The name of the village is also written Stefantsminda, and it is also known as Kazbegi. Stepantsminda is its original name. It was renamed Kazbegi and has since resumed its original name – but is still often called Kazbegi.
It has a population of less than 2,000. It is 12 km (7.5 miles) south of of the border with the Russian Federation, and only 28 miles (45 km) south of Vladikavkaz – a city of 300,000. It is 96 miles (153 km) north of Tbilisi.
It lies at a height of 1,797m (5,895 ft).
I had a rented car to get me from the capital to Kazbegi. The Tbilisi road is slow. It is all 2 lane from the time you turn north off the Gori/Kutaisi/Batumi road, and then when you reach the mountains it twists and turns all the way. Close to the Kazbegi end, you cross the Jvaris pass at 2,379m (7,805 ft). That section is very slow.
The border crossing is the only one open between Georgia and Russia, which is reason enough for the road to be busy. You have to add in that it is in effect the only border crossing between Armenia and Russia, because Armenia’s borders with neighbouring Azerbaijan are closed. A lot of the super slow trucks on the road have Armenian plates.
You will see a lot of lunatic driving by Russians and Georgians to get past the slow traffic.
During the day you will find an hourly marshrutka (minibus) service from/to Tbilisi. The marshrutka drivers are among the crazy gang, but I guess they know the road and the limits of their own skills.
I stayed at the Hotel Vache. It is a 4 room family business which is a 10-15 minutes walk from the village centre. It is modern and the room was top class. So was breakfast. I did not eat lunch on any of my days there – just coffee and cake mid-afternoon.
All the rooms have a fantastic view of the mountains.
Some building work was under way but they made sure it did not start early. It did not disturb me. Owner Tamo is friendly and very helpful. I booked through booking.com. It cost 170 lari (£46 or €52) per night, inclusive of the breakfast.
I ate dinner at Shorena’s twice and at Khevi once. In both cases the food was good and so was the service. Khevi is a bit soul-less inside, but lots of people choose it to eat outside on the terrace. Shorena’s has much more ambiance, even if it is of the backpacker/outdoor type variety.
My favourite place was the Avtobus coffee shop. A real bus, converted. Good coffee and home baked cakes, plus friendly service.
I hiked up to Gergeti Trinity Church from the village, and also hiked up the Khdi Gorge – the latter being just at the Georgian customs and immigration post north of the village. In terms of hiking, I could easily have spent another 2 or 3 days in the area.
The mountain scenery is amazing, although driving meant I had to try to keep one eye on the road.
My car – rented from JeepRent in Tbilisi – cost 123 lari (€38 or £34) per day. It turned out to be a Toyota Camry with 160,000 miles (yes miles – I guess it is from the USA or Canada) on the odo. On those mountain roads I would have preferred a new car with new brakes.
On the other hand, it was automatic and that saved me a million gear changes.
ⓒ iain taylor, 2019