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Svaneti Georgia Travel Guide: Our guide includes details on what to do around the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region including Mestia Georgia, Ushguli Georgia, Zugdidi and more. From Georgia’s highest peak to Svaneti trekking routes, Svaneti attractions, the Svaneti towers, natural beauty and one of Georgia’s most important UNESCO sites…
We include an interactive Svaneti map, which you can load on any mobile device to help you navigate the region. To make your life even easier, we’ll let you know our top pick for a Svaneti tour – with everything organised for you.
Explore things to do in Svaneti and the neighbouring region of Samegrelo without a detailed Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti travel guide.
Svaneti Georgia Travel Guide – Table of Contents
Kutaisi & Imereti Travel Guide (Opens In New Tab)
We explored Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region on a guided, small group tour with Jayway Travel. Their expert guide and professional driver helped us have a fun and safe trip exploring some of the more remote parts of Georgia.
A Brief Introduction to Svaneti Georgia & Visiting Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti
Svaneti Georgia, the historic home of the Svans people, is a mountainous region of north-west Georgia. Most human settlement is situated along the Enguri river valley, which is fed from mount Shkhara, Georgia’s highest mountain (5,193M). The river flows down towards the flatlands of the Samegrelo region, and eventually to the Black Sea.
The Caucasus mountains to the north form a natural border between Georgia and Russia.
The remoteness of Svaneti has kept them protected from invaders in the past. For example, the Mongolians invaded central Tbilisi but left Svaneti alone. Today, with only one main road leading from Kutaisi, and hence the capital, Tbilisi, this also means that tourism is not out of control… yet.
For tourists, you’ll find the nature of Svaneti Georgia nature is well preserved with some quieter hiking trails, as well as the most popular Mestia to Ushguli route. Historic towers, snow capped mountain views, glaciers and the UNESCO site of Upper Svaneti, are star attractions for the summer season. In winter, the small but very affordable ski resorts of Hatsvali and Tetnuldi.
We chose to visit Svaneti Georgia with a local guide and driver as part of a bespoke tour organised by #JayWayTravel.
Attractions & History In Svaneti Georgia
Ushguli Georgia – UNESCO villages of Upper Svaneti
Ushguli Georgia is a group of 4 villages along the Patara Enguri River, which flows down from Mount Shkhara – Georgia’s highest peak. The villages include Zhibiani (2,100m above sea level), Chvibiani, Chazhashi, and Murqmeli. Ushguli Georgia is often cited as the highest always-inhabited settlement in Europe, though the claim seems to be contended by a few other places and the exact altitude seems to be quoted differently depending on which source you read…
The historic stone towers of Upper Svaneti, as well as the villages and the landscape, are bound together as the UNESCO listing Upper Svaneti.
Reaching Ushguli is only possible by road from Mestia and involves a bumpy, 2 hour 4×4 journey. Though, given the popularity of Ushguli, it seems possible the road will be improved soon. But locals are still trying to find the balance between preserving the landscape and bringing money to this remote community.
More on Ushguli attractions coming below.
Mestia Georgia (Town)
Mestia is the largest settlement in Svaneti Georgia and the main base for most visitors to explore the rest of the area. Surrounded by mountains on every side and dotted with historic stone Svaneti towers. In Mestia you’ll find a selection of accommodation and dining as well as some attractions, see below.
What To Do In Mestia: Ethnographic Museum
Discover Svaneti’s ancient history through to today with a well preserved and presented collection of over 3,000 objects. From bronze age artifacts to handwritten religious books and items brought by visitors to the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region over the centuries from Persia, Syria, Venice and more. An essential place to visit on any Svaneti Tour.
Ushguli Georgia: Lamaria Church & Monastery
With the backdrop of Mount Shkhara, The 12th century Lamaria church stands, weathered by almost 900 snow covered winters, at the top end of Ushguli Georgia. Inside you’ll find ancient elaborate, yet faded, frescoes from floor to ceiling.
Mestia Georgia: Zuruldi & Hatsvali Chairlift
The 2 chairlifts running from Mestia Georgia to the top of Mount Zuruldi, operate all year round – though may close if there are high winds. A trip on the chair will reward you with panoramic views of Mestia and the snowy peaks of Mount Ushba to the north (pictured).
Once at the top, options to hike along the ridge, enjoy coffee, beer, and lunch at the Zuruldi mountain restaurant, and also see views of the Enguri Valley and mountains to the south.
Views of Upper Ushguli Georgia & Mount Shkhara
A small hill that lies between upper Ushguli (Zhibiani / Chvibiani) and lower Ushguli (Chazhashi / Murqmeli) is the perfect vantage point for photos north towards mount Shkhara, as well as south down the valley towards Murqmeli and the highest density of Svaneti towers in Ushguli.
Find the exact location of the viewpoint on our Svaneti Georgia map below.
Svaneti Towers & The Love Tower
Hundreds of defensive tower-homes litter the mountains and valleys of Svaneti Georgia. Although these defensive structures can be found in a similar style across the Caucasus, Svaneti seems to have more well preserved towers all in one area, than anyone else.
One of the most famous Svaneti towers is the Love Tower. It stands alone on the banks of the Enguri River, just east of the town of Bogreshi, halfway between Mestia and Ushguli Georgia. There are many legends associated with the love tower. One suggests that a local girl fell in love with a noble boy, and they would often meet at this point on the river. Before they could be married, he was called away to war. She awaited his return, staying by the river. And after some years, he had not come back. She would not admit that he had died. So her father built her this tower so she could await his return by the river, within the love tower.
Mestia: Margiani’s House Museum
Though the Svaneti towers are seen as defensive, they were also homes.
Within the lower parts of most towers, a full extended family would live, cook and sleep. During the harsh winter, livestock would also live inside in the pens built around the outside. At Margiani’s House Museum you can explore the interior of a historic Svaneti tower home and learn about what life would have been like in Svaneti in the middle ages.
Attractions in Samegrelo Region
If traveling by road from Tbilisi to Mestia or Kutaisi to Mestia, you will pass through the Samegrelo region – the south-west part of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti. On the way, there are some great Samegrelo attractions to stop off at.
Samegrelo Region: Martvili Canyon
South, beyond the mountains of Svaneti, in the Samegrelo region, you’ll find the picturesque Martvili Canyon. Multi level waterfalls and stunning turquoise water. This site has been developed for tourists, with proper paths and boat rides available through the canyon. That said, the natural beauty remains undamaged and it is a must visit natural site.
With a very short detour off the main road from Kutaisi to Mestia, you’ll find the Enguri dam. This is the second highest concrete arch dam in the world (271.5 metres). Although the Dam’s construction began in 1961, it wasn’t completed until 1987. Then in 1994, after the collapse of the USSR, Canadian hydroelectric experts assessed it to already be in need of serious repairs. Millions of dollars of investment later, and the Enguri Dam, fully functioning, provides a high proportion of electric power for Georgia.
Dadiani Palace / Zugdidi Palace
The Dadiani family were one of the most powerful families in Western Georgia. Some records date back as far as 1046. By the 1280s the family had taken Governance over many of the western states, including Svaneti and Samegrelo, amongst others. Their rule fluctuated over the years, but they mostly had sovereignty until finally giving up the throne in 1868 as the Russian Empire took full control.
The Dadiani palace in Zugdidi first exhibited archaeological pieces in 1840, and the tradition has continued since the palace was converted into a museum in 1921 and today houses some 41,000 artifacts.
Activities / Mountains in Svaneti Georgia
Hiking / Trekking / Skiing
All of the hikes mentioned in this section have approximate routes marked on the Svaneti map at the bottom of this article. Disclaimer: Routes are for information only. Travel at your own risk. Color names for routes below refer only to our own color coding, not colors you will see on the trail.
Ushguli Georgia: Mount Shkhara
Mount Shkhara sits on the border between Russia and Georgia. It’s the highest peak in Georgia at 5,193m. It imposes itself behind upper Ushguli.
Hike to Shkhara glacier from Ushguli Georgia (Purple Route)
- 8KM each way (16km total)
- Ascend around 500 meters on this relatively flat walk along the valley to the base of the glacier
- 4 to 6 hours.
Hike From Mestia To Ushguli (Not marked on map)
- 57Km Hike
- 2 to 4 days
- Hike from Mestia -> Zhabeshi -> Adishi -> Lalkhori -> Ushguli
- This long and very popular hike takes you away from the main road, through the epic countryside of Svaneti Georgia.
Mount Ushba stands 4,170m high, to the north behind the town of Mestia. It’s considered by many climbers to be the most difficult ascent in the Caucasus. For most, a simple hike around its foothills suffice:
Hike Mazeri to Mestia – Guli Pass (Yellow Route)
- 23Km one way hike
- Take a taxi from Mestia to Mazeri and then hike back through Guli pass
- This is an up and down, hard hike with approx 2000m ascent.
- Great views of Mount Ushba as you traverse from one side to the other
- 8 to 10 hours
Hike To Koruldi Lakes Lakes (Blue Route)
- 16km Roundtrip
- Straight up from Mestia following a well hiked path which is also the final part of the Mazeri to Mestia hike above.
- 1600m ascent.
- 7 Hour Round trip
- Option to hike higher still to Koruldi ridge (additional time needed)
Chalaadi glacier (Red Route)
- 5Km Roundtrip
- An easy and mostly flat hike to the Chalaadi glacier.
- 250m ascent
- 2 hours Roundtrip
- Take a taxi from Mestia about 8km to the base of the Chalaadi glacial valley – where it meets river Mestiachala. Then walk the remaining distance. Either pay the taxi to wait, or plan to walk back (up to 8km extra) and hail or hitchhike someone on the road.
Mestia Georgia: Mount Zuruldi
Hatsvali is the most established ski resort in Svaneti Georgia and includes just a few runs off of mount Zuruldi. The base station of the ski lift is less than 10 minutes walk from the Mestia ethnographic museum. The chairlifts are open year round.
Zuruldi – Ughviri Pass Hike (Magenta Route)
- 13Km One Way Route
- From the top of mount Zuruldi chair lift, hike east along the ridge, down to Tsvirmi village and along to the Ughviri Pass where you’ll meet the main road. Arrive here before 4pm in order to easily get a space in one of the many minibusses running between From Ushguli back.
- Mostly Downhill, moderate level hike
- 3 to 5 hours
Svaneti Georgia: Mount Tetnuldi
Mount Tetnuldi lies to the east of Mestia. It rises to an altitude of 4,858 m. In 2015 a new ski resort opened.
Food & Entertainment
Eat Traditional Svanetian Cuisine
Isolated in the mountains, Svanetian cuisine traditionally focuses on foods that would grow during short summers, as well as on livestock based foods: Meat & Dairy. Arguably, their most famous dish (Or at least the most tasty, in my opinion) is the kubdari. A bread stuffed with spicy beef, mixed with the famous Svanetian Salt, a special mix of salt and spices.
Read our full article to learn more about Svanetian Cuisine.
Traditional Georgian Polyphonic Singing & Music
One of the most essential cultural experience in Georgia is to hear the polyphonic singing. Traditionally, all male groups sing unaccompanied, though there are plenty of variations which include backing by local folk instruments, such as the chonguri and panduri – types of lute.
You can enjoy Traditional Georgian Polyphonic Singing and Folk Music every night at Laila Restaurant in Mestia.
Eat at the highest restaurant in Svaneti Georgia
I mentioned there was a restaurant at the top of the Hatsvali chairlift on mount Zuruldi. At 2340m, Restaurant Zuruldi is currently the highest restaurant in Svaneti. As well as panoramic views from the terrace, I was surprised that the food is actually pretty good. They could easily have served the lowest quality food and relied on their location to make money, but I’m glad they have maintained decent quality.
Mestia Georgia Cooking Class – Learn To Cook Classic Svanetian Cuisine
One of our most fun food experiences in Svaneti was taking a cooking class at Old House Cafe & Hotel. Here you get to learn about some of the most important cultural foods of the Svaneti region, as well as learn to make them yourself. Most importantly, you get to eat them with a great view of the valley.
Old House Cafe has an extensive menu of traditional Georgian food, a terrace and live music some nights.
The locations of all out restaurant & food suggestions can be found on our Svaneti Georgia Map below.
We were guided around the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region by Jayway Travel. Having a local guide and professional driver gave us the opportunity to learn more about the region than if we’d been traveling solo. Some of the most frustrating parts of an independent trip are removed by having Jayway deal with all the logistics. For example, getting to Ushguli requires a proper 4×4. We saw smaller vehicles stuck in the mud and having to turn back. Our specialised transport was ready and waiting at our hotel, all our accommodation was taken care of, and they even provided a local hiking guide to be a pathfinder for the hiking options around the area.
Nata, our hiking guide, is actually part of the local mountain rescue team. So not only did she grow up in the mountains, but she is one of the best people in the whole to have with you if anything were to go wrong.
Aside from all this, our itinerary was fully planned so we didn’t have to worry about anything. From arrival at the airport to getting you back to Tbilisi, or wherever you choose to depart, they had everything sorted.
Jayway Travel offers personalised tours all over Georgia, from Tbilisi to Kutaisi, to Kakheti (eastern wine region), Svaneti (mountains of the northwest) as well as to Armenia and Azerbaijan. So you can explore the whole region in one trip if you prefer.
Learn more about Jayway Travel.
We do not receive compensation if you book a trip with Jayway Travel. They provided our trip to us, free of charge. Our opinions are our own and we provide the above information without bias.
Svaneti Map For Tourists
Locations of all the attractions listed in this article – And More! Includes Svaneti Trekking/hiking routes.
Thanks for reading our Svaneti Georgia guide!