Tbilisi to Telavi: the Ortachala trials

A quick guide on getting from Tbilisi to Telavi, one of the main cities in Georgia’s premier winemaking region, Kakheti. Includes info on finding the right bus station, where to stay in Telavi, and what to do in Telavi.

As you might know by now, the main bus station of Didube is easily reached by metro. Ortachala, (sounds like a dance, doesn’t it?) the bus station with services to Kakheti and some international destinations, is a bit trickier.

How to get to Ortachala bus station in Tbilisi

Finding the right bus at Didube

We arrived in Tbilisi from Kazbegi, which meant we arrived at Didube. According to the Lonely Planet, local marshrutka 150 or bus 55 would bring us to Ortachala, from where we could travel to Telavi. That is if you can find them in the clusterfuck that is Didube.

Note: If you’re trying to get to Ortachala from central Tbilisi, you can take yellow marshrutky 71 or 80 from near the clock tower in the old city.

After walking around the Didube area, watching every marshrutka except #150 go by, we decided to ask. Lo and behold, the first guy we ask says his bus goes to Ortachala. Success! We got in, much to the disdain of all our fellow bus riders–our backpacks are rather ungainly, and marshrutky have no real luggage space.

Storage space in a marshrutka minibus in Georgia

Sitting space: 18-19 people. Storage space: 2 backpacks. We’ve started showing up earlier so we can make sure to be the first to access the limited luggage space.

Finding Ortachala bus station

After about 10-15 minutes of driving, we were told to get out, as we were at Ortachala. To our left: no buses. To our right: … also no buses.

“…uh, where the fuck are we?”

We were once again lost with purpose, albeit this time with the rather dull purpose of finding a bus station.

It turned out we were dropped off at a roundabout some 5 minutes’ walking from the actual bus station, near a building with a surprising amount of military personnel walking around. With some help from the ever-friendly locals, we found the way (go across the street and follow the road), otherwise, we might still have been lost. Ortachala can be found on Google Maps as “Central Bus Station”. 

Ortachala is not an obvious bus station, even if you do know where you are, so if you aren’t sure which direction to go in, ask around. Disregard taxi drivers that tell you they will bring you wherever for $50.

Ortachala marshrutka station in Tbilisi, Georgia

Finally: the Ortachala marshrutka station.

View from Ortachala marshrutka station in Tbilisi Georgia

The view across the street from the Ortachala marshrutka station. Note the elusive marshrutka 150 (yellow) casually passing by…

Finding the right bus from Tbilisi to Telavi

Once at the bus station, everything worked itself out. We paid 10 GEL each for a ticket to Telavi. 20 minutes later, we were on our way. The ride from Tbilisi to Telavi should theoretically take 2 hours… but ours took almost twice as long, thanks to our driver being averse to accelerating after speed bumps, and his stopping for half an hour at a random convenience store because ??? My butt is still recovering.

Make sure to bring some water and snacks, preferably bought away from the bus station (where prices are inflated) to last the ride.

Telavi is not a big town, and the bus station is a five-minute walk from the city center. Just walk uphill from where you are dropped off. There’s a big open square/driving intersection, and an old fortress-like structure.

Where to stay in Telavi

We stayed at Guest House Medea for 30 GEL, the cheapest option in Telavi. It had great hilltop views, they gave us a free bottle of their homemade wine, and there was decent wifi in the guest area of the house. Book Guest House Medea here.

Other solid options in Telavi include:

  • Tin-Tina Guesthouse: Highly rated budget guest house run by a hospitable host who speaks good English – Book Tin-Tina Guest now.
  • Valiko House: Between budget and mid-range, this place offers great food and a variety of good rooms – Book Valiko House now.
  • Guest House Lilia: Great mid-range option with lovely hosts and comfortable beds. English is limited but the kindness of the hosts makes up for this – Book Guest House Lilia now.

What to do in Telavi

Telavi et vino

Telavi itself is not particularly interesting. There is an old city wall, an old tree, a park with a nice view, and the museum apparently has a nice collection. The real attractions are out of town and include several monasteries, churches–yes, more churches!–and wine, lots of wine.

Many consider Georgia to be the birthplace of wine, winemaking has been going on since circa 4000 BCE, and Telavi is in the center of the heartland of Georgian wine culture. To Alex’s (alcoholic) dismay, our bodies were still recovering from our time in Kazbegi, so we didn’t indulge in much wine while in Telavi.

We were admittedly getting a bit church-weary, so we decided to only hit up the Ikalto and Alaverdi monasteries and Shumi winery. We paid 30 GEL for a taxi to bring us to these three places over the course of a day. Expect to pay around double that if you want to pack in more stops; there are a few more churches to be seen, and you can visit several family wineries along the way.

Ikalto monastery

Ikalto monastery is beautifully located between two hills. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a post-party frat house: dilapidated, crumbling walls surrounded by empty drink vessels. It was renovated within the past decade, and we were amused to see that the 12th-century foundations were holding up much better than the 21st-century renovations. The grounds include an old academy that contains artifacts and remnants of wine-making from the 12th century and a cemetery with yet more interesting graves. Admission is free.

Ikalto monastery in the Kakheti region of Georgia

Left: the old academy. Center: take a guess. Right: booze vessels.

Clay kvevri wine jars buried in the ground at Ikalto monastery in Georgia

Remnants of old clay wine-making vessels, known as kvevri, buried in the ground.

Graves at Ikalto monastery in Kakheti, Georgia

Death reminds us of what is truly important in life: motorcycles.

Alaverdi monastery

Alaverdi monastery is surrounded by a huge estate and winery. The outer wall looks pretty cool and is beautifully juxtaposed with antennas. The interior of the church could have rivaled Gelati, but alas, most of the frescoes and wall paintings have deteriorated beyond the point of recognition. Admission is free.

Alaverdi monastery in Kakheti, Georgia

Alaverdi monastery from the outside.

Interior of Alaverdi cathedral in Kakheti Georgia

The inside of Alaverdi cathedral. Sneaky angle because no photos allowed. We’re such rebels.

Wine time

Finally, we went to Shumi winery. Here we got free entrance, a free tour, and a free tasting (oh my poor body). Fun fact: Shumi’s crest is of a griffin, as in Georgian mythology it is said that a griffin brought the first grape seeds to the Georgian people.

Shumi winery griffin crest Kakheti Telavi Georgia

We bought a bottle of nice red wine for 15 GEL out of guilt for getting everything else for free. Not too shabby, eh? There are several wineries around Telavi, so if you are a Grade A vino snob, check around. Blue Danube Wine has a nice list of wineries in Georgia you can check out.

Wine drums at Shumi winery in Kakheti, Georgia

Wine drums in the cellar of Shumi winery. I’ll take two, please.

So there you have it, a quick guide on how to get to fro Tbilisi to Telavi, including information on where to stay and what to do. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions.

Sebastiaan

Just another Dutchie. Extrovert with introverted tendencies. Some say I'm lazy, I say I'm masterfully inactive.

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One thought on “Tbilisi to Telavi: the Ortachala trials

    sherman says:

    thanks sharing the trip from tbilisi to telavi so in details. i am following it tmr. bus 150….

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