From the rocky plateaus on the Armenian border to world class skiing resorts to nineteenth century spa-towns, Samtskhe-Javakheti is a region that never stops surprising visitors. Historically one of the most important cultural centers in Georgia, much of the region today is virtually unknown to tourists – but this ancient land of cave cities and hilltop monasteries is once again opening it’s doors to the outside world – especially now that a new road means you can get here in just two hours from Tbilisi. Samtske Javakheti is an ethically diverse region, home to a large number of Armenians. Before Stalin’s deportations during World War II, there was also a large population of so-called Meskhetian Turks, who were forcibly resettled in central Asia. Today, some families are returning to their ancient villages. Another little known group inhabiting the region are the Dukhobors, who live in several villages around Ninotsminda. Although only a few hundred remain, this small community of Russians, sometimes described as “Christian anarchists”, were moved here by the czars in the nineteenth century, and the area is still main ritual centre for their religion. Life in Dukhobor villages remains very similar to eighteenth century Russia, with many people still wearing the clothes of that time. The region’s main town is Akhaltsikhe, meaning ‘new castle’, but built before the 12th century. The castle still dominates the town centre, and contains an excellent archaeological museum. Akhalstiskhe is a pleasant place with an attractive, tumbledown old quarter, and home to many cafes and guesthouses, making it a good hub from which to explore the region. Just outside town is the lovely Sapara Monastery built in the 14th century. Parched atop a wooded promontory and boasting fantastic views, this is one of the last great examples of classic Georgian architecture, the interior frescoes are also superb. Akhaltsikhe is the best place from which to visit the amazing cave town of Vardzia as well as the jaw-dropping Khertvisi fortress. Borjomi is probably where most tourists find themselves when visiting Samtkhe-Javakheti. This charming, 19th century spa town was built as a resort by the Czars, whose summer residence at Likani nearby is a wonderful example of fin-de-siècle Russian eclectic architecture. The town itself is set in the picturesque Borjomi gorge of the Mtkvari river, with plunging cliffs and verdant forests. It is also home to the famous, love-it-or-hate-it Borjomi mineral water, which has been produced here since 1839. You can try the original, straight from the ground type of Borjomi in a park in the town centre, but it is not to everyone’s taste. Most travelers will enjoy the spectacular Borjomi-Kharagauli national park, one of Europe’s finest, which can be accessed from the town. A narrow-gage mountain railway dating from 1903 takes you through spectacular mountain scenery from Borjomi to the ski resort of Bakuriani.