Guest post by: Anya Sapharova

When talking about Georgia you might think of places like sunny slopes of Tbilisi, seaside of Batumi, vineyards of Kakheti, white snowy caps of Svaneti, delicious cuisine of Imereti and so on and so on.

Without any doubt, Georgia, despite being a small country, can be proud of its diverse cultures in different regions. You never get bored as you bump into new people and learn about their manners. In the mountains, you are astonished by the harsh temper of Georgians, in the valleys hospitality of the hosts you meat randomly in the streets strikes you and you can almost become part of someone’s family, as the proud Georgian head of the family might claim while you’re draining horns full of delicious wine.

One might think that Georgia has already been explored by lots of lone travelers, bloggers, and families. Those who are deep into Georgia have definitely know about Jvari Monastery and they have heard legends of Svetitskhoveli, walked through narrow and gorgeous streets of Signaghi, and swam in the Black Sea region.

Little by little, those who have discovered Georgia for themselves try to find a new shelter for privacy and some profound thoughts. You might think that you have tasted all parts of exotic Georgia but it is better not to rush to conclusions as there is one more place that is not explored by the Georgians as well. It lays high in the mountains and resembles the region of Svaneti that is extremely popular with tourists all year long but due to unknown reason,

Racha, the island of obscurity, cannot be called a tourist destination place as its roads are not developed for hosting lots of people. Nature can really be called wild and there even are no maps with adequate routs! It is almost impossible to cross the rivers as there are no bridges built over them. It takes a lot of time and effort to bypass the river and that will add several kilometers to the distance you have covered.

The chance to find shelter in the villages and settlements is almost impossible. Markets? Local shops? Unfortunately, no, only rare cafes that do not serve all kinds of food you would expect from a Georgian tavern. The journey that you might have planned for a couple of days might prolong for the whole week full of unexpected adventures. Still, it is highly recommended to travel to Racha in autumn to see one of the most beautiful and unexplored Georgian regions in all its bloom.

There are two roads that lead to Racha; one of them goes from Tkhibuli to Ambrolauri, the heart of Racha. Another one goes through the Valley of Rioni River and leads you to Khvanchkara settlement. In case if you are driving a passenger car forget about the second path and go straight to Ambrolauri. If you take a look on the map the road is drawn with dotted lines and it is more like a route or path rather than a developed road. To tell the truth, it is just a dirt road that is suited just for SUVs.  

So, let’s choose the first road to travel to our destination. To say that the road from Tkibuli to Ambrolauri is picturesque means to say nothing – you will enjoy your time in the car a lot. Later you will reach one famous destination – Nine Crosses Pass.

When traveling to Racha from Tkhibuli you pass picturesque water reservoirs and cannot take your eyes off the beautiful mountains. Ambrolauri is famous for Khvanchkara wine which is rare indeed as it is produced from the grapes that grow on the small patch of land only in Racha. You can even find a monument to the wine in the Ambrolauri. The only problem is to find nice cafes as tourist are really indulged in Georgia by the abundance of national food but not in Racha. When looking for a place where to rest and eat just tell the locals the names of the dishes you’d like to have, they will directly point to the place.

The city itself is drenched in the greenery in summer and the air is fresh and crystal clear. Can you imagine the beauty of nature in Racha when autumn takes over the whole place?! A riot of colors conquers your heart immediately and your inner artist awakens! When climbing higher onto mountains of Racha you get amazed by the fast flowing rivers and huge clouds that are as if glued to the tops of the mighty mounts.

To the east of Ambrolauri you can travel to Tsesi and see Barakoni Cathedral with the remains of Mindatsikhe Fortress. The legend says that the well-known Queen Tamar spent her childhood in this region though it is not historically proven.

Going further to the east you will enter the so-called Upper Racha. Its capital is Oni settlement where you can find an unusual attraction – synagogue. Nowadays it is not operating anymore though you can take pictures of it and explore its architecture from the outside.

Shovi is another interesting destination famous for mineral water and fresh air. It is 25 km away from Oni and is close to the South Osetian border.

The settlement of Kvanchkara is not part of Upper Racha, on the contrary, it is not far from Ambrolauri, but it is really difficult to get there due to unhandy road conditions. People usually go there to taste the genuine wine Khvanchakara which is produced only in Racha. It is not that easy to find a fine bottle even in Tbilisi as the variety of wine is rare indeed. If you are curious about the difference in prices between Kindzamarauli, for example, and Khvanchkara you may enter any wine shop or cellar and see that the price of Khvanchklara is 3-4 times higher. People of Racha say that the factors changing taste qualities of the wine include a portion of the sun, soil composition, and moisture as well.

One more place to visit is Nikortsminda Cathedral that can be found on the road from Tkhibuli to Ambrolauri.

People who have thirst for adventures and wild nature must definitely visit Racha this fall to get a full spectrum of unforgettable emotions and impressions!