Included in the Caucasus mountains, Svaneti is an amazing and truly isolated area that, thanks to its remote position, has never been conquered by foreign powers. Symbol of Svaneti is koshi, defensive towers used by villagers as protection against foreign invasions or local disorders (until quite recently the area was famous for local faidas). The local language, called Svan, doesn’t have a written form and Georgians don’t understand it. The origin of it is unknown and local people claim that it has some relationships with the basque language, although this thesis has not been supported by evidence. From 2005, thanks to the improvement of the infrastructures and particularly of the road from Zugdidi, Svaneti has become a tourist destination in Georgia both in summer and winter.
The four-day trek between Mestia and Ushguli is truly amazing and we strongly recommend it. You don’t need to be particularly fit to do it (but bear in mind that you will walk for 5 to 7 hours per day), you don’t need to carry any tent since there are guesthouses on the way, you just need proper walking boots and waterproof equipment since it may rain and be a bit muddy as it was when we did it. Over the last few years the trek has become very popular, especially among Germans and Israelis apparently, so the only negative aspect is that it may be a bit crowded on the way. However, when we did it, the number of people was far from being annoying!
For a detailed explanation of the trek, have a look at the Caucasus trekking website. The information there are quite reliable a part of the fact that the bridge to get to Chvabiani doesn’t exist anymore so we had to walk for another hour or so to get to the next bridge and come back.
In Mestia we stayed at Guesthouse for You (40 GEL for a double), the place is nice, the price is affordable, the staff is really friendly and the puppies there are adorable! We found Mestia quite ugly. Completely renovated, extremely touristy, absolutely not authentic and the restaurants (we tried two of them) are probably the worst in Georgia both for quality and price. The only good thing about it is the location, you can use it as a base to get to other much more beautiful places.
Day 1 was one of the easiest one a part of a short but very steep part of the path. We walked for four hours from Mestia to Chvabiani where we slept at Vodo’s guesthouse. Chvabiani is a very tiny village where the number of pigs, sheep and dogs is probably higher then the number of inhabitants. Nice things to visit are the church (ask the guesthouse for the keys), whose Chvabiani people are reall proud of, and the classic Svaneti’s towers. We were lucky that our guesthouse had its own, even though under repairing, and we had the possibility to go on top of it! We really enjoyed the place, especially because we were a bit disappointed by Mestia, and we spent the evening with an Australian guy and a girl from Belgium having an amazing dinner prepared by Eka’s mum (the mum of the owner of the guesthouse; none of them spoke a single work of English but they are really friendly!).
Day 2 we went from Chvabiani to Adishi (roughly 4 hours) and it was the wettest one. In fact, it rained the all day so we tested our waterproof equipment founding out that it wasn’t that waterproof (however, we had suspected that so we had double bagged everything keeping our clothes dry). Adishi is the smallest village on the way and, according to Caucasus trekking, it’s the trickiest one to find a place to sleep. It wasn’t the case for us, since we stopped at the first guesthouse (60 GEL for a double + 10 GEL if you want the lunch box) and we easily found a place to sleep. According to locals, in Adishi there are 25 permanent residents and 50 over summer but that day, incredibly enough, we watched the Judo World Championships (apparently it’s a very popular sport in Georgia) and a judoka from Chvabiani, whose coach was from Adishi, became the world champion in his category! Thinking that these events don’t occur every day, we decided to celebrate the victory with the other guests (two Israelis, two Italians and two Germans) drinking beer and chacha, a sort of local grappa, until quite late at night.
Day 3, despite the chacha of the day before, we got up quite early and we started walking by 10am. It was the longest day (roughly 7 hours) and the two guys from the guesthouse in Chvabiani had told us that we would have to cross a river by horse. However, once arrived on the bank of the river, we saw a bunch of people attempting to cross the river by foot. Thinking that we would be strong enough to do it as well, we attempted to cross and we instantly realised why people were crossing the river by horse. The current wasn’t that strong but the water was freezing, definitely not more than 5 degrees!
We spent almost an hour there, suffering from massive cramps every time we touched the water.
It was a nice moment of sharing though, because everyone helped the others suggesting the best route or offering their sandals. Once recovered from the cramps, we decided to continue walking and we arrived at Iprari, the third stop of the trek, after roughly 6 hours passing in front of amazing glaciers and mountain peaks (even though partially covered by clouds) . There we decided not to stop at the first guesthouse of the village, as we did the day before, so we walked down to the bottom of it and we got into “Welcome guesthouse”. Well, it wasn’t welcoming at all! Two old ladies, all wearing in black, “welcomed” us without smiling and, of course, without speaking English. As this wasn’t enough we were the only guests and room was very old. Thinking that the situation was a bit too creepy, we decided to escape and we went back to the first hotel of the village (we should have done it at the very beginning) where we met the Israelis and Italians of the night before! That night, we learned how to play backgammon, which is apparently very popular in Israel, and we had just a wee glass of chacha…we had enough the night before!
Day 4 was another easy walk of just 4 hours from Iprari to Ushguli, the last stop of the trek. The walk is quite easy and the view is nice, even though not as nice as the previous days. We decided not to sleep in Ushguli (apparently the highest village in Georgia), although few people recommended us to do so and to walk up to the glacier the day after. We then decided to share a taxi with the other two Israelis back to Mestia and we were really disappointed by the fact the taxi drivers dramatically overprice the fare. Indeed, for the same distance we paid 30 GEL each; 3 times more than what we paid from Adigeni to Khulo!
Back in Mestia, we went back to the Guesthouse for you, where we had left our backpacks and that night we went for dinner (again very bad one) with the two Israelis. We didn’t stay around a lot, we were tired and the day after we would have woken up at 7am; we were going to Tsalkubo this time…it wasn’t in our original plan but the Italian girl we met on the trek recommended it, so why didn’t follow recommendations?