The region of Racha-Lechkhumi also officially includes Kvemo (lower) Svaneti. This north-western region is the most sparsely populated in Georgia, situated in the midst of the awe-inspiring Caucasus.
It is known for its impassive beauty, wine making, bee-keeping, dairy products and cattle-breeding, carpentry and singing, health resorts and like most of Georgia, for its hospitality. You'll be sure to get a warm welcomes from passionate people who enjoy sharing their paradise.
Racha-Lechkhumi and Lower Savaneti was part of the early Kingdom of Colchis. Examples of the first money minted in the kingdom, the Colchis Tetri, were discovered in the city of Oni.
After the Colchis Kingdom fell apart during the 1st century AD, the territory of modern Racha-Lechkhumi was part of several successive kingdoms until the county of Racha was created in the 10th century, as part of the United Kingdom of Georgia.
According to medieval records, the mysterious Khvamli caves preserve the treasury of the kings of Georgia - but are yet to be found.
Geography and climate
This region borders Russian territory to the north and the Georgian regions of Samegrelo and Imereti to the west and south. It lies in the soaring mountains, high meadows and green valleys of the Greater Caucasus, its elevation ranging between 400-5000m asl.
Winters in Racha-Lechkhumi and Lower Svaneti are typically cold and long with permanent ice and snow in the high mountains. The average temperature in January around the settlements of Oni and Ambrolauri drop to between -2°C and -1°C while the average temperature in July typically reaches between 19 °C and 21°C.
What to see and do
Discover a natural wonderland of mountains, glaciers, rivers and lakes in this region. An outdoor paradise, it is the perfect destination for travellers wanting to try rafting, mountain biking, horse riding, mountaineering and 4x4 adventuring. It also offers exceptional trout fishing, birdwatching and walking.
After working up an appetite, be sure to try some of the rich booming dishes and wine from the area including a well-known dish called “Shkmeruli” (chicken in garlic sauce) and the smoked ham of the region which is famous throughout Georgia. The most popular wine is Khvanchkara, liquid rubies and made from grapes that can only grow on the rich lands of Khvanchkara village.
Racha is also known for its exceptional wood craftsmanship and there are opportunities for tourists to watch and learn about making the traditional crafts.
Racha-Lechkhumi has numerous churches and monasteries dating back to the middle ages. Some sites worth particular interest include the Nikortsminda and Barakoni temples, Mravaldzali St. George Church, and 19th century Tsageri Cathedral, as well as the medieval Khotevi, Sori, Krikhi, Bugeuli and Labechini churches. Other remarkable early medieval attractions are the Svanetian towers such as those in the village of Leksuri.
For a taste of the region's cultural treasures, a visit to the Oni, Lado and Tsageri Local Museums is worthwhile. They house fascinating archaeological collections from the Stone Age up to late medieval times, including weapons, ceramics, manuscripts and paintings by 20th century well-known Georgian artists.