The mutual love for mountains brought together a group of six like-minded old and new friends. All of us hiked through the Khumbu Valley, better known as the Mount Everest Base Camp or Three Passes Trek in the Nepal Himalaya (see blog post from Nov 2017).
New adventure on the agenda: Georgia. Until now a country that was located “somewhere there in the east” and apparently, so we heard, the new place to be, especially the capital Tbilisi.
Our journey started exactly there – the hub for all Georgian small and big activities. We decided to first conquer the Svaneti region and took the train to Zugdidi from where we hired a driver to bring us to Mestia, the main regional centre.
Svaneti, one of the most ancient and historical provinces in Georgia, is located on the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountain range. Surrounded by the gigantic, snow-capped peaks of the high Caucasus, Svaneti is one of the most remarkable and picturesque regions of Georgia. Aside from the stunning natural beauty, the region’s real treasure – so they say – is the population – the Svans. With their own language, related to but distinct from Georgian, their own ancient traditions and crafts, and their immense sense of honor, Svans have always been proudly independent people. Reflecting their pride and independence, many Svans today still live in 25 meter high medieval stone towers, of which thousands survived. These towers, some with foundations dating back a millenium, were used to protect families in time of war, and it is said that some still house ancient treasures, brought up to Svaneti hundreds of years ago to protect them from invaders. Indeed, Svaneti’s museums boast world class collections of icons, religious manuscripts and gold and silver jewellery (I recommend the Historical and Ethnographical museum in Mestia).
We got to know the area by hiking from Mestia 20km to Zhaabeshi followed by a day hike to Adishi and from there to Ipari. Majestic views on the mountain Tetnuldi and on some spectacular glaciers accompanied us together with scenic big and small river crossings. We spent the nights in basic guest houses that are spread around the area and somehow always felt at home due to the fact that you are sitting in the family’s kitchen and living room and thus getting to know the people and culture in every little detail. You will never ever feel hungry, the Svaneti people all cook deliciously and above all in quantities you will never think of eating it all (but in the end you do ;).
The changing bad weather conditions made us travel back to Tbilisi from where we drove to the Kazbegi region in the north. Just a couple of hours’ drive the small town of Kazbegi is the centre of one of the area’s most spectacular, yet easily accessed, high-mountain zones. The sight of Tsminda Sameba Church, silhouetted on its hilltop against the massive snow-covered cone of Mount Kazbek, is Georgia’s most iconic image (given that there is no fog 😉 ). Numerous walking, horse-riding and mountain-bike tours lead along steep-sided valleys and up to glaciers, waterfalls, mountain passes and isolated villages. Our final dream destination: Mount Kazbek on 5.047 m. After renting professional equipment we started our ascend together with our two guides. The Betlemi Hut and base camp on 3.700 m were our home for three days and two ice-cold nights in a tent. We acclimatized with a day hike to a small chapel, had an ice axe training and in general dealt with altitude symptoms such as hysterical laughing we were familiar with from our last high mountain experience in the Himalaya. My damaged knee was mortally offended by our last hikes and I was unfortunately forced to listen to my body and therefor had to cancel the final summit. All the more, I was so proud of my tribe that made it in less than ten hours to the top and back while I gathered the latest camp gossip.
We hiked the same day down to Kazbegi to sleep in normal beds and have a proper shower and meal again. The next day we nursed our tired muscles in the Choukhi pass area, another spectacular nature highlight of this journey.
After soaking up so much mountain energy it was time to indulge in the wonders of Tbilisi’s city life. The capital has come a long way since the Rose Revolution in 2003 ousted the post-Soviet Shevardnadze government. I never felt so much history and so many bizarre and different traces in a city: picturesque century old combined with super modern architecture, a Ferris wheel here, a funicular there, an ever lively arts and cultural scene, welcoming Georgian lifestyle, inviting cafes and restaurants serving ever-better food, up-to-date lodgings from cool backpacker hostels to international stylish five-star hotels, funky bars and clubs, spruced-up museums, galleries, parks, and plazas. The old town is still redolent of an ancient Eurasian crossroads, with its winding lanes, balconied houses, leafy squares and handsome churches, all overlooked by the 17-centuries-old Narikala Fortress. Neighbourhoods not far from the centre still retain their a village-like feel and community atmosphere. Small traders still clog up the pavements around metro stations selling fruit, vegetables, cheese and nuts fresh from the countryside.
Here’s a list of our favorite discoveries:
HOTELS (for every budget):
FABRIKA HOSTEL: https://hostelfabrika.com/
Most probably the most stylish hostel you have ever ever seen… It’s located near the Metro station Marjanishvili, walking distance away from the more touristy Old Town area. If you don’t spend the night there make sure you come for drinks and dinner in the evening, there’s a lot going on behind the building!
THE ROOMS HOTEL: https://roomshotels.com
Interior Design Heaven is all I can say. They run one hotel in Kazbegi and one in the city centre of Tbilisi. A very detailed thought of concept every metropolis actually needs.
BINA N37: An incredibly sympathetic restaurant owner turned wine producer (on his own city terrace!). Amazing traditional Georgian food including Khinkali and Khachapuri. Don’t miss the Cha-Cha drink at the end!
EZO: Beautiful courtyard restaurant located near the old town.
BLACK LION: As if you are having dinner in your own living room. Very cozy, very good.
LOLITAS: belongs to the THE ROOMS family and is just around the corner of the famous hotel serving European cuisine.