26th September 2018
WF's Meike has recently returned from walking in the breathtaking scenery of the Svaneti mountains, one of Georgia's least visited regions.
After climbing 600 metres in an hour, the views over the Chkhutnieri Pass (2700m) felt well deserved. On one side was the valley we climbed up from, on the other a huge mountain glacier with a river carving another valley, where we can see a glimpse of our next destination, Adishi village, in the far distance.
The Caucasus is known for its amazing food and I was not disappointed. I simply cannot choose one meal that was better than the rest, they were all delicious! Each table is laid out with multiple dishes for you to share with other diners, such as dill and potato soup, Georgian style ratatouille, Russian salad, chicken in walnut cream sauce, grilled mushroom with cheese and much more. Of course, there was also the famous khachapuri with every meal, a type of flat bread topped with a hard cheese which was similar to halloumi in flavour. What makes Georgian food taste so good is the fresh ingredients used - I am vegetarian, and I was amazed at the variety of vegetarian dishes on display.
Although the least glamourous accommodations along the trip, the guesthouses in the really remote Svaneti mountain villages of Ushguli, Iprari and Adishi were my favourite to stay in. The Georgian people are very welcoming and staying in the guesthouses you have the privilege of enjoying their hospitality. You can expect to enjoy great food and great company in the homestays, sometimes during atmospheric candlelit dinners during power cuts.
One of my most memorable experiences in the Svaneti region has to be visiting the Ethnographic Museum in Ushguli. We were welcomed into a traditional Svaneti home by our guide, who explains it is his ancestral home. The home is laid out with trinkets, old and new, carved by our host and his family. He explains how the carved platform around the room used to house animals in the bottom and people on the top, keeping eachother warm during harsh winters here. There are beautifully carved chairs, reserved for the head of the house, and expertly carved bowls and weapons. He continues to explain that each home had a Svaneti tower built next to it to fend off invaders but most were destroyed when the Soviet's invaded this part of Georgia. Our guides passion for the history of his region and his family’s craftsmanship made visiting his ancestral home an honour to experience.
I particularly enjoyed the horseback river crossing on the way to Adishi village. I was already amazed by the huge glacier we had been walking past, but to then reach the glacier river and cross it by horse was really exciting! I was so nervous as I have never been on a horse (and I’ll admit they terrify me a little bit) but the crossing was so short, I didn’t really have time to be worried. This was my favourite moment as I came over a fear of mine and it felt really adventurous!
I particularly enjoyed the Georgian tradition of the ‘Toast Master’ or Tamada. Wine is a huge part of Georgian culture and the toast master is a symbol of its importance. When family and friends gather in Georgia, there is often a big feast with plenty of wine - it is tradition that the toast master makes multiple toasts throughout the feast, maybe starting with a toast to family, then to Georgia, a toast to God and so on. An ancient statue (dating to the 7th century BC) was found in the city of Vani, Georgia depicting a tamada - you can see a replica sculpture in Tbilisi which is seventeen times bigger. From my experience of Georgian feasts on my trip, the tradition is still going strong! Therefore, I needed my own mini version of the toast master horn cup.
My only regret, not buying a bottle of chocolate cognac, created by our host family in Iprari. I am not a big fan of cognac but it was delicious! Amongst other homemade drinks I was treated to include, Chacha (Georgian moonshine), Amber wine and blueberry wine! I wish I had enough room in my suitcase to pack bottles of all the Georgian homemade liquor!
Bring plenty of layers as the mountain weather can quickly change from sunny and warm to windy and rainy. Although we were very lucky and only experienced a stormy day on the day we drove to Ushguli. We were treated to fantastic blue skies during our walks through the lush green mountains, cricket filled meadows, quiet villages and rushing glacial streams.