My wife skipped town to Switzerland, so I decided to skip town myself. I thought it’d be a good chance to work on my book, cleaning up and changing things that I didn’t feel quite right about. So I needed somewhere quiet and scenic for my little “writer’s retreat”, and preferably close because I hate riding marshrutkas.

Sighnaghi was perfect for me. I couldn’t imagine what could lead to a more productive time than sipping on coffee with an incredible view of the Alazani Valley and the wall of mountains that lies beyond. So I went to Samgori metro station, hopped on the next marshrutka, and made the one-hour journey.

My luck had it that I was the last person on the marshrutka, which meant I had the unenviable “bitch seat”. That meant I was in the front, squeezed between a passenger—an old, man-spreading gent—and the driver, with my long legs somehow trying to stay out of the way of the stick shift, and just hoping the driver grabbed the right stick.

But I made it fine and my trip went most excellent.

A bit of history

Sighnaghi gets a bad rap as a “tourist town”, and expats hate it because it “isn’t authentic”. I say they must not have been to any number of beautiful little towns in Europe where people go to relax. “Authentic” isn’t always on the list, but beautiful is, and you normally don’t get to mix the two unless your balls-rich, especially in Eastern Europe where authentic is more-often-than-not defined by brutal concrete blocks and faux sportsmen standing around eating sunflower seeds bumming cigarettes off passersby. No offense to Eastern European lifestyles (heck, my hood is more than authentic and I love it) but sometimes you just want to have a bit of fresh air and some beautiful things around you.

The town has an old history. Situated at the end of the Gombori Range with a commanding view of the valley, it’s always been a place of strategic importance: the Alazani Valley has served as the “Gateway to Georgia” for invader after invader, from Parthians to Arabs, Mongolians to Persians to Qajars (perhaps even in that order). The fact then that this is one of the most fortified ancient towns in Georgia shouldn’t be of any surprise. The current wall system though isn’t that old, as King Erekle II had much of the fort system redesigned, repaired, and rebuilt in the 1700s. The efficacy of the fortifications have always been under question though, as it has never really seemed to stop those pesky invading armies…