Sighnaghi and Georgia's Kakheti Wine Region - the birthplace of wine, home to Saint Nino's Bodbe Monastery, and Georgia's gorgeous most famous winemaking region.
After my brother in law's wedding, we headed out to Sighnaghi, about a two hour trek from Tbilisi, to have their wedding blessed at Saint Nino's Bodbe Monastery, and to celebrate their wedding at their gorgeous reception high in the historical hills of Georgia's Khaketi region at the Pheasants Tears Winery.
Khaketi is one of the most well known regions for Georgian wine- many varietals from Khaketi can be found internationally, and the entire area has undergone significant investment in the post soviet era to lure western tourists. It is a charming, gorgeous region full of history, priceless relics, and of course, delicious wine!
We were only in Sighnaghi for a day and a half- which was barely enough to even experience such a beautiful place. I would love to head back some day for wine tours, a long day to explore the David Gareji Monastery Complex that borders Azerbaijan, and time to really explore the beautiful cobblestone streets of Sighnaghi.
The first stop for us in Khakheti was to Bodbe Monastery- Saint Nino's resting place high above the valley just outside Sighnaghi.
My brother in law and sister in law had a small wedding reception at Bodbe after the sisters performed a blessing for their wedding. Photographs were not allowed inside the small chapel, but it was a beautiful ceremony full of lovely singing from the sisters.
I love the intricate details on the doorway into the chapel at Bodbe- how gorgeous is this? When you enter, you're greeted with beautiful, angel-like harmonies as the sisters carry out services.
The sisters even set out a small reception for us full of their homemade foods and wine, which was a very special treat- set in a small courtyard where the sun was peeking through tall trees- giving it an incredibly fairytale like feeling.
Back outside, the immaculate gardens are a lovely sight to stroll through. Saint Nino loved gardens and this fertile hillside- and it is easy to see why. The sisters here take such great care of the grounds, it is a magical place to visit.
Since we were there in early spring, we didn't get to see all of the flowers in full bloom- but we were treated to a lovely display of tulips who had just popped up from hibernation.
After the short blessing, we headed into Sighnaghi for the wedding reception. As there were a few other weddings in the small town that night, our group was scattered between a few hotels around the area. My husband and I ended up at Hotel Brigitte, with a lot of the Americans in our group. I didn't have a chance to snap shots of our hotel, but it was comfortable, spacious, and pretty inexpensive.
It was't overly luxurious, but came with free wifi, breakfast in the morning, and it was clean (and really- when you are so far from any western tourism hotspot, that is all you need!). The pool was not yet open, but it looked like it would be a fabulous place to hang out in summer. They also had a restaurant but as we were eating at Pheasants Tears for the dinner reception and in their Tibaani vineyard the next day, we didn't have time to check it out.
The staff spoke just enough English to check us in, and the town overall is starting to become much more of a well known tourism hub- most of the places we visited had been recently renovated and the entire area has seen significant investment.
After setting our things down at the hotel we immediately scrambled up the long cobblestone road to the Pheasants Tears Winery restaurant back towards the entrance to town, where the reception was to be held. I grabbed a few photos of the town at sunset along the way.
Once at Pheasant's Tears, we knew we were in for an amazing night. From the outside, you would never know the unassuming building holds a gorgeous, relaxing courtyard just behind it's large doors. The courtyard is decorated with kvari (vessels Georgians store wine in to age it), vines, and gorgeous places to sit and sip some of the wineries varietals.
In one room, there are beautiful antiques, art and fine carpets for sale- and the next reveals the winery, bar, and kitchen.
The back staircase led us up to the winery's beautiful banquet room, where the reception took place. The back room was spacious, and impeccably decorated. Pheasants Tears arranged for traditional Georgian music and dancers as our entertainment- it was beautiful watching them perform traditional Georgian dances, and to see my brother in law and sister in law join in for their first dance.
Pheasant's Tears is exceptionally friendly to english speakers, as their owner is an American who settled in Georgia. The space still feels incredibly authentic, though it is definitely more comfortable for tourists used to western accommodations (and toilets). Their staff largely spoke english, and even helped translate to Russian for the other half of our party so the bride could take a break from acting as translator between her family and my brother in law's.
While Pheasants Tears is known for their wine, the food was exceptional. Servers kept bringing us more and more delicious Georgian specialties, as well as keeping our glasses full for the official wedding Supra. If you want to know more about the Georgian Supra tradition, head here to learn all about this special and totally unique feast!
If I ever find myself in Sighnaghi again, Pheasants Tears is at the top of my list of places to visit. Their wine, food, and hospitality are exceptional!
The next day, we woke up early and I snapped some photographs of Sighnaghi at sunrise before boarding a bus that took us down to one of Pheasants Tears vineyards in Tiibani for a lunch reception before leaving Khakheti.
It was gorgeous, staring out over the valley full of vineyards, poppies, and small homes sitting under the shadow of the snow capped Caucasus mountain range.
It was incredible to tour around the vineyard and learn more about Georgia's ancient winemaking methods.
I wrote a piece all about the history of wine in Georgia over on the La Crema blog that is a must-see if you're interested in the history of wine in Georgia (it is truly a fantastic history!).
After our lunch in Tiibani, we boarded busses back to Tbilisi. The trip to Khaketi was entirely too short, but we had our sights on touring through Armenia the next day, and needed to get back to make our trek.
I'm definitely adding a lengthier stay in Khakheti and Sighnaghi to my travel bucket list!
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
Recommended dishes: Grilled pork (salty, crispy and full of flavor- not a bite was less than exceptional); khachapuri (Georgian cheese bread); jonjol (pickled caper-like flowers that taste like a mix between bananna peppers and capers).
Reccommended wine: Pheasant's Tears Saperavi and Rkatsiteli- fabulous varietals you'll wish you could find as frequently outside of Georgia.
What to See
Bodbe Monastery (women must cover heads and wear a skirt when visiting. Aprons and headscarves available for those who are in pants and don't have a scarf. No photography inside chapel- please ask a sister before taking her photograph. Do not be offended if sisters are not chatty- they are not there for entertainment and are quite solemn by nature.)
Tiibani Vineyards - we went with Pheasant's Tears, but there are numerous wineries in the area that are rated very high with travelers.