Ushguli – Mestia

During the night rain set in and it is really cold and awful outside. Again we are treated to a pleasant breakfast in the restaurant, while the host’s family start preparing supper for a rather big group which is expected for tonight.

Ushguli in the rain

At 10 am Goga returns to take us back to Mestia on an even bumpier road. Originally the further plan of the day was to explore the town and visit a few museums. Sadly it is so cold and uncomfortable outside, that we cuddle up in Bekos Garden Inn’s guestroom and only leave the warmth in late afternoon to visit the Svanetian Museum, where I promptly discover that I forgot my purse in the camper…

On our way out we booked a table at Lushnu Quor Restaurant which turned out to be a brilliant idea of Marianna’s who suggested this restaurant to us. We devour a great Georgian supper in a beautiful atmosphere.

Ushguli

Good morning! After weeks the night was really dark and quiet and we get up for breakfast at 8:00. Here Ulrich admits to being up since 6:30 and having watched the sunrise – I am jealous. There were times when he asked me out for such occasions.

Well, it doesn’t matter. Breakfast is rich and gorgeous and today we are up to something special: at 10 am a guide and 5 horses will wait for us to ride into the valley to the Shkhara glacier. This means cutting a 9 km walk down into 6 km of riding and a walk to the glacier’s entrance.

Watching our girls from behind one could really get the impression, that they actually learned something during their three riding camps years ago. Also my two riding lessons with my sister turn out to have been helpful. At least I know to put my feet near the horse’s belly… But poor Ulrich is shaken badly.

We are lucky though. The horses are very patient and obviously used to incompetent riders, so they mostly walk and surely know perfectly well where they are supposed to go. The only difficulty arises when my right stirrup decides to go. Instead of being fastened with a belt buckle, their length is determined with about 7 knots, the last of which is just going. So no more chance in clinging to the horse but just trying to keep the stirrup from falling off my foot.

Anyway the idea of riding is very good. Walking along the valley would have been rather dull, while this way we have a beautiful experience and still the possibility of a nice walk to the glacier’s gate. Plus during the afternoon the weather deteriorates and we are quite happy to be warmed from below.

Back in the hotel we take a short break. Somehow I fell rather bowlegged and walking is really uncomfortable. Then Lotte and I go to the “cinema”. The daily movie is called “DEDE”, a georgian production in and around Ushguli. We are presented with a predictable Romeo-and-Juliet-story but the pictures of the landscape and the portraits of the actors are photographically very beautiful. Also the film shows many of the old traditions which are still prevalent in the region. DEDE was produced two yeas ago and until today you meet parts of the cast in the village milking cows, chasing pigs and baking Katchapuri.

Visiting the cinema turns out to be a special experience particularly because it is situated in the basement of one of the watchtowers, the seats are made up from three rows of terraced wooden planks made comfortable with a bunch of old sofa cushions, the presentation comes from an old notebook with a projector and the sound squawks from a set of miniature loudspeakers which are completely overstrained. We are shivering with cold and enjoying ourselves perfectly. And just bear in mind: For two years this movie is run five times a day and keeps a family going – now that’s sustainability! And just to tell you: if ever I come back to Ushguli I will go there again and I will make everyone to join me.

When we later return to the hotel it is cold and uncomfortable outside – looks like we enjoyed one of the last warm days of this year. Thank you Ushguli!

Up towards Ushguli

Today we are going up to Ushguli in two steps. Ushguli is supposed to be the highest permanently inhabited village of Georgia/ Europe. Although this honour is shared with the village of Juf in Grisons/ Switzerland.

First we battle our way up to Mestia for about 120 km on a road of rather mixed quality. Here Goga awaits us to take us to Ushguli with his Jeep, while we can leave the camper in his garden. The journey from Mestia to Ushguli is about 50 km. For the first 35 km we agree on probably being able to have done it in the camper, too. But then we hit the last 15 km and have to admit, that within the first 10 m of the last 15 km, the camper would undoubtedly have broken down – so good idea taking a taxi…

Up in Ushguli we are dropped off at the Guesthouse Ushguli Maspindzeli and move into two very pretty rooms with ensuite bathrooms and cozy beds. At the moment there is no electricity available but this seems to be the case all over Ushguli and nobody seems to really care.Before dinner there is time for a little walk around the village. Ushguli is an extremely pretty village. Traditionally every family has their own watchtowe. Originally they were built to defend the village and as a place of refuge if attacked. Since 1996 those towers are part of the UNESCO world heritage and give the village a rather archaic and forbidding appearance.

Besides the tourists there live about 70 families permanently in Ushguli. Mainly they derive their income from tourism but there is also a little bit of livestock and a minimum of dairy farming.

The most particular thing about tourism here is that you are somehow treated like extended family. The hotels seem to be redecorated farms, the hosts long established inhabitants. The milk for breakfast is milked just in front of the house and during the day women from the neighbourhood meet to prepare the vegetables for dinner, while the male host cuts half a shin of beef into cubes for the soup. All this takes place in the restaurant. Hospitality does not take place behind doors but is plainly visible to the guests. Swiss gastronomy hygienists would have a field day.

Swanetia in early autumn

As the schoolcamp for our children has been cancelled at the last moment and the start of Ulrich’s term postponed, we decide to take another few days off and discover a little more of Georgia by travelling to Svanetia with the camper.

Moving back home into the van last night, we leave early today to travel westwards. Happily we take on the suggestions of Katrin and Georgia Insight and develop this schedule:

18.09.2019 journey to Zugdidi, or a little further
19.09.2019 journey to Mestia and taxi to Ushguli
20.09.2019 Ushguli
21.09.2019 Taxi Ushguli – Mestia, overnight stay in Bekos Garden Inn, Mestia
22.09.2019 either going on or starting to return to Tbilisi
23.09.2019 return to Tbilisi

The journey is easy and we reach a point about 40 km behind Zugdidi, where we are already within the main valley of the Svanetian region. We find a beautiful place to stay overnight just beside the road in a parking bay overlooking the most beautiful valley. Three of the omnipresent stray dogs keep us company during the night and only occasionally we can hear a car passing.

Campsite with a view.