Leaning forward, holding tightly to the roof beams, we poked our heads out of a 800-year-old stone tower in the country of Georgia. From our vantage point some 25 meters above the ground, we saw scores of other ancient stone towers scattered throughout the village of Mestia, Svaneti’s regional capital.
The gently sloping valley, carpeted with green hay fields, contrasted strikingly with the immensity of the lofty snowy summits that soared around us. We were captivated by this ancient place, feeling that somehow we had stepped back into the Middle Ages. Visiting the famous stone towers of Svaneti had, in fact, been a goal of our trip.
Our journey to the high mountain area of Svaneti began in Zugdidi, Georgia, near the Black Sea. The morning was clear, and from there we could already see the magnificent white peaks. When we reached the Inguri River George, we slowly wound our way through it. This forest area teems with ferns, azaleas, laurels, and masses of rhododendrons with cream-colored blossoms.
By evening, our group had reached the picturesque village of Becho. It is located at the foot of the breathtakingly beautiful Mount Ushba, with its towering twin granite spires. Like moth to a candle flame, mountain climbers are drawn to the sheer icy peaks of Mount Ushba. At 4,710 meters, it is usually referred to as ‘the matterhorn of the Caucasus’.
Tired and hungry from our travels, we stopped a local shepherd, bought a sheep from him, and prepared it for supper. Before long, over a camp fire and with the kind hospitality of our Svan friends, we had a wonderful dinner of Mtsvadi, known to many as Shish Kebabs. It was served with freshly baked Georgian-style lavash, a flat bread prepared in a wood-fired clay oven. To top off the meal, we enjoyed glasses of Saperavi, a rich, dry red wine native to Georgia.
The next morning, our journey took us to Mestia where we arrived at another stone tower. Here, looking out from the top, we concluded that Svaneti is one of the most beautiful mountain regions of the world. Some 45 kilometers from Mestia, nestled still deeper in the mountains, is the village community of Ushguli. Villagers here live at the altitude of up to 2,200 meters. Ushguli has been called “the highest continuously inhabited village in Europe.”