One of the highlights of Georgia for us was our trip into the mountainous Svaneti region. The beautiful snow covered peaks of the Greater Caucasus and the picturesque alpine villages rival New Zealand scenery any day.
We visited in April, basing ourselves in the small town of Mestia which was at 1400m elevation. After a couple of days of rain and foggy conditions, the skies cleared for us so we headed off for a half day hike up to a cross 900m above Mestia.
The track was fairly steep near the beginning but then became a steady climb up a kind of 4 wheel drive track until we got to snow at the top. We were rewarded with absolutely stunning views the whole way and the panorama from the cross was just breathtaking.
From the cross we could see the peaks of Mt Ushba reaching 4700m. Had we better shoes and clothes for walking in the snow we would have liked to carry on the extra two hours to the small Koruldi Lakes that lie about 400m higher.
The mountains, much higher than those in NZ, contibute to the inaccesability of the area, which together with its remote location ensured that Svaneti was never captured by any ruler. During the many invasions of Georgia throughout history, icons and other valuables were brought to this isolated area for safe-keeping.
The villages in Svaneti are dotted with defensive stone towers, designed to house villagers at times of invasion and local strife. There are around 175 towers in the region, most originally built between the 9th and 13th centuries. They are really quite tall and add to the charm and beauty of this wonderful area.
Making the most of the fine day after our walk to the cross we joined a lovely Ukrainian couple from our bed and breakfast and hired a driver to take us up the Mestiachala valley as far as you can go by car. We crossed the river using the footbridge, walked a little uphill through some woods for about one and a half kms to the foot of the Chalaadi Glacier. Light was fading as it was the end of the day but it was an impressive valley and glacier.
We just loved Svaneti – it is a must see in Georgia, especially if you are interested in hiking and there during hiking season (June – mid October). If you do go- make sure you buy some Svanetian salt. It’s salt with garlic, herbs and spices that we bought by chance off a lady who’d made some- it was divine and can be used on everything…. potatoes, rice, salads, vegetables… YUM. Perfect for us long term travellers who don’t have a kitchen full of all kinds of spices, this was it for the next few months. We had Svanetian salt on everything! Good thing when the bag ran out after 5 months we went back to Georgia and could buy more! 🙂