My shared taxi from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda costs 30 lari (Dh62) and the driver manages to get us to the hotel in about two hours -- in spite of a snowstorm and multiple stops at lookout points along the way. Scaling the mountain pass in a blizzard with a speedy driver isn’t for the fainthearted, but the check-in team are quick to reassure me. “There’s no need to worry - these Georgian drivers have been doing this drive forever,” the friendly receptionist says. I’m quickly checked in to my room.
On the far reaches of the village of Stepantsminda, in the Kazbegi region, Rooms is perched on the foothills of the Caucasus mountain range. It’s a steep one-kilometre walk up to the hotel's impressive perch from the town centre. There’s not much in the immediate vicinity, or indeed Stepantsminda itself, and you’ll need to head to the bottom of the hill for shops and other restaurants.
The hotel, which opened in 2012 as Kazbegi’s only luxury offering, has paid homage to its surroundings in its construction. From the outside it blends in with the mountains, resembling little more than a large, earth-coloured, square box. But inside, floor-to-ceiling windows in the main areas frame the mountain ranges and valleys outside. Its rustic-lux aesthetic is minimalistic yet artsy, complete with a common area full of leather armchairs, old Soviet posters, stacked bookshelves and repurposed wood. The design team, a Tbilisi-based architecture duo, scouted remote villages for the timber that would be refashioned onto surfaces throughout the hotel. The area is buzzing at all times of the day, full of hotel guests or travellers in search of respite at the bar and lounge, or the restaurant.
Of the hotel’s 155 rooms, I’m in a double mountain view room, which looks out over the township of Stepantsminda, the famed Gergeti Trinity Church and Mount Kazbek. Initially, it appears more basic than I’d anticipated, given the excitement elicited from past guests who’d extolled the hotel’s many virtues, but at a second glance, I realise that its beauty lies in its minimalism. The room is neutral-toned, sleek and timber-clad, dotted with bursts of red courtesy of the curtains, a plush armchair, a funky KitchenAid jug and wooden desk chair - letting the large window and view outside take precedence. The bed is large and comfortable, and the room is spacious enough for two people.
Staff are helpful and friendly. After I come in from trudging about in a snowstorm, my sopping jacket is promptly taken off my shoulders and dried off for me by the affable receptionist.
The breakfast spread is smaller than your standard hotel buffet, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s well-cultivated and all made from scratch each morning - from the pastries, to the breads, to some of the cheeses, to the house-made granola.
Georgian fare is front and centre in the restaurant, and in the reasonably-priced menu, standouts include the ajapsandali (11 lari; Dh15), a type of Georgian eggplant stew; a unique take on the humble Georgian salad with pesto and walnuts (11 lari; Dh15); and the free-range chicken with shkmeruli sauce (27 lari; Dh37), a gorgeously rich chicken dish slathered in creamy, buttery and garlicky sauce, and large enough for at least two people.
The disaster management. A surprise blizzard swept in through Kazbegi and closed the roads for five days, leaving everyone in the town snowed in. The hotel staff pulled out all the stops, including organising a projector movie night complete with armchairs, free popcorn and warm beverages, and offering discounted nightly rates.
The pool, sauna and gym were under renovation while I was there and there wasn’t an alternative offered, which meant there wasn’t a lot to do while stranded for several days.
A cosy mountain retreat that is deserving of its sparkling reputation.
The bottom line
Twin rooms with a forest view at Rooms Kazbegi cost from $102USD (Dh375) a night, including taxes.