The picturesque hilltop town of Sighnaghi is affectionately known as the City of Love in Georgia. This epithet has been bestowed upon the town thanks to the ridiculous tale of famed Georgian painter, Nikala Pirosmani. It is claimed that his passion for his lover drove him to sell his house so he could buy her one million roses as an expression of his devotion. This idiocy was repaid by cruelty when she left him, a poor and broken man … or as they phrase it in the town’s museum, ‘a sad love story’.
Sighnaghi should really be known as the place for wine lovers. There are several wine cellars around town in which to taste Georgian wines from the surrounding vineyards, as well as a handful of excellent restaurants that also offer tastings, or at least a glass or two with your meal. I ate and drank so well in Sighnaghi that when the time came to for the drive into the middle of nowhere to visit the David Gareji Monastery, I really thought twice about leaving – ever.
Outside of Tbilisi, Sighnaghi served up the best food of my whole trip. The finest of all came at the delightful Pheasant’s Tears restaurant, which is tucked away behind a large wooden door and has a pleasant outside space. It is also handily attached to a vineyard that was responsible for some of the finest wines I tasted on my trip. I ate here twice and enjoyed every dish. This included a glass of traditional red wine accompanied by bread and sunflower oil infused with black pepper. It was delicious.
It’s no wonder you can all too easily find yourself falling for the easy-going charms of this friendly place. Sighnaghi, though, is not just wine and culinary delights. Beautiful views over the surrounding countryside, a relaxed way of life, attractive cobbled streets and a history dating back centuries, combine to make this a compulsory stop if you’re passing through Kakheti. Driving up the absurdly steep and winding road to the town, I stopped at an old gate in the medieval wall that snakes around the hill.
As I stood admiring the magnificent views over the town and valley, a Japanese cyclist stopped on his way out of town. I asked him how far he’d cycled, “From Beijing”, he said, “I’m going to Istanbul.” Clearly a lunatic, I wished him the best of luck and we parted ways: I, heading for a fantastic lunch; he, to cycle through mid-30ºC temperatures. It was too early to check into the hotel, but the owner poured me a glass of homemade wine to compensate. Sighnaghi is that sort of place.
I spent my time wandering around, visiting the handful of historic sights and generally just relaxing. I did attempt the walk to Bode Monastery, which my guidebook said was 2km away on quiet country lanes. Either this was a gross exaggeration or things have changed a lot since the guide was researched. Tour buses and wildly driven cars rattle along the road making it unsafe for pedestrians. I stopped instead at a bar overlooking the town, next to which was a zip line.
I’d intended to walk back, but fell into conversation with the owner and his daughter. One thing led to another and very soon we were drinking glasses of chacha, the mind-blowingly strong grape spirit. A combination of chacha-induced bravado and a desire not to be run over by a Georgian driver led, inevitably, to taking the shortest route back to town. I’ve never zip-lined before, not sure I will again, and can honestly say it’s a bad idea under the influence.