Buy a ticket, get on a plane, and wing your way to Mestia.
It’s about an hour’s flight. Below is the Great Caucasian Mountain Range.
On the approach to Mestia, we descend and pass through a corridor between the mountain peaks.
This is what you see, only an arm’s length away! It is Ushba.
And here is Mestia from an illuminator.
This is the local airport. We won’t say anything about the design, but inside it is very well-fitted. We exit without the slightest delay.
In Mestia, to get a general idea of where you are, we suggest beginning with the ethnographic museum. you can only see anything so fascinating in one other place—in the archeological museum in Akhaltsikhe. But the museum in Mestia is even better.
Ancient icons of the 8th-16th centuries. They are originals.
And this is the house-museum of Mikhail Khergiani, a famous Svan alpinist and rock climber. You need these skills when you are in the mountains! So be our guest!
This is the equipment Svans went into the mountains with as early as the middle of last century. How about you?
And this is the story of how Svan alpinists threw Edelweiss from the passes. Enemies never set foot on the southern slopes of the Caucasian mountains.
This is the house of the Margiani family. It has survived better than any other and today is a museum of Svan everyday life.
And this is a spring next to the house.
This is the entrance into a fortress-house.
This is the main room where the entire family (20-40 people) plus the domestic cattle lived in winter. The animals stood in stalls around the perimeter of the room, their heads stuck through semi-circular windows. Everyone breathes, which makes this Noah’s arc very warm, even in the most bitter of winters. People slept in the lofts around the perimeter above the stalls. In the center of the room was a fire on which food was prepared.
In the middle of the room was a chair decorated with carved ornament. Only the machvshi—the head of the family—had the right to sit in it. On very rare occasions, the chair might be offered to an especially honored guest
And then we climb to the very top of the thirteen-meter Margiani tower.
This is a serious defense structure with firing slits around the perimeter. Of course, theSvans are no longer fighting anyone, but all the same, it may come in handy at some point.
This is the view from a firing slit to the east.
And here is the view to the southwest.
Then we step out onto the roof and are afforded this view.
This is not a museum, folks. It is an ordinary house. Well, the entire village here is a museum
And this is a church. The rooms on the first floor were built in the 6th century, and what you are seeing was built in the 8th
Ninth century frescoes.
This is also from the 9th century.
The road to the ski lift is 8 km and takes around 15-20 minutes.
The machinery is constantly at work, the ski runs are in excellent condition.
It takes another 7-8 minutes to reach the summit.
We made it!
There is a inviting café-restaurant on the summit.
This is the view!
This is Ushba, the pride and joy of Svaneti!
And this is Tetnuldi.
Two of the five runs...
And this is heli-ski…for adventurous hell raisers…
Some like heli-ski at a speed of 130 km/hr, but we are old fuddy-duddies and would rather have wine and kubdari.
Down below, in the restaurant, we are making an absolutely heavenly local dish calledkubdari in a Svan oven. It is a pie filled with ground meat and spices. It is just as good as Khevsureti khinkali! And don’t you forget it!
Evening view of Mestia!
The next day, we go to one of the villages not far from Mestia to see how the Svans do woodcarving and make their famous felt hats.
This is Lanjvali.
A 6th century church.
The front door of a master craftsmen’s house.
And this is Shalva Guledani, the most famous master craftsman in all of Svaneti.
This is the inside of his house.
This is one of the works of his ancestors. It is kept as a family heirloom.
Auntie Nazi shows us how to make authentic Svan hats. Wool is turned into something called “teka,” which is used as felt to make…
this kind of Svan hat. It is multifunctional: it is used as headwear, or a helmet lining (in the Middle Ages), or a bowl for a hunter to scoop up water from a mountain steam and drink his fill, or a defensive weapon. In battle, the Svans could use the hat to intercept a sword or dagger thrust by their enemy.
And this is Vakhtang Pilpani, a well-known musician and performer of Svanfolk songs. This art of complex harmony and polyphony has been passed down in his family from generation to generation. Vakhtang is also the leader of a folklore chorus of 35 people who go on tours all around the world. And musicians who want to learn this art also come to visit him. We will also stop by and see him.
This is the material the instrument is made from. The body is made from bamboo, the string plate from fir, and the strings from horse tendons. Now there’s a log for you! And what music it makes! Vakhtang does it all himself by hand. The harmony of Svan music and songs differs from the rest of Georgian music folklore and, according to the Svans themselves, goes back for millennia to the time of the Sumers.
According to the custom, we, as guests, are invited to drink tea and try some Svancheese cakes. And that, I can tell you, is a song all on its own!
The next day we set off in search of gold. The thing is that the story about the Argonauts and King Aeëtes’ Golden Fleece is not just a legend. The Svans still pan for this precious metal by throwing a sheep skin into the mountain river. For understandable reasons, we will not name the place we are going. But I will tell you about the process itself.
This is how the local gold-diggers live
It is rather a long walk through the snowy outback.
This mountain stream is the secret place!
We put things together….
Do some digging!
Then some filling!
The thing is that the gold is not in the stream itself. In the summer, during the snow melt, the mountain stream carries it here along with mud. When the water level drops in the winter and the river bed is bared in many places, the Svans dig up the mud from the bottom and use the river current itself to clean the silt.
And here is a more laborious way of doing things. But it turned out to be more productive. We put rocks and mud in a bucket…
... and begin washing
The pieces of gold dust are heavier than the mud, so they sink to the bottom, while the mud is gradually washed away in the river. We were allowed to try.
We really tried hard! It’s truly exciting!
And it produced some results!
Looks like we found something!!!
The next day we go home (and if you don’t want to, you can stay). However, we won’t fly straight out, but travel through Batumi in order to leave the mountains by a different route. We will travel down the mountain road in a car.
With views such as these...
We have descended to Mengreli and…find ourselves in springtime with temperatures of 65oF.
In Ajaria, the weather is also spring-like.
We have arrived in Batumi..
And here there are mandarins growing on the trees, pick as many as you like! So these are the adventures we are offering! To hell with the Alps and Courchevel. Now you know where to come!