Our marshutka from Tbilisi arrived in Telavi around 6:30pm as Mother Nature stroked her pink brush across the peaks of the high Caucasus mountains in the distance. Without knowing the town terrain we shirked off the 2GEL (less than USD$1) taxi offers is favour of walking what turned out to be a much needed strenuous uphill hike to our guesthouse. Arriving at Guesthouse Medea the pink glow disappeared in an instant and we were warmly welcomed with a cup of steaming Turkish coffee and a few shots of homemade chacha. Medea showed us to our warm room complete with wooden floorboards and ceiling and we immediately felt right at home.
A short walk from the guesthouse is a local restaurant, Zodiak, which is out of the central tourist area. Surprised to see us we were again welcomed warmly and served a steaming plate of ten cheese kinkhali (dumplings) as our preferred meat option was unavailable. No wonder when the table of three local boys seated next to us were soon served up a marathon 45. Never mind, the cheese option was fantastic but filled with so much cheese you’d need to draw the line at five. Kinkhali, we were informed, was brought back by Marco Polo in the form of Chinese dumplings. The Georgian’s put their own twist on it obviously, I’m not sure you’d find dumplings filled with delicious farmhouse cheese in China.
Waking the next morning to a breakfast fit for a king we feasted on heart shaped eggs, fresh bread, home made fruit preserves and mini pancakes fresh from the stove as Medea’s caged Australian budgie chirped in the background. Tevali didn’t look like much in yesterday afternoons fading sunlight but as we hit the streets in the late morning light we were pleasantly surprised to discover her charms. Telavi is located in Kakheti region, one of Georgia’s most famous wine growing regions.Like the rest of the country every property is draped in vines covering verandahs, carports, back and front yards.
Wandering the backstreets off the recently renovated Cholokashvili Street, the oldest street in town, we stumbled across what seemed to be a ruined church. Taking a step inside we found it was still quite functioning with paper offering, photos, and images of Christ scattered throughout the empty building.
Making our way to the old bus station behind the bustling local market we jumped in a marshutka bound for Tsinandali hoping off right outside Shumi Winery. Shumi is an ancient Georgian word meaning genuine, undiluted wine and they’ve founded a grape and wine museum on site called ‘Vazioni’. To date they’ve collected 294 indeginous and 92 foreign grape varieties, a large number of which can be seen growing in the front yard.
We’d barely crossed the threshold before we were greeted by Tako, a young local Georgian who spoke perfect English, Turkish and Russian, quite a mean feat when you consider that’s four languages with four different alphabets, not to mention the different grammar that goes with it. Taking us on a personal tour of the property we were shown the front vineyard with it’s many different varieties of grape vines, the small yet impressive museum demonstrating Georgia’s almost 8,000 years of viniculture and some impressive 6,000 year old wine vessels, the underground cellar and finally the tasting room.
Taking a seat we were expertly talked through a local white (made from two variaties of grapes of which we’d never heard), a red, a Georgian traditional wine and finally a 92 grape blended white. Georgia has over 500 varieties of indeginous grape, many of which us Western world wine drinks will have never heard of. The colours are intense and our taste buds are swayed in a different way that only uniquely regional Georgian wine can do. The free tour doesn’t stop there as Tako takes us back into the yard to show us all sort of ancient wine making apparatus, from huge foot stomping vats made of old walnut trees to chacha making copper boiling pots.
Making our way to the roadside we flag down a passing marshutka back to town within two minutes and hop out when the driver indicates we’re near Kote Winery. Walking up the street where the ‘Wine Route’ sign points us we find it really hard to find and end up at a large wood filled room unsure if this is even where we’re meant to be. Two jugs of wine, one re,d one white, soon hit our table and we waste no time getting stuck in. A painting of village life and wine cultures on the far wall catches our eye but upon closer inspection it turns out to be a very detailed tapestry. With the wine tasting over we walk back to the guesthouse stopping to buy our hosts some chocolate in return for the litre of homemade wine they gave us last night for free.
Invited to join them for a few drinks in return it wasn’t until the follow morning at breakfast when we spotted the drinking horns (fashioned from metal and cow horns) on top of the TV that our fuzzy memories cleared. Turns out our offer of ‘payment’ was so well received our hosts plied us with more free alcohol in the form of linked arms and drinking horns. Georgian hospitality at it’s best (again). We spent the day again wandering town, starting out at Nadikvari Park for some fantastic views over town. From here it’s a short walk to a 900 year old tree, one of the last of it’s kind standing after all of the others have disappeared.
With our time up we made the (thankfully) downhill trek to the station and hopped on the next marshutka to Signaghi, or couple of hours down the road.
Thanks for reading, if you have any comments or questions drop us a line below! Also you can view more of our travel pics on our Flickr page here.
Tips for Telavi
- If you’re coming from Akhaltsikhe or west of Tbilisi the marshutka will drop you at Didibe Station in the north. From here you’ll need to take a taxi or the metro to Ortachala station in the south. From here it takes about 2.5 hours to Telavi.
- We stayed at Guesthouse Medea where we got a discounted rate on Booking.com. Breakfast was an additional 7GEL per person but totally worth it. A huge spread is presented every morning which may include homemade chacha and wine!
- The Tourist Information located on Tsentri, the main square, is a wealth of knowledge. They can provide maps, winery and transport information.
- Getting to Shumi is easy, from the bus station behind the market as for a marshutka going to Tsinandali and tell them you want to be dropped of at Shumi. Coming back just cross the road and flag down a passing marshutka going back to town. It cost 0.80GEL each one way.