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Sighnaghi, Georgia Travel Guide
Sighnaghi, Georgia (or Signagi) is easily one of the prettiest places to visit in all of Georgia (the country not the state). When we first arrived in Sighnaghi, after the windy drive through the mountains, my first impression was of an Italian mountain town, perhaps a town in Tuscany. The medieval architecture and cobblestone streets are so different from that of Tbilisi, and the rest of Georgia.
Sighnaghi is located in the easternmost part of the Kakheti region, with view of the Caucasus mountains in the distance. The town sits above the Alazani Valley, which is one of the largest wine producing regions in Georgia. Nicknamed the “City of Love,” it is easy to fall in love with this slice of paradise. In fact, many couples are known to visit Sighnaghi to get married in the town.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about planning a trip to this incredible wine town.
The Basics of Visiting Georgia
Language: Georgia is the official and primary language of Georgia.
Currency: Georgian lari ($1 USD = 3.12 GEL as of October 2021).
Location: Georgia is located at the intersection of Europe and Asia. Georgia borders Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
Name: Locally, Georgia (Republic of Georgia) is known as Sakartvelo
Visa: Traveling to Georgia is incredibly easy as they offer a super lenient visa policy. Passport holders from 98 different countries can enter Georgia visa-free for up to 365 days. Bonus, you are even allowed to work under this visa.
Things to do in Sighnaghi, Georgia
Book a wine tasting at Cradle of Wine Marani (learn about Qvevri wine)
One of the main reason that I decided to plan a trip to Sighnaghi, Georgia was to learn more about the traditional wine culture. Georgian wine is traditionally make in a qvevri, a clay pot underground. The traditional wine making method is done by putting everything into the qvevri – the seeds, the skins, everything. It is only after many weeks of fermenting in the qvevri that the wine is separated from the seeds and skins (otherwise known as the chacha).
Cradle of Wine Marani is run by a man named Paul, an American who is originally from NYC. While this may not feel as authentic, it is an incredible way to learn so much about the traditional winemaking process, as well as the various toasts expected during a Georgian supra.
Understanding the process and the amount of labor that goes into each and every bottle of wine makes me appreciate it even more. Not to mention, Paul and his wife make some of the best wine that I tried while in Georgia. I even brought a few bottles home to enjoy!
Visit a local vineyard
If you haven’t already gathered, visiting Sighnaghi, or any town in Kakheti is all about the wine. That said, visiting a local family vineyard is one of the best experiences that you can have in Georgia. Our lovely guesthouse host arranged with Roman of Guest House Vista to bring us to his local family vineyard.
We learned that in 1992/1993, every family in Kakheti was given 4 lines of grapes to produce their own wine. While many trade or sold these lines of the years, it is still very common for families in the area to have their own vineyard. Roman of Guest House Vista drove us about 25 minutes from town to visit his personal vineyard. At this point he keeps the majority of wine for his own family to drink, but I hope one day he chooses to sell it as it was some of the best wine I’ve ever tried!
For just 20 GEL ($6.50 USD) each, Roman gave us a full tour of his vineyard, plus prepared a mini supra for us with wine, fruit, and homemade khachapuri.
Walk the walls of the city
One of the first things you’ll notice about Sighnaghi is the 4km defense wall that surrounds the town. The wall reminded me of a (much) smaller Great Wall of China. You can walk along the walls for some great views of the city, and a little exercise after all of the wine and kinkhalis. Simply spend some time exploring the old town. I recommend visiting the city walls in the morning or evening, as midday can get quite busy with tourists who are visiting Signagi on a day trip.
Visit the market (and try local wine)
One of my favorite things to do in Sighnaghi was to visit the local market. In fact, I think we stopped by every day of our visit to Sighnaghi for more goodies. Here you’ll find a plethora of local spices, as well as bottled wine, churchkhela and a local fruit leather. You’ll also find the famous hand-knit socks of the region.
One thing you’ll notice is that local wine in Sighnaghi is sold in plastic water bottles. Typically a small bottle costs 5 GEL and the full liter costs 10 GEL. If you visit the market you can taste the different types of wine before selecting your purchase.
When you were driving from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi, you probably noticed a sausage-like item being sold on the side of the road. This is actually churchkhela, a local Georgian dessert. Affectionately referred to as the “Georgian snickers,” churchkhela is made from nuts and grape juice, a by-product of the wine-making process. If you didn’t grab one on your way into town, you can find them sold in the local market. They come in a variety of flavors! Admittedly it wasn’t my favorite dessert, but I still recommend giving it a try.
Book a dinner at Pheasant’s Tears
Pheasant’s Tears was one of the first places that I marked on my map when planning my Georgia itinerary. This is because it is one of the few Georgian wines that is actually relatively easy to find in NYC, and therefore was one of my first introductions to Georgian wine. A main factor here is that this winery is actually owned by an American, although the wine is produced by a Georgian winemaker.
Pheasant’s Tears winery produces natural wine in the traditional qvevri-style, and it is truly top notch. The menu rotates frequently, and everything on it is the most in-season and fresh. I recommend making a reservation as it can get super busy, especially on the weekends.
One thing that we loved about Pheasant’s Tears is that there is no formal wine menu. I loved trusting our knowledgable server to pick the best wines to complement our food.
Visit Bodbe Monastery
About a 30 minute walk from the center of Sighnaghi, you’ll reach the Bodbe Monastery. The Bodbe convent holds a lot of cultural significance in the town, as it houses the remains of St. Nino.
Explore the greater Kakheti region
Sighnaghi is just a small slice of what the greater Kakheti region has to offer. You may want to base yourself out of Sighnaghi for your entire trip to Kakheti, or consider moving around a bit. Another popular area to consider is Telavi.
We opted to stay in one place in Sighnaghi, however we did hire a car to take us to visit Wine Yard N1, a farm winery. I definitely recommend visiting Wine Yard N1 while visiting Kakheti. We waited 50 GEL ($16 USD) each for a delicious meal, a tour of the property, and plenty of wine and chacha. Our host Tika even served us wine straight out of the qvevri, which was one of my favorite experiences in Georgia. You can send a message through Facebook to make a reservation.
Where to Stay in Sighnaghi, Georgia
My number one suggestion for Sighnaghi, Georgia is to stay in one of the small guesthouses. The experience of staying with a family is one-of-a-kind, and allows for such a unique experience. Because of my hotel booking mishap (oops), we actually stayed at two different guesthouses: Three Gracia and Guest House Vista. Personally I would recommend Three Gracia for the views and incredible breakfast spread, but definitely plan a vineyard visit with Roman of Guest House Vista.
Here are the links to book your visit:
Where to Eat and Drink in Sighnaghi, Georgia
Pheasant’s Tear (the best restaurant in Sighnaghi, Georgia)
I already sang my praises for Pheasant’s Tear earlier in this post, but don’t miss out. Seriously, this place is incredible.
Okro’s Natural Wine
If you’re looking for an excellent spot for wine and dinner, Okro’s Natural Wine bar and restaurant is your spot. The views of the Alazani Valley from the terrace, especially at sunset, are amazing. I tried one of their other wines, a rose from Sister’s, and it was out of this world! I have been desperately trying to find it in NYC. From the salad to the eggplant, everything was delicious and paired perfectly with the wine. Not a mushroom fan myself, but my boyfriend raved about the mushroom soup for weeks, so I’d make sure to order one of those as well.
Kusika is another great spot if you’re looking for lunch or dinner. Located right by the entrance to the walls, the views from the outdoor terrace at Kusika are great! They also offer cooking classes if that is something that you have time for while in Sighnaghi. If you sign up for one, definitely let me know how it is.
Cradle of Wine Marani
I mentioned this already above so I won’t go into too much detail, but everything that we ate at Cradle of Wine Marani was incredible. I would call to reserve a tasting a few days ahead of time, and ask if they are able to include food with your tasting. Trust me, it is so worth it! Our tasting didn’t include food, and they still fed us with the most delicious bread, cheese, sunflower oil, and Georgian eggplant rolls ( nigvziani badrijani).
At Your Guesthouse
If you have the opportunity to dine at your guesthouse, make sure to do so. This is where you’ll be able to try some of the most authentic (and delicious) food in Georgia. Our homestay, Three Gracia, came with the most amazing breakfast. From curry puff pastries to pancakes and fruit, it was a whole feast! Many homestays will also cook you lunch or dinner for an additional cost, just ask!
How to get to Sighnaghi from Tbilisi
Sighnaghi is located just over an hour from Tbilisi, making it super easy to get to. There are a number of options available, depending on your budget and how much time you have.
Taking a marshrutkas from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi is definitely the cheapest way to get to the wine region, with a ticket costing between 5 and 10 GEL. By marshrutkas you can expect the journey to be between 1.5 and 2 hours. The shared vans depart from Samgori metro station in Tbilisi on the hour, every hour.
By Private Driver
If you don’t want to take the bus, you can consider booking a driver through GoTrip.com. Their drivers are reputable, fairly priced, and many of them speak English. You may also want to book a driver to take you around to the vineyards outside of Sighnaghi.
By Rental Car
It is a super simple drive from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi, which should only take you about 1.5 hours if you self-drive. That said, if you are planning enjoy the vineyards and wine tastings in Kakheti, you won’t be getting much use out of your car. Plus, Sighnaghi is a super walkable town. Unless you plan on moving around a lot, you probably won’t need a car in Sighnaghi. We drove ourselves only because we were arriving from Kazbegi.
What to Pack for Sighnaghi
Sighnaghi is located at a bit of an elevation, so I recommend always packing a light jacket. If you’re visiting in the winter, you’ll want a heavier jacket of course. Good walking shoes are also a must, as the town is hilly and full of cobblestone streets.