Nekresi’s early Georgian architecture and the views across the Alazani valley from its hillside-woodland site are marvellous. The monastery is 4km off the Kvareli road from a turning 10km past Gremi (Kvareli-bound marshrutky will drop you at the turn-off). Vehicles must park 1.5km before the monastery; from there marshrutky (1 GEL return trip) shuttle up and down the hill from about 9am to 5pm, approximately mid-April to mid-December.
Considerable repair and reconstruction has been done in recent years. The first church you come to is a three-church basilica from the 8th and 9th centuries, with a plan unique to early Georgian churches, the three naves being divided by solid walls into what are effectively three churches. Nekresi’s tiny first church (one of the earliest in Georgia, dating from the 4th century) stands in the centre of the complex. Beside it stands a 9th-century bishop’s palace, complete with wine cellar and a 16th-century tower. Immediately east is the main Church of the Assumption, another three-church basilica, from the 6th to 7th centuries, with 17th-century murals adorning its smoke-blackened interior.
This picturesque brick citadel stands beside the Telavi–Kvareli road, 19km from Telavi. Kvareli-bound marshrutky will stop here. From 1466 to 1672 Gremi was the capital of Kakheti, but the town down to the west of the citadel was totally devastated by Shah Abbas in 1616. Within the citadel, the Church of the Archangels was built in 1565 by King Levan (who is buried inside) and contains frescoes from 1577. You can climb up inside the adjacent 15th-century tower-palace.
By the road below stands a large portrait of the Kakhetian Queen Ketevan, who was tortured to death by Abbas for refusing to renounce Christianity. A small roadside museum contains explanatory panels on old Gremi, plus artefacts from the site.
This monastery, beautifully situated in a cypress grove, was one of two famous medieval Georgian Neoplatonist academies, the other being Gelati near Kutaisi. Shota Rustaveli, the national poet, is thought to have studied here. The main Transfiguration Church was built in the 8th and 9th centuries. The roofless building along the south side of the compound was the Academy; an 8th-century stone wine press survives to its left (Georgian monasteries have always been enthusiastic winemakers).
The monastery is 2km uphill from the Telavi–Akhmeta road: turn off just after the 54/19 Km post. Marshrutky from Telavi terminate in Ikalto village, leaving you with a pleasant-enough 1.5km road walk up to the monastery.