Past the gently flowing Terek River, the verdant slopes of the Caucasus, and the clear blue skies, features characteristic of summertime in Stepantsminda, our car turned a corner and Rooms Hotel came into view—I felt my heart sink. My husband, six-year-old daughter, and I, along with another family, were on a five-day holiday to Georgia. The Eurasian nation, once a part of the erstwhile Russian Empire, and later the Soviet Union, was both a short flight away from our home base in Dubai, and offered a much-needed respite from the heat. While most visitors head to the capital Tbilisi, and during the winters to Gudauri, a popular skiing destination, I suggested that we go deeper into the northeastern heartland, beyond to Stepantsminda, a mountain town still commonly referred to by its former name, Kazbegi. Photographs of the region’s 14th-century Gergeti Trinity Church had previously fascinated me. It stands on a hillock of sylvan charm, framed by the imposing stratovolcano, Mount Kazbek. No matter the season, the setting appears majestic; during summer the slopes are a shock of green, and in winter they lie hidden, blanketed under thick snow.
What was meant to be a three-hour journey from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda stretched well over five-hours because of the route’s winding, bumpy roads. Once we crossed into Guduari on the historic Georgian Military Highway, despite the beautiful scenery and perfect chai-and-pakora weather, we were desperate to get to our hotel. A member of the reputed Design Hotels network, which includes a selection of privately owned and operated hotels around the world, I had high expectations for Rooms Hotel Kazbegi. But here it was, the most lackluster hotel exterior I had ever seen— just a large, rectangular brick-lined building with metal balconies, and seemingly no entrance to boast off.
Once we stepped inside, though, vistas of the emerald slopes of Mount Kazbek and the Gergeti Trinity Church, encased perfectly by the floor-to-ceiling windows of the lobby, foretold better things to come. The location of the 155-room property is unbeatable, and it opens itself up to its illustrious environs from within.
Designed by young, Tbilisi-based designers, Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia, the hotel has helped put Kazbegi in the modern spotlight, attracting more visitors to the region over the years. Chic, modern, and minimalist, their aesthetic celebrates the Asian and European heritage of Georgia in subtle ways. The spacious lobby, restaurant, stunning indoor swimming pool, and casino all face the breathtaking Caucasus. The bare facade is intentional, as are the industrial design details that abound within, such as repurposed timber floors, a neutral colour palette featuring varying shades of brown and tan, and an extensive use of metal from bar stools to light fittings. These elements work in tandem to create a modern mountain-lodge atmosphere that tactfully complements its spectacular location. The structure is not competing with the surrounding landscape, but rather acts as a bespoke frame, intent on showcasing a serene setting that has been drawing travellers for centuries.
Up in our room, sunlight filtered through the French windows, and outside Mount Kazbek dazzled in the early evening light. Small in size, the room offered all creature comforts. Bright orange curtains added a burst of cheer to the earthy tones of mushroom and taupe that dominated the walls and furniture. The balcony, with wicker chairs and netted metal railings, offered unhindered views of the hotel’s lush lawns and the massif whose shadows stretched towards them. The mountains felt so close; I was sure I could touch them if I got on the tips of my toes, leaned out against the balcony railing and stretched out my hands.
The lobby opened out onto an expansive terrace, the beaming heart of the hotel where guests soak up the sun. As darkness descended and guests, mostly groups of friends and couples, returned to the hotel after sightseeing and trekking, the lobby was abuzz with cheerful chatter. Rustic, wooden bookcases stacked with dog-eared novels are smartly used to cordon off seating sections, creating cosy reading nooks. Traditional Georgian Kilim rugs, featuring bold, rustic colours and ornamental, geometric motifs covered the timber floors. Though carefully put together, the atmosphere didn’t seem overly contrived— it wasn’t trying too hard, and overall exuded a very lived-in vibe, which rather suited the chilly evenings underneath the snowy peaks.
Once we found our ideal spot in the lobby, we did not budge, even ordering dinner there. We had sampled a few Georgian staples in Tbilisi, but Rooms was able to take the classics up a notch through a dash of little details. My lobio, a kidney bean stew served with warm, flattened cornbread called mchadi, was improved by a dusting of local mountain herbs. The kitchen makes a point of using locally foraged and farmed produce that is organic and sustainably grown. After our hearty fare, the star-spangled sky and dim, orange glow of the Gergeti Trinity Church cast just enough light to illuminate the stoic silhouette looking down on us from an elevation of over 16,400 feet. Its mesmerising nature during the day is only matched by the mystery nightfall gifts this gigantic volcanic cone built upon strata—layers of hardened lava.
I woke up early the next day, eager to see the morning light cast its spell on the mountains outside my room. As the sun lit up the slopes, I sat on the balcony taking in the calm before undertaking my mission to further explore the hotel, hoping to enjoy the space minus other guests. I made my way to the lobby and found only the hotel staff about, busy setting things in order for the new day. In the open-dining area besides the bar, I watched breakfast being laid out. A large table in the centre was soon covered end-to-end with plates overloaded with fresh fruit, jugs of brightly coloured juices, homemade granola, golden-hued Georgian honey, freshly baked bread, a variety of cheeses, cold cuts, and eggs. As tempting as the food looked, I just grabbed a coffee and went to the sprawling sun deck to enjoy the view outside in complete silence.
As I sat soaking in the pristine mountain views and the gentle morning breeze, I knew I had to come back. Rooms had more than met my expectations, and I certainly hadn’t had my fill. One night wasn’t enough to adequately take in the dreamlike location, or the hotel’s many other charms. It begged for slow travel, where every moment is savoured in the serene setting.
Kazbegi or Stepantsminda village, where Rooms Hotel Kazbegi is located, is about a 150 km/3-4 hr-ride from Georgia’s capital Tbilisi. While there are no direct flights from India to Tbilisi, most flights from Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru to the city usually have a Middle Eastern layover. Visitors can book a shuttle from Tbilisi airport to the hotel at an additional cost. Post-pandemic, the hotel has implemented all the necessary health safety protocols as per guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation and the Georgian government. (roomshotels.com/kazbegi; doubles from $102/Rs7523 minus taxes, including breakfast)
Chaitali Patel is the former Associate Editor, Special Projects at National Geographic Traveller India. She's partial to nature, history and the arts. She believes that every trip is as much a journey within as it is one outside.