A straighforward hike to the iconic Georgian landmark.
Gergeti Trinity church is an unmissable landmark, standing right above the Stepantsminda village. For many hikers, it is just a stop along the route to the Gergeti glacier, but if you don´t have such high ambitions or simply lack time, this is a great destination as well. It can be also reached by taxi which takes the road through the forest, but the footpath is nicer and passes one of a few remaining Mokhevian towers. The disadvantage is that if you start at Stepantsminda, the approach to the start of the footpath at the end of Gergeti village is about as long as the climb itself.
Duration: 3-4 hours
It takes a little more than one hour to climb up and even less on the way down. But if you want to visit Tsminda Sameba church and stroll a bit around for even better views, reserve at least 3 hours for this trip. Either way, it can be comfortably done even if you arrive on the same day from Tbilisi by morning marshrutka.
Pretty short distance and less than 500 altitude meters up and down. Suitable also for kids.
How to leave Kazbegi:
Marshrutkas to Tbilisi leave hourly from the bus stop at the main square. The first one departs at 7:00 am., the last one at 5 pm. and the trip also costs 15 GEL.
The best place to start your trip to Kazbegi is the Didube bus station (located by the metro station of the same name). Here, you will need to decide if you want to take a marshrutka or a taxi.
Cheapest and the least comfortable way to get to Kazbegi. These depart when full from 8. am till late afternoon. The ride costs 15 GEL and takes about 3 hours.
There is one thing you need to consider - these are meant for locals, not tourists. That means that the driver doesn´t stop at any tourist hotspots along the Georgian Military Road. Instead, he will make only one break halfway, usually by some restaurant. So, as a first-time visitor, I would definitely forget about marshrutka and pay those few extra bucks for a taxi.
While the seat in a shared taxi usually costs about 30 GEL, this mode of transport has many advantages. Car seats are larger, provide more legspace and better views (marshrutka windows are small, dirty and positioned too low so you often have to crawl to see the mountains outside). Also, the drivers stop at popular sights along the Georgian Military Road and give you enough time to explore.
There are only a few things to consider - most drivers stop just at Ananuri fortress and Treaty of Georgievsk momunent so if you want something extra, better agree upon it beforehand. Also, it might be hard to find shared taxi which DOESN´T make breaks since these cater mostly to tourists.
If you travel in a group or money is not an issue for you, you can also hire a private taxi. Prices for the ride start at some 100-120 GEL, depending on the situation. Also, if you want to have everything planned in advance and prefer some proven driver, you could use gotrip.ge service, but expect to pay 140 GEL or more.
When to go:
Gergeti Trinity church is reachable by foot during the whole year. The valley route should be passable even in winter, when there is snow cover, as long as it's well-trodden. However, when there is lots of snow and no good soul trod the trail, instead of trying luck in the snowed hillside, it might be safer to take the forest route.
Forest route to the church
There is also one more trail to the church. To find it, at the T-junction in Gergeti village, turn right and then almost immediately left, onto a small trail between houses. It will lead you out of the village, onto pastures. It crosses a new road, passes an old cemetery, and enters the forest. Then starts an unpleasant, steep ascent on a rocky trail. Your path will cross the jeep track again, but don't follow it for too long and turn left into the forest. The trail will eventually lead you out of the woods, within sight of Gergeti Trinity Church.
Overall, there are not many reasons to take this trail. It's longer than the valley trail and much less pleasant due to the steep, stony track. Also, since you spend most of the time in the forest, there are no views. And it repeatedly crosses the car road. As you can see, I have a hard time coming up with reasons to take it. It could come in handy only if you seek protection from rain or sun. Or during winter, when the trail in the forest is much easier to follow (compared to snow-covered hillside).
Preserved Mokhevian tower along the route
Description of the route
The hike starts at the main square of Stepantsminda. Follow the main road going north, down towards the river. Cross the bridge and immediately turn left, onto the large, concrete road to the Gergeti village. Follow it for one kilometer, till it ends in a T-junction. Turn left and follow it for a while, till you pass the Gergeti cafe on your left - here, the concrete road ends. Shortly afterward, the trail splits - the left branch follows the creek while the right branch climbs the hill. Take a right branch and follow it towards the tower you see ahead. The trail passes it from the right side - at the land turn before the tower, there is a small trail branching to the right. This is the most direct and steepest route to the church, but I can't recommend it, it's overgrown and hard to follow so as a result, you won't save any time. In this case, it's better to stay on the "official", marked path.
Once you pass the tower, the route is pretty straightforward. You just follow the wide trail carved into the hillside and slowly gain an elevation. At some point, the church appears not far above you, giving you some additional motivation. Finally, once you walk past the church, the terrain flattens up and the trail sharply turns right for the final climb to the church itself.
Gergeti Trinity church visible above
Visiting the Gergeti Trinity church:
Gergeti Trinity church was built in the 14th century and is one of the most famous Georgian landmarks. During times of danger, it used to store relics from Mtskheta, so it´s also partially fortified - to reach the plateau with the church, you need to cross the bell tower. While architecturally interesting, what really sets it apart from similar churches is the spectacular location - no matter whether you look at it from the valley or the ridge above, it emanates certain mysticism and the feeling of solitude (tho, the new parking lot certainly didn´t help).
As for the rules of entry, those are the same as in all other Georgian churches. The is no entry fee. Men should take their hats off and wear long trousers - for those who have shorts, sarongs are available at the entrance. Women need to have covered heads, shoulders and wear a dress of sufficient length (to the knees at least).
Detour to the viewpoint:
While the church offers nice views, in order to truly admire it, you need to watch it from some distance. And if you took the effort to climb to the church, this is the view you shouldn´t miss. Probably the most iconic view is from the west, so you observe the church with the backdrop of the Kuro massif. To reach the viewpoint, just head from the church towards the large parking lot situated some 400 meters in the northwestern direction. Behind it starts the large trail which will get you onto a ridge rising to the west - easy to find since it´s used by climbers aiming for Mt. Kazbek. The whole detour (there and back) will take about 30 minutes or maybe more, depending on how far are you willing to climb.
The iconic view of Gergeti Trinity church with Kuro massif in the background