Racha-lechkhumi is a wonderful highland region of western Georgia, situated in the upper Rioni river valley and surrounded by the Greater Caucasus mountains. Georgians like to joke about the Rachvelis, the inhabitants of the mountainous region of Racha in the North-West. They like to make fun of them for being slow, a bit simple and so on, but when you go to Racha, you’ll understand that maybe it’s all out of envy. Racha-lechkhumi is a special place, high in the mountains and absolutely unspoiled, but only 210 kilometers away from Tbilisi. With rushing rivers bursting with trout, the region is famous with anglers and rafters, as well as mountain bikers and paraplanes. The headwaters of the powerful Rioni River are a haven for fishing, whitewater rafting and kayaking. Racha-Lechkhumi is often called the Georgian Switzerland.
Oni is a very pretty, rustic town on the Rioni River up in the mountains that was for millennia a center of Georgian Jewish culture. Today it is becoming a major tourist destination for domestic travelers as well as attracting adventurous foreign travelers attracted to its natural beauty, remote setting and a local culture that has not seen the effects of tourism yet. The town is about 3 km long, between the left bank of the Rioni River and hills to the East.
Barakoni – Barakoni Church of the Mother of God is located near the town of Ambrolauri, in the Tsesi village, in mountainous Racha region. Barakoni is one of the last important monuments in the tradition of medieval Georgian architecture. Barakoni was built in 1753, by the ordert of local lord the Ruler of Racha Principality – Rostom. The church was design by the architect Avtandil Shulavreli who is commemorated in the inscription of the eastern facade. The church was closed and desecrated under the Bolshevik rule. It suffered further damage, though not serious, in the 1991 Racha earthquake, but was quickly repaired. Located on a top of a steep cliff, it overlooks Rioni River which joins the Lukhuni River just below the mountain.
Gebi as well as its surroundings, has been settled since ancient times, a fact confirmed by finds from archeological expeditions. Burial mounds from the 3rd -1st centuries BC are especially interesting. Archeologists discovered artifacts including bronze belts and the head of a silver bull. The village is located 1,350 meters above sea level. Remnants of metal work from the 16-10th centuries BC as well as burial mounds from the late Bronze Age were found in archeological digs of the area. Gebi was the only tower-type settlement in Racha, but most of the towers were damaged by an earthquake, and only a few remain standing today.
Chiora – The most beautiful villages in Racha. It is located 1,360 meters above sea level, on the south slope of the main Caucasus Mountain range. During medieval times it had a large population and a number of defensive structures. Currently there are only a few towers and two small churches still standing.
Nikortsminda Church – Situated at Nikortsminda village is a magnificent monument of Georgian architecture known for its wealth of bas-reliefs and frescoes, which include multi-figure thematic compositions of the Transfiguration, the Second Advent, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Depictions of the saints of the Georgian Church and figures of animals, both realistic and fantastical, have been preserved inside the church. The façades of the church, which are inlaid with light-colored brick, are adorned with sculptural decorations.
Shaori Reservoir Construction of hydro power plant was launched in the 50-ies of the XX century in the catchment area of river Shaori. Shaori cavity was picked for arranging water supply to HPP. That is how emerged an idea of making a water reservoir in the cavity of a river. Its area is 9,2 sq.km, maximum depth 14,5 m. Other than river water, the reservoir gets its feed from underground waters and powerful underground rivers existing on the surrounding area. Around the Shaori cavity (area 180 sq.km) there are many karst funnels and wells with the depth hovering from 5-15 m, as well as karst caves with until now unexplored underground halls. From the dam of the reservoir to the village of Nikortsminda there is an underground karst lake. Cavity is surrounded by Nakerala range covered with forests and Satsaliki mount covered with unique groves of beech trees, Caucasus fir-trees and mixed deciduous trees.
Shovi – Resort is sprawling on the plain-type space surrounded by coniferous (spruce, fir, pine) and mixed (beech, oak, hornbeam, birch, dogwood and alder) forests and perpetually snowy glaciers. There are 16 mineral water springs discovered until now. Each of them is different with its contents and is used for treatment of different diseases. Beauty of Shovi scenery and glut of mineral waters has been known from ancient times both to the residents of surrounding territories and travelers making their way from Racha via Shovi and Mamisoni pass to Samachablo. Shovi is an interesting place for mountain climbing, skiing, rafting. It is known that in this segment of Kavkasioni, on the elevation of 4000 m, there are several peaks that have seen no man on its slopes. Lovers of walking tours will be interested with a pathway leading to Mamisoni pass (2820 m) following the remarkable Chanchakhi gorge.
The synagogue in Oni, a town in the Republic of Georgia’s northern region of Racha, is a handsome building with arching windows and a rounded architectural dome of a silver color. The inner ceiling is shaped like a giant pop-over, inlaid with a myriad of small skylights. A mural of colorful mountains beneath an impressionistic, purple-streaked horizon decorates the ceiling panel above the Torah Reader’s platform. Prayer books are stacked high along the polished wooden benches.
Utsera – In Utsera 28 various springs gush out of the ground natural mineral water on the surface. Today mineral waters of Utsera are used both as a table drink and for taking baths. Healing properties have also magnificent coniferous groves and mixed (pine, fir, oak, beech, hornbeam, chestnut and others) forests. Aiming at conservation of mountain and high mountain biomes, in the nearest future it is planned to set up homogeneous preserved territories in Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti with estimated territory of 229 532 ha. The preserved territory will bring about National Park of Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, 12 notable sights of nature and 4 Managed. Preserved Territories that are home to endemic flora and fauna of Caucasus, Georgia and the region, where tens of plant and animal species from the ‘Red List’ of Georgia are distributed. This is the place having one of the highest ecological value and development potential for ecotourism.
Khotevi is a village on the northern knee of Racha plateau, 10 km from the town of Ambrolauri, 1000 meters above the sea level. First mentioned in historical sources in ‘Nikortsminda Annals’ (XI c.). Thanks to location on the road connecting Imereti and Lower Racha, Khotevi was an advanced merchant point. In XIX century Khotevi was a center of the district of Racha. In the village there are remnants of the church of Archangel and ruins of the fortress of XVI-XVII cc. Extant part has emplacements. It used to have a fence. Fortress had two floors. Khotevi fortress used to be very strong and impregnable.The church of the Archangel, commonly known as Khotevi Church, and temple were built in the village of Khotevi during the 13th century.