are the main sources of income for the locals.
If you prefer hiking, and are not afraid of long distances on foot, you can enjoy a walk from Tago to Skhalta. This 7-kilometer trail passes through a forest and usually takes a couple of hours.
How to get there: You can catch a ride on a shared taxi or take your own car to Khulo, from where you take a cable car ride to the village.
Where to stay: There are several family-owned hotels in Khulo, with prices fluctuating between 15 and 40 GEL per day. You can reach Guram Tsetskhladze, the owner of one of the hotels, at 598 09 61 43 to enjoy your stay with three meals a day for 40 GEL, or another hotelier, Zurab Tsetskhladze at 598 09 59 09, to rent a room with three meals a day for 40 GEL and without meals for 25 GEL.
The Skhalta Gorge best illustrates the diversity of Adjara. Down the Batumi-Khulo-Akhaltsikhe Highway, you will see an exit sign to the Skhalta Gorge. At the entrance of the gorge, you will find an ancient arch bridge known locally as Tamar’s Bridge. There are 25 stone arch bridges in Adjara. Legend has it that they were all built by Queen Tamar, which is why the locals refer to them as Tamar’s Bridges.
Generally, all good deeds and great feats, every arch bridge and string fortification, are ascribed to Queen Tamar’s merit. It is nearly impossible to find even a single village where at least one landmark is not linked to her name. Legends claim that if a given village’s main stream is named after Tamar, it means that she passed through the area and drank from this stream eight centuries ago. If you come across a field named after her, you will know that Queen Tamar stopped and camped there with her troops. Similarly, a hill immortalizing her name must be a place where Queen Tamar’s warriors washed their mud-covered feet, and the mud piled up to form a hill.
The road to Skhalta runs alongside the Skhaltistskali River. On your way, near the village of Purtio, you will find a cold mountain stream, where you can get some rest, buy fresh fruits, and socialize with the locals. The most impressive landmark of the gorge is the 12th century Skhalta Monastery, which has stood the test of time and survived to this day. The village of Skhalta also features the Museum of Sherif Khimshiashvili, or Sherif-Bey Khimshiashvili, the last ruler of Zemo (Upper) Adjara and leader of the national liberation movement of Muslim Georgia.
The museum occupies the house of Adjara’s Bey and displays his personal effects, such as silver, copper, and china tableware, weapons, photos, and oil paintings.
How to get there: It is easiest to take a car to the gorge.
Where to stay: There is one family-run hotel in Skhalta. Please contact Nugzar Shainidze at 555 20 34 03.
Summer is the best time to travel to mountainous Adjara because, for one, the populations of Adjara’s villages are stationed in alpine pastures at this time. Almost every gorge in Adjara has its own pastures, each special and beautiful in its own way. And Chirukhi is one such summer pasture in the Shuakhevi Municipality, where the populations of the surrounding villages spend only three months in summer. That is why visiting Chirukhi is recommended in the summer. There is a small lake amid the pastures, sandwiched between mountains. The lake offers a mesmerizing sight early in the morning.
From Chirukhi, you can walk to Beshumi Resort.
The 36-kilometer Chirukhi—Sarichairi—Khikhani Fortress—Tetrobi Pass—Beshumi—Goderdzi Pass route takes 3-4 days, and it is the best route to familiarize yourself with mountainous Adjara.
If you decide to embark on this route, make sure you visit the 10th-12th cc. Khikhani Fortress built on a steep slope and praised as one of the most unassailable fortifications in Georgia.
Before setting off, I recommend making thorough preparations and planning.
How to get there: A vehicle road leads up to Chirukhi, so you can catch a car ride. Alternatively, you can take a shared taxi to the village of Shubani, and then walk down a 10-kilometer path.
Where to stay: You can bring a tent with you and camp in Chirukhi. There is also Mereti, a tourist shelter, where you need to make a reservation in advance. Please get in touch with Mereti Manager Revaz Putkaradze at 577 17 57 52.
Beshumi is a summer destination at 1900 meters above sea level, one with prospects of transforming into a winter resort in mountainous Adjara. The main obstacle on your trip will be the 47-kilometer road connecting Beshumi to the center of Khulo. It takes as long as three hours to cover this unpaved road. All these difficulties, however, will be dead and buried as soon as you see the bedazzling landscapes at the end of the road.
The resort offers both modern cottages and old log huts used by herdsmen in the summer, when they come up to the mountains from the villages of the Khulo Municipality to tend their cattle and make organic products like braided cheese, mountain butter, kaimaghi sour cream, and a dairy-based kuruti dish.
Adjara boasts special dairy production traditions. Local women process milk in a special milk-cream separator, and use the processed milk to make braided cheese, and store the cream, which later turns into what is known as kaimaghi. It tastes very much like sour cream, is quite filling, and usually enjoyed with mchadi cornbread.
As for kuruti, it is a true star, the pearl of Adjarian cuisine, a delicacy of sorts. It takes a lot of time and effort to make it. Kuruti uses soft nadughi cottage cheese, which is run through a strainer. Next, it is stirred in a mix of milk and corn flour, then kaimaghi is added to give the mix more elasticity, after which it is divided into small balls. The balls are sundried, a process that, ideally, takes about a month. Sundried kuruti can be stored for a whole year.
The population of mountainous Adjara is very hardworking, and they invest an enormous effort to put food on the table. That is probably why the dishes characteristic of mountainous Adjara are so filling.
How to get there: Beshumi is 7 kilometers from Goderdzi Pass.
Where to stay: Before heading to Beshumi, I recommend booking a cottage.
You can make a reservation at the Meteo Hotel on Goderdzi Pass, or stay in family-run hotels. Please contact Meteo Hotel Director Jumber Chkonia at 591 24 44 44 or Vazha Diasamidze at 598 88 60 60.
The road through Goderdzi Pass branches into four directions, one leading to Batumi, the second to Akhaltsikhe, the third to Beshumi, and the fourth to Green Lake, one of the most popular routes in mountainous Adjara. You will find plenty of camping and picnic areas around the lake. Resting by Green Lake and gazing up at the star-studded sky at night guarantees an unforgettable experience.
In summer, various folk festivals are held in mountainous Adjara. Shuamtoba is one such celebration, and guests from all over Georgia come to Beshumi to participate in it. Horseraces, folk songs, mountain cuisine, and many other exciting things happen during Shuamtoba.
You can plan your trip to include the Shuamtoba festival. It is up to you, though, because there are many other exciting places to discover in Adjara, many interesting people to meet, and numerous mouthwatering dishes to try.
How to get there: You can catch a cab for 25-30 GEL to get from Goderdzi Pass to Green Lake. If you are into walking, it will take you a few hours of contemplating a spectacular scenery.