A quick guide to travel in Signagi, a charming town in the Kakheti region. Includes information on how to get to Signagi, what to do in Signagi, and where to stay in Signagi.
Signagi (also spelled Sighnaghi), is a tiny town atop a hill in the easternmost region of Georgia called Kakheti. It is probably the prettiest town in Georgia, and sometimes referred to as the City of Love.
It has cute cobblestone streets, a (mostly) intact old city wall with a whopping 23 towers, charming houses, and views to die for. Add the fact that wine flows freely (it’s in the Kakheti region after all), and it’s clear that you should travel to Signagi. Forget vineyards in France and villas in Tuscany–a summer holiday home in Signagi is officially on my wish list.
(Too bad I don’t have any spare cash lying around.)
Below you can find my guide to travel to Signagi, including a little background about Signagi, things to do in Signagi, recommendations for places to stay in Signagni and how to how to get to Signagi by public transport.
Signagi is sometimes called Sighnaghi, which means shelter or trench in Turkic language. The first mention of Signagi as a settlement was recorded in the 18th century when a Georgian king sponsored the construction of the town and fort as a defense against tribesmen from Dagestan.
Signagi became an important agricultural hub during Soviet times, but in post-Soviet Georgia, the town suffered. Luckily, with the efforts of the Georgian government, the town was largely reconstructed and is now a great place for tourism in Georgia. Read further if you want to find out what there is to do in Signagi.
Things to do when you travel to Signagi
Walk around the city center of Signagi
One of the main joys of visiting Signagi is simply walking around to sample the atmosphere. Signagi oozes old-world charm, with cobblestone streets, several orthodox churches and a Museum of History and Ethnography.
You can easily spend a day or two just strolling around, drinking some wine and buying some souvenirs from the local ladies. There’s also an old city wall to circumnavigate (with awesome views).
Visit a winery
No visit to Signagi is complete without a visit to a winery. Of course, you’ll be able to taste homemade wine in your guest house or homestay, but visiting a winery makes for a great way to familiarize yourself with one of Georgia’s main exports.
There are two well-know wineries in Signagi. Pheasant’s Tears Winery and Cradle of Wine. Pheasant’s Tears has a nice website where you can book tours, check out special events, or make a reservation at the lovely Pheasant’s Tears restaurant. For Cradle of Wine, it’s better to just walk in, or send them an email or give them a call.
Visit Bodbe convent
Once you’re done ogling the picturesque town center, you can venture out to the significant sites around Signagi, the most notable being Bodbe convent, also known as Bodbe monastery. The active convent is dedicated to St. Nino, who is (supposedly) buried there.
The walk to the convent is pretty straightforward–it should only take about half an hour, and the views of Signagi along the way are grand. Just follow the road going south (uphill) out of Signagi, until you see the church buildings peeking through the trees. There are several road signs indicating the way to Bodbe monastery.
Roughly 100 meters before the convent’s entrance, there is a fork in the road with a sign that says something like “Tsminda Nino Something Something” with an arrow pointing left. Normally, you would be able to clearly see the church at this point, and realize that this sign is pointing at something else (I still don’t know what). But, since it was so foggy, I couldn’t see anything except the sign. If you’re here while it’s foggy, don’t follow the arrow, go right instead.
The buildings of the Bodbe convent were under construction when I was there, and it was still too cold for the convent garden to be in season. So aside from the view and the beautiful walk, there wasn’t much to see church-wise. However, for those searching for enlightenment/repentance/freedom from sins/guilt-free livin’, 800 meters down the hill from the church is a small place of worship housing St. Nino’s spring, which is thought to have holy, healing properties.
Visit the surrounding wine country
The Kakheti region is famous for its wine, and Signagi is a great place to base yourself to explore the region. The are several valleys to be visited, with the Alazani Valley being the most famous. It’s best to ask your guesthouse to arrange a private car for you, or check out some of the tour options in and around Signagi to make the most of your trip.
Where to stay in Signagi
The cherry on top of my visit was the hospitality of my hosts at Abramichi guesthouse. The owners of the guesthouse once again made me realize how incredibly hospitable Georgians are.
Despite our language barriers, the husband and wife duo did everything in their ability to make me feel welcome in their home. I sampled different herbs from their garden. They had lengthy discussions with me about the geography of the incredible views from the guesthouse balcony. And they fed me copious amounts of wine and cheese of their own making… though not enough for their liking, it seems. The husband told me that real Georgian men can/should drink about 4 liters of wine in one sitting. You can book Abramichi guesthouse here.
It’s a bit of a walk outside of the city center. But for only 30 GEL/night you get a private room with bathroom and a whole lot of excellent views, love, and wine. We were thrilled with our stay with the family. Georgian hospitality, we’re going to miss you.
Other places to stay when you travel to Signagi include:
- Guest House Gidi: Clean guesthouse with comfortable beds and a friendly host. Offers a range of private rooms – Book Guest House Gidi here.
- Mironichi: Boasts a great location right across from the museum. Limited English is spoken, but a bit of homemade wine usually solves that problem – Book Mironichi here.
- Guest House Alazani Valley: This midrange guest house is a bit out of town, but offers suberb views of Signagi and the surrounding region – Book Guest House Alazani Valley here.
How to get to Signagi
The most logical approach to Signagi would be from Telavi, the center of Kakheti and Georgia’s wine region. But unfortunately, Telavi to Signagi doesn’t seem to be a popular route. There is only one marshrutka, and it goes at 15:00.
On the morning of my departure, I went to the marshrutka station to double-check the departure time. The drivers all stood scratching their heads, and several shouted to their compatriots lounging in their buses, asking a) was there a marshrutka to Signagi? and b) at what time? After a while, a voice chimed in from across the yard: it leaves at 3 o’clock. Question resolved.
Fast forward to 14:00 that day, when I weas standing in the station/market area with all of my bags, looking for the marshrutka. The same scenario played out (with some of the same drivers present)… this time, the answer to the question: no marshrutky to Signagi for two days because it was Saturday, the weekend. Question UNresolved.
I’m not sure if this only applies to the low season, no one could give us a definitive answer. Double-check if you’re traveling in summer/fall.
So how did we I there in the end? It seems that marshrutky routes are not necessarily fixed. After some haggling here and there, the driver of the Tsnori marshrutka agreed to drop us off in Signagi for double the rate. We paid 10 GEL each, while the regular marshrutka ride should cost 5 GEL. Getting to Signagi took about 45 minutes.
If you’re coming from Tbilisi, there are direct buses from the Ortachala bus stand. And if anyone found a better way to get from Telavi to Signagi, let us know in the comments.
So there you have it, a quick guide to travel in Signagi, including tips on what to do and where to stay. Let us know in the comments if you miss anything.