Georgians tend to joke about the Rachvelis, the inhabitants of the mountainous region of Racha in the North-West. They like to make fun of them for being slow, a bit simple and so on, but when you go to Racha, you’ll realize that maybe its all out of jealousy. Racha is a special place, high in the mountains and almost completely unspoiled, but only 210 kilometers away from Tbilisi. With rushing rivers bursting with trout, the region is popular with anglers and rafters, as well as mountain bikers and paragliders. The headwaters of the mighty Rioni River are a haven for fishing, whitewater rafting and kayaking. For many visitors to the region, Racha is a giant outdoor playground. The mountain resort of Shovi, which stays at a cool 16 degrees in July, is a must visit for anyone who loves the great outdoors. But as well as these pursuits, Racha also contains some remarkable cultural treasures. The church of Nikortsminda is outside Racha’s main town of Ambrolauri and features some of the finest stone carving around, with scenes depicting King Bagrat III who sponsored it’s construction, as well as Christ striking down the pagan Roman Emperor Diocletian. Dating from 1010, the church is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Oni, the region’s other town, boasts a richly decorated 19th century synagogue, the third largest in Georgia, which demonstrates the long presence of this mountain region’s local Jewish population. But no visitor to Racha can fail to be won over by the food. The smoked ham of the region – lori – is famous throughout Georgia. One of the country’s favorite dishes, the garlic and chicken fiesta called Shkmeruli, hails from the tiny village of Shkmeri in the mountains here. Not forgetting Racha’s most precious export, Khvanchkara – reportedly Stalin’s favorite wine. This fruity red grows in only one tiny village, making it highly precious, and as it does not travel well, it really has to be tasted close to home. Just one more reason to come to Racha.