Akhaltsikhe is a hard-to-reach town in Georgia as its name is hard to pronounce. The name looks Japanese, but it is very traditional Georgian. It is one of Georgia’s remotest towns and widely known for its unique tourist attractions such as the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, Vardzia, Akhaltsikhe Castle, Sapara Monastery, and Khertvisi Fortress.
Not to be confused with the American state, Georgia is a country who is enjoying a relatively young democracy. It was a Soviet state until the communist empire collapsed in 1991. Georgia’s leading cities are Tbilisi (capital city) and Batumi (capital of the autonomous region of Adjara). Tourist attractions and facilities here are not yet developed as one would hope. Thanks to the country’s natural beauty and amazing history, however, tourists from all over the world are making their way to Georgia.
The town of Akhaltsikhe is much poorer than the two major cities. In fact, it is one of the poorest in Georgia, yet people still come to check it out. This remote town is about 204 km from the capital city through the Mtkvari Valley. The once daily train ride from Tbilisi takes eight hours and not many travelers prefer this route, despite the fact that the journey is very scenic. The train passes through the Mtkvari Valley and the ski town of Borjomi. (Borjomi is home of the world-famous Bakuriani ski resort.) Passengers on this ride get to enjoy viewing dense forests, flowing rivers and snow-capped peaks. And once the train arrives at its final destination, the scenes and views get even better.
Akhaltsikhe is actually closer to Turkey than Tbilisi, which is why many visitors to this remote tourist city pass by the backdoor. From the city of Posof in Turkey, travelers would only need to take a relatively shorter ride on a bus (marshrutka) and pass by the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park.
The leading attraction is the Sapara Monastery, which used to be a well-preserved 9th-century structure until the Soviets came. Located up in the mountains in the district of Samtskhe-Javakheti about 10 km from the heart of the city, the monastery stands in isolation on the edge of a cliff, cut from the rest of the world making it a perfect spot for holy men and pilgrims. It is actually made up of three churches: St. Stefane, The Assumption of the Godmother (10th century), and St. Saba, the largest of the three.
Another must-see attraction is the ancient Khertvisi Fortress, one of the oldest forts in the country. The original fortress was built on an outcrop in the 2nd century but was believed to have been destroyed by Alexander the Great. It was rebuilt in the 16th century and it is this second structure that stands until today. Through the centuries, this fortress has been witness to so many wars and battles involving the Mongols, Turks, and much recently, Russians. Today, tourists get transported to those war-stricken years of old.
Taking the long trip to Akhaltsikhe is worth it, otherwise there would not be hordes of tourists coming here regularly. On the way out, visitors normally pass by the monastery caves in Vardzia. This place is listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage sites and one of the major reasons why people visit this part of the world.