Sighnaghi (Signagi) (Georgian: სიღნაღი) is a town in Georgia's easternmost region of Kakheti and the administrative center of the Sighnaghi District. It is one of the country's smallest towns with a population of about 3,000.
Sighnaghi has recently undergone a fundamental reconstruction program and has become an important center of Georgia's tourist industry. While Sighnaghi itself requires just a day or so for sightseeing, it is probably the best base for exploring the region through day trips. You can follow the road from Sighnaghi to Telavi via Gurjaani, visiting wineries on the way, escape for a day to the Kvareli lake resort or Lagodekhi National Park, and go visit the David Gareja monastery on the Azerbaijan border.
Do not expect wild night life here (except perhaps if there is a busload of tourists in town). Sighnaghi is the place to take in the view of the mountains, drink homemade wine, and enjoy delicious Kakhetian food in one of the many restaurants.
- 1 Marshrutkha station (In the main square at the bottom of the hill, around the police station and the Populi). Public toilets right on the square.
- Tbilisi – To Sighnaghi marshrutkas run daily every odd hour from 7AM to 5PM, the last one leaving at 6PM, from the Samgori metro station, from the lot of marshrutkas farthest from the metro entrance, past the open market. While most drivers will point you in the right direction, you can also look for the two "m"s with "right arms" in სიღნაღი on the destination placard. Travel duration is 1 hour, 45 minutes, and the cost is 6 lari (as of 2016).
- To Tbilisi marshrutkas leave at 7AM, 9AM, 11AM, 1PM, 4PM, and 6PM every day. It is highly advised to book tickets back to Tbilisi in advance (buy your ticket from the small kiosk on the marshrutkha station's square), even a few hours before, since all marshrutkhas are usually full. Like most marshrutka travel, seats are first-come, first-serve. It is possible to arrive early, pick a good seat, set your bag or backpack in that seat, and then get a bite to eat. Check with the driver for actual departure time. As a courtesy to the locals, assume every seat will be occupied by a person by the time the vehicle departs. Also check with driver if you have a big backpack that needs to be stowed underneath the rear seat.
- Kakheti region – There are also marshrutkhas every hour to nearby Tsnori, from where you can get a marshrutkha to many Kakhetian destinations.
- Rustavi – From Sighnaghi daily at 7AM and 9:15AM. Vice-verse, expect similar times.
Most sights can be reached on foot, even the Bodbe Convent. Though, you might want to take a taxi or hitch-hike there to save time.
- 1 Sighnaghi town wall (In front of the Kabadoni Hotel take the cobbled road down towards Tsnori, walk through the arch on the left, down past the church, up into a residential area, following the "Tourist Track" sign, and up the wooden steps on the right outside one of the towers.). Sighnaghi's fortifying wall (XVIII century) is one of the longest in Georgia; it occupies 40 ha. The wall has 23 towers, each one named for a nearby town, and six gates. Its width is 1.5 m, height 4.5 m and total length is 4.5 km. A small section of the wall, perpendicular to the snow-capped mountain range, has a walkway with open towers. You can walk from the center of the old city to the road to Sakobo/Tsnori, where there is a restaurant and picnic spot and great view of the valley. With little traffic you can walk alongside the road back to the old city. Walk along the wall a couple of times (and climb up into the towers) at different times of the day because you get different views of the valley and the mountains. Walking the whole wall can be difficult, after the walkway it goes steep down a hill and at the bottom you have to overcome a step of about 4 m. Also this an further parts are overgrown and partly degenerated. No admission.
- 2 St. Stephen Church (Take the road to the left of Hotel Sighnaghi facing the highest square. The church is up the road on the right. Look for the steps, near a hotel or hostel. It looks more like one of the towers of the town's wall and is easily passed by.). The church tower commands an excellent view of Sighnaghi's surrounding areas, and people can climb over the fortifications. There is often an old man here (the candle seller who is in every Orthodox church) who tries to extract a fee from visitors, but there is no price for admission to the church or the tower.
- 3 Bodbe Convent (2 km outside of Sighnaghi, 25-min walk). It is one of the most important places in Georgia for pilgrimages: St. Nino Equal to the Apostles, who brought Christianity to the country in the IV century, is buried here. Her tomb is in St. George's Basilica in a narrow chapel, to the right if facing the iconostasis, under a white marble altar. Mtskheta and Sighnaghi represent the beginning and the end of St. Nino's ministry in Georgia. Buried at the entrance to St. George's is Abbess Nino, the mother superior in 1924 when the convent was closed by Bolshevik Russia. The monastery itself was constructed at the end of the V century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali and then reconstructed in the XIX century. The complex, with two churches, a bell tower, a cemetery, and a tasteful gift shop, as well as facilities for 30 sisters, has beautiful gardens and fantastic views of the Alazani Valley. Just before 10 on a Sunday morning (2016) the gates to the convent were opened, and visitors were allowed into the church to receive communion with the nuns and a blessing.
- 4 St. Nino's Spring (Follow the signs for holy spring, down the stone steps, down into the valley; it's about a 20-minute but peaceful walk down with benches along the way to rest.). There is a sister at the font and small church to manage pilgrims who wish to wash in the holy and allegedly healing water here. It appears to require undressing and putting on a white tunic, which you rent/buy from the sister. Same-sex groups of maybe four enter at one time, and others cannot go in until they come out. The water is reportedly very cold. There is a road to get to the spring from the convent by car/taxi.
- 5 St. Giorgi Church. XVII century
- 6 Sighnaghi Museum (Neighboring the tree-covered park next to the Sighnaghi Municipality building, above the long, sculptured mural, the museum can be reached by taking the stairs to the left of the large building with a clock tower.). 10:00-18:00. The ground floor holds an impressive exhibit of archeological artifacts, many of which were discovered locally. The upper floor features 16 original paintings by the famous Georgian folk artist Niko Pirosmani, who was from the Mirzaani Valley, as well as a gallery for special exhibitions. 3 lari; 50 tetri for students.
A 20 minutes taxi ride away, the following might be worth visiting if it is Sunday:
- 7 Bodbiskhevi Bazaar Sunday Market, village adjoining Tsnori (marshrutkhas to Tsnori currently are not running from Sighnaghi on the weekends. You can hire a taxi to take you to the market and bring you back for 15 lari or less if not shared with other passengers. Southeast from Tsnori). Morning hours. The largest market in the region, Bodbiskhevi offers the traditional Soviet Sunday market day experience. At Bodbiskhevi market the prices and variety of goods are unmatched, selling such things as fresh produce, meats, cheeses, crafts, clothes, livestock, and house and farm goods. Note, there is some confusion about whether the market is actually in the Bodbiskhevi village, which is 4 km southwest of Tsnori – best to ask locals.
- Visit the towers of the town wall and walk along it.
- Sighnaghi is part of the popular wine route of Kakheti.
- Getting married. Sighnaghi is the Georgian wedding city, with the registry office running all around the clock, from morning to evening. Consequently, many celebrations take place in Sighnaghi, which you will notice. Also foreigners can get married here without hassle, you just need your passport. A notarial translation is recommended to be on the safe side (any notary office will do, 15 lari).
- 1 Pheasant's Tears Restaurant, Wine Bar, and Fine Art (close to Populi, on the road to Tbilisi). Pheasant's Tears wine bar offers wine tastings and interesting takes on traditional Georgian cuisine with an eye towards wine and food pairings. A must-see for wine tourists, as the winery produces organic wine made in the traditional qvevri method and focuses exclusively on Georgian varietals. Their restaurant and wine is considerably more expensive than other restaurants. Pheasant's Tears can also organize wine tours throughout the region or even arrange an acclaimed folk ensemble to provide Georgian polyphonic song during your feast. Pheasant's Tears also sells traditional and antique Georgian carpets, as well as fine art painted by the primary partner in the winery, a graduate of the Surikov Institute in Moscow. English and Russian friendly.
- The Knitting Ladies (On the cobblestone road toward Tsnori). In a small section of Sighnaghi, several ladies offer a picturesque array of knitted goods for sale for astoundingly cheap prices. Here you cay buy Georgian socks with traditional patterns and local wool, hats, scarves, slippers, and baby booties. 1-20 lari.
- 1 Host of Sighnaghi, Baratashvili str., first restaurant you see entering Sighnaghi coming from Tbilisi. Delicious khinkali, mtsvadi and other Georgian specialties., ☎ . For full meal plus wine you shouldn't pay more than 15-20 lari per person.
- 2 Nikala (Across from the clocktower building), ☎ . Nikala boasts excellent Kakhetian food and some of the best khinkali and mtsvade in town. Their menu includes several more rare Kakhetian delicacies than most restaurants in the area. English friendly.
- 3 Pancho Villa, Tamar Mepe 9 (From the highest town square, take the lower road to the right of Hotel Sighnaghi, towards Tsnori), ☎ . Pancho Villa may be one of the few, if not the only, Mexican restaurant in Georgia. The restaurant does an excellent job at recreating Mexican flavors and dishes with Georgian ingredients and mentality. They also offer the most exotic liquors in Sighnaghi, and the only margarita for miles. The food here is more expensive than other restaurants, but the gastronomical variety they offer is invaluable. Make sure you at least stop by for their incredible desserts and a Mexican hot chocolate!
If you are in a restaurant, order a glass of house wine. If someone invites you to a wine-tasting, go (maybe 10 lari for a cup of red and a cup of white wine). If someone wants to sell you a liter of wine, buy it (15 lari). Yes, the local, homemade wine comes in used plastic soda pop bottles. Don't worry; the wine still tastes great, and, as the locals will tell you, it's all-natural.
There are plenty of home-stays in Sighnaghi as well as high class hotels.
- 1 Hotel Maia, St Giorgy street 7, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. a really nice place with hospital hosts. US$15 per person (incl breakfast).
- 2 Hostel Tura (Hostel is located 3 km outside Sighnaghi in Qedeli neighborhood. Follow the main road to/from Tbilisi then turn to unpaved road when you see a sign Hostel Tura. Follow that road for about 500 m and you'll find it), ☎ , , e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 24/7, check-out: 24/7. Dorm bed 20 lari, breakfast included.
- 3 Nato & Lado Guesthouse, Pirosmani Str. 5 (City Center, a bit uphill), ☎ . Get your welcome drinks, some home made wine, chacha and a coffee, in this nice Guesthouse. Traditional Kakheti food is available on request, 5 lari for breakfast and 10 lari for dinner. It is a nice, clean and comfortable place, with Wifi, a computer on request and hot shower, run by the English speaking Nato. Nato or her father Lado can take you in her car to her own vineyard and around local sights in Kakheti. Beware, there are two hotels at the same address... take the left one with the green entrance! 10 lari for dorm - 15 lari per person for private room.
- 4 David Zandarashvili's (Hotel Family), 11 Giorgisminda St (the right track down from the main square; turn left under the archway). A charming homestay run by a very kind and welcoming English-speaking family. Terrace overlooking Kakheti. Lovely rooms. Dinners (optional, extra) are a communal affair and a great way to meet other travelers. 15-20 lari without meals, 35 lari with breakfast/dinner.
- 5 Guest House Pirosmani 60, Pirosmani Street 60 (From Nana's Guesthouse, walk up to the dead-end and turn left. This is the beginning of Pirosmani Street. Follow the addresses, pass the hostel, keep to the left.), ☎ . Away from most of the tourists, down an everyday Georgian residential street, where you can practice your "Gamarjoba" with elderly ladies carrying groceries and use "Hello" with children playing ball in the street, this guest house has four-star accommodations, including shiny and new bathroom fixtures. The house, like the street, is quiet. The bed is comfortable, and the wifi is strong.
- Hotel Mate (Manana's Guesthouse), Gorgasali Str, 20 (From the main square go towards St. George Church, at the fork turn left to pass through the gate in the old city wall. Right after that turn right and follow the road until you reach the last house on the left – that's the hotel.), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a great guesthouse with a homey atmosphere. The rooms are clean and comfortable, some of them with a great view of the valley and the mountains. There is a large dining room downstairs, where the guests can hang out and have some wine. For additional price Manana, the hostess, can cook a hearty breakfast or a traditional Georgian dinner. There is also a garden in the back where one can enjoy fresh air or try home-grown grapes. The guesthouse is close to St. George Church and other touristic attractions. It's suitable for young travellers, and for families with children. 25-30 lari per person.
- Dodo Guesthouse, Baratasvilli Str. 16 (City Center, on the main street from Tbilisi), ☎ . The old woman is friendly but does not speak English. Coffee and tea is for free and Wifi is available. 10 lari for dorm or on the terrace - 15 lari per person for the nicer rooms with balcony.
- Tourist Information, Kostava St. 10, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. daily 10-18:00.
- Tsnori – small nearby town with transportation to all Kakhetian destinations
- Gurjaani – one of the centres of Georgia's wine industry. Landmarks include the Church of the Dormition (Kvelatsminda; 8th-9th century), Museum of Local Lore and History, Museum of Nato Vachnadze, and the historic mud-cure resort of Akhtala.
- Dedoplis Tskaro - nearby town with a nice church and Eagle Gorge on the outskirts, in a close proximity to Khornabuji fortress
- Telavi – the capital of Kakheti is a convenient base for exploring the region's wineries, castles, and monasteries
- Lagodekhi – A pretty boarder town (next to Azerbaijan) and a nearby nature reserve with subtropical forests.
- Vashlovani National Park
- David Gareja Monastery Complex – A 6th century cave monastery clinging onto a rocky hillside lying meters away from Azerbaijan, with beautiful frescos. Can be reached by taxis or organized tours, no public transport available from Sighnaghi (only Tbilisi). 50 km from Sighnaghi, a detour along the way to/from Tbilisi.
Also, see Kakheti for more details.