Jason and Carla go to Georgia and visitthe remote Svaneti region

Jason and Carla go to Georgia and visit the remote Svaneti region

We recently bought a one-way ticket from Bangkok to Tbilisi, Georgia to attend a short travel blogger conference with the idea that if we liked it so much, we would stay longer. It turned out, we loved Georgia so much that we stayed a month!

Georgia is one of the most affordable European countries, and that makes it easy for everyone to afford a visit. The prices for most things are pretty similar to Thailand prices. It is among the least expensive nations in Europe for travelers. We liked that – since we are used to Thai prices.

Besides touring in the capital city, Tbilisi, where the conference was, we also took day trips and traveled to a few remote Georgian places. We joined a six-day tour of the Svaneti Mountain Range; we were so high up that it felt like we were on top of the world.

The main town there is called Mestia, and it had so much to see, eat and do. Seeing the many Svan towers, named UNESCO World Heritage Sites, was a highlight for us in the snowy mountain wonderland. These iconic stone towers were used for defense in the Middle Ages.

We arrived in the Svaneti Region in the Caucasus Mountains during a snowstorm blizzard. At the closest point to the mountains, rugged-terrain vans met our bus (with chains on the tires ready to break through the snow). This is where we changed our transportation to arrive into Mestia, the key small city of the region.

We soon explored the town after checking into the beautiful Gistola Hotel. This wasn’t easy, since the whole area was under a blanket of snow – more snow than we had ever seen. You couldn’t even see the streets. After Carla took a few falls on the icy/snowy streets, Jason bought her a new pair of mountain boots. She didn’t fall again!

On the first day, we discovered a small bakery, where a local lady makes cream puffs fresh everyday. She said the cream even comes from her own cows. It makes sense, since milk doesn’t need to be delivered four hours up into the barely driveable mountain roads. We went back for cream puffs every day at her bakery, since they were so good! The last day, we bought a box of them to eat and share on the bus.

The salon owner next door even invited us to come back for a night-time birthday party. The family carved a table out of a snow drift, put a table cloth on top, and when someone came with a fresh bottle of alcohol they would pound it into the table to make it ice cold. We were so impressed with these genius ideas for a winter party.

Both of us joined a skiing day to the nearby Hatsvali Ski Resort, one of several popular places to ski around Mestia. Incidentally, skiing is a bargain in Georgia, only around $12 USD per day. We enjoyed relaxing at Zuruldi, the mountaintop lodge bar and restaurant, reachable by gondola lift, before skiing. It’s worth it to take the gondola up just for the food there.

Jason’s warm and fuzzy white sheep hat he bought a a tiny stall at a monastery on a Tbilisi day trip to Mtskheta came in handy throughout our Svenati Region journey. He frolicked in the snow wearing it at Papa’s Qel health spa near the ski resort, an experience we can only dream about now; it felt so good! After getting hot in the sauna, the fun was flopping in the snow for pictures and video before going into the outside hot tub pool in the awesome scenery. We can recommend this amazing Papa’s Qel spa in the forest, specially after skiing, as we did. The Svaneti Region is full of so many amazing attractions.

We joined a guided tour of the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography in Mestia. Seeing all of the exhibits was a valuable experience in learning about the history of Georgia. This spectacular and contemporary looking museum has one of the largest treasures of Georgian history in the country, with Medieval art and precious relics

Visiting Ushguli was an unforgettable day trip from Mestia for those who braved the drive through the rugged mountainous, winding roads. Ushguli is one of the highest continuously occupied settlements in the world. Some of us walked through some of the remote town, a few took snowy walks on the road; others explored the monastery. Walking past a herd of cows to get to Maspendzile Guest House, we all ate a satisfying big homemade meal before departing back to Mestia.

One of our favorite Svaneti day trips was when we got to see a demonstration inside a family home deep in the mountains of how Georgian mountain hats are made, rolled and directly made out of sheep wool. Another day, we participated in a cooking class with a local family in a nearby village, followed by a Supra – what Georgians call a big food feast with toasts. Georgia is famous for its Supras. We were part of many in our touring.

If you are ever invited to a Supra in Georgia, hopefully you know not to eat at all beforehand, so you are good and hungry. And be ready for endless wine and cha cha (the local hard liquor) and lots of toasts. The leftover food from a Supra can be eaten on for a week. That gives you an idea of the amount of food is involved in a Supra. This is how peace is made with the community; with good eating and drinking comes happiness. Gistola Hotel, where we stayed in Mestia, is spacious and has a lot to offer: a large swimming pool, sauna and comfortable living room lobby atmosphere. The locals all said it is the nicest hotel to stay at in town. Rooms are large; we each had our own rooms with king-size beds, and there is a classy dining room where you can order all the Georgian specialties. The buffet breakfast is plentiful.

It was convenient that Gistola offers free shuttle vans to and from wherever you want to go in Mestia. One evening, we ordered a van to the theater showing a great movie, “Dede,” filmed in and around Ushguli.

Gistola generously supplied us with a delicious Supra at our spacious hotel in Mestia. Another Supra was in Mestia at popular Cafe Laila, where our entertaining and knowledgeable Svenati Region tour guide Kakha Phashurishvili made numerous toasts, as he did at the dinner the family served us after the cooking class a few days earlier. We enjoyed Kakha’s liveliness and fun and kind spirit. A few times he got up and danced for us!

The next day we departed early from Gistola Hotel and joined up with the rest of our group for the journey out of the steep mountains. The trip included a heavenly late lunch at Lia Deida, reached on a pretty path of flowers, plants and swings. We ate inside, seated in a mansion-like home atmosphere with the art-filled walls. Soon after this last Supra meal, we said goodbye to our touring friends and retrieved our suitcases off the bus, with a plan to visit Kutaisi on our own, the second largest city in Georgia, and Batumi, an old, multicultural Georgian seaside city.

We ordered a taxi, and the next phase of our Georgian journey began. We are grateful for all of our wonderful experiences to cherish. We recommend beautiful Georgia as a destination. It is so affordable to travel there. For more information, contact Georgia Tourism and Svaneti DMO. Jason Rupp and Carla Marie Rupp are both freelance travel journalists. They also run a large YouTube channel called Jason Rupp Travel & Pamper.

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