Aching to get out into Georgia’s beautiful countryside? As one of UNESCO’s only listed natural monuments in Georgia, do yourself a favor and get in on the autumn colors at Lagodekhi Nature Reserve.
Due to its position blocked off by mountains on three sides, Lagodekhi Nature Reserve opens out towards the Caspian Sea, bringing a semi subtropical climate in the region and a variety of unique flora and fauna. With centuries-old virgin forests of hornbeam and oriental beech, birch and maple trees and thousand-year old yew trees, Lagodekhi is a wonder to behold and any visitor would be lucky to partake in the variety of eco-friendly activities available.
Established in 1912 as the first protected area in Georgia, Lagodekhi’s history dates further back to the turn of the century. In the early 1900’s, a Warsaw-native formerly serving in the Lagodekhi military, Ludvig Mlokosevitch developed an active interest in preserving the local landscape. Working as a forester, he eventually proposed in 1903 that the land be transformed into a Nature Reserve due to the high number of rare species dating from the Tertiary Period, approximately 65 to 1.8 million years ago, including eight wild flower variants indigenous only to Lagodekhi. Russian for “camp of relaxation”, the Lagodekhi Nature Reserve is now a sister park of Grand Teton in Wyoming.
Ecologically strategic, Lagodekhi is crucial for preserving Georgia’s biodiversity as it contains a quarter of its flora. Endangered trees such as the sweet chestnut can only be found here. Over the last few years its size has increased to a total of over 24,000 hectares to preserve endangered species habitats in the form of two protected areas, the Lagodekhi Strict Nature Reserve and Lagodekhi Managed Reserve.
A variety of vivacious mountain rivers have drastically carved the Lagodekhi landscape into a visually stunning array of gorges surrounded by liana enlanced trees. Bordering Dagestan and Azerbaijan, Lagodekhi offers mountainous wilderness, magnificent waterfalls arching gently into infinite gorges, alpine meadows and glacial lakes, as well as archeological ruins.
In addition to extraordinary natural beauty, Lagodekhi is also home to several archeological sites such as Macha Castle.
During my guided visit to Lagodekhi, we followed the roaring Bneli Kheoba (Dark Gorge), a thin sliver of a river, which snakes its way through an immense gray white pebble beach in the gorge separating Georgia from Azerbaijan. Across the border, there are the same rolling hills and layers of red, yellow and green trees drifting up towards the Caspian. The path to the castle weaves through millennial yew forests, sculpted and shaped by the years of history passing over them.
Lagodekhi was once a center of a Macha kingdom dating from approximately 400 A.D., the Macha Castle was built primarily in the 11th century. In the late 1300’s, the powerful Turco-Mongol warlord Tamerlane attacked. However it was not until Persian Shah Abbas’ invasion in the 17th century that the population migrated.
In the 1800’s during Russian domination, painters were brought in who asked the King of Kakheti if they would like this church to be painted and blessed. In traditional Georgian flair, the King replied that the church was already blessed and was not in need of the Russian blessing. The well-preserved ruins include an ancient castle, stonewalls, a small church, and some underground passageways.
All routes begin on foot or horseback at the Protected Area Administration, a five to ten minute drive from the Visitor’s Center and Museum. Guides can be provided and equipment rented for all trips.
The Nature Reserve is host to many waterfalls, among which, the Lagodekhi and Gurgeniani are the most impressive. Along their separate routes, visitors can explore pristine birch, beech and maple and chestnut forests, centuries-old trees, natural springs coming out of rocks and mineral waters. Wild animals such as the Caucasian Red or Roe deer, wild boar, and different types of raptors can be found hovering nearby along the path.
Black Cliff Lake (Shavi Klde) Continuing past the village of Matsimi, this trail heads toward the alpine plains paralleling the Azerbaijani border.
Tourism and Conservation
Within the scope of the World Bank-funded Georgia Protected Areas Development Project through their Global Environment Facility, the number of rangers has increased from fourteen to eighteen, who have received new computers, sleeping bags and binoculars. As it is further opened to the public, the Lagodekhi Nature Reserve envisions future purchasing of horses, vehicles, and special equipment for park rangers, as well as providing desperately needed technical training for conservation efforts. The First Deputy Minister, Irakli Ghvaladze says that the Ministry of Environment is committed to sustainable and safe tourism over the years to come.
He acknowledges that a variety of human-induced factors affect the species and habitats of the reserve, the most serious of which, is poaching and illegal woodcutting. “The numbers as well as the spatial distribution and movement patterns of most of the key species are being heavily affected by human influences (primarily poaching), and pose an imminent threat to the long-term survival of certain species on the reserve.”
As natural eco-systems reach beyond Georgia’s borders, the Lagodekhi Nature Reserve is working in coordination with Azerbaijan’s Zakatala Nature Reserve and Tliarata Managed Reserve in the Dagestani Republic of Russia for protecting endangered Caucasian animal species such as wolves, chamois, and birds such as the golden eagle, peregrine falcon, black grouse and snowcock.
Other International Interest
Part of the delegation to the park last Saturday included the newly appointed Italian ambassador Vittorio Sandalli who affirms that there is interest of the Italian government in environmental cooperation in the Lagodekhi. “We want to promote tourism from Italy to Georgia.” There is a long history of Italian interest in the area through photographer Vittorio Sella who made the Georgian countryside famous in the late 1900’s with his mountainous landscape images. Private cooperation already exists between the Italian Alpine Club, which has over one hundred-year tradition in environmental conservation and its Georgian counterparts especially in the Svaneti. Although there is not expected to be an Alitalia flight soon, the need for this has been recognized for the near future.
When to Go:
Winter is cold but short, so Lagodekhi is an excellent escapade for most times of the year except for December and January.
Visitor Center has three small rooms where you can stay, complete with a 50-person conference center, cafeteria and library. Overnight-guided camping trips are permitted to various areas including the mountainous Daghestani border.
The staff will be happy to help cater itineraries for all visitors to the park to help provide a pleasant stay. A network of Bed and Breakfasts (B&Bs) is being developed.
For more information:
Address: 197 Vashlovani, Lagodekhi Georgia.