Telavi turned out to have a nice little old town and even a King's Palace in the centre. It also has the stereotypical Soviet apartment blocks, which was nearer my hotel, and some horrendous empty concrete monstrosity in the town square which needs demolishing. There wasn't a lot happening but I did find one bar/restaurant which served huge portions accompanied with more bread than I can eat in a day.
The main highway to Gudauri takes you back much of the way I'd came. There is a more direct route but its a rather ominous white road on Google maps. So I went that way. The road is fine until Akhmeta then it becomes an unmade road. It was a bit rough except for the very rough bits. It was dry and dusty so no problem passing but progress was slow. The worst bit lasted about 15kms before it became better then I came to Tianeti and the road was smooth, obviously new tarmac. This didn't last long before it was back to dirt roadworks for kms with very little sign of anyone working.
The road goes up to the Russian border and is called the Georgian Military Highway. It's full of trucks and there were a couple of sets of roadworks and a couple of places with a herd of cows just sitting in the road. Rather more scenic was the church/castle at Ananuri.
Gudauri is a ski resort so it's quiet in the summer though there are some restaurants open. It does mean you get cheap rooms. A spotless room in a lodge set me back the grand total of 50 lari for a night.