Visiting the ski resort town of Gudauri, Georgia had not been our original plan.
We had booked a getaway in Stepantsminda, a village one hour further into the mountains. Our plans were to rest for a few days while surrounded by the snowy peaks and perhaps take a trip up to the 14th century Gergeti Trinity Church – perched high on a mountain.
However, nature had other ideas.
On the day we had planned to go, we got a text from a friend letting us know that all of the roads up into the mountains were closed due to heavy snowfall, high winds and a danger of avalanches.
Not wanting to die in an avalanche before I had even visited half of the cute cafes in Tbilisi, we waited.
The next day, the roads were in the same condition. The Roads Department hadn’t even been able to clear them, the winds were too high and it was dangerous. Our luggage sat packed and we started to feel a bit in limbo.
Eventually, we decided to give up. Maybe it just wasn’t in the cards for us to have a Caucasus Mountain getaway.
Then, the roads cleared up – but only the road to the closer ski resort town of Gudauri. Stepantsminda required another mountain pass after that which was still too snowy to navigate. So, we decided to quickly re-book and enjoy a stay in Gudauri instead. After all, Lee and I are pretty flexible and we are used to adapting our plans (like the time when Lee drunkenly booked a getaway to Knoxville, Tennessee instead of Nashville and we just rolled with it anyway.)
Is Gudauri worth visiting as a short getaway from Tbilisi?
Are there enough things to do, even if you don’t ski or snowboard?
The answer is: yes! We had a great 3 days in Gudauri and we had plenty to do, even though we aren’t skiers or snowboarders. Read on to learn more about this beautiful spot in the Caucasus Mountains.
Getting to Gudauri
As I mentioned above, there’s no way you are getting to Gudauri in the winter if the roads are snowed over. So, try to be flexible with your travel plans as you might have to adjust your dates.
If the roads are open, the most affordable way to get to Gudauri is:
- Head to Didube Metro Station in Tbilisi.
- When you exit the Metro Station there is a parking lot beside it filled with minivans.
- These are “marshrutka” – a type of local shared taxi. They leave whenever they have enough people to fill the van.
- The ride should cost around 7-10 GEL ($2.75-$4.00 USD) per person. We paid 10 and we didn’t even try to haggle, as he was leaving right away.
- The journey will take around 2 hours and the driver will drop you off near Smart, the small supermarket shop in Gudauri.
It is also possible to take a private taxi from Tbilisi to Gudauri, but you can expect that this will cost around 100 GEL ($40 USD). While that is still very cheap for a two hour taxi ride, it’s not necessary when you can get there with relative ease and comfort for a tenth of the price.
If you have your own vehicle, you could combine your trip to Gudauri with a visit to Mtskheta, which is along the way only 30 minutes outside of the city. We took a day trip to Mtskheta a little while ago and there’s plenty to enjoy there.
For more details on how to get to Gudauri, check out this post.
The Georgian Military Road
The journey will take you along the Georgian Military Road, one of the most stunning and ruggedly scenic roads in the world.
It began with small foothills and scrubby trees on the outskirts of Tbilisi and as we drove further from the city the mountains rose up around us. The road started to twist and climb into the craggy outcroppings capped with snow. The twisting ascent took us higher and the road became narrower, with hairpin turns and switchbacks. Every now and then we would pass a few houses, some cows lumbering along the side of the road or a pair of fluffy huskies play fighting in a snowbank.
I can see why this road is closed during bad weather. It would be incredibly perilous in snowy conditions.
We even saw the result of a fresh crash on the way up. Our van drove past two cars, one with deep scrapes down the side and the other with smashed headlights and a twisted and gnarled bumper. The drivers seemed okay and were standing in the snow assessing the damage. If you plan to drive this road on your own – be very careful!
Arriving in Gudauri
Gudauri looks small when you arrive, because all you can see is the tiny Smart “supermarket” which is not much bigger than a convenience store. However, the town is mostly vertical and you’ll find more hotels and restaurants as you go further up the mountain. We were staying at Gudauri Lofts, which is a brand new building located just above the base of the first ski lift.
As soon as we stepped out of the marshrutka I noticed the difference in temperature – Gudauri was about 10 degrees colder than Tbilisi. The air is crisp and dry and there is that fresh scent of snow in the air.
I had a leather jacket and a sweater which had kept me warm in Tbilisi, but was not enough to keep from freezing my ass off in Gudauri. I ended up having to layer on every sweater and long sleeve shirt I brought with me, as well as wearing leggings under my jeans and two pairs of socks! Plus, a hat, gloves and a scarf were essential.
Also, due to the cold, the wind and the dry air I found my lips and skin got terribly dry – so I would highly recommend bringing along lip balm and moisturizer! I should have predicted this, being from Alberta and everything – but it’s been a long time since I have been in Canada!
Things to Do in Gudauri
Skiing and Snowboarding
Gudauri is known for being one of the best ski resorts in Georgia. It offers 6 chairlifts and a cable car, 50 km of slopes, affordable ski and snowboard rentals and even heli skiing tours. The ski passes are much cheaper than other ski resorts in North America and Western Europe and the stunning views of the Caucasus will blow you away.
The slopes really did look awesome – long stretches of perfectly white snow sparkling in the sunshine. I loved watching the skiers and snowboarders make their way down it – from the hesitant newbies slowly inching down the mountain with their skis in a V position to the confident pros who zigged and zagged at high speed in a cloud of powder.
It was especially impressive to watch children who looked no older than 5 or 6 zoom down the slopes! They must have been learning to ski not long after they learned to walk.
You can buy the ski passes at the bottom of each of the road-accessible lifts. They are a small card, which you can scan at the ski lift gates in order to open them. For a guide with more detailed information on ski passes, equipment rental, hiring a skiing instructor and more, check out this comprehensie guide to skiing in Georgia.
What if you are not a skier, but you still want to enjoy the incredible panoramic views of the Caucasus Mountains? You can certainly use the chairlifts and the gondola just for sightseeing!
The ski lifts will take you up to 3,285 meters and from that vantage point you can see an incredible view. Going up to the top of the mountain gives you a sense of the scale of this mountain range – it’s hard to tell how vast it really is when you are at the bottom.
We paid 10 GEL ($4 USD) for the first ski lift and then another 10 GEL for the gondola. However, we were a bit confused and weren’t sure if we really needed to pay again for the gondola. We swiped the same cards for the third lift and it worked, so perhaps you can use the same pass for all of them? Either way, when you compare it to the gondola up Sulphur Mountain in Banff which costs $62 CAD, it was very affordable.
The first lift takes you to an area with a few restaurants with outdoor decks overlooking the view and some colourful bean bag seating areas. It’s a short 5 minute walk there to New Gudauri, which is an accommodation complex with more restaurants, coffee shops and hotels. From New Gudauri you can catch the gondola up the mountain even further. From there, there’s yet another chair lift taking you nearly to the very pinnacle of the peak.
When you get to the top of the mountain it will be even colder than it is down in the main village of Gudauri, plus a lot windier too. Bring your hat and scarf as you will want to shield your face from the freezing air. As we were riding up the third chairlift my butt was going numb and I was singing “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you…”
Eating Yummy Food
You know me… one of the things I get most excited about when traveling is the food!
When you are exploring this icy wonderland you can get chilled down to your bones and you crave something hearty and filling to warm you up from the inside. Fortunately, Georgian food is mostly meat, cheese and bread which exactly what you want when it’s freezing outside.
We tried a Georgian dish called “Madame Bovary” when we went for lunch at the top of the second ski lift. It consists of chicken, potato, cheese, tomato and mushroom baked into a clay pan. It was the perfect comfort food on a freezing cold day.
Plus, the hot chocolate I had in Gudauri was amazing. We cuddled up in a little place called Bar Nomad, which is located at the base of the first ski-lift. This gorgeous, rich, silky hot chocolate was served in a mug with coconut around the rim and a big fluffy marshmallow floating in it. Just what I needed!
This was one of my favourite things to do in Gudauri!
We walked past a slope near the New Gudauri complex where people were sliding down on inflatable tubes and I immediately lit up with childlike joy. What better way to relive the thrills of my Canadian childhood?
At first we tried to figure out where you needed to rent the tubes – but it turns out they are free. You can just pick them up at the bottom of the sledding hill, then give them to the next person when you are finished with them.
As you can see, we had an absolute blast.
We were too chicken to attempt this, but we watched people soaring through the sky and it looked like a lot of fun. From what I’ve heard, the views are incredible.
We didn’t visit any of the spas in Gudauri, but if you wanted to pamper yourself during your visit this is certainly an option of something to do. There are a few different spas to choose from, offering steam rooms, massages, pools and more.
This would be a wonderful way to warm up completely and relax your muscles after a big day of skiing in the cold.
We had wanted to take a break and get a breath of fresh air, so there were many times in Gudauri when we weren’t focused on always “doing something.” It was really nice just to relax and spend some time together.
Gudauri in winter is a peaceful and quiet place, perfect for sitting with a hot chocolate and a good book in a comfy chair while the snow falls outside of your window. I found the stunning mountain landscape, the bright white snow and the crisp cold air refreshing and invigorating. It’s kind of amazing that this vast, icy, beautiful mountain landscape is so close to Tbilisi.