Mestia was beautifully cool at night, and the next morning after breakfast we hired a jeep to take us up one of the mountains.
There are plenty of great hikes in and around Mestia, but once again we decided that we’d be happy to catch a ride anywhere that a car could go. Our destination was the lakes, high up on a plateau above the town. It took the jeep at least 45 minutes to get up there , including time taken for the engine to cool down a few times before continuing. Our driver only spoke Georgian and Russian so conversation was muted, but the day was magnificent and as we drove higher and higher we began to have great views of all the mountains. We passed some hikers along the way, who had no option but to be walking on the dirt road.
When we reached the “Lakes” – more correctly, a few pools of water, there were a few other jeeps around and some scattered groups of hikers. When we asked which way could we go hiking, the quick answer was “anywhere you like”. So we headed uphill (the only direction) following another group. After a while, the girls had enough and I continued with the boys. We joined a group of Italian students – their team leader was on his fifth trip to Svaneti and seemed very confident in the mountains but really it was impossible to get lost. He thought that we were at about 3000m and the mountains seemed just went higher and higher. On one side was a path leading to a crest high above with a cross (the 2nd cross apparently – we had passed by one already) and some intrepid hikers, small as ants, were making their way up there. We decided to head across the ridge face to what seemed to be a gap in the rocks. As we walked, the ground turned to scree and it became increasingly difficult. The boys were struggling and eventually we decided to turn around, not before the boys had a chance to slide and play in a large snowpatch. Making our way back down the mountain we saw the lakes below, small at first, and then as we neared them we noticed horses and cattle having a bath in the lakes.
After a snack it was back in the jeep down the hill – a really beautiful day in these incredible mountains.
That afternoon I went to explore the town further with the kids. We found the museum, somewhere in the backstreets, where a woman approached us with a key and asked (in Georgian ) if we wanted to see the museum which we did. She opened the lock and we entered into an ancient house, listened to her explanation (of which we understood nothing – all in Georgian) and sat in the great chair and took some photos. This was a fascinating place – the animals used to sleep at floor level, and the people slept just above them. Consulting my guidebook, I read that the house dated back around 1000 years and that everything inside – the furniture, the sleeping areas, everything was original.
We also climbed a tower – these are the symbol of Svaneti and are found in every village – in fact, every household had its own tower attached to the house, so that in times of trouble they could escape into their own personal fortress. The towers are steep and have 5-6 levels, each accessible only by a ladder, and they are made of stone. They must have been quite impregnable for many years, but would be useless really against modern weapons.
Carrying on with our explorations, we walked across the river to what was clearly the newest building in town – and found a brand new hotel, not mentioned in any guidebook. We asked about availability, were told that it was full, were shown a room anyway, and had something to drink in the lounge.The Hotel Tetnuldi is really very nice and modern and is the only really modern hotel in town (we also found another hotel in the central square but we were not impressed). There was a large group of Georgians singing on the balcony of the Tetnuldi – this is something Georgians do, and it is beautiful. We were also impressed by the good english skills of the person at the front desk.
PS: These days I help plan great family trips!