Escape to the country: Visit Lagodekhi
13 November, 2018
Only a two-and-a-half-hours drive away from Tbilisi hides the small city of Lagodekhi at the foot of the Great Caucasian Mountains. After two weeks in the Georgian capital, I decided to leave the noisy and plagued by congestion city and enjoy a weekend in the countryside. For this, Lagodekhi next to the Azerbaijan border is definitely a good destination, as I found out.

Already the journey by taxi or Marshrutka – as the minibuses are called in Georgia – is a
rewarding experience. After passing the gentle rolling hills with their dry vegetation that surround Tbilisi, me and my fellow passengers in the taxi were crossing a completely flat landscape. It is the Alazani Valley formed by the same-named river that eventually meets the Kura. There is a lot of agricultural production in the valley and locals sell all kinds of fruits and vegetables – kiwis, persimmons, cabbage, potatoes, carrots just to name a few – alongside the streets.

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Banana trees are growing in the gardens of Lagodekhi and the surrounding villages, Photo courtesy: Martina Polek

The whole scenery is overlooked by the Caucasian Mountains, which rise from the other side of the valley. The mountains are so high that it looks like a huge wall fenced the valley from the north-eastern side. Lagodekhi itself is located at the foot of those mountains, but thanks to a couple of smaller hills that embrace the city from three sides, I didn’t have the feeling of being surrounded.


Young people leave the city


Lagodekhi has a population of 6,000 inhabitants. Like many other places in the peripheral areas of Georgia, the city suffers from the migration. Especially the young people leave the city in order to study in Tbilisi or abroad. Many of them don’t come back because of lacking job opportunities. But this could change in future.

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Beautiful nature attracts nature and hiking enthusiasts, Photo courtesy: Martina Polek

The reason for this hope: Tourists. Their numbers started to raise about in 2010. Most of them being attracted by the beautiful nature that is preserved by the Lagodekhi Nature Reserve. Founded in 1912, it is the oldest protected area in Georgia. The reserve authorities have registered around 53,000 visitors last year and this year even more came. As a consequence, more and more locals convert their homes to guesthouses. They host mainly hiking enthusiast, but also families who just want to enjoy the beautiful forest and the fresh air.

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The plant diversity is extraordinarily high thanks to a specific local climate, Photo courtesy: Martina Polek

There are several hiking tours starting from Lagodekhi lasting from several hours up to three days in case you want to hike to the Black Rock Lake that is located high up in the mountains. For this, it’s advisable not to go too late during the year to Lagodekhi as you depend on good weather conditions. But even if you don’t plan to go on a hiking tour, you can enjoy a walk in the forest with their old tree stands or along the two rivers.

Actually, Lagodekhi has welcomed tourists before, namely during the Soviet era. Back then, the city was a popular halt for tourist travelling in coaches from Batumi on the Black Sea to Baku on the Caspian Sea. However, during the political restless 1990s, visitors stayed away and tourism died out completely. The increasing numbers of tourists and infrastructure during the last years as well as the busy renovation works in the city center stresses that times have changed for better.

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Already during the Soviet era, Lagodekhi has been a popular tourist spot, Photo courtesy: Martina Polek

It sounds contradictory, but Lagodekhi is a charming Soviet city thanks to the fact that there are no apartment blocks. Instead, people live in family houses. Although many of them are slightly rundown, all of them are surrounded by beautiful gardens, some even with persimmon orchards. Especially now in autumn, the orange sweet tasting fruits look like Christmas balls in the trees, it’s enchanting.

However, what you mustn’t forget to take with you when you’re visiting Lagodekhi: walking-tour shoes and a very warm pyjamas, especially if you go there beyond the summer season. Most of the houses are badly isolated, thus, it gets pretty cold at night. This is also true for the bathrooms so consider leaving out a shower unit.

Author: Martina Polek, Swiss journalist

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