We’ve made it to Nana’s place in Signaghi, an hour and a half away from Tbilisi Airport. Actually, her real name is Louisa, but she’s just like your Nana who runs around fussing after you making sure you’ve constantly got cups of tea or coffee and snacks to nibble on at all times of the day. The only difference is that this Nana doesn’t speak a word of English, although she makes up for it by humming what sounds like the equivalent of Georgian boy-band songs. She’s actually our driver Zura’s real Nana, so maybe he got his love of music from her. Regardless, she’s an absolute godsend when you’ve got no luggage and a little bit stressed out about when it might actually arrive.
From what we can see, based on the length of time that people stay in our accommodation (there’s one other room), most people skip through after a night or two in Signaghi. As we’re still awaiting our luggage, it’s quite serendipitous that we have a whole six, decadent days to spend here. Two big bedrooms, each with their own ensuite, a balcony to hang out on at night and a shared lounge room which the kids quickly commandeer, all for well less than NZ$100 a night. Nana also does our washing for free (when we finally need it) and serves the biggest and tastiest breakfast for NZ$6 each. Honestly, we’re waddling away from the table so much that Veronica vows to start up a pilates regime.
The town of Signaghi is known as the city of love, partly due to the local registry office being open 24/7 but mostly due to the absolute beauty of the place. With only 1,500 residents I think calling it a city is a bit of a stretch but it’s very obvious why this is such a popular tourist destination, with loads of day trippers frequenting it.
The town’s name in Turkic means shelter or trench and there’s plenty of evidence supporting this. The Great Wall that surrounds much of the town measures close to 5 kilometres long and has 23 towers, all of which date back to at least 1770. At a height of 790 metres above sea level, the walls and fortress make an imposing sight for any would be attackers.
Just past the excellent restaurant at Kusika Guest House in the north east part of Signaghi, there’s a “tourist track” sign that feeds you up to a restored section of the wall that can be walked. With amazing views over the Alazani Valley and out to the Caucasus Mountains (when it’s sufficiently clear), it definitely isn’t to be missed.
The picture postcard views synonymous with Signaghi, are provided courtesy of Saint George’s Church, which is situated near to the previously mentioned walkable section of the Signaghi Wall.
The short trek there isn’t too bad either, as you travel under the Wall avoiding speeding Ladas on cobble streets whilst being distracted by the lovely wooden balconies above.
Despite being 30 degrees, the main things for sale are woolen garments and carpets. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t exactly a roaring trade going on and even though we were still somewhat desperate for clothes, despite the undoubted quality, even we had to pass up the opportunity to buy anything.
There’s plenty more to see in Signaghi apart from the Wall and Fortress. Situated alongside the Signaghi Museum is a small park with a playground which our kids enjoyed and half decent coffee which Veronica didn’t seem to complain about.
On the walls of the park are murals which list locals who died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War (World War II). The list seems awfully long, highlighting just how horrific the death toll for Georgia was, where it is estimated that 25 percent of Georgia’s young men were killed, representing 12.5 percent of ethnic Georgians in the country.
How these things are made, I have no idea, but they really are a marvel to see. What I didn’t realise, until reading afterwards, is that there is also an April 9 memorial, which pays homage to twenty people who were killed during a peaceful anti-Soviet demonstration in Tbilisi. Sobering stuff.
Also not to be missed in the Signaghi Museum. The museum has two very distinct parts, one aimed at showcasing the region’s history and culture and the other art works of the naïve painter Niko Pirosmani who lived in the surrounding Kakheti province. After we had been shushed for making too much noise in the main museum part, we behaved ourselves much better in the artwork section. Until I started pointing out something of interest to Veronica and inadvertently tripped the infrared sensors and setting off the alarms. Luckily we weren’t escorted from the premises but at least it answered the question as to whether or not the art pieces were genuine or not!
Realising this was probably our cue to call it a day we had a quick peek inside the Wine Museum to whet our appetite both for the evening ahead and our upcoming trip to the wine regions of Kekheti.