The towers of Svaneti

Svaneti; Ushguli; Georgia; Towers; Mountains; Caucasus; Trekking

The sunlight conquers the surrounding snowy peaks of the long isolated valleys of Svaneti. It slowly climbs over the high ridges and suffuses the deep valleys with a light. Walking through the flowery lush meadows, breathing the clear cold air, streaming down from the glaciers is like experiencing and old dream. You close your eyes, you lie down in a soft bed of flowers, you breathe in, you realize, you open your eyes and look in the royal blue sky – welcome to Svaneti.

Svaneti; Ushguli; Georgia; Towers; Mountains; Caucasus; Trekking
Shkhara Mountain

This remote region in the Republic of Georgia was so inaccessible that almost nobody tried to invade the area and even during the Soviet era the life of the people changed little. Until today a strong identity and own culture are predominant. This is accompanied with the unwritten “Svan” language which is widely used in the daily life of the people. The “koshkebi”, stone towers which were built between 9th and the 13th century are dominant landmarks and the insignia of Svaneti. Designed for defense, housing, and personal treasuries, until today these towers are used and inhabited. Since 1996, the towers are protected as a UNESCO World heritage site.

The village of Ushguli

The villages of Svaneti and the landscape surrounding them captivate with an incredible beauty and a feeling of vitality and being close to nature. Anyhow one village, supposedly the highest permanently inhabited places in Europe with an altitude of roughly 2100 meters, called Ushguli, can be rated as the most picturesque and atmospheric spot. Far at the end of the valley, where the river “Enguri” origins, the mighty Shkhara rises to a height over 5000 meters, representing Georgias highest mountain. The view on this massif and its astonishing glacier are breathtaking and binding the eyes to the steep dramatic slopes. You forget time looking at the clouds go by, feel an inner refreshment, reconnect to nature and adapt the pace of the life of upper Svaneti.

Due to harsh road conditions the trip of 45km easily takes up to 4 hours by car.  Since the views and the landscape of this region are so mind blowing, the travel time will fly by. Although many visitors stay there only one afternoon, an overnight stay can be highly recommended to experience the quietness and the warmth of the people of this far-off community. Beyond the borders, Georgia is known for excellent food, and although the Svan cuisine is not as vibrant and colorful as in other parts of Georgia, a few local highlights such as “kubdari” pies should be tried and if well prepared, they will not disappoint.

Svaneti; Ushguli; Georgia; Towers; Mountains; Caucasus; Trekking
Svanetian Hospitality

We arrived in the afternoon in Ushguli, looking for a place to stay when our driver offered us his help. After a few minutes, a girl aged around 14 showed up and greeted us in English. On a muddy track, we walked through the village of Ushguli, passing the ancient towers. Around a few corner, more children were waving and greeting us. During summer the family rents out rooms and their overwhelming hospitality convinced us to stay.

Cuisine and fire water

After “checking in” the father of the family returned, turning out to be the villages sheriff and mayor. While sitting at a table with the father, Nina, the mother disappeared downstairs. After chatting with the father in a mixture of Russian, Georgian, Svan and English the mother called us to the dining room. When we entered the dining room, we realized that Nina worked very hard in the kitchen. The whole table was full with food. Fresh salad, cheese, beef, “kubdari”, “khinkali” Georgian dumplings, “khachapuri” cheese bread and different soups. In the people of the table, we saw the most noteworthy “nourishment”,  a bottle of homemade “chacha”.

This popular Georgian style brandy, translated as “fire water” ranging between 40 and 60 vol. % really kicks in.  To be honest, in my opinion, the translation of describes the taste fairly well.  The missing lid of the bottle indicates the host’s expectation that the whole bottle has to be emptied. Finally, we did not finish the bottle because we were afraid of getting another one. In general drinking in Georgia is an emblem of pure hospitality and friendship. The drinking toast easily endures more than a minute and honestly, how cool is that?

After two days in Ushguli, we decided to move on and hike to the next valley. The children waved at us when we left the house and the hosts gave us a warm goodbye.  I traveled to many places around the world, but this place left a remarkable impression. For us, the remoteness, quietness and the warm and welcoming hearts of the people were astonishing. I will be back and see you there.

Andre’s travel tips: 
  • An overnight stay in Ushguli is a must!
  • Fly into Mestia with Vanilla Sky Airlines for 25€ from Tbilisi and 15€ from Kutaisi
  • Enjoy Svanetian hospitality and cuisine at local guesthouses and family homes
  • Stay at Nina Nijaradzes home
  • Hike to the bottom of the Shkhara glacier
  • Hike to the village of Mami (Lower Svaneti) (24km)

14 thoughts on “The towers of Svaneti

  1. Love the place. Looks like real secluded, but love to hear that people there can be accommodating. Truly, staying in a place where people show sincere hospitality is overwhelming. Sometimes, we remember the place because of these nice individuals.
    And it is heartwarming to know that not only the elders are like that but the children as well.

  2. It just occurred to me that there is more to Georgia than what I see on the news. Truly magnificent when I was looking at the photo especially the snowy mountaintop. It’s beauty for sure will captivate anyone who is there. How can one not admire especially those of us who live in a highly urbanized city?

  3. First time to reallybread through a post on Svanetia. Georgia seems to be a good country/place to explore. Hope one day I can visit the place. It is like a gem that needs to be found and discovered based from the captivating photos you captured.

  4. You’ve captures some amazing photos of the place! Perhaps the lesser known Georgia, most people I know actually don’t know it’s a country, since I’ve never been to Europe yet. Almost everyone I encountered only know of the U.S. State Georgia, and I suppose people think I’d be crazy if I’d ask “Georgia, as in the country or the U.S. State. Really wonderful place, I am experiencing it vivaciously already though your blog. Great post! 🙂

  5. First of all, your photography is amazing and inspiring. Georgia is incredibly beautiful and you captured its beauty.
    Khachapuri is my favorite, khinkali is less favorite. Did you go somewhere else in Georgia?

  6. Well, that’s one place I had never even thought of traveling to, but it looks so worth it! I love the anecdote about the bottle top missing so you have to drink the whole bottle. Firewater is a great name. I think I would love a place like this, thanks for sharing it with us.

  7. I’d go to Georgia in a heartbeat if only to experience to travel with “Vanilla Sky Airlines”. I love the name really – it makes me giddy and excited! The mountains of Georgia in your picture above looked like part of Switzerland. To say that Georgia has a beautiful vista may be an understatement. I hope to see more photos of Georgia and maybe see it for real one day as well.

  8. I woudl like to commend how you have written the first few sentences of your post. i love reading it. very descriptive. when reading about places, i make sure to know as well the history of the place. it tends to make me believe i am at that place. nice photos by the way. Thanks for sharing such picturesque.

  9. I have a friend who is coming from Georgia, so I knew that this country is beautiful, but I never heard about the Shkhara Mountain. Looks amazing! First I thougt it is in Austria. 🙂 Your writing is also interesting and enjoyable and your pictures are beautiful!

  10. The photos you’ve shared are awesome! The view of the mountain, glaciers and old structure calms the soul, a refuge away from the city jungle. Thanks for sharing this experience, I became aware of serene place with hospitable people that is outside our usual radar

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