Explore the Iconic Chapel.
In the shadows of majestic Mount Kazbek proudly stands the small chapel and bell tower of Sameba Trinity Church. Religious pilgrims have long wandered to this church on top of the steep mountain, jutting out below the highest peak in Georgia, for prayers and absolution. The recent influx of tourists and hikers to Stepantsminda has now seen an increasing number of visitors choosing to explore the iconic place for the sweeping panorama of the village below and the surrounding mountainscapes.
How to Get There
Sameba Trinity Church can be reached both, pilgrim style by foot or for those less able or fit, by car (ideally a 4×4 as the track up is steep and partly off road). Since our arrival in Kazbegi we had admired the view of the chapel from our prime spot across the valley at Rooms Hotel. It would have been a shame to stay in the vicinity and not take time to visit the famous site, however, we had made no specific plans on when to hike up the hill to Sameba.
Another Mini Hike
When our original day had changed due to unforeseen circumstance we decided it was the perfect addition to fill the rest of that day, which finally became three mini- hikes rather than our planned longer trek. After leaving our car on a small parking at the start of the main hiking path that leads to the church, Jerome decided to stay behind to finish a book. Normally we would not allow him to do so, but now he is old enough to be left for a while and after two hikes earlier in the day we made an exception.
Surprisingly Challenging for a Short Walk
The hike up to Sameba Trinity Church is advertised everywhere and as experienced hikers we did not expect to find it to be quite as challenging as it turned out to be… Maybe our legs were already tired from our previous treks, maybe it could have also been the summer’s heat, but we realized that we had to take it slowly up the very steep hill! The trail rises steep and unrelenting away from the car park heading up in places as steep as 45 degrees. We became glad that we had packed a bottle of water and were still wearing proper shoes, unlike some of the other people we passed uphill. I am not sure how some of them fared in flip flops and with nothing to drink. This stretch towards Sameba Church is also part of the main trail leading to the top of Mount Kazbek – a strenuous trek that takes several days and recommended only to be attempted further on with a local guide. To our surprise we passed a surprisingly large number of adventurers with large backpacks and sleeping bags en route to and from the towering peak.
Views of Mount Kazbek
Every now and then, Chris and I would stop for a short rest and the opportunity to enjoy the changing views ahead to the peaks and behind across the valley. The lush, green hillside buzzed with bees and butterflies around the pretty blossoms. A shepherd guarded his flock on a rather steep cliff, while a local farmer tended his vegetable patch near the mountain stream. Turning a corner, Mount Kazbek loomed over us and the trail could be seen rising higher across a grass ridge. Shortly afterwards we could see across to the plain, where hundreds of tourists cars had now unearthed the dusty surface, by driving lazier visitors up to the entrance of Sameba Trinity Church.
Sameba Trinity Church
As we crested the ridge, it was also the first time we got a closer peek at the church buildings. The clay and red, coloured bricks, created a stark contrast to the pristine, azure sky. Closer up a number of bricks displayed interesting carvings. We joined the other visitors and entered the churchyard through an arched gate, underneath the bell tower, where some older local women and children begged for money. Straight ahead we saw a small shrine, dedicated to Maria. Before entering the main chapel, we walked towards the front of the building to savour the incredible views of Stepantsminda and the surrounding impressive Caucasus Mountains.
Inside the Chapel
The inside of Sameba Trinity Church was similar to other religious sites we had explored on our trip through Georgia so far. A few framed paintings covered the otherwise barren stonewalls. A small skylight and candles lit the room, where mostly tourists admired its beauty, although a few religious worshippers offered their prayers. It is general custom for woman to cover their heads with a scarf, and men to avoid bare arms and legs, but many of the tourists seemed to ignore this tradition.
The return hike downhill was easier and somewhat cooler as the sun had already started to hide behind the higher mountains. Jerome was still engrossed in his book upon our arrival at the car. He showed no regret at staying behind and letting us embark on our hike to Sameba Trinity Church on our own.
Tasty Shwarma for Dinner
Before we returned to our hotel we had a tasty chicken shwarma for dinner, a welcome change to what was becoming monotonous Georgian fare. The evening was fine and so we hoped for the following day to make the popular hike up from Juta village towards the high pass leading to the Abdulauri Lakes.