Samtskhe-Javakheti is a region of Georgia, which borders Northern Armenia to the south. Its administrative centre is the town of Akhaltsikhe. It consists of six administrative units: Akhaltsikhe, Adigeni, Aspindza, Akhalkalaki, Borjomi and Ninotsminda.
The region's diverse landscape and natural resources include mountainous terrain, several highland volcanic plateaus, mountain steppes, alpine and sub - alpine vegetation, canyons, rivers, large and small lakes, as well as wetland marshes.
Many species of mammals, birds, reptiles can be found here. The Caucasian Squirel, the Southern White - breasted Hedgehog or the Red Fox leave here. Thanks to the wetlands, Javakheti is a place great for bird-watching as many migratory birds comes here, most of witch are included in the IUCN Red Book. Almost 150 species can be observed here. The migratory route passes over the Javakheti Plateau included in Aggreement on the Conservation of the African - Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA). There is a big number plant species used in traditional medicine in Samtskhe - Javakheti.
Cities and TownsEdit
- Abastumani — both a former Czarist spa town and a Soviet built astrophysical observatory, the western gateway to the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park
- Akhaltsikhe — the capital and largest city with a nice weekend bazaar and a good base for exploring nearby Sapara Monastery and Vardzia
- Akhalkalaki — a small Armenian city (the largest in the region) and the center of Javakheti
- Atskuri — a small town with three castles and the central entrance to the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park
- Borjomi — famous for its Borjomi mineral water, national park, and summer palace of the Romanov Dynasty, the eastern entrance to the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park
- Bakuriani — a popular winter ski resort
- Ninotsminda — a large Armenian town
- Khertvisi Castle — A stone fortress dating back to the 2nd century BCE, although it has been rebuilt many times. It is spectacularly situated on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Mtkvari gorge on the way to Vardzia from Akhaltsikhe. Amazingly, the site is completely abandoned and you may roam about the fortress at will.
- Sapara Monastery — one of Georgia's truly magical monasteries, the 11th century Sapara Monastery is hidden in the forested mountains above Akhaltsikhe, at the end of a slow, bumpy dirt road, and as such has avoided the perils of invading armies throughout its entire history
- Vanis Kvabebi — another cave monastery, less frequently visited, near Vardzia
- Vardzia — a 12th century cave monastery and city carved out of a cliff overlooking a river gorge
- Agara Monastery — built in X - XI centuries, located near the settlement of Enteli, at the end of Uraveli gorge.
- Cyclopean fortress and church of Saro
Samtskhe-Javakheti was traditionally known as Meskheti, for its Meskhi Georgian tribes. The region is especially dry and mountainous south of Borjomi (which is still as green and wet as anywhere in Imereti). Javakheti, the southeastern portion of the region around Akhalkalaki, sees a bit of political ferment, since the vast majority of its residents are ethnically Armenian and demand greater autonomy and language rights. Unlike in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, however, the political situation here does not translate into any danger for a visitor; it is rather just an extra reason why Javakheti is an interesting destination.
Visitors should make Vardzia their number one travel priority (and stop along the way at Khertvisi Castle). Those with some extra time to explore would be foolish not to haul themselves up the bumpy mountain road to see the treasure that is Sapara Monastery. Borjomi is another great destination, but is far easier to visit than the rest of the regional attractions, as it is located very close to the main highway going between Tbilisi and Kutaisi.
In the southeast of the region around Akhalkalaki, Armenian is widely spoken, even more so than Georgian. But in the rest of the region, Georgian language speakers predominate. Russian is also widely spoken, especially by older generations.
Minibuses (marshrutka)- leave Tbilisi almost every half hour (for Borjomi, Bakuriani, Aspindza, Akhaltsikhe, Vale, Akhalkalaki,Ninotsminda, Abastumani, Adigeni). First marshrutka departs at 8:00 AM - Didube Bus Station, 4 Karaleti St., Tbilisi
Train - leaves Tbilisi for Borjomi twice per day.
24 hours passanger information centre - +995 32 13 31
Marshrutkas are generally the way to go when traveling south of Akhaltsikhe, as they seem to handle the bumpy dirt roads better than the Soviet built taxis (do not, however, underestimate the rock-crawling capabilities of a lada, seriously!).
If you are getting sick of Georgian food (is that possible?), and are looking to sample some Armenian cuisine, Akhalkalaki is home to some authentic-as-it-gets cheap Armenian cafes.
Samtskhe-Javakheti is a quite safe region of Georgia. Probably the biggest danger to a visitor is the risk of falling off various cultural monuments—there are no guard rails to speak of. But common sense and a natural fear of heights should keep you safe, shouldn't it?
- Georgia's secondary road link with Turkey passes through Akhaltsikhe, and it is fairly easy to catch a marshrutka or hire a taxi going to the Vale-Posof border crossing from Akhaltsikhe's bus station.
- There is also a seldom-traveled road heading south from Akhalkalaki through Ninotsminda towards Gyumri, in Northern Armenia. Foreigners traveling this route will give the bored customs officials a big surprise.
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