In the late afternoon, we reached a popular valley town Stepantsminda (known as Kazbegi), with the famous hilltop silhouette of Tsminda Sameba Church and the towering snowy cone of Mt Kazbek (5054 m). The main attraction is the the14th-century church sitting above Stepantsminda in 2200 m. It has become almost a symbol of Georgia for its incomparably photogenic hilltop setting with mighty Mt Kazbek rising behind it. Vakhushti Batonishvili wrote in the 18th century that in times of danger, the treasures from Mtskheta and St Nino’s cross were kept at Tsminda Sameba for safety. However, in 1988 the Soviet authorities constructed a cable-car line to the church, with one station next to Tsminda Sameba. The people of Stepantsminda felt it defiled their sacred place and soon destroyed it. Nowadays, a circuitous new road leads up to the church, but it was under renovation during our visit, probably after some landslide. We could walk to the church for two hours or accept an offer from local taxi drivers to bring us up for 70 GEL/return. We found it horrible to pay such an amount for just 4 kilometers drive and took our chance and drove it up on our scooter through the closed road. The views back over Stepantsminda are incredible.
Parking location – Stepantsminda: 42.664023N 44.640734E (🚻 – 1 GEL)