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Svaneti, Georgia: A Step Back in Time

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Svaneti, in the north of Georgia, close to the border with Russia, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. With snow capped mountains, forests, lakes, glaciers and swathes of colourful wild flowers, it is also like stepping back in time.
 

The Journey

From Tbilisi, it was a 4-hour train journey to Zugdidi. This turned into a 5-hour journey when a car ran into the back of our train and we had to wait for the police to arrive. Minibuses wait for the train, to take you the remaining 3 hours to Mestia, the gateway to Svaneti and our base for the next 4 days. The scenery on the journey was stunning as the 3rd largest dam in the world, waterfalls and majestic mountains were all en-route.
 
 
In Mestia, we stayed in a family run guesthouse. The balcony outside my room offered panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and forests. It was so dramatic and beautiful and the view altered constantly with the changes in light.
 
 

Hike to the Koruldi lakes

Koruldi lakes are at an altitude of 8,989 feet. The hike here was one of the best ones I’ve had.  My Georgian friend, Sophie, said she loved my expressions. It was a mixture of awe and happiness. From the top of the mountain there were 360° views, to snow capped mountains and villages nestling in the valleys below.
 
 
We walked through fields of wild flowers in vibrant pinks, yellows and blues. The altitude could be felt and my breathing was a bit more laboured than usual but I took lots of deep breaths and there were plenty of rests to admire the magnificent views and take photographs. It was the perfect weather — azure blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds. These clouds and the majestic mountains reflected in the waters of the lake. I smiled the whole day. 
 
 
Sophie had hiked all the way with a bottle of wine but it was a perfect way to sit and appreciate the view. This is why I travel.
 
 
 

A story of two mountains

The legend of these two mountains reads like a Georgian ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The first mountain in the pictures is Tetnuldi and is the girl in the story. The second mountain pictured is Ushva and is the boy in the story. It is also my friend Sophie’s favourite mountain.
 
Svaneti was famous in Georgia for its blood feuds and this is the story of two feuding families. Like the Montague and Capulets a boy and a girl from these families at war met and fell in love. Determined to be together, they married in secret. Unfortunately, their families found out and they were sentenced to death. They realised they could never live together so they asked God to turn them into beautiful mountains so they could see each other for ever.
 
I fell in love with both these mountains.  Looking at them was never tiring. Every time you looked at them, they were different. Changes in light completely transformed them. I miss the mountains.
 
 
Ushguli
 
Ushguli is the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe at 2,200 metres. It actually comprises of four small villages, sitting at the foot of Mt Shkhara, Georgia’s highest mountain, 5,203 metres high.
 
 
 
One of the villages was totally devastated by a massive avalanche in 1987 and most the residents packed up and left. Now they are starting to return and houses are starting to be restored. A lot of this is due to the arrival of tourism as both locals and visitors discover the incredible beauty of the area. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
 
A visit to Ushguli is like a trip back to a time of ancient traditions, blood feuds and the kidnapping of brides. Conditions were harsh. Everywhere, there are the stone towers which protected from potential invaders and avalanches.
 
 
 
 

The Tower of Love

This is the Tower of Love. Legend has it that a woman fell deeply in love with a man. However, as he was already married with children she rejected him. The man was then killed in a hunting accident and was turned into a trout. Every day the woman would sit by the river, her tears falling into the waters. Everyday she also fed the trout which made the river their home. Her father built the tower for her as a symbol of love.
 
 

The Chalaadi Glacier

Chalaadi Glacier, one of the most beautiful hikes in Georgia, is at 1850 metres high and the source of the river Mestia. It is fed by mountain streams. It is in a beautiful setting and is unusual in that it extends down to the forest.
 
 
Walking towards the glacier is very beautiful. A bridge over the river brings you into the coniferous forest. Huge fire trees rise up into the sky, the sun shimmering through the branches and tantalising glimpses of the mountains behind. Wild flowers provide splashes of colour amongst the greenery.
 
 
Afterwards, the next part of the hike is by the side of a raging river fed by the glacial waters. A scramble over the deposited rocks finally brings you to the glacier. The glacial cave is stunning, the trapped turquoise blue water shining through the ice. The water was truly glacial and a few seconds was all I could bear before it became very painful. It was another beautiful hike full of contrasts.
 
 

Mestia

Mestia is a good base from which to explore Svaneti. It has accommodation options to suit all budgets and a wealth of wonderful restaurants, some with traditional music. It is also the starting point for many of the walks. Cars and minibuses also offer day trips to Ushguli.
 
 
It is also home to the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography. A good way of finding out more about the traditions of Georgia and contains local crafts and many icons.
 
Cinema pub Dede is owned by the sister of the director of the film of the same name. This film was showing whilst I was there. I went to one of the screenings, very interesting especially as I had just visited Ushguli.
 
 

Local Specialities

As well as the famous Georgian dishes such as Khachapuri and Khinkali, the Svaneti area has it’s own specialties:
 
  • Kubdari – bread filled with meat and spices.
  • Tashmijabi – mashed potato mixed with cheese.
  • Svaneti – famous for the protection of salt and I was given some as a gift from the guesthouse.

Of course all these have to be washed down with a glass of Georgian wine. Georgia makes some of the best wines I have ever tasted.

Lynn Stephenson

Hello, my name is Lynn. I have been travelling for the past 30 years and have visited 148 countries. I love new places, new adventures, meeting new people and trying the local delicacies. Travel to live.

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