- Distance from Tbilisi to Shovi: 330 kilometers
- Ticket price for Oni Museum: ₾1 per person, ₾0.5 for students and school children
- Hotel in Shovi: Two bed rooms – starting from ₾120 (with three meals per day)
- Guesthouse: 1 person from ₾50 (with three meals per day
What’s there to see in Racha? Well, there’s so much to see that the whole magazine wouldn’t be enough to list all the things you could see there. You need to travel all around Racha, visit each and every village, look for old wooden houses, see the fabulous vineyards in Bugeuli, look into the misty eyes of Shaori Lake, remember Nikortsminda’s ornaments, look through the symmetry of hewn stones of Barakoni, count the colors in the forests that resemble a multi-colored Dagestani carpet, take photos of fir trees wearing skirts, towering walnut trees, moss, mushrooms with funny-looking hats and bear’s footprints. You need to taste the sour waters bursting here and there from the ground, freeze in Sakinule Cave, go up to the Alpine zone in Ghebi village, try their potatoes and just when you think you’ve reached the end of your journey you still have lots more to see. The main attraction in Racha is its people – unhurried and attentive people speaking real literary Georgian.
Now let’s go step-by-step.
Before reaching Racha one must pass through the industrial and mystical town of Tkibuli. For some reason I always imagined Tkibuli to be black, but it’s greener than green. After Tkibuli you must first go to the top of Nakerala. From there you can see much of Imereti and it’s a sight to behold!
Next stop is Shaori. It’s difficult to say which weather is preferable here – clear and sunny or rainy and misty, as both offer visitors a unique taste of nature. Afterwards, you will reach Nikortsminda. You’re going to spend a lot of time looking through its façade – it contains all kinds of ornaments that existed during the time of its construction: birds, animals, plants, fantastic griffins, winged lions or horses – all of them dwell on the walls of Nikortsminda. All twelve windows of the dome are adorned with the kind of ornaments one can hardly believe.
As you continue on your way, you will encounter the names of the villages, which sound as calm as Racha villages are supposed to sound – they tell their own stories – Tsesi (rule), Mukhli (knee), Krikhi, Kvatskhuti, Khimshi, Sori, Nigvznara (walnut) and Glola.
When you reach Ambrolauri, you should call in the Tourist Center (it’s right along the way), you can also relieve yourself there as the lack of public toilets along the road is still a problem in that area.
How can one travel around Racha without visiting the local combed-neat-hanging vineyards? Your visit may also coincide with the harvest period. Before taking the Oni road from Ambrolauri, you should turn towards Khvanchkara. You will see such small, beautiful vineyards here that your heart will flutter. Sadmeli, Bostana and Bugeuli villages are wall-to-wall vineyards. Wherever you see a wine road sign it means you’ve found a wine cellar and you shouldn’t leave the area without tasting the Racha wine.
There is also a Local History Museum in Oni. While the building is in a deplorable condition, it contains such rich and diverse exhibits you will forget the cracks on the outside walls you had some reservations about. You should also see Oni Synagogue, it was built in 1895 and it’s the third largest synagogue in Georgia.
As soon as you get past Oni, Racha becomes heavier, the forests become thicker, the river becomes crazier and people become more scarce. The road to Utsera village is straight, but after Utsera, the road turns dusty and rocky.
Unfortunately tourist infrastructure in Racha is scarce. There is only one good, recently-renovated hotel in Shovi and it is open seasonally. There is also another hotel, which will take you back to another era, because it’s a hotel straight out of the Soviet Union. However, you can also find small guesthouses here and there.
You have to walk a lot round Shovi… a whole lot. You have to go to the forest where you will find yourself in a wonderland of sorts. You have to place your foot in the bear’s footprints and you have to also experience the sense of awe and sadness that comes over you when you see a diseased fir tree as tall as a five-story house.
I guess you were waiting for me to mention beans and its brothers. I’m not going to. There are no good restaurants in Racha. You have to find a good family that is willing to host you. The other option is to visit a Farm House at the end of Shovi on Mamisoni road (if you’re lucky and it’s open). There is no sign, you have to find it with your intuition. Imagine you’re in a well-to-do family home, in a big courtyard complete with a wine cellar. The whole interior and exterior of the place was designed by a husband and wife duo; they are also chefs and they could be among the top in the Michelin guide. In short, they are the alpha and omega of the place. The real food can be found there.
At the end of the day, you have to constantly visit Racha, you have to take your kids with you and get stuck there too.