The Racha region in northwest Georgia is a breath of fresh air. If you’re lucky enough to get a ticket on one of the small planes that fly from Natakhtari to Ambrolauri, make sure you have a window seat to enjoy the view over huge swathes of pristine pine forest that form part of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. Home to bears, wolves, and the Nordmann Fir (Europe’s most preferred Christmas tree) these forests are magnificent, and some have fantastic trekking trails winding through them. The region is also home to one of my favourites, Nikortsminda cathedral, built-in 1010 during the reign of Bagrati III of Georgia. I can see why Georgians love Racha, a favoured holiday destination for many who come for the peaceful pace of life, abundant nature, and excellent wine and smoked ham.
I spent a week exploring this part of the country staying in small guesthouses where people made their own wine and chacha, nurtured beautiful gardens, and handcrafted wooden stools, chairs, and bowls from the walnut trees. There are plenty of hidden waterfalls to seek out, as well as short hikes up into the hills from little villages – the best way to find them is to ask a local. Life is slow and simple; this is a place to unwind and escape the city heat. The highlight of my time in Racha was a two-day trek up to Utziro Lake – a challenging walk but worth the reward to finish at a perfect blue teardrop of a lake at just under 2000m. The weather was clear, and the scenery diverse as we walked through a fragrant pine forest, up into a mass of colorful wildflowers, crossing streams, and onto the mountain ridge where my guide spotted a rare goat with huge horns that followed us along the ridge. Camping next to the lake, the stars were clear and bright and the sunrise spectacular the following morning, I didn’t want to leave.