Samerelo is a historical Georgian province lying in the western part of the country. It´s name means “the land of Mingrelians” (second most populous Georgian ethnic group). In the ancient times, Samegrelo constituted a large part of the Colchis kingdom, famous as the "the land of the Golden Fleece".
Samegrelo is mostly known for its historical sites, caves, mineral springs or coastal marshes. As the most of the province is covered by flatlands, it´s not considered to be a premium trekking destination. Which is quite surprising since Egrisi mountains lying in its northern parts treature some of the most scenic lakes in Georgia. Egrisi mountains are not as high as massifs further to the north, but are more diverse - one can find here many rocky peaks, glacial lakes, gorges and waterfalls.
How to get to Zugdidi:
Zugdidi, the capital of Samegrelo is easily accesible from all major Georgian cities. From Tbilisi, there is a highly practival daily night train and also several marshrutkach.
There are also numerous marshrutkas connecting Zugdidi with Kutaisi. Batumi is not so easy as it's bus station is quite chaotic but there should be at least 1 or 2 leaving for Zugdidi in the morning.
Mountains of Samegrelo
Dadiani palace is the complex of museums, located in Zugdidi, the capital of Samegrelo region. Originally, it served as a seat of Dadiani´s, a ruling dynasty of Samegrelo.
One of the last princes of the dynasty, David Dadiani was a devoted archeologist and held here several exhibitions of his findings from Nokalakevi.
After the revolution, the palace was turned into full-time museum.
Nowadays, it houses a collection of over 40 000 items - books, weapons, furniture, paintings, icons, relics, exotic gifts and archeological findings. Famous is the supposed Shroud of Holy Mary, brought to Georgia in 1453 after the fall of Constantinople. It’s shown to the public every year in August - the rest of the time, it is kept in the so-called Virgin Tower.
Museum also contains many items related to Napoleon thanks to Salome Dadiani, who marrier grandson of emperor’s sister Carolina. The most notable of them is one of Napoleon’s three bronze death masks.
Dadiani palace in Zugdidi
Okatse canyon is up to hundred meters deep gorge located close to Gordi village. In 2013, government modernized the whole area and turned it into a regular “attraction”.
Walk starts in the Dadiani gardens in Gordi, which once served as a summer residence of the Dadiani dynasty. From here, you have to walk 2 kilometers through the park to the main attraction of the area - 700m long hanging walkway, built right into the side of the canyon. The walk ends at the viewing platform ejected over the chasm.
Another, much less visited attraction of the area (it lies some 5km from the canyon) is the Kinchka waterfall, one of the tallest ones in Georgia. This is also a great place to bath and picnic during hot summer days.
Okatse canyon (by Dariko)
Martvili canyon lies in the eastern Samegrelo. It is a charming, peaceful gorge with small blue/green colored river at the bottom. There are also several waterfalls and small grottos.
In 2016, a new visitor’s centre was built here. Nowadays, there is an entry fee 5 GEL For another 10 GEL, you can take short, but pretty nice boat ride in the canyon. There are several picnic spots at the edge of the cannyon. However, swimming is forbidden.
Prometheus (Kumistavi) cave is the largest Georgian cave. Even though only one-tenth is opened tourists, it’s definitely worth of visit. Accesible area consists of six underground halls and a lake, walking tour is about 1,5km long. There is also an advertised possibility to take a boat for the last part of the trip, but it wasn’t available when we were visiting and everyone I know had a same experience, so I am not sure if it ever works.
Cave was modernized in 2012 and people responsible did a really good job. The lighting is top-notch, created a really good atmosphere and one sometimes feels like in a true magical underground kingdom. There is also an ambient music, it took a while to get used to but otherwise is fine. The only thing I don’t understand - why was it named after Prometheus. If I remember correctly, in that legend featured an eagle, not a giant bat…
If you´ve ever visited Svaneti by marshrutka, you must have noticed a huge turquoise body of water on your left - the Enguri reservoir. Most tourists take a couple of photos of the water since the marshrutkas bypass the actual dam, but you can visit it if you have a car or rented taxi. It´s only a small detour from the main road and definitely worth it. Why?
Construction of Enguri hydroelectric started in 1961 and took more than 25 years to finish. Once you see it, you will understand why - with its 270 meters, it is the second highest concrete dam in the world. It´s also one of the places where Georgia and Abkhazia cooperate - they have to since while the dam itself lies in Georgia, the power station lies in Gal district controlled by Abkhazia. As a result, Georgia supplies whole Abkhazia with free electricity - but as an energy consumption in Abkhazia keeps growing, this deals is getting under an increased pressure.
Currently, the Georgian government is also planning to further capitalize on the stunning location of its enormous dam. In a few years, it plans to turn the whole area into a tourist zone in the style of a famous Hoover Dam. But until it happens, we have to contend with driving as close as possible and taking pictures like the one below. Good enough for me :)
Enguri dam viewed from a drone
This trek crosses Egrisi mountains, which separate Svaneti from Samegrelo lowlands. The highlight of the trek is Tovabarchkhili lake - probably the most beautiful mountainlake in Georgia.
- Duration: 5 days
- Difficulty: Hard
Another route leading to the Tobavarchkhili lake, a jewel in the crown of Egrisi mountains. On the way there, you will pass humid jungles, see imposing Toba waterfall and visit shepherds in their natural habitat.
- Duration: 2 Days
- Difficulty: Hard
This route climbs onto the 2000 meters high Mt. Kvira. It also visits other landmarks of Samegrelo such as the Intsra waterfall, the water spring hidden in the karst cave of famous Kuakantsalia - The Swinging Stone.
- Duration: 2 Days
- Difficulty: Moderate
This little known walk takes you through the valley of Intsra river to a pretty nice waterfall. It doesn’t belong to top sights of Georgia, but if you happen to be in Zugdidi with some extra time and desire to get away from crowds, it is an interesting option.
- Duration: 3 Hours
- Difficulty: Easy
This is an ideal sidetrip if you want to spend extra day camping by Tobavarchkhili lake. You wil have an opportunity to see Toba waterfall, explore upper part of the Magana valley, visit local shepherds and taste their traditional Elarji dish.
- Duration: 4 Hours
- Difficulty: Moderate