“The gateway to Mount Kazbek”.
Where is Stepantsminda?
The town of Stepantsminda is a townlet in the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region of north-eastern Georgia. Located along the banks of the Terek River, the town is dominated by large mountains on all sides. Mount Kazbek lies immediately to the west of town. Mount Shani lies 9 km to the east. The famous Darial Gorge is only 10 km to the north and the Russian border only 12 km.
Our journey from Mtskheta to Stepantsminda was in a marshrutka.
Our time in Stepantsminda we chose to stay at the Baqari Inn, booked through Booking.com.
A clean and comfortable inn. Has a shared kitchen and lounge area. The breakfast is a never ending feast of Georgian dishes. Perfect to set anyone up for a day’s walking.
Places to eat
Try the Awtobus Cafe, a bus that has been converted into a cafe. Selling delicious cakes and coffee.
In the evenings we ate at the Green Sheep Restaurant. The food was good and the staff was friendly and attentive. Our visit was after the poor staff reviews posted on TripAdvisor.
Places of interest
Stepantsiminda is renowned for its scenic location. Set high in the Greater Caucasus mountains, it is a hub for trekkers and mountain climbers. Mount Kazbegi the alpine meadows and forests of the surrounding Kazbegi Nature Reserve are easily accessible from here.
Pansheti Swimming Pool and Mineral Water Spring
Something we didn’t know about before we arrived in Stepantsminda. Our hosts offered to take us there and we accepted. Situated quite literally in the middle of nowhere, it is one of those places you can’t just stumble across.
Leaving the village, heading in the direction of Tbilisi. About 3.5 km out, at the market there is a turning on the right. Go over the river, on the left is the large flat open area, with lorries parked on it. That is the market. Follow the road to the end and turn left. Continue on for about another 1.5 km across what seems like fields.
On the left you will see the spring and pool.
There is nobody to ask directions from. The only other life we saw was cows and horses. Being October and cold we decided against taking a dip in the “swimming pool”.
Our host got the paper cups out of the car and we tried the natural spring water. Slightly fizzy and warmer than expected. Not sure we would bottle it.
Certainly, worth a visit when in Stepantsminda, not the sort of place you come across every day.
Gergeti Trinity Church
The following day we trekked up to Gergeti Trinity Church. In the shadow of Mount Kazbek, it is at an elevation of 2170 meters (7120 feet). The town is an elevation of 1740 meters (5710 feet). A 430 meter (1410 feet) climb to the top.
Built in the 14th century, and is the only cross-cupola church in Khevi province. The separate belltower dates from the same period as the church itself. Its isolated location on top of a steep mountain surrounded by the vastness of nature has made it a symbol for Georgia.
Leaving our accommodation, we made our way back down to the Kazbegi Bus Stop. Following the main road, we crossed over the Terek River. We turned left into the Stepantsminda Sameba Road. Then starting our ascent until we came to a fork. We took the left hand road as if going to Gergeti Cafe.
There are a couple of choices from here. Before the cafe, we took the path on the left. The alternative is to carry straight on. The path we followed, took us through the upper part of the village. Eventually getting to the main road again. The trail is clearly signposted, crossing the road and going up through Gergeti woods.
Crossing the main road again, the trail starts the final climb up to Gergeti Trinity Church.
The path up was steep and has the potential to be very slippery in the wet. It’s about a 2.5km climb and took us 1hr 40 minutes to complete. Taking it reasonably steady with breaks to take photos and get our breath back.
With every aching muscle reaching the top was a relief, but worth it. The views were spectacular. With the town now below us, rolling hills surrounding us, and Gergeti Trinity Church perched high on a mound taking its rightful place. In the distance stands the piece de resistance, Mount Kazbek.
We took a partially different route back down. In front of the Monastery is a steep path that meets the main road that has twisty and turny sections. This road meets the original path we went up on. We do not recommend descending this way. The path is very steep and we both slid over a couple of times.
Fortunately, for us, as we had chosen to visit in October the weather was cool, clear, and sunny. Allowing us to enjoy beautiful views across the mountains.
The terrain is rough in places. The path not being suitable for anyone with mobility issues. If you have any problems with your knees or ankles, coming down could be challenging.