Located in south-western Georgia just shy of the Turkish border, Akhaltsikhe is a small city of under 50,000 people. Also a good base for visiting the cave city of Vardzia too.
The main city in Samtskhe-Javakheti region, Akhaltsikhe is small but very multicultural and with a long history that spans Ottoman, Mongol and Iranian rule. The name Akhaltsikhe means ‘New Fortress’, which gives you a clue to the city’s heritage and fighting spirit.
The main attraction is Rabati Castle, a massive hilltop fortress. Established in the 9th century as Lomisa Castle, it functioned as a mosque during the Ottoman period and was gradually added to over the intervening years to become an ad-hoc complex of watch towers, fountains, domed buildings and gardens.
In 2011, it underwent extensive renovations – some say a little too extensive – and now it feels a lot like the set for an off-script episode of Game of Thrones.
Also in the area, Sapara Monastery and Khertvisi Fortress are worth checking out. The latter is particularly impressive when viewed from afar, from the opposite side of the gorge.