Uplistsikhe, Ateni Sioni and Surami fortress

Soon after we left Mtskheta, we discovered a totally different landscape. We had left the mountains of the Caucasus and arrived in a much drier region. We decided to stay on the left side of the river to take the secondary road in the direction Gori. Passing several small villages and crossing beautiful landscapes. We didn’t have breakfast yet, so we stopped at one of the many picnic tables along the road.

A few kilometers ahead of Gori we left the main road to visit Uplistsikhe. Uplistsikhe is an ancient rock-hewn town, built on a high rocky left bank of the Mtkvari River, it contains various structures dating from the Early Iron Age to the Late Middle Ages.

You need to buy a ticket at the entrance to gain access to Uplistsikhe. Very reasonable priced. A small park leads you from the parking to the entrance of Uplistsikhe. The entrance is a long tunnel with stairs going up.

A large area of rock-cut structures is waiting on the other side of the tunnel. Although the vulnerable surface is subject to erosion, you are free to walk where you want. A map of Uplistsikhe can provide you with information about the caves. We took some time to explore the area.

On the north-west side there is a nice view over the lower valley.

We returned to the car and continued driving west to Gori. Just before reaching Gori, we turned left on an asphalt road to Ateni. It’s a lovely road on the left bank of the Tana stream. The region is known for the Atenuri wine. The grapes are growing on metal frameworks all along the street creating a real tunnel for the cars.

Around km 6.5, you can find a the Ateni convent. The community is still very active and have a very clean location. I guess it has been very recently renovated. Inside the convent you can find a very small church. You can ask one of the nuns for the key like we did.

They also invited us to follow them to the Ateni Monastery. The monastery is about 1 km further on the road. According to my Bradt Travel guide-book it should be one of the loveliest churches in Georgia with famous frescoes. Unfortunately they were renovating the church but we did managed to get inside and see the church.

The narrow gorge looked very inviting to explore it more deeper but we couldn’t find anything mentioned in the guide book so we returned to the main road. Straight to Gori. Birthplace of Stalin. The only thing we visited in Gori was a small cafe were they sold delicious pies! (GPS: 41.983971, 44.112479)

From Gori there is a new highway to Khashuri. It requires some skills to enter the highway since you need to enter the highway from the same road as other car are leaving the highway. This requires you to make a U-turn on the highway… (GPS: 42.009838, 44.042864)

Once you get to Khashuri you’ll immediately notice all the shops along the street selling hammocks and other textile products. It’s indeed mentioned in the Bradt Travel guide-book that Khashuri boasts glass and textile factories.

We parked the car and we both bought a hammock for 12/15euro. Cheap and definitely worth it. A perfect souvenir if you can transport it.

Next stop is the village of Surami. A quiet unknown village in Georgia. My guide-book only mentioned there was a small castle where, according to the legend, a young man was built into the walls to protect the castle. In 1986, the Armenian director Sergei Parajanov made a move about this fortress. (Surami Fortress -1986).

What we found in this village exceeded all our expectations. It’s probably the most vibrant village we have seen in Georgia. Both sides of the main street are taken by little shops. Many people gather in this street. Horses with carriage are taking people for a fun ride through the village. We were really stunned by seeing all the activity in Surami. There was one other spot that attracted most of the people. The mineral water source! What a lovely place.

The water source is not the best place to quench your thirst if you don’t like the strong mineral taste. However, you should definitely try the water and see all the locals filling their bottles. We took some bottles with us and left the source behind us to go and find the Surami fortress. By accident, we reached the fortress from the backside. We crosses the river over a small concrete foot bridge (GPS: 42.017309, 43.565477) and continued through a maze of little alleys and small paths between the houses.

As everywhere in Surami, you’ll find yourself in a vibrant local atmosphere. They gather outside to enjoy the warm evenings. From the top of the castle you’ll get a great view over Surami and the surrounding area. Apparently also a known place for selfies!