After driving back from Mt Aragats area to Yerevan, we spent an afternoon wandering around, including visiting the Noy brandy and wine factory (good tour and we could just walk in and had the guide to ourselves). From there we took a minibus (7000 AMD) to Didube bus station in Tblisi (this time the border crossing took 10 mins - it had taken 90 when we came through to Armenia), spent the afternoon wandering around there, including walking up to the Mother of Georgia monument with good views over the city. It has been very hot in Yerevan and Tblisi - hitting 39 degrees - nearly as hot as Doha.
Despite being told it was a 4 hour journey from Tblisi to Akhaltsikhe we happily arrived after 2.5 hours, we were cramped in the back of the bus. The town is just 20km from the Turkish border.
Happy Holiday guest house where we are staying is just round the corner from the bus station and at the bottom of the hill from the castle. Very welcoming, and we have a lovely big room with a huge covered verandah just for us.
Walked up to the castle
that sits above the town, in the evening, just looked around the outer part. Very restored. Watched Russia beat Spain in the world cup.
The main reason for visiting Akhaltsikhe is the trip down to Vardzia. This is what remains of a once huge underground town cave system which was exposed after an earthquake in 1286, just 100 years after it was constructed. There were 365 cave rooms on 13 floors. King Giorgi III and his daughter Queen Tamar were the original people behind its construction as a way of hiding from the Mongols. Even after the destruction of the earthquake it continued to be lived in by monks who continue to maintain it to this day. It’s an impressive site stretching along some cliffs with the river valley below. We hired an audio guide, which at times have a better picture and at other times just confused us! The most impressive space is the church of the assumption with stunning frescoes covering every wall and ceiling space. Frescoes are from around 1186. We took around 2.5 hours to look around quite slowly.
On the drive back, along the same road that follows the river we stopped at
a number of view points and other monuments including Khertvisi castle which is built on high rocky outcrop, 13th century,Tsunda church from 12th century, a tiny church that just fits on a rock. And Canis Kvabebi another cave monastery from the 8th century- this is a single storey in a horse shoe shape with a tiny chapel high up that unfortunately was locked.It’s still lived in by a group of monks.One of the other road side stops was a ruined bazaar that used to sell slaves. Reading up later the Ottoman slave trade of people from the Caucasus was a big thing. WhileVardzia was busy with tourists there was hardly anyone at these other sights.
Visited the castle in Akhaltsikhe proper on the last day. It is very restored, there's been a castle there since the 9th century and it has been renovated and extend, taken over by Ottomans and others. Today there is an hotel, some cafes and if you pay the entrance fee (6 Lari) you can look around the old fortress proper. There's a mosque and a church, some attractive water gardens and a couple of towers to climb. It's all quite pleasant and
fills in an hour or so. There is no information if you don't get a guide.
Minibus from Didube bus station to Akhaltsikhe,10 Lari
Driver for tour to Vardzia, 70 Lari
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