Georgia is one of the most diversified countries in the world. We had to see some towns often in a slightly significant state of disrepair if you leave the city center – and of course, the Great Caucasus with its traditional villages and its challenging hikes.
After Turkey, when arriving in Georgia, you immediately state the big difference. The equivalent to the Turk’s tea are the Georgian’s beer’n’wine. And all these roadside and al fresco restaurants.
Kutaisi our 1st stop in Georgia. The 2nd largest town. The city roads currently undergoing a major improvement from Soviet style never maintained Lada Niva tracks to this kind of roads you need when you go with your fully electronic SUV to the shopping mall. Consequently the CBD is currently hardly reachable without 4×4 in low range. Nevertheless, a spotless city center.
The town is famous for its market …
… and the Bagrati cathedral.
Nearby the famous village of Gelati. If reading this name kindly refrain from imagining Stracciatella, Blue Lagoon, American Bubble Gum or any other super delicious ice-cream flavours. Forget it all – Gelati simply is the place of a beautiful Georgian monastery.
Then on to the next: the nearby Motsameta Monastery.
The next day ready for the trip to the Great Caucasus: Mestia in Svaneti. A last brush to Prado and off we were.
Mestia, 250 km or 5 h into the mountains.
Arriving there we stated that it was not really the romantic village deep in the Caucasus as described in some guidebooks. It rather looks like a French style mountain resort being under construction. Whether adapted or not every 2nd house has a signboard indicating its conversion into a guest house.
And all Mestia was really full of tourists. We searched quite a while for an accommodation. Finally, we stayed at the Daeli. Definitely not the preferred place, but the vacancies were crucial. In addition to tourists the village is famous for its tower-houses …
… and of course for the famous Mestia Café and Bar – the ultimate place for Martin’s sundowner.
Next day the hike to the Chaladi Glacier. After a Jeep track the hike started with an incredibly dangerous suspension bridge, continued thru dense forest and some time later nice balancing exercises on loose boulders to the edge of the glacier.
When driving up the Jeep track to the suspension bridge the hike takes about 4h only. Those walking the whole way from Mestia better get up pretty early in the morning.
Another day, another hike. Up to the Koruldi Lakes – some 1200m above Mestia village. Prado insisted to drive up at least part of the adventurous Jeep track going up to the lakes. Definitely something for the more adventurous character. Well it took more than 1 hour for the 5 km we drove uphill. And we were well aware of the fact that we had to drive down the same way later.
We left the car …
… and hiked for 2h to the Koruldi Lakes. 1st an even then a steep path. No other guys in sight even if it must be 1 of the best views in the whole Caucasus.
Nevertheless, after having taken some pics the situation dramatically changed. Hordes of exhausted hikers arrived. As they had no Prado to drive them up they looked slightly tired.
Please click on the arrow 2c the Panorama
Then we had to drive back to Mestia. The road definitely didn’t improve in the meantime. But it was one of the tracks with the most awesome view – nevertheless with a huge potential for improvement.
A few excerpts.
We drove further up into Upper Svaneti. Some 50km on a dirt track to the hamlet of Ushguli. 250 habitants spread over 4 medieval-type villages with tower-houses. All an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Again we thought not to see too many tourists. On the road we learned something different: a queue of 4×4 minibuses, SUV and other cars all heading to Ushguli in the thick dust of the road.
Consequently some parking problems in Ushguli CBD and during daytime quite crowded streets in the villages.
We went to Riho GH. Nice place with good food run by a family speaking simultaneously 5 to 6 languages – at least some few words of each one. Communication works easily – in the way of Grüss dich deux beer paschalusta.
By 4pm the cobble stoned streets in the villages emptied, the day guest were sandwiched into their cars on the way back to Mestia. Time for us to discover the place.
We could even discover some fading signs of the former Soviet period on a balcony.
In the evening we were honoured by an authentic real fat Svaneti dinner.
Another glacier: Shkhara below the homonymous mountain – at 5200 m the highest one in Georgia. The way some 8 km along a Jeep track, thru torrential rivers and thru thick flowering flower jungle higher than you are.
After some 3h hiking a viewpoint to see the glacier …
… then some more balancing over loose boulders and there we were.
26th July, Vardzia
On the way back from Shkhara glacier we met Eli’n’Sophie a couple from Israel also planning to leave the Svaneti mountains by the backdoor Jeep track leading to Lentekhi. The road was described by everybody as rather bumpy, stony, watery or simply challenging. Whatever, no need to believe all these stories. Nevertheless, there may be some truth. We decided to drive together with our 2 cars the 75 terrible km to Lentekhi.
True the road was not perfect. Single lane, sometimes bumpy, sometimes little rivers to cross and most of the time reassuring to drive with 2 cars. Just in case someone would run out of fuel.
We crossed a mountain pass at an altitude of 2600m; even went up a little higher to discover an army post probably watching the Russians at the border only 1 km away – but at an altitude of 5000m. As the guy’s reaction was not that liberal towards their career as photo models, we limited ourselves to digitize the view.
Back in the valley we found a poor Lada Niva’s tyre (year 1968) in desperate need of some compressed air.
By the late afternoon we made it. Happy to have arrived in Lentekhi we drove on to Kutaisi. Anyway, the road was not half as bad as described by some guys in Ushguly.
We went to the Gelati GH. Inside much nicer than outside. Happy that 1 room was left. After that – of course a beer in town.
The next morning we drove further south to Vardzia. We took the dirt track over the Lesser Caucasus thru the Borjom-Kharagauli National Park. We passed the spa resort of Sairme. And then on a rather poor dirt track over a pass of 2200m to Abastumani.
Finally along the Kura valley to reach the village of Vardzia in the evening ….
… just in time for the sundowner at the beautiful Valodia’s GH.
Vardzia is famous for its 12th century cave city which was a spiritual bastion in Georgia. Enough reason to visit.
Before entering the Church of the Assumption the authority had to be called to open the door. Your clothing will be checked according to their regulation and you’re in.
In the evening the next cave city a few km away.
Less touristy, less developed for high heels, definitely more challenging and somehow also more interesting.
More about the same and new adventures in the next post.