This is our experiences from the four-day village-to-village hike from Mestia to Ushguli in Georgia – Svaneti region in Greater Caucasus. We did the hike as part of a trip through Georgia in July 2019. See our itinerary and other experiences from three weeks in Georgia.
Before starting the trek, we had printed the hiking guide from www.caucasus-trekking.com. We had also download a .gpx file with the hike from alltrails.com, and saved it to the Pocket Earth app on our smartphone. With those tools it was very simple to follow the trails.
It was sunny and warm when we started the hike. Peter was still troubled by the food poisoning and had fever. We started the walk together, but the start of the trail is steep as you leave Mestia, and Peter soon decided to go back and find a driver with a 4WD to take him to the village Zhabeshi at the end of the first day. Helle, Tobias and Nikolaj continued and soon reached the trails above Mestia with nice views over the valley.
The first day is 16 km. Short after leaving Mestia the dirt road turns into a hiking trail, while it winds its way up through forest and open areas. The trail is not so well maked on this stretch and a couple of times we lost our way. The last part to the ridge was very steep and slippery due to the heavy rainfall the past days. Shortly after leaving the ridge we came to a viewpoint overlooking the Swaneti Valley, a perfect spot for a break. From here we took the upper trail as we wanted to minimize the time on dirt road. We came past several small streams, where we had fun building dams. Eventually we hit the dirt road again and passed through several small villages untill we ended up in Zhabeshi.
In Zhabeshi we stayed at Guest house Gogia, it is a newly build home. A son of the family had moved to USA but was home for the summer and happy to talk to us. We had a funny incident, as we asked for some bottles of sparkling water. The typical brand is “Borjomi”, so he brought us some bottles of that. Helle took a good sip but spit it out again fast! It turned out that the grandfather of the house made the moonshine locals call “cha cha” and store it in Borjomi bottles. The son had mistaken the cha cha from sparkling water and was really sorry. We had a good laugh, and Borjomi will never be the same after that! For dinner we were treated with a delicious dinner with multiple small dishes, just for the four of us and the two other hikers staying there.
Day two – Four-day village-to-village hike from Mestia to Ushguli in Georgia
We were all fresh to walk on day two,. The family prepared lunch packs for us, and made Mchadi just for Tobias, so kind.
The day started with heavy mists and slow rain. The unusual weather we had experienced in Tblisi ad Kutaisi also dominated the mountains, the hike is usually warm and dry, but of course storms can always happen in mountain regions.
From Zhabeshi there was a step ascend to the Tetnuldi ski area. At the ski area the skiing slopes are followed for a short while until the trails becomes single-track again. The ski area is at 2500 m, which is the highest point you will reach this day. The trail is above the tree line and would have nice views in dry weather. We passed a small cabin with a parasol outside, where we could have lunch and shelter from the rain.
The hike on day two is just 10 km, so we arrived early to Adishi. The village appeared to come out of the mist from nowhere, you walk towards it from above, and suddenly see the Svan towers that dominate Adishi.
Adishi is the most remote village of the hike and the least developed. Many buildings were in disrepair, in fact it was difficult to see buildings not in that condition when we entered the village. We had booked the guest house called Old House and with help from kids in the village we easily found it. It is indeed what looks like a century-old house with some of the rooms converted to guest rooms. It is very basic, but clean and friendly. The daughter of the family was a student in Tblisi but home for the summer, so we could talk to her.
A German couple had come to the village by car. They drove a rented 4WD, and had taken an hour to cover the last 5 km to the village. It really is remote!
We found a small café at the lower end of the city, and spent the afternoon there. The weather cleared and the sun came out, while we had snacks, played cards and just simply enjoyed ourselves.
In the evening, the villagers drove there cattle back into town. The family in the guest house where we stayed brought their cows into the small plot right at the door step to milk the cows.
We had another great meal for dinner with lots of different small and tasty specialty treats.
Day three – Four-day village-to-village hike from Mestia to Ushguli in Georgia
Day three started with clear blue skies and we were eager to get on the trail.
On day three you pass the Adishi river which is too deep to walk across. Villagers take hikers across on horseback for a fee, and we arranged that a man from the guest house would help us cross the river.
It started to rain as we started walking. From Adishi you follow the river further up into the valley. On your left the border to Russia is only 10 km away. This is the most remote part of the trail and we felt on an adventure far from our daily lives.
As it had rained so much for days, the water level in the river was high and the current was strong. There were a group of locals with horses at the ford as we arrived. The fog was hanging low, and we could not see much further than to the other side of the river. We saw as the first group of hikers were taking across, one by one on a horse with a villager behind, steering the horse. The horses seemed to struggle with the strong current, and even with feet pulled up high some would end with wet feet. The kids were intimidated by the scene, but ok with crossing this way. Well, there was no other way.
As we had crossed the river, a horse lost the balance, and both riders fell into the cold water. Lots of people rushed to help. Obviously both persons were completely soaked, but not harmed beyond that.
The trail rises from the valley after you cross the river, and while we were ascending, the clouds lifted. Now we could see the Adishi glacier on the side of the river we had just come from. It seemed so near, and as we stood admiring the view, we could hear when blocks of ice broke off the glacier and tumbled towards the river.
It is a rather steep trail from the river, and the boys felt it was quite hard – but it was mainly a mental challenge, physically it was not difficult for them. We made a lunch break, eating the cheese, eggs, tomatoes and bread the friendly guesthouse hosts had made for us.
We actually reached the pass in 2650 m quite quickly. We had the view over the Adishi valley where we came from, and turning around had a good view of the valley that would take us to Lalkhori in the afternoon. The sun was out now and the valley was full of wildflowers. It felt so privileged to have that moment together.
From the pass, it is an easy and very enjoyable hike down towards the Khalde river. You follow the river for the rest of the afternoon. It is a dirt road, so a little wider and less interesting to hike than the single track. The boys always prefer hiking curvy single tracks, wide steady tracks are less motivating for them.
You pass the ruins of the village Khalde, razed by Russian forces in the 1870’s, and a reminder of the many conflicts this part of the world has seen.
As we continued towards Lalkhori, the weather changed again. Clouds rolled in, and it started to rain. We had booked a night at guesthouse Bezengi in Lalkhori. Walking towards the village we could see that there are two or three different small villages close to each other. We passed through the first settlements before reaching Guesthouse Bezengi at the valley floor on the main asphalt road to Ushguli. The guesthouses a little higher had a nicer location.
Facilities at Guesthouse Bezengi were better than in Adishi, but the hosts were less committed. The meals were ok, but not as in the previous guesthouses. We didn’t find anyone speaking English and struggled to explain that we needed something gluten free for Tobias.
Day four – Four-day village-to-village hike from Mestia to Ushguli in Georgia
We had really nice sunny weather as we started on day four of the four-day village-to-village hike from Mestia to Ushguli in Georgia. You start on the main road, but quickly turns left for a single track trail that continues almost all the way to Ushguli. The first part is steep, but it soon flattens, and you stay at almost the same altitude following the mountain side. At points the trail is narrow and the drop to the right is steep and deep. Be careful!
The weather turned very suddenly mid-ways. We had just enough time to put on rain coats before it started raining very hard. It had rained also on the previous days, but this was different. The temperature dropped from above 20°C to around 10°C, and with the heavy rain, it got cold. We could hear thunder very close, but not so close that lightning became a risk. But it was quite intimidating to be on the side of the mountain being cold and surrounded by rain and thunder.
When we reached Ushguli, the first priority was shelter and dry clothes as we were completely soaked. We were not the only hikers in that situation, and everyone headed towards the first café in the village to change clothes and have something warm to eat and drink. The staff made space for everyone. The kids were great, they had been shaken by the weather, but took it like the experienced hikers they are.
It was not how we had hoped to spend our time in Ushguli. It is a UNESCO site as being the incarnation of everything Svaneti with lots of Svan towers and century-old buildings. In better weather it would have been fantastic to explore.
We had pre-arranged a car to pick us up, so we waited for the agreed time. When we met the driver, he said that he had been worried if he would be able to come from Ushguli at all due to the heavy rain – the road could have been blocked or closed. We later learned that a parking lot near the Mestia glacier had been washed away by rain.
The four-day village-to-village hike from Mestia to Ushguli in Georgia was a great hike, and the weather couldn’t change that.