When I first planned a trip to Georgia back in 2003 (which never happened for various reasons), Svaneti was regarded as a tribal mountain stronghold that was unfriendly to tourists. We couldn’t even consider going there.
But things have changed – Svaneti has been dragged kicking and screaming into the present and is opening up for business!
Svaneti is in my opinion the most special part of Georgia – it is a high mountain refuge from the everyday chaos in the valleys below. Medieval villages, tall defensive stone towers everywhere, non-existent roads, streets full of animals – cows, horses, donkeys, pigs, chickens…and then there are the people – mostly farmers still working with oxen and scythes and still somewhat suspicious when it comes to foreigners – which is only natural when you live in a tiny village surrounded by huge mountains.
Life is slow in Svaneti – cars are few, industry is non-existent and you had better be self-sufficient when the snows come and the mountain passes are blocked. Tourism was big here back in Soviet days, but like everything else in Georgia, time has either stood still or gone backwards these past 20 years.
Still. tourism is coming back and we leapt at the chance to go to Svaneti. There are many guest houses opening up and there has been an effort to improve infrastructure, although travel is still mainly by jeep, horse or foot. In fact, Georgia plans to reopen a Svaneti ski resort, closed for the past 20 years. Svaneti has always been an escape from the tumult in the valleys – it was where treasures were sent when Georgia stood in danger of invasion, as no invader was likely to penetrate the wilderness, and if they did, they would come face to face with some of the toughest people on earth. It was only in 1876 that Imperial Russia finally crushed Svaneti into submission to outside rule.
The village of Ushguli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – it is the highest inhabited place in Europe. This can only mean more tourists wanting to come visit in time. It is still an incredible adventure – you feel as if you have left civilization behind – the mountains are huge and any trace of people is tiny in comparison. This is surely the most natural, almost untouched place I have ever been to.
PS: These days I help plan great trips for families. Click here for more info.