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Georgian Military Road: The Route that Domesticated the Caucasus

Until the arrival of the airplane, this was the main road connecting Georgia with Russia. It is a route full of romanticism, with landscapes that will tug at your heart or make you dizzy at some points. Invading armies passed here, the likes of Pompey’s army or the Golden Horde. So did writers in search of adventure and hundreds of thousands of merchants.

This road connects Tbilisi with the Russian city of Vladikavkaz, and although the route was already known from the 1st century B.C, it only became a good-weather road at the beginning of the 19th century. That is thanks to the Herculean efforts of the Russian army, which saw it as a necessary path to colonize the Georgians who were always protected behind the impenetrable wall of the Caucasus.

The works began in 1799, and although it may seem a lie, they have never finished, since they are constantly repairing it due to landslides, avalanches, the incessant road traffic, and the forces of nature that are quite devastating here.

The road is running from Tbilisi always to the north. It makes its way through the crystal clear waters of the Zhinval reserve. It passes through the magnificent Ananuri fortress and it traces the course of the Aragvi while the first moles of the Caucasus begin to appear.

Afterward, the road climbs suddenly towards the Gudauri ski resort and it reaches the Jvari Pass (7805 feet) a few miles later. Now, the road is downhill and soon the figures of the first medieval towers of the district of Khevi appear. The most important town is Kazbegi (Stepantsminda). The route continues 9 miles further along the Dariali gorge to the Russian border of Larsi. The mainland entrance arch connects the North with the South Caucasus.

One Day Tour of the Georgian Military Road

Every Thursday and Sunday, the Envoy Hostel in Tbilisi organizes day tours to the Georgian Military Road. If you have little time, this is the best way to visit this route. The visit includes a guide, transportation to and from Kazbegi, stops at the most famous places, lunch in a typical house, and the ascent to the mythical church of Tsminda Sameba. The tour lasts around 11 hours and it costs 125 GEL for hostel guests and 135 GEL for non-guests. For more information: www.envoyhostel.com 

Ananuri Fortress Complex

Opening Hours: from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

It is 39 miles north of Tbilisi, on the shores of the lake of the Zhinvali Reserve. It is a walled complex with churches and defensive towers. For years, it was the residence of the Dukes of Aragvi, who ruled the area from the thirteenth century. However, most of Ananuri’s buildings belong to the 17th and 18th centuries.

It was both important and strategic since it blocked the passage towards Tbilisi from a possible invasion from the north. The complex had its own water supply system and the towers served both as housing and military structure. Although part of the citadel does not exist anymore, it is one of the best-preserved monuments of its kind.

Gudauri Ski Resort

Gudairi is the best ski resort in Georgia, with about 43 skiable miles and very good backcountry skiing. It’s pretty technical, with red, black and blue drops, and a decent snowpark. It has a vertical drop of 1017 meters (3336 feet) – the minimum low is in the 1990 meters (6528 feet) range and at 3007 meters high (9865 feet tall).

The skiing season covers from December to April. The ski pass in high season costs around 40 GEL/day. If you are an experienced athlete and you are looking for some excitement, one of Gudairi’s strengths is heliskiing. It is a type of extreme descent where a helicopter takes you to the hardest-to-reach peaks of the Caucasus so you can make endless descents through fresh snow.

The company Heliksir Caucasus specializes in this type of service. You should check their offers through the website heliski.travel. Gudairi is also a pioneer in speed-riding, one of the extreme adventures in the area that mixes skiing with paragliding. For more information: www.speedride-school.com/ 

In summer, some hotels in the area organize other types of activities such as paragliding, horse riding, cycling, and rafting. The area also has good itineraries for mountaineering. In addition, the chairs open from mid-July.  A good range of accommodation is available, with luxury hotels, other cheaper hotels, and restaurants available.

There are also several companies that offer equipment for rent.

Within walking distance, up the road is the Soviet-style monument for Russian-Georgian friendship. It is a huge cement lookout built in the eighties and seems like it doesn’t belong there. Of course, you can see stunning views of the valley from up there.

Accommodation

Expensive Lodging
Truso Hotel

Phone: +995 32 2146900

E-mail: info@hoteltruso.com

It is a small charming hotel that is ten minutes of walking from the ski lifts. It has 14 very comfortable rooms, with private bathrooms and satellite television. It also has a sauna to relax after a day of adventures. For more information: www.hoteltruso.com

Luxury Lodging
Marco Polo Gudauri Hotel

Phone: +995 5 91 111 900

E-mail: reservation@marcopolo.ge

It is a four-star hotel located at the foot of the slopes. It has a spa with a pool, Jacuzzi, and sauna. They organize activities such as paragliding, rafting, and horseback riding in summer. For more information: www.marcopolo.ge

Cross Pass

The Cross Pass (Jvaris Ughelt) is a few kilometers beyond Gudauri and is located at 2.379 meters (7805 feet tall). It is a narrow corridor that is usually under construction due to the forces of nature and the constant traffic of cars and trucks. It is the key mountain pass of the Military Road and a point requiring some good driving skills.

Without it, road connections between the North and South Caucasus, Georgia and Russia would be much more complicated. In the course of its maintenance and construction, a lot of people have died, like dozens of German soldiers captured during the Second World War brought by Stalin to break stones and keep this artery open.

It is a black spot on the Georgian road network offering a bumpy road, with landslides and avalanches in winter. An obelisk marks the altitude of Jvari but the pass derives its name from an existing cross about 1640 feet tall and that was built by Russian General Alexei Yermolov in 1824. It replaces the old one built by the Georgian King, David the Builder.

Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)

Its incredible natural surroundings and its easy access from the capital have turned it into the most visited town in the Georgian Caucasus. The impressive snowy peak of Mount Kazbek (16515 feet) dominates the town and the unique figure of the church of Tsminda Sameba protects the valley from above.