Culture and history
Zugdidi nearest Georgian city to Abkhazia, it has absorbed a high number of refugees since the 1990s. Today it’s a bustling town that serves as a stepping stone for getting to Svaneti or Abkhazia, and a base for exploring the less known attractions of Samegrelo.
Secrets of Samegrelo
The Samegrelo countryside, with the Caucasus foothills rising above 3000m in the north, is full of beautiful spots little known to outsiders.
South from Zugdidi, the main highway towards Senaki passes Tsaishi, with hot springs where you can swim, and the 469m hill Urta with caves, waterfalls and great views to the main Caucasus range. Beyond Senaki, 60km from Zugdidi, is picturesque Nokalakevi, an ancient Colchian royal town and fortress. A tunnel leads down to the Tekhura River from the grassy grounds and admission includes an interesting archaeological museum. Excavations are ongoing.
Martvili Monastery, 20km beyond Nokalakevi, was a centre of medieval Georgian culture, and its cathedral, with many interesting murals, dates from the 7th century. Near Martvili are the Gachedili waterfalls, a good picnic spot with recently discovered dinosaur footprints nearby.
The area around the villages of Skuri and Mukhuri, about 30km northeast of Zugdidi, is dotted with caves, rivers, wild woodlands, mineral springs and swimming spots, and makes another great day out. There’s a good 14km valley and forest hike in the Intsra ravine and near the head of the river you’ll find Kuakantsalia, a large boulder that figures in a local David-and-Goliath-type legend and will rock at the push of a finger but won’t topple even with the heave of a shoulder.
The beautiful, remote mountain lakes of Tobavarchkhili, at an altitude of 2650m, are best visited on a camping trip, as they’re reached by a 30km jeep drive north from Mukhuri, followed by a 10km walk to the lakes. Legend has it that if you jump into one of the lakes, or shout near it, it will start to rain. A natural staircase climbs to the top of Mt Tsashqibuli (3017m), 4km southeast of the first lake. It’s possible to walk on from Tobavarchkhili over to Khaishi in Svaneti.