Vardzia gorge

The steep cliffs along the Mtkvari river boast one of Georgia’s most impressive cultural highlights: the cave monasteries of Vardzia.  Five monks still inhabit the complex, which was mostly built in the 12th century. Particularly interesting is the central church, covered in colourful murals depicting Queen Tamar and linked by a long tunnel to the upper parts of the monastery.

The semi-arid climate in the gorge stands in striking contrast with the humid plateaus above it, and has led to an avifauna typical of the eastern and southern parts of the Caucasus. The Western rock nuthatch is common, but also its Eastern cousin has recently been found breeding in the area. Blue and red-tailed rock thrushes breed on the rocks, and usually some flocks of red-fronted serins hang around. Rock sparrows and rock buntings should also be easy to find. Black-headed buntings are numerous breeders, but they only stay around from late May to early August. It is also one of the better places to see chuckar. Many raptors nest on the cliffs, including griffon, bearded and Egyptian vultures, golden eagle and peregrine.