Top mountain regions to explore in Georgia
The main treasure of Georgia, apart from the Black Sea coast, are the gigantic mountains of the Caucasus dotted with remote, ancient villages. With the dawn of the summer season upon us, one may come across thousands of foreign visitors with backpacks heading to the country’s most distinguished and legendary highland areas. The snow covered peaks reaching through the clouds and overlooking green valleys will simply take your breath away and memories of fairytale sensations will follow you whole your life.
When talking about Georgia’s mountainous regions, the first place that comes to mind is Svaneti. Aaron Huey, a famous National Geographic photographer coined it ‘Paradise Found’ (saying it as if he found Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’). “I meant that it was so cut off from the rest of the world, that it was lost to travelers, to the masses of people looking for places to ski and hike and photograph. For me it was Paradise FOUND. I fell in love with it”, – the renowned photographer said about Svaneti.
Ilia Chavchavadze, the great Georgian writer, used to tell his contemporaries: “If you love Georgia at all, you should visit Svaneti by all means”.
The so-called ‘land of 1,000 towers’ is home to the highest inhabited place in Europe – the village of Ushguli, 2,800 meters above sea level. Ushguli is actually a commune that consists of 4 villages. The Svaneti region is located in north-west Georgia. The region consists of Upper Svaneti (Zemo Svaneti) and Lower Svaneti (Kvemo Svaneti), with the main towns being Mestia and Lentehkhi. The main river following through upper Svaneti is the Enguri and in lower Svaneti it’s the Tskhenistskali. Most of the towers of Svaneti, which are around 20-25 meters high, date back to the 12th Century AD. However, the oldest is from the 1st Century BC.
The area is equally compelling to tourists seeking peaceful relaxation, extreme sports and mountain climbers. Those who come to Svaneti for the first time are deeply impressed by the sight of the astonishing snow-capped peaks of Ushba (4695 m), Shkhara (5201), Tetnuldi (4851), Shkhelda (4369), Ayalama (4544) and Shota Rustaveli (4960).
While the municipal center of Svaneti, Mestia, is relatively developed and equipped with modern infrastructure, the neighboring villages still retain their medieval atmosphere. Thousand-year-old towers, dwellings, churches and monuments are scattered throughout the area offering its visitors endless opportunities to experience Svaneti through its cultural heritage. The road trip to Svaneti from Tbilisi takes around 10 hours by minibus (Marshrutka) and costs around 30 GEL. Although, you can get there by helicopter (around 70 GEL per person) or hire a Mitsubishi Delica 4X4 (around 250 GEL).
Khevsuerti is yet another historic and captivating highland area located on the other side of the country, in north-east Georgia. The province is split into two unequal parts by the Greater Caucasus Mountain range, Pirikita Khevsureti and Piraketa Khevsureti.
Shatili is the main historic settlement in Kevsureti and it dates back to 7th century. In fact, the town is built on top of a rock that includes a complex of towers and interconnected bridges and terraces creating a fairytale image similar to scenes from The Lord of the Rings. The village borders Chechnya and over the course of its existence there was a constant threat of invasion and many battles took place near the town. For this very reason the town is fortified like a medieval fortress and for centuries it served as the most important defensive position for the whole of the region.
The town of Shatili incorporates around 60 towers and stands over the Argun River and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourists who seek a unique experience can stay in one of the towers or in a local guesthouse to experience the medieval atmosphere. For adventurers and hiking enthusiasts another opportunity is to set up a tent in the lap of nature. This mountainous region of Georgia is famous for its ancient culture, traditions, brave people and historic sites. Besides, it is considered that Khevsureti is the birthplace of beloved Georgian staple Khinkali (juicy meat dumpling). So there are plenty of reasons why this remote area is worth visiting when travelling to Georgia.
Another must see place is Mutso, a medieval settlement built on a sharp rocky mountain, located on the right bank of the Ardoti River. The settlement includes a fortified complex consisting of over 30 medieval dwellings arranged on vertical terraces above the Mutso-Ardoti Gorge. The village was deserted and now only the remains of the houses and towers are left standing. Khevsureti is considered as one of the most inaccessible parts of Georgia. The best time to visit Khevsureti is in the summer, since the roads are blocked in winter due to the heavy snowfall. One can get there by car, Mitsubishi Delica 4X4 or a minibus (Marshrutka) in around 5-6 hours from Tbilisi. Buses leave from Didube Station and Navtlughi Station in Tbilisi
Tusheti, the green emerald of Georgia, should definitely be on your travel itinerary. Even though Tusheti has many similarities to the other mountainous regions listed above, each have their own culture, customs and landscape that offers a unique view into the history of Georgia.
Tusheti is nestled between green valleys and located on the northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains and is bordered by Chechnya and Dagestan to the north and east and Georgia’s Kakheti region and Pshav-Khevsureti to the south and west.
Tusheti, like Svaneti and Khevsureti, boasts a unique landscape, breathtaking views, heavenly peaks, hospitable people and centuries-old defensive towers. Omalo is the administrative center of the province and its located 1,880 meters above sea level. The town is relatively modern and has a number of guesthouses. It’s worth mentioning that the road leading to Tusheti was included on a list of the most dangerous roads in the world by the BBC and therefore you need a serious 4X4 vehicle, such as a Mitsubishi Delica, to get there. Hiring such a vehicle costs around 250 GEL. The journey from Tbilisi to Omalo takes about 6 or 7 hours. The village is famous for the ancient defensive towers located on the peak of a mountain nearby. It’s possible to hike up this mountain in a few minutes and once you’re there you can be sure that you’ll be greeted with great warmth and hospitality.
Apart from Omalo, consider visiting the village of Shenako. The village is overlooked by Mount Diklo and includes beautiful old buildings with wooden carvings and balconies, reflecting Georgian folk architecture and culture. Also the village is renowned for the old church of the Holy Trinity dating back to the 19th century. One can hire horses from the locals and go on a horseback riding tour and explore the surrounding area. Adventurers can take a short trip or a longer one and travel around other neighboring villages. In order not to get lost, it’s better to ask the horse owners to accompany you. Similar to the other mountain peoples of Georgia, the people of Tushesti still practice the old customs and traditions that make this region so famous.