Svaneti is the most beautiful place of Georgia. Maybe in the world! You have to go there, even if it will take you a day to get there. You won’t regret it.
This was what our Georgian friend, named Dato, told us about Svaneti.
But how do we get there?
Our original plan was to take a domestic flight from the nation’s capital city Tbilisi to Mestia: “capital” of the mountainous, pristine region called Svaneti. Unfortunately for us, the flights were sold out.
So were we going to take a train and bus instead? When you look at the map of Georgia, Tbilisi and Mestia seem quite near to each other. If you draw a straight line between these two places it would cross about 200 km. But of course the reality of the spectacular Georgian landscape combined with minimal infrastructure, does not allow to follow this optimal line.
We found out it would actually take us at least 8 hours to get there. Dato, our Georgian friend, said that the direct bus ride was not a pleasant option, so we decided to take a night train to Zugdidi, taking 9 hours (of sleep), followed by a 3-hour mashrutka bus ride into the mountains. Dato also gave us information about and old Georgian lady’s guesthouse where we could stay. I was already getting excited about taking an old Soviet train with a private coupe, getting a good night’s rest, and exploring Svaneti!
Taking a Soviet train
The train seemed to be quite nice, particularly our private coupe with couches convertible to a bed. Before going to bed we shared a delicious Georgian red wine with a German hiker who had been hiking in Georgia before and returned to write a hikers guidebook, as she couldn’t find any in Germany. An hour later we converted our benches to a bed and closed our eyes.
As the train was moving slowly and I was trying to fall asleep, I constantly heard a loud banging of metal parts. It was this train’s nature, but made it quite impossible for a light sleeper like me to actually sleep. What didn’t help was that the sounds were quite random. It felt as if I was inside a bag of popcorn in a microwave due to the the random bangs, and it was pretty damn hot too. I tried earplugs but the sounds blasted right through them. I jealously looked at my girlfriend next to me, who was sleeping peacefully. She sleeps so easily, everywhere! What did seem to help a bit for me was listening to some quiet relaxing music on my phone.
Mashrutka bus into the mountains
On arrival in Zugdidi in the west of Georgia, I felt completely broken. The grey and rainy weather didn’t help to lift my energy either. I also had to carry my heavy bagpack, which seemed to have doubled in weight after my sleepless night. From the station we were guided into one of the old soviet mashrutka buses by the Georgian drivers. The old lady of our guesthouse turned out to be in one of those buses too and we joined that one. I still had some excitement deep inside of me and was looking forward to Svaneti, but there had been times that I felt better.
I could actually sleep a bit in the bus and when I opened my eyes after about an hour or driving, I could see a landscape growing in relief, rawness, and beauty: pure awesomeness! When we were passing steep mountain cliffs, the driver would slow down, look up for rocks rolling down, and if the coast was clear, he would pass. This was different from the countries like France where you have safety nets installed against the danger of rockfall. On a stop we filled our bottles with crystal clear water streaming down the mountains and got some Georgian khachapuri for breakfast.
Arrival in the Svanetian village Mazeri
Another bus picked us up to take us over muddy gravel roads to the center of a small town. We reached our guesthouse located in a beautiful valley, surrounded by white mountain peaks. It looked like time had stood still here for hundreds of years.
A river flowing through the town provided the taps of water, and there were wood stoves to warm the house, prepare food, and heat water on top of it. One element was distracting and a bit out-of-place here: a television. It seemed to be turned on always and whenever the family wasn’t “working”, they were watching a Bollywood series. Nonetheless, our guesthouse lady took good care of us by feeding us 3 meals a day and always insisting that we eat more.
Hiking in Svaneti around Mazeri
We did several awesome hikes in the area, up the mountains, walking through snow, and observing the stunning surroundings. We could clearly see some of the highest Caucasian mountain ranges covered in snow.
Up a mountain we ran into a friendly young Georgian with his horse. He helped Katrina cross a river on his horse, and he also let me ride on it. Well ride… Just sit and walk around a bit. I can’t really ride a horse. We also saw ruins of old Svanetian settlements and some kind of hikers’ base camp with flaunting Svanetian flags.
It was worth it!
All in all, our time in Svaneti was absolutely worth the long way to get there. We agree with our Georgian friend’s bold statement: Svaneti is one of the most beautiful places on earth!