The Highest Mountains of Caucasus
Another mountainous and highest region of Georgia is Svaneti. Its long way from the capital Tbilisi but unlike Tusheti and Khevsureti Svaneti can be accessed all year round and actually offers amazing skiing opportunities in winter time. For more information about skiing in Svaneti please visit our Svaneti Ski Resorts page.
Beautiful, wild and mysterious, Svaneti is an ancient land locked in the Caucasus, so remote that it was never tamed by any ruler. Uniquely picturesque villages and snow-covered, 4000m-plus peaks rising above flower-strewn alpine meadows provide a superb backdrop to the many walking trails. Svaneti’s emblem is the koshki (defensive stone tower), designed to house villagers at times of invasion and local strife (until recently Svaneti was renowned for its murderous blood feuds). Around 175 koshkebi, most originally built between the 9th and 13th centuries, survive here today. Architectural monuments of Upper Svaneti are included in a list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Svaneti is the highest inhabited area in the Caucasus (Village Ushguli highest permanently inhabited village in Europe). Four of the 10 highest peaks of the Caucasus are located in the region. The highest mountain in Georgia, Mount Shkhara at 5,201 meters, is located in the province. Prominent peaks include Tetnuldi (4,974 m), Shota Rustaveli (4,960 m), Mount Ushba (4,710 m), Ailama (4,525 m)
Svaneti is divided in two parts corresponding to two inhabited valleys:
- Upper Svaneti on the upper Inguri River; administratively part of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti; main town Mestia
- Lower Svaneti on the upper Tskhenistsqali River; administratively part of Racha-Lechkhumi; main town Lentekhi
They are separated by the Svaneti Range which is almost as high as the main Caucasus range. Historical Svaneti also included the Kodori Gorge in the adjoining rebel province of Abkhazia.
Upper Svaneti is the popular tourist dastination (among the two) and offers the best walking and climbing as well as the strongest traditions.
The walking season lasts from about early June to mid-October.
The landscape of Svaneti is dominated by mountains that are separated by deep gorges. Most of the region which lies below 1,800 meters above sea level is covered by mixed and coniferous forests. The zone which extends from 1,800 meters to roughly about 3,000 meters above sea level consists of alpine meadows and grasslands. Eternal snows and glaciers take over in areas that are over 3,000 meters above sea level. The region is notable for its glaciers and picturesque summits. Svaneti's signature peak is probably Mount Ushba which towers over the Inguri Gorge and can be seen from many parts of the region.
The climate of Svaneti is humid and is influenced by the air masses coming in from the Black Sea throughout the year. In general, upper Svaneti experiences short, cool summers and long and cold winters. Due to Svaneti's close proximity to the Black Sea, the region is spared from the extremely cold winter temperatures that are characteristic of high mountains.
During the many invasions of Georgia over the centuries, icons and other religious valuables were brought to this isolated region for safekeeping, and a significant number remain in private homes today. Svaneti also has a rich church-art heritage of its own, and many tiny village churches boast frescoes 1000 years old. This mountain retreat, with its own unwritten language, largely unintelligible to other Georgians, is regarded as a bastion of Georgian traditions, as can be witnessed at the numerous Svan festivals of which probably the most famous is Kvirikoba.
The Svans have retained many of their old traditions, including blood revenge. Their families are small, and the husband is the head of his family. The Svan really respect the older women in families.
Svan culture survives most wonderfully in its songs and dances. Svaneti boasts arguably the most archaic three-part polyphonic singing. Most of their songs are connected to round dances, are performed very loud and are full of dissonant chords
The Svans had been known as fierce warriors for centuries.
Typically bilingual, they use both Georgian and their own, unwritten Svan language
, which together with the Georgian, Mingrelian, and Laz languages constitute the South Caucasian or Kartvelian language family. The Svan language is endangered and is being largely replaced by Georgian.
In general, Svans are mountain people who highly appreciate their traditions and also respect and love guests, in return they ask for similar respect. Common security precautions should be attended. And visitors should be especially mindful if they decide to drink with the locals.
The main road leading into the region comes from Kutaisi through Zugdidi.
Although there is another road leading from Kutaisi, through lower Svaneti Region (town Lentekhi) to village Ushguli – it is in a bad condition (which makes it very long drive) and can be unpassable in winter due to snow. This road is travelled mostly only by adventurous tourists or locals.In our opininion, the most comfortable way to get to Svaneti is to rent your own private car in Tbilisi or Kutaisi and drive all the way to Svaneti, being able to explore all the Valleys and villages of the region at your own pace. We also offer cars accompanied by drivers and private transfers.
Contact us to rent a car, or book private transafer:
Address: 24a Shalva Dadiani st. (near to Freedom Square)
Landline: + (995 32) 230 60 95 (11am-6pm)
24H service: + (995) 557 17 11 44 (24/7)
Viber: + (995) 557 17 11 44
WhatsApp: + (995) 557 17 11 44
Tbilisi > Mestia
- Public Minibuses (Marshrutka) go to Mestia every day from Tbilisi Didube bus station and Railway station front Side. Drive lasts approximately 9-10 hours. Price around 30GEL
- Night Train to Zugdidi (and minibus from Zugdidi to Mestia)
Night train departs from Tbilisi at 21:45 and arrives at Zugdidi at 6 (minibus from Zugdidi to Mestia will depart at 6:30 from the railway station front side, 20GEL)
The price of train is 30GEL and you can buy sleeper tickets at the website: biletebi.ge
- Flight from Natakhtari Airport
Operated by company Serviceair, with air plane LET 410-UVP, there are 4 flights a week from Natakhtari. The price of the flight is 65 GEL.
Tbilisi to Mestia: Mon, Wed, Fri - 9:30 AM, Sun - 1:00 PM
Mestia to Tbilisi: Mon, Fri - 3:30 PM, Wed - 11:30 AM, Sun - 3:00 PM
Price includes free transfer from Tbilisi Metro Station Rustaveli.
Limit of the hold luggage and for carry-on baggage in total is 15kilos /per person
Keep in mind that due to bad weather the flight can be cancelled last minute and during high tourist season you need to book at least a month in advance.
Reservations can be done at guesthouse Peak Mazeri: firstname.lastname@example.org
And travel agency Vanilla Sky in Tbilisi
office: 5 Vazha Pshavela ave. Tbilisi,
T. (+995 32)2 427 427)
Kutaisi > Mestia
- From the city Public Minibuses (Marshrutka) go to Mestia every day from Staion behind McDonalds building. They leave at 9:00 and 10:00. Price is 25GEL. Get there at least half hour early to secure your place.
- From Kutaisi Airport company Georgian Bus has buses departing to Mestia, in summer season. Please check at their stand or website: https://georgianbus.com/
Flight Kutaisi to Mestia: Mon, Fri - 1:30 PM
Mestia to Kutaisi: Mon, Fri - 11:00 AM
Zugdidi > Mestia
Public Minibuses (Marshrutka) go to Mestia every day from Zugdidi train station.
Starting from 6:30, after train from Tbilisi arrives, till noon. The last one usually departs at 14:00.
Drive is 3-4 hours long and the price is 20 GEL.
Getting Around in Svaneti:
The only public transport in Upper Svaneti Region, is Minibus driving along Engury Valley (Mestia-Ushguli). This road is also the most travelled by tourists, so it should not be a problem to hitch a ride or find a shared car.
To get to other villages it’s probably easiest to hire a taxi (or your own private car from Kutaisi or Tbilisi)
Anyway, if you don’t have your own vehicle all transportation can be arranged through your guesthouse or at the center of Mestia where Minibuses and drivers gather. Also check out Mestia Tourist Info center.
Approximate prices for a taxi (5-7 passengers) In Upper Svaneti:
Tetnuldi Ski Resort – 60 GEL
Mazeri – 70 GEL
Tviberi – 90 GEL
Latali – 30 GEL
Ushguli – 200 GEL
Total Length: 525km; 10.5 hours without traffic.
And here is the link for directions on Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/jBLp2BaMYtS2 + https://goo.gl/maps/wC3soAXooCz
The Inguri Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Inguri River on the way to Svaneti. Currently it is the world's second highest concrete arch dam with a height of 271.5 meters (891 ft). It is located north of the town Jvari, very near town Zugdidi. It is part of the Inguri hydroelectric power station (HES) which is partially located in Abkhazia, the separatist region of Georgia.
Village Mazeri is a small last village in the Becho villages range near Mestia. The area offers best views of Mt. Ushba from the south side and some beautiful treks to Ushba glacier and waterfalls and over the Guli pass to Mestia.For more information on treks we recommend website: Caucasus Trekking - Svaneti
Mestia is the main town in Upper Svaneti region, at an elevation of 1,500 meters.
It is popular tourist destination with good infrastructure of guesthouses, hotels, bars and cafes, especially crowded in summertime.
While in Mestia do visit:
- Mestia Ethnographic Museum, with beautiful treasures of the region from middle ages: icons, jewelry and traditional instruments
- Svan Towers and Svan house museum, typical traditional Svan tower (always open and free to climb, even to the roof) and hose museum where Russian speaking guide explains how local families lived in the past.
- Mineral water springs - very tasty and healthy (best for hangovers) slightly carbonated mineral waters near Mesta museum
- Challadi Glacier - not far from Mestia, beautiful and easy trek to the Challadi glacier.More info about the trek here: http://www.caucasus-trekking.com/treks/chalaadi
Remote beautiful small village at the foots of Mt.Tetnuldi on the way on a trek Mestia - Ushguli.
For details about the trek please see: http://www.caucasus-trekking.com/treks/mestiaushguli
Near village Kala on the road to Ushguli, in our opinion one of the best churches in the area. Always locked so if you would like to see it from the inside you should find family keeping the key (ask around in the village). The member of family will accompany and unlock the church, instead he will expect a contribution of approximately 40-50 GEL
Ushguli is a community of four villages located at the head of the Enguri gorge. Recognized as the Upper Svaneti UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ushguli is one of the highest continuously inhabited settlements in Europe. Compared to more developed town Mestia, Ushguli has been "saved" by its particularly inaccessible location, which helped preserve the villages' timeless feel.
Ushguli is located at an altitude of 2,100 meters near the foot of Shkhara, one of the highest summits of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. About 70 families (about 200 people) live in the area, enough to support a small school. The area is snow-covered for 6 months of the year, and often the road to Mestia is impassable.
Typical Svaneti defensive towers are found throughout the village. The Ushguli Chapel - LaMaria Church, located on a hilltop near the village dates back to the 12th century.
Do visit Ushguli Museum and trek to Shkhara Glacier (trek details: http://www.caucasus-trekking.com/Treks/shkhara).
To sum up here is the list of top things to do in Svaneti:
- Visit Mestia History and Ethnography Museum
- Learn about famous Georgian Alpinist Mikheil Khergiani and in General the beginning of Georgian Alpinism by visiting Mikheil Khergiani Museum in Mestia
- Visit Typical Svaneti tower house museum in Mestia
- Trek to Chalaadi Glacier
- Visit village Mazeri and trek to Ushba waterfalls
- Visit villages Adishi & Ushguli
- Try to visit local churches (e.g. St. Kvirike church) near village Kala
- Trek to Ushba Glacier
- Enjoy the views of Ushba from Hatsvali range (you can get there by a lift)
- Enjoy views from Tetnuldi by going up the Tetnuldi Ski lift
- Try local dishes especially Kubdari (so far best place is restaurant Laila in center of Mestia)
- Check out more options in this article by Georgia Starts here
For more in depth information about Svaneti, from a traveler's point of view, please check THIS interesting article on website Caucasus-Trekking