It takes skill and nerve to be a mountaineer. The adrenalin rush from reaching a summit of one of the world’s highest mountains in the Himalayas can only be a dream for ordinary people who are unlikely ever to see this iconic mountain range. However, mountains are there for everyone to enjoy. While the Caucasus may not have peaks to match the Himalayas, it still boasts some highest pinnacles in Europe. While Georgia has some peaks of top difficulty level, the experience of walking in most of its mountains, breathing in the fresh air and wondering at the lovely natural environment needs neither skill nor nerve.
My Country is beautiful; it has been described as mountainous with a coastal plain and our highest mountain, Shkhara close to the border with Russia in the heart of the Greater Caucasus, stands at over 17,000 feet, higher than anything in the Alps.
Georgia is becoming increasingly popular with tourists and that has led to improvements in infrastructure as well as accommodation alternatives. Some mountainous regions remain remote in the months of winter but in general, tourists can access the small mountain villages that often have their own interpretations of Georgian cuisine. The natural hospitality of Georgians makes such visits a wonderful experience.
This region in the northwest near the Russian border is the highest area in Georgia, home to the Svans who live all year round. UNESCO has recognized it because of its historical and cultural value. You may think you are in an open-air, living museum as you wonder at the churches and castles, the traditional stone houses and the villages themselves surrounded by the highest peaks at around 10,000 feet. Some of the defensive structures have been dated back to the 9th Century.
The Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography provides an insight into the story of the region. Recognizing the value of its culture, the Government looks very closely at development ideas to ensure they do not clash with the very things that make the region unique. The accommodation comes in the form of guesthouses and in recent times, two ski resorts have added to Svaneti’s appeal.
Lower Svaneti and Racha-Lechkhumi
There is a pleasant walk that will take you from Ushguli in Upper Svaneti down to the village of Mele in Lower Svaneti. The track itself is dirt but the surrounding landscapes more than compensate. You will cross the Zagar Pass and there are some abandoned settlements in the Koruldashi Valley. The trek is just over 20 miles and includes an ascent of over 600 feet on the first of the two days. You can camp overnight or book the guesthouse in Tsana Village.
You should be able to get a bus for the onward trip to Racha-Lechkhumi. You will certainly not be bothered by crowds here so you can enjoy the natural surroundings of forest and mountain in relative peace. The region is sparsely populated with Racha’s Capital, Ambrolauri only having a population of 2,500. Racha Province is home to the largest river in Western Georgia, the Rioni.
Its nickname ‘’Little Switzerland’’ is well-earned and all visitors should ensure they visit Shaori Lake, Georgia’s largest, especially in spring or autumn, before they head off to another part of Georgia.
Guria’s western border is the Black Sea and it is home to a little over 100,000 inhabitants. Its name translates into ‘’the land of the restless’’ which may date back as far as the 8th Century, a period when there was regular conflict between rulers. Guria has a Black Sea resort famous for its mineral water and magnetic sand but it is also home to two mountain resorts, Bakhmaro and Gomis Mta. Both are located at over 6,500 feet thereby offering lovely walks for many months of the year.
Neither resort gets crowded, so it is an opportunity to enjoy comfort without crowds.
This historical-ethnographic region in the eastern part of the country covers the small The river valleys of Khevsureti including Shatili, Arkhoti, and Migmakhevi are a joy but the practicality of daily living has meant that the population is dwindling. There are buildings from a former time, defensive structures and traditional stone buildings but there are also villages that have now been virtually abandoned.
Khevsureti lies on the Russian border, east of the disputed territory of South Ossetia. There are some large villages but the total population of Khevsureti is now little more than 3,000. It will be interesting to see in the years to come as the region gets more popular with tourists whether depopulation is arrested as job opportunities emerge.
Even so, the popularity of the region for hikers is increasing with plenty to see and enjoy, natural and manmade, castle towers, tombs, and several different ritual places. Khevsureti is famed for its colorful knitting products and traditional folk music and song.
Mutso is an interesting village with about 30 medieval fortifications as well as the Mutso-Ardoti Gorge. Close to Roshka at an altitude of around 9,000 feet are the three colorful Abudelauri Lakes, green, white and blue.
Heavy snowfalls make this region inaccessible at times in the winter because the roads close, but once the snow has gone, it is a wonderful place to visit.
Tusheti has yet to attract the numbers of tourists that its beauty deserves but those who head that way will get a real adrenalin rush because they will travel on one of the most thrilling roads anywhere. It is not for the faint-hearted. A 4×4 is essential to undertake this trip which includes sheer drops as well as the chance of falling rock. You ought not to drive it yourself but get someone with plenty of experience of driving the road before. They will know how to manage the narrow road where there is the possibility of meeting a vehicle coming the other way.
As a remote and under-developed region, it appeals to those wanting to experience a truly natural environment. The route goes through the Abano Pass which reaches a height above 9,000 feet which is closed while the snows are around, so it sometimes does not open until May and closes as November approaches. In winter, even the local Tushs head down to lowland villages having grazed their livestock, cattle and sheep, during the summer months.
The10 villages in the National Park include Omalo which is a popular base for hikers. The cuisine in Tusheti differs in several ways from typical Georgian cuisine and dishes to try including Khinkali, Khavitsi, a cottage cheese-based dish and the region’s version of Khachapuri.
This Range is just north of Tbilisi. Its highest mountain takes the name of the Range and is just over 4,500 feet high. It is actually located in a region with a humid subtropical climate with deciduous rather than the alpine forest. This is not a huge area, but it is worth a visit for those based in Tbilisi and with limited time.
Also known just as Gombori, this Range stretches for around 70 miles in Kakheti Province with the highest peak just below 6,500 feet. It separates the Alazani and Iori River Valleys and as a result, Kakheti is two distinct regions. The slopes are covered with pine forest and there is the Mariamivari Strict Nature Reserve on the southern side.
Head around 75 miles southwest of Tbilisi and you will reach the Abul-Samsari Range. It is a volcanic region with peaks rising above two plateaus, the Javakheti and Tsalka . Just 25 miles long, it runs from the Ktsia to the Paravani River Gorges in a north-south direction. The highest peak is Didi Abuli at almost 11,000 feet with several other impressive peaks including Samsuri at a similar height, and with an impressive caldera, and Shavnabada at over 9,500 feet.
You will be able to enjoy alpine-like meadows and grasslands and several small lakes with forest restricted to the lower levels.
Another volcanic range that spreads into Northern Armenia, this Range is not extensive, only 30 miles long running between Trialeti and Bazum. It is another one with peaks above 10,000 feet including Leyli, Achkasar and Yemlikli. It has a nickname’’ the wet mountains’’ because of the volume of rain that falls each year. Once again there are a number of small lakes together with meadow and grassland.
The Meskheti Range in southwest Georgia is around 100 miles long with the highest peak, Mount Mepistskharo almost 9,000 feet high. Within the range, there is an area that was recorded as the wettest within the whole of the USSR. The average is 180 inches per year. This is a region of deciduous forest, including oak, beech, maple and chestnut, at the lower levels and conifers above 4,000 feet. Higher again, you will find alpine meadow and grassland.