In this trip report, we make a half day trip out of Kutaisi to Motsameta Monastery, Gelati Monastery and the Sataplia Cave.
Although the Georgian city of Kutaisi is a worthwhile destination in its own right, there is also plenty to see and do in the direct environment which makes for a perfect day trip out of the city.
Depending on how much you want to see and do and whether you will have your own wheels you can even visit these sights as a half day trip from Kutaisi as distances are relatively short.
Even though I didn’t visit any of these destinations outside of Kutaisi on this trip to Georgia, I have visited them the previous time I was around in the city. Therefore I will include them in this article to give you a full overview of what the sights are both in and around Kutaisi.
If you drive some six kilometres from Kutaisi to the north-east, the first sight you will come across will be Motsameta Monastery.
The Motsameta monastery complex has a scenic clifftop location overlooking the Tskaltsitela River in the gorge down below.
The name of the river (which means ‘red water’ in Georgian) and the monastery (meaning ‘place of the martyrs’) are intertwined as they refer to a historic revolt which took place here.
Two local rulers, the brothers Davit and Konstantin of Argveti, a semi-independent Georgian state, led a revolt against the invading Arabs in the 8th Century. Their rebellion was however quashed and the two brothers were given the choice between converting to Islam and swearing fealty to the new Arab rulers or death.
The two brothers refused and were subsequently tortured and killed, with their bodies being thrown into the river which turned red from the blood.
Davit and Konstantin of Argveti were later recognised as saints by the Georgian Orthodox Church and in the 11th Century King Bagrat IV ordered a monastery to be built here to honour them. The bones of the two brothers are kept in one of the side altars of the church.
Motsameta is still an active monastery and it’s a great place to absorb the solemn atmosphere of Georgian Orthodox monastic life.
Arguably the most famous of all sights in the Kutaisi area is Gelati Monastery, which is located a further 6 kilometres down the road from Motsameta.
Gelati Monastery is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the greatest examples of the Georgian Golden Age. The monastery was founded by King David IV of Georgia in 1106 and quickly developed into one of the main religious, cultural and educational centres of the country.
Gelati was one of the largest and most important Medieval monasteries not only in Georgia but in the entire Orthodox realm. In its heyday the monastic academy attracted eminent theologians, scientists and philosophers from as far as Constantinople.
The main church of the monastery, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is certainly impressive in size and a fine example of Georgian Orthodox architecture.
Gelati Monastery is richly decorated with murals, with the main church mosaic in the apse vividly portraying the Virgin Mary with Child being surrounded by angels.
The tomb of King David IV, who was nicknamed ‘David the Builder’, can also be found at Gelati Monastery.
Sataplia Nature Reserve and Caves
Located some 10 kilometres north of Kutaisi is the Sataplia Nature Reserve, which is famous for its densely forested hills, its large karst caves and a couple of dinosaur footprints.
The nature reserve is centred around Mount Sataplia, an extinct volcano. Humans have lived since prehistoric times on these volcano slopes and the area is well-known for its archaeological remains as several dinosaur footprints and fossils and even the remains of a Stone Age man have been found.
There is a small visitor centre where a dinosaur skeleton as well as 120 million years old fossilised dinosaur footprints can be admired.
From the visitor centre, it’s a short distance to an attractive cave of around 300 metres long. The cave walk takes you through some beautifully lit underground chambers with gigantic stalactites and stalagmites.
A bit further away from Kutaisi (20 kilometres) you can also find the Prometheus Cave Natural Monument if you want to admire some more stunning limestone caves.
How to get there
The best way to visit the monasteries of Motsameta and Gelati as well as the Sataplia Cave and Nature Reserve is by car. If you have your own set of wheels it’s easy as the sights are well-signposted and the roads are good quality.
If you don’t have your own car the next best thing is to hire a taxi to take you to these sights. With waiting time included, it should cost you around 40 to 50 GEL (10 to 15 euro more or less) depending on your negotiation skills.
Although marshrutka minibuses ply the main roads out of Kutaisi, I personally wouldn’t bother with them as not only will it be hard to master the routes as a foreigner but you will also end up losing a lot of time on your day trip with all the waiting and extra walking involved.
Although there is already plenty to see and do inside Kutaisi, there are even more amazing sights in the direct environs of this Georgian city.
With Motsameta and Gelati just a short drive away, Kutaisi has two of Georgia’s finest and most famous monasteries on its doorstep. Motsameta Monastery has its incredibly scenic location and secluded vibe, while magnificent Gelati is historically and culturally one of the most important sights in Georgia.
If you want to seek out some natural wonders, then Sapatlia makes for an excellent destination with its impressive limestone caves and dinosaur fossils.
All these destinations can be easily seen as a (half) day trip from Kutaisi if you have your own car, although it’s otherwise perfectly affordable and straightforward to hire a taxi to tour you around.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Khachapuri & Kebabs: A Summer Trip to Georgia and Turkey‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Wizz Air Bucharest to Kutaisi (Airbus A320)
2. A Day in Kutaisi, the Charming Capital of Imereti
3. Caves, Churches and Monasteries – A Kutaisi Day Trip (current chapter)
4. Review: My Warm Guest House, Batumi, Georgia
5. Beautiful Batumi – The Pearl of Georgia’s Black Sea Coast
6. From Georgia to Turkey: Batumi to Kars by Bus
7. Review: Kars Konak Hotel, Kars, Turkey
8. A Day Trip From Kars to the Ancient Armenian City of Ani
9. Goose, Cheese and Russian Remnants: A Visit to Kars, Turkey
10. Review: Dogu Express Night Train Kars to Ankara, Turkey
11. Review: AnadoluJet Ankara to Izmir (Boeing 737-800)
12. Review: Ege Palas Business Hotel, Izmir, Turkey
13. Izmir: Turkey’s Most Liberal and Liveable City
14. Ancient Ephesus: An Easy Day Trip From Izmir
15. A Visit to the Hilltop Wine Village of Sirince
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **