Located in south-western Georgia just shy of the Turkish border, Akhaltsikhe is a small city of under 50,000 people. With direct buses to Gyumri and Yerevan in Armenia, it’s a convenient place to depart for the border crossing at Bavra – and a good base for visiting the cave city of Vardzia too.

The main city in Samtskhe-Javakheti region, Akhaltsikhe is small but very multicultural and with a long history that spans Ottoman, Mongol and Iranian rule. The name Akhaltsikhe means ‘New Fortress’, which gives you a clue to the city’s heritage and fighting spirit.

The main attraction is Rabati Castle, a massive hilltop fortress. Established in the 9th century as Lomisa Castle, it functioned as a mosque during the Ottoman period and was gradually added to over the intervening years to become an ad-hoc complex of watch towers, fountains, domed buildings and gardens. In 2011, it underwent extensive renovations – some say a little too extensive – and now it feels a lot like the set for an off-script episode of Game of Thrones.

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