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Lake Ritsa

Driving southeast on the M27, just beyond the turnoff to Bichvinta is the village of Bzyb. A left-hand turnoff from Bzyb leads onto the A309, also known as the Ritsa Avenue. Here, there's an excellent four-columned domed church of the tenth century, particularly noteworthy for the quality of the ornamentation on the arches of the windows. This turnoff is marked by a sign to Ritsa, which is 41 km away. The road, which runs parallel to the Bzyb River and later one of its tributaries, the Geggi River, goes through some of the most magnificent forests and gorgeous natural settings in Georgia.

At the two-km point, above the road a beautiful waterfall cascades down the smooth limestone cliff. A legend relates: "Once upon a time a beautiful maiden named Amra ('Sun' in Abkhazian) was herding goats on the mountain. Suddenly an evil water nymph of the Bzyb River, stung by Amra's beauty, attacked her and tried to throw her off the cliff. Amra began to cry. Hearing her sobs, Amra's beloved Adgur came running and chased the nymph away. Amra, however, was so shaken by the experience that her tears still flow from the rocks."

At the 13-km point is Blue Lake (Adzia-vitsva in Abkhazian), 100 meters) above sea level in a karst crater fed by underground springs. The water is, in fact, a deep blue. The lake is 200 sq. meters in area and 15 meters deep, reaching a maximum depth of 25 meters. The water is cold, never rising above 7°-12° С. Beyond the lake, the road runs along the gorge of the Geggi River. The surrounding mountains are covered in forests of box and yew. Here the yellow waters of the Geggi and the blue of the Upshara River flow side by side along the gorge, barely mixing.

The road continues in zigzags up through the Upsharsky Canyon until reaching Lake Ritsa, 950 meters above sea level. The sight, though initially marred by the parking lot and tourist facility in front of the approach, is superb, especially once you've taken one of the paths around the lake into the woods. The lake is flanked by densely forested mountains: Pshegishkha (2,222 meters) in the west and southwest, Atsetuka (2,542 meters) and Agapsta (3,263 meters) in the north, and the spurs of the Rikhva Range in the east and south. The area of the lake is 1.27 sq. km  and it has a depth of approximately 130 meters. Its maximum length is 2,500 meters; the width ranges from 275 meters to 870 meters.

The water is cold, never rising above 15°C. Boat excursions can be arranged at the tourist facility or at one of the docks. The tourist facility has a cafeteria and restaurant, but if ever there was a time to pack a picnic, this is it.