According to simplyyellowpages, Svaneti is a unique region worth visiting for everyone who wants to get to know another Georgia – not simple and bright, but severe and majestic. Of course, here guests are just as joyfully received, traditions are honored, as elsewhere in the Caucasus. The region in the north-west of Georgia is very popular among climbers, lovers of picturesque landscapes and hikers. All of them are almost relentlessly accompanied by the symbols of Svanetia – the famous centuries-old Svan towers, thoughtfully standing surrounded by mountains, fields and lakes.
The region would be completely different without its inhabitants. It is hard to win the trust of harsh Svans, but if you open your heart to them, imbue with ancient traditions, you can find new friends even in such an impregnable (in every sense of the word) place.
How to get to Svaneti
The vast majority of those who come to Svaneti begin their journey from the capital of the region, the city of Mestia. You can get here from Tbilisi in different ways. About the options for traveling to the capital of Georgia are described here.
From Tbilisi Natakhtari Airport to Mestia every day, except Wednesday and Saturday, small planes of the Vanilla Sky company fly, designed for 15-17 passengers (you can take a maximum of 15 kg of luggage with you). Flights only fly in good weather, so they get canceled regularly, and it’s worth having a fallback just in case.
There are also minibuses that go to Mestia every day from the Didube metro station. Fare: 35 GEL, travel time – about 9 hours. A more comfortable option is the Tbilisi-Zugdidi train + minibus. A ticket in a compartment will cost 20 GEL, in a reserved seat – 10 GEL. The night train leaves Tbilisi at 21:00 and arrives in Zugdidi at 6:30. Minibuses run from the Zugdidi bus station (it is located near the railway station) to Mestia (140 km), the fare is about 25 GEL. There are also daytime express trains, but they are convenient to get only to Zugdidi, and you may not have time to take a minibus to Mestia – the train arrives late in the evening. Prices on the page are for July 2021.
Alpine skiing and outdoor activities
Svaneti is mountains, and where there are mountains, there are ski resorts. So it is not surprising that one of the most popular holiday destinations in the region is the high-altitude ski resort of Hatsvali, which is 8 km from Mestia.
The upper lift station is located on the peak of Mount Zuruldi (2347 m). The height difference between it and the lower station is 482 m. Today, there are 3 routes: red (1900 m), blue (2600 m) and for “dummies” (300 m). Thus, skiers of any level have the opportunity to enjoy one of the most picturesque resorts in the world. Hatsvali is constantly developing and growing, hotels are being built around, the possibility of organizing new slopes is being worked out. Transfer from Mestia to Hatsvali will cost approximately 10 GEL per seat in a minibus.
But Svaneti lives not only in winter. As soon as the snow melts, cyclists, horse riders, hikers pour out onto the emerald carpet of its valleys. Miniature courtyards fill cars. Travelers come here from all over the world, but most of all from Russia, Germany, France, USA, Ukraine, Belarus, Israel. They ride horses, go hiking or just enjoy the peace and quiet.
Guesthouses and private hotels in Mestia annually receive thousands of tourists. The price of an overnight stay is quite small: 40-150 GEL. But the view from the windows of many of them is almost priceless. Traveling through the villages, you can ask to spend the night with the highlanders. If it is not possible to provide a bed in the house, they will allow you to set up a tent in the yard.
Like the rest of Georgia, Svaneti is famous for its cuisine. One of the main local dishes is kubdari or khachapuri with pork. This is a flat pie stuffed with finely chopped meat, spices and herbs. The secret of the dish is Svan salt, which consists of 8 ingredients. This cake is baked without butter. “Kubdari” is considered the main dish on all holidays, and some Svans cook it daily.
Be sure to try cakes made from chizhdvari cheese and corn dough, mashed potatoes with shusha cheese, khachapuri with cheese or herbs, lobio. Cheese, by the way, is exclusively local – suluguni. Another typical Svan dish is zishora blood sausage. And for dessert, you can taste curd cheese, poured with healing Svan honey.
The harsh natural conditions of Svaneti do not allow growing grapes, so you should not try to look for local wine in stores – this drink is imported here. The region’s main alcohol is chacha and nathani, a strong (50°) moonshine of double distillation, which is made by almost every Svan mountaineer.
What to see
The largest settlement in the region is Mestia. Here, at an altitude of about 1400 m above sea level, about 2700 people live. Most of the routes to the mountains start from here: to glaciers, waterfalls and lakes. On the main square of the city there is a small park, in the center of which there is a spring with narzan – mineral water of natural aeration.
Nearby there is a tourist information center of Svaneti, where you can take maps and get information about sights. There are also several small shops here. True, you need to be prepared for the fact that food prices will be higher than in Tbilisi.
Traveling through Svaneti from village to village, it is impossible not to notice that almost every house has towers. These are the famous Svan towers-fortresses included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. They were built in the 8th-13th centuries to protect the family from enemy attacks.
The towers were built by villages. The foundation was strengthened with stones for strength. The entrance was arranged high enough, another flat stone was placed on two stones, to which a ladder could be attached. During the attack, the family climbed into the tower, the ladder was taken inside, the door was locked. Inside was another long and light stepladder, which made it possible to climb even higher. True, there were few who wanted to take possession of the modest belongings of the Svans – it was almost impossible to reach their mountain villages. The tower was placed next to the house, which was built from the same cobblestones. Some of these thousand-year-old houses are still inhabited by people.
The climate of Svaneti is very severe, because this region is one of the highest mountains in the Caucasus. One part of it is surrounded by peaks covered with eternal snow, the other is open to powerful winds. Winter here begins in October and lasts until May. Svaneti is quite humid, with about 1000 mm of precipitation per year.