Trip to Svaneti or How we stayed in a hotel for free. Part I

Mestia, Svaneti capital city

One early and bright summer morning in Tbilisi I woke up after a good night’s sleep and decided to visit the mountainous Svaneti region, which I heard was stunningly picturesque. Went to the Vagzali bus station where the intercity marshrutkas are waiting for travellers and at 7 o’clock me and my boyfried were already setting off to an adventure.

It is no short trip as we were crossing all country from one end to another – there are no shortcuts and it is a ~463 km ride to reach the Svaneti’s capital Mestia. We didn’t bring enough food for spending 9 hours in a marshrutka so it was very convenient the driver stopped a few times for refreshments and to stretch our legs. Once we reached the Svaneti region we could easily see we there already there. Green beautiful mountains with snow at the top surrounded us, as we were riding the serpentines admiring the emerald mountain river running alongside the road. It is a pity it’s difficult to take good quality pictures through a car window as I cannot share the amazing views with you now.

Traveling to Mestia
Traveling to Mestia
Beehives on the way to Mestia
There are many beehives along the way. If a driver decides to stop at one of the selling points, it would be a big loss not to buy some freshly collected honey, it tastes amazing! And is quite cheap too.

Finally, we reached Mestia and I was kind of disappointed. The surroundings are still beautiful there, of course, but the town itself is too shiny, perfect location for a tourist but not a traveller.


I caught a glimpse of a true and authentic Georgian event there, though. A cow walked into a quite new looking building in the middle of the town center. That really lifted my mood as I remembered dozens of anecdotes “cow walks into a bar”. 🙂 Later I noticed that the building has already become a public toilet for cows. I guess using the word “shiny” before was a little bit of an overstate, after all.

Mestia, Svaneti capital

Anyway, we didn’t stay in Mestia for the evening – the plan was to get to Ushguli. So we found a local “taxi”, an old UAZ Tabletka. We paid the driver 20 Lari each, got into the car and straight afterwards a few locals got in too (I guess we covered their trip expenses).

UAZ tabletka

Traveling to Ushguli

Long trip from Tbilisi to Mestia costed only 30 Lari, so I didn’t feel like 20 Lari was an honest price but I changed my mind soon. The road leading through the mountains was in a terrible condition, full of pits, narrow and winding, we even crossed one or two waterfalls. An old tabletka was definitely the right choice as I’m pretty sure a new car would break in those conditions. That is why Ushguli village is isolated from the world for six long winter season months. Which explains pretty high prices in the region too.

Going from Mestia to Ushguli
Going from Mestia to Ushguli. Sorry for the bad quality, took this photo through a window.

However, the price didn’t seem so high after all not because of the road but the surprises included. We stopped twice during the trip in breathtaking locations and had picnics! More of a drinking picnics, to tell the truth. Locals brought a huge bottle of chacha, which is kind of a traditional Georgian vodka and some bread with meat. I knew how much people of that region could drink so I was smart and told them I don’t drink alcohol at all. That is the only chance one gets to stay sober as it is impossible to refuse another drink after the first one is already gone out of the cup. My boyfriend told them he would try one and you can imagine how that ended. 🙂 After I don’t-even-want-to-know how many cups he was wasted and we didn’t get to do much sightseeing later that evening. But hey, we still had a great time and such an unique experience! And most of Georgian homemade chacha and wine is completely natural, without any additional sugar or other additives so we didn’t really experience any hangover during our time in the country.

Ushguli, Svaneti
One of the places we stopped in to have a picnic.

But the experience of Georgian hospitality wasn’t over with the picnics. If you drink with a Georgian, you become immediate friends. And one of the local guys traveling with us was a hotel owner. Can you believe our luck? He brought us to his hotel, gave us a big hug and let us stay there for free as his friends. Can happen only in Georgia, I’m sure of that. So, the price of the trip wasn’t that big, after all. 🙂

Road leading to the hotel we stayed in.

Little did we know then, that the next day would be even more amazing…

Ushguli village
Ushguli village

P.S. If you have more time, you can hike from Mestia to Ushguli or choose some other hiking trail in Svaneti as there are plenty of options. The next time we visit Georgia we’re going there with a full camping equipment and traveling around the whole region.

P.P.S. If you visit Svaneti, you must eat some Kupdari. It’s kind of a meat pie made from chopped meat with special Svanetian salt and wheat flour scones. And if you like the specific taste of Kupdari, buy some Svanetian salt to bring home, it’s a great mix of spices. Well, all of the spices in Georgia are really good, to tell the truth.

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