While walking on the cobbled streets of Sighnaghi in Georgia, it felt like I was in Italy - there’s wine, colourful Instagram-worthy buildings, medieval architecture and the stunning Caucasus mountains in the horizon.
Sighnaghi (or Signagi) is nestled in Georgia’s wine region, in the easternmost part of Kakethi. It was and is one of the best places to visit in Georgia despite travelling in Winter in December. The climate was Mediterranean-like and oozed charmed with its 18th and 19th century architecture.
At the elevation of about 790m above sea level, the town overlooks the Alazani Valley and faces the Greater Caucasus mountains. Often there will be a busload of tourists on a day trip, but I would recommend spending the night so you can sip wine and enjoy the panoramic views of the region.
It is also called the ‘City of Love’ and stands strong as an alternative and offbeat place to visit in the Caucasus. I have not been to Tuscany but I have been told that the Georgian government is trying its best to make Sighnaghi like the next Florence or Tuscany of the Caucasus.
The Best Things To Do in Sighnaghi, Georgia
The Picturesque Sighnaghi Fortress
There’s nothing quite as stunning as the view of the Sighnaghi fortress when you enter the town and have a picture-perfect view of the Georgian Orthodox House of Worship. The city’s name Sighnaghi comes from the Turkish word signak, which means shelter. In English, Sighnaghi means refuge. The fortress was built around 1770 at the times of Kartli-Kakheti King Erekle (Heraclius) II to protect Signaghi
The city is surrounded by a four-kilometer defensive wall with 23 towers and six gates. It is also called the Great Wall of Georgia. Interestingly, each tower of the fortress was named after the nearest village, in order for the locals of the village to hide in case of danger.
Today, the city walls run through the Old Town of Signaghi - you can take a walk, circle it and then extend further beyond the city line, descending and climbing the slopes of the nearby hills
Pastel Hues of Sighnaghi Town
In the city of Tbilisi, the architecture may look futuristic but in Sighnaghi it goes through a complete metamorphosis - buildings doused in blues, pinks and yellow hues with cute balcony frames. It was called the City of Love for a reason after all. Couples are known to make their visit to the town to get married and say their final rites.
Recently, it has been in the news that the severe economic crisis in post-Soviet Georgia has heavily affected the town, and a major reconstruction project was recently launched by the Government of Georgia and co-funded by several international organisations to address the increase in tourist interests and to modernize the infrastructure.
Let’s hope that they stop the rented quad-bikes on the cobbled streets to avoid the disneyfication of their heritage towns just like what China has done to Lijiang, in Yunnan province.
Lunch at Pancho Villa
I didn’t know what to expect in a Tex-Mex restaurant in Sighnaghi but I was pleasantly surprised. The restaurant does an excellent job in recreating Mexican flavors and dishes with Georgian ingredients. The place had a lot of character with perky red walls, preppy music and stunning views of the valley.
The one-man show of this restaurant - a chef, waiter and cashier takes care of everything and goes the extra mile in creating his own Georgian twist in every meal. We ordered the nachos and the berry margaritas.
Walk To The Bodbe Monastery
A pleasant walk on the fine country roads of Georgia will take you to the Bodbe monastery. The walk is beautiful and it is a slight uphill walk, about 30 minutes away from Sighnaghi.
The little church was originally built, over the saint’s grave, by King Mirian in the 4th century. It has been rebuilt and renovated several times since. It is an important place as the St. George Cathedral, part of the monastery, holds the remains of St. Nino, equal to the Apostles, who brought Christianity to Georgia.
What makes the place, lawns and flowers so immaculate is because the place is a nunnery runs by the nuns - it used to be a monastery. The 10-15 nuns living here are largely self-sufficient, growing plants and raising animals, as well as selling knick-knacks and other jewellery items in a small shop.
Wine At Pheasant’s Tears
After a pleasant walk from the Bodbe monastery, head back to sample Georgian wine. Georgian wine seems to be under the shadow or completely off the radar when it comes to rounding off a meal. It is not a country you think off and definitely not one to be associated with wine.
Although Georgia has a rich culinary history, there are not many Georgian restaurants so people have had less exposure to Georgian wine. But what is Georgian wine? Georgian wine has always been more than a winery, it's about songs, cuisine, art and heritage.
Pheasant's Tears, a Georgian-American joint venture, makes top-class natural wines by the traditional qvevri method, traditional Georgian clay vessels buried in the ground, at its vineyards out of town.
Here in Sighnaghi, it offers wine tastings and delicious Georgian meals, which one can enjoy in a quaint garden-courtyard. You could eat a light evening snack here and savour some wine.
Where To Stay In Sighnaghi Georgia?
Abramichi Guest House [a warm host known to spoil their guests with copious amounts of wine and cheese]
Mironichi Guest House [a place with a lot of heart and a welcoming family]
Guesthouse Alazani Valley [in a quieter side of the town boasting one of the best views of the Caucasus valley]
How To Get To Sighnaghi, Georgia?
If you want to get to Sighnaghi from Tbilisi, you can get on a marshrutka which runs daily at every odd hour from 7AM to 5PM, the last one leaving at 6PM, from the Samgori metro station. It would require a bit of haggling and you should pay somewhere between 5 GEL to 10 GEL each.
The ride takes from 1.5 to 2 hours.
Read More: The Ultimate Caucasus Road Trip in Armenia
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