Signagi (sometimes spelled Sighnaghi), is a tiny town atop a hill in the Kakheti region, and probably the prettiest town we’ve seen in Georgia to date. It has cobblestone streets, a (mostly) intact old city wall, charming houses, and views to die for. Add the fact that wine also flows freely (it’s in Kakheti after all), and we were sold. Forget vineyards in France and villas in Tuscany–a summer holiday home in Signagi is officially on our wish list.
(Too bad we don’t have any spare cash lying around.)
Getting to Signagi from Telavi
Signagi is very close to Telavi, the center of Kakheti/the Georgian wine country, but Telavi to Signagi doesn’t seem to be a popular hop. There is only one marshrutka, and it goes at 15:00.
Alex: The morning of our departure, I went to the marshrutka station to double check the departure time. I approached a group of drivers standing in a circle, idly smoking their cigarettes, and asked what time the marshrutka to Signagi left. 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 left at 3 o’clock. Question resolved.
Fast forward to 14:00 that day, when we were standing in the busy station/market area with all of our 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.
We’re not sure if this only applies to the low season, no one could give us a definitive answer. Double check if you’re travelling in summer/fall.
Sebastiaan: So how did we get 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 of 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.
Outside Signagi: 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. 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.
Of course, we wouldn’t be named Lost with Purpose if we didn’t manage to get lost. In our defense, this time it was (mostly) out of our hands: it was super foggy, and we couldn’t see more than 20 or 30 meters ahead of us.
Like I said, you just follow the road, and the signs. However, about 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 is pointing at something else (we still don’t know what). But, since it was so foggy, we couldn’t see anything except the sign. We scratched our heads–Bodbe was supposed to be close by, but maybe this Ninowhatsit was it? Georgian churches do have several names, sometimes. So, left we went.
This road led us to a muddy downhill track. It had rained all night, so when I say muddy track, I mean MUD. After about half an hour of downhill trudging, we realized that we were, once again, lost. The fog had cleared up juuust a bit, so we stopped at a vantage point, and searched the horizon for spires or towers or something. We did see a town in the distance, but no church. Realizing that every step down equaled an uphill step going back, we decided to turn around and walk all the way up again, before it was too late. Halfway through our ascent, the fog started to clear, and when we were finally back at the fork, we saw it clear as day: Bodbe convent. Have we mentioned that we suck at directions?
The buildings were under construction when we were 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.
We mostly thought it looked like a grimy bathtub-meets-spring in a rocky hut. Given that it was rainy and almost freezing, we decided to pass up on baptismal bathtime in favor of not getting hypothermia. You may pray for our souls now.
Some Signagi lovin’: where to stay in Signagi
The cherry on top of our visit was the hospitality of our hosts at Abramichi guesthouse, who once again made us realize how incredibly hospitable Georgians are.
Despite our language barriers, the husband and wife duo did everything in their ability to make us feel welcome in their home. We sampled different herbs from their garden. They had lengthy discussions with us about the geography of the incredible views from the guesthouse balcony. And fed us 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. I need some practice, clearly.
It’s 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.
(Unless chacha is involved, in which case, Georgia, you can keep your hospitality to yourself.)