Samegrelo and Upper Svaneti

are completely different regions and the only reason to present them together is that they are united administratively. Because of their dissimilarity however it seems reasonable to split the description into two parts, one describing Samegrelo, and the other Upper Svaneti. A very special region of Georgia, not only because of its diverse climate and landscape but also because of the local people – Megrelians.

It is located in western Georgia in the valleys of the Rioni, Enguri and Tskhenistskali rivers. In Soviet times, Smaegrelo was one of the richest regions of Georgia and one can still see it as an echo of their past – wide streets (often with sidewalks) in the villages, clean and big yards, neat houses. Even the Megrelian khachapuri (kind of Georgian pizza) is with double cheese ;-) The climate is subtropical with frequent rains in the summer and mild winter. The coastal areas still have many marshlands despite the Soviet Georgian authorities' efforts to dry them up. These marshlands contain many rare birds and animals not found in other parts of the country. For this reason, a substantial part of the territories is protected by the Georgian law as part of the Colchetian Nature Reserve. (source: Wikipedia) In ancient times Samegrelo was a major part of the kingdom of Colchis (9th-6th centuries BC) and its successor Egrisi (4th century BC-6th century AD). According to a Greek legend the mythical King Aeetes – the son of Helios, the God of Sun – ruled over the Kingdom of Colchis. The pre-Christian Kingdom of Colchis was the first Georgian state mentioned in Greek history and mythology, as the country where the Argonauts came to find the Golden Fleece. (source:)

Upper Svaneti

Svaneti, one of the most ancient provinces of Georgia, is located on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, on the territory of the valleys of the two rivers: Enguri (Upper Svaneti – “Zemo Svaneti”) and Tskhenistskali (Lower Svaneti – “Kvemo Svaneti”, which administratively is a part of another region). Surrounded by the gigantic, snow-capped peaks of the high Caucasus, Svaneti is one of the most remarkable and picturesque regions of Georgia. The highest mountain in Georgia, Mount Shkhara at 5,201 meters (17,059 feet), can be found in the province. Mount Ushba (4,690 m or 15,387 ft), “The Matternhorn of the Caucasus”, the most dramatic mountain in the area and considered as one of the most difficult mountains to climb in Europe, is located in Svanti as well. It is also the highest inhabited area in the Caucasus and the only one never conquered by the enemy.


Getting to Svaneti was a challenge even 10 years ago and only recently a new road was built letting the region open to the world and tourism more widely. Medieval stone towers, of which thousands survived, can still be found in many private yards. The majority of tower settlements in Svaneti come from the early middle ages and were used primarily as defensive structures. Most of these towers are 20-25 meters tall and have four or five floors. The tower levels are connected to each other via internal wooden staircases and covered by gabled roofs, with several narrow defense windows. The ground floor was used for living and keeping livestock, the first floor was used for storing hay. The house was heated by a hearth in the center of a big room, where the food was also cooked. As a rule, the house was attached to a tower. On the highest floor, there is usually a platform to attack from during invasions. Surrounded by mountains, Svaneti is a great place for visitors seeking an adventure. With many of its mountain peaks over 5,000 meters, the region is one of the world’s best locations for mountaineering.


Svaneti is also great for skiers and snowboarders - the newly opened Mestia ski resort offers good quality slopes. There are some ski rentals, but so far they don't have enough equipment to serve all the tourists wishing to rent skis or snowboards, so you'd better bring your own skis, or you might end up just sitting and admiring the surrounding mountains, which is not a bad option after all. Maps of trekking trails, information about guides, horse rentals and jeep tours can be found in the regional tourist information center. The history and culture of Svaneti are rich with folk music, with rigorous and powerful singing to match the severe habitat and hard lifestyle of the Svans. The songs are mainly dedicated to national heroes, fights against the conquerors, religious holidays, famous royals (e.g. Queen Tamar), and the pre-Christian gods e.g. Goddess of Hunting - Dali, or the goddess of the Sun - Kaltidi. Listening to these songs surrounded by snowy mountains and Svan towers and fortresses, you will certainly get a sense that you are back in the middle-ages. (source: Unfortunately, sometimes you get the same sense of middle-ages when dealing with local services ;-)


Ushguli - a group of four historical settlements (Zhibiani, Chvibiani, Chazhashi, and Murqmeli) located in the very East of Svaneti. It is one of the highest settlements in Europe, reaching the altitude of 2,410 meters (7,910 ft) above sea level. Ushguli was a part of the so-called “Free Svaneti” as for centuries the people here defended the region against numerous attacks. Local Medieval constructions, just like the towers and churches of Svaneti, are under the protection of UNESCO. The Church of Saint Mary is located on one of the highest points in Ushguli and it is also the home to the remnants of one of the most ancient fortresses of Svaneti with 37 towers, dating back to the reign of Queen Tamar. It is also a superb hiking and climbing area. Horse riding, as well as mountain biking, are also available. ( The transportation to Ushguli is quite limited – it is possible to rent a private SUV with a driver in Mestia (the road is passable to SUVs only). Despite the small distance (about 50km), the drive from Mestia takes about 4 hours, due to the very poor quality of the road. Apart from that, driving is possible mainly in the summer months, because the area is covered with snow for about 6 months a year and the months before and after the winter time are wet and make the road impassable.



The main regional center of Upper Svaneti is situated about 450km from Tbilisi and is 1,500 meters above sea level. The whole town was seriously renovated in 2012 – new hotels, hostels, parks, roads, public buildings some of them built from the scratch and some refurbished completely to make Mestia and Svaneti more accessible and attractive for the tourist. Mestia is a convenient base for exploring the area and the starting point for most trips in Svaneti. From the center of the town, it is possible to hike up to the glaciers at the foot of mount Ushba or take horses up to the pristine alpine meadows. Tourists interested in religious history will find plenty of examples of wall paintings, frescoes and icons from the Middle Ages in the churches around Mestia. Within Mestia, Saint George Church has preserved crosses and icons from the 12th century. Also, Pusdi Church still contains fragments of 13th-century wall paintings. (source: It is also possible to access Mestia (and Svaneti) by air - Queen Tamar airport was opened in 2010. However, if you arranged to fly to Svaneti, have a "Plan B" ready. The flights can't be relied on - due to moody weather conditions in Mestia, they are often canceled.


Tobavarchkhili Lake

This glacier lake is located as high as 2,643m above the sea level. The lake is also known as “Crystal Lake” due to its clear, transparent water. It was formed by a glacier eroding the rock and then melting, filling in the space it created. It is possible to reach only after a 20km hike from a town of Chkhorotsku. Visitors need to be physically fit and equipped with appropriate clothing and boots. The best time to visit is from the end of June until early September. At other times of the year, there is often heavy rain and thick fog. (source:






is the most eastern region of Georgia with Telavi being its capital and the biggest city. The city itself is not particularly interesting although thanks to its central location it can be a good jumping-off point for excursions. The region is famous for its wine production - every house has its vineyard and makes its own wine and many local dwellers organize wine tasting feasts for tourists during the harvest season. Kaheti is a very diverse, thus picturesque region - fertile valleys and fields surrounded by sky-high mountains of the Caucasus, next to semi-desert areas of Dedoplistskharo and Sagarejo, side by side with beautifully located ancient churches, monasteries, and fortresses. Such a variety of landscapes encourages hiking and biking trips.

tushetiTusheti province a very popular mountain destination with remote villages hidden in the wild, towers and castles erecting on tops of the mountains, unique pine forests, all-year-round snowy peaks, fast rivers, and breathtaking views. The Abano Pass leading to Tusheti, at 2,850 meters, is the highest drivable mountain pass in the Caucasus (and in Europe, if consider Georgia a European country) and it is open only between mid-June and early October. The road is quite challenging and one needs an SUV to get there. Apart from that, it's reasonable to have some provision at hand and full tank in your car, because there are no shops and a gas station on the other side of the Pass.


Nekresi Monastery - beautifully situated monastery complex, once a very peaceful and calm place, after the recent renovation quite crowded (especially on Sundays), still marvelous and definitely a must-see. The town of Nekresi was established in 2 century BC, and the basilica type church was founded there by St. Abibos Nekreseli, one of the thirteen "Syrian Fathers" in the 4th century AD when Georgia accepted Christianity. It is one of the oldest surviving Christian temples in Georgia. Since 4th till the 16th century gradually many buildings were added to the complex. Apart from the 4th-century church, other monuments include the Blessed Virgin Church (6th-7th century), the domed church of 8th - 9th century, the two-story bishop’s palace of the 9th century, with the later four-story tower of the 16th century built by the palace and a wine cellar (Marani). The complex is located at the side of a mountain and visitors have a choice of either walking all the way up or going by minibus. The road is rather steep, so walking is quite a challenge, especially on a hot day. On the other hand, the buses are in pretty bad shape, so the choice is difficult.

David Garejare

Tsinandali - is a small village 10 km from Telavi. Two most famous things about the place are the estate and historic winery with wine cellars, both once belonging to a noble Georgian poet, public benefactor and military figure - Alexander Chavchavadze. He inherited this village, refurbished the estate, constructed a new palace and built a decorative garden in 1835. He also built Georgia’s oldest and largest winery where he combined European and centuries-long Georgian winemaking traditions. The dry white wine Tsinandali is still produced there. In 1854 the Chavchavadze estate was raided by the troops of Imam Shamil, a Muslim leader of the northeast Caucasian opposition to the Russian expansion. Revenging the Chavchavadze family for their contribution to the Russian success in the Caucasian War, the mountaineers pillaged the estate and kidnapped the wife, children, and relatives of Alexander’s son David. In 1855, after complicated negotiations, the hostages were exchanged for Shamil’s captive son Jamal al-Din and 40,000 silver rubles. After David Chavchavadze’s death, due to the failure to pay the debt to the Russian Public Bank, the estate passed to the property of the Imperial family. The Tsinandali garden was renovated in 1887 and passed to the state n 1917. In 1947, the estate was organized into a museum. The nowadays rehabilitated palace is still a house-museum of Alexander Chavchavadze and it has a marvelous atmosphere. The garden, with stunning old trees and paths to walk, encourages long strolls.



Sighnaghi - a town located at the slopes of Gombori mountain range, overlooking Alazani Valley. One of very few mostly renvated towns in Georgia - streets, buildings and public spaces where rehabilitated a few years ago, so walking around is very pleasant. Sighnaghi was built in the first half of 18th century as a main city of Kiziki dictrict and a fortress, thus it has city walls that go along the mountain relief. The name of the city comes from the Turkish word "sığınak" meaning "shelter, refuge" and it defintly was one - the fortress was able to hold the whole population of the district in case of enemy attack. It is possible to have a walk along some parts of the city walls and enter several of the towers. There are 23 of them and they are named after the villages of the district..



is the smallest, nevertheless very diverse region of Georgia. It stretches from the beaches of the Black Sea to the mountains of Meskheti Range. The main pillars of the region's economy are farming and tourism. Guria is famous for the mineral water of Nabeghlavi and the health sea resort of Ureki rich in black magnetic sand. During the Soviet Union times, Guria was a tea growing region. In the course of the '90s, the tea plantations deteriorated and only a few years ago tea production started to flourish again.
Guria is mainly a place of rural and mountain tourism as well as beach and sea zone. Sand beaches, warm sea, subtropical landscapes, picturesque villages with wooden houses and high corn barns, mountains and forests provide visitors with the opportunity of having both active rest and some laziness. Coming to prominence with the 2001 recording of his Night Sessions CD, Botti established a reputation as a versatile musician in both jazz and pop music for his ability to fuse both styles together.

Askana Castle - near Ozurgeti, high on a rock, the castle ruins oversee the valley and the river Bakhvickhali. There is a secret tunnel leading to the river from the castle. This could have been used for secret supplying of the castle if it was under siege. The castle underwent many reconstructions between the 10th and 19th centuries. Once the complex incorporated two towers, red marble chapel, and some wooden huts. Unfortunately, all the old constructions are ruined or damaged.

 Askana Castle

Ozurgeti Historical Museum - Ozurgeti is the administrative center of Guria. The Historical Museum of Ozurgeti has been founded in 1936. Nowadays it houses more than 6000 exhibits originating since 9th millennium BC until the 19th century. Numerous unique materials have been accumulated during nearly 80 years of the museum's history. One can find there Neolithic stone weapons, produced 7000 years ago, best models of Kolkhian culture from Early, Middle, and Late Bronze age, collections of Kolkhian axes, burial ground stocks of Ureki- Tsvermagala aged with Late Bronze-Early Iron period. Golden and silver items of Antique period, as well as diversified numismatic collections, many historical photos and documentary materials,  can also be seen there. The museum even houses the sword of Napoleon. (source:


Shemokmedi Monastery Complex -beautifully situated Medieval monastery complex not far from Ozurgeti in a village of Shemokmedi (meaning; "Creator"). It consists of two temples built side by side and a bell tower. The basilica on the right (“Gvtaeba”) was built in the 12th century and the domed church on the left (“Zarzma”) in the 16th century. During the Middle Ages, it was one of the biggest cultural-educational centers in the region. The "Gvtaeba" temple housed a very rich library and served as a residence for archbishops as well as a burial place for the local nobility (source:

Church of Archangels of Jumati Monastery - it's a Medieval church located high on mountain hills about 15km from Ozurgeti, near Chokhatauri. It used to be the residence of Archbishop of Guria. The region was very rich and prosperous, so the monastery apart from the sizable real estate had many precious icons as well. One of them was an 11th-century gold icon of St. George which was lost in a robbery. Ozurgeti Historical Museum - Ozurgeti is the administrative center of Guria. The museum is packed with archeological collections of weapons, sculptures, and currency from the Stone and Bronze Ages up to a 19th century. It even houses the sword of Napoleon. (source:






is a region in western Georgia situated along the middle and upper reaches of the Rioni river. You get into it after passing Rikoti Pass (996 m above sea level) that divides Georgia into its eastern and western parts. The capital of Imereti, Kutaisi, is one of the oldest cities in the world - archeological evidence shows it served as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Colchis as early as 2nd millennium BC. Kutaisi was founded as Aia/Aea and only later it changed its name into Kutaisi, from Persian "Kota", meaning "Fort Aea". In ancient times the region was rich in gold and it is believed that Jason's and the Argonauts' journey of Golden Fleece was accomplished in Georgia (Colchis). Imereti has been a place of highly sophisticated culture at least since the Bronze Age. Archeological digs confirm the presence of rich and thriving Hellenistic culture in the region. Wine production here dates back over eight thousand years. The region's renaissance of 10-12th centuries was marked by a number of architectural masterpieces including Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery complex. This area of Georgia is also abundant in canyons, waterfalls, and caves and some of them are a must-see even for short-time visitors.

Gelati Academy and Monastery complex extremely important religious, cultural and intellectual center of medieval Georgia. Founded at the beginning of the 12th century by the king of Georgia David Aghmashenebeli (David the Builder), who built the Church of the Virgin, the belfry and the academy building. Later (13th century) it had two more churches added - of St George and St Nicolas.


King David's grave can be found here at the southern end of the cathedral next to the main entrance. According to the legend, the stone covering the grave is of the same height as the king was. The gates of Ganja taken as a trophy by king Demetrius I are placed near David the Builder's grave. The Academy employed most distinguished scientists, theologians, and philosophers of the times. A great number of murals and manuscripts of 12th to 17th centuries were preserved in the Gelati Academy and Monastery complex. At the beginning of the 16th century, the complex was set on fire by Turks, but it was quickly rebuilt.

borjomi kharagauli national park

Katechis Sveti (Pillar of Katskhi)is probably one of the most bizarre religious monuments in Georgia. The Pillar of Katskhi (restored not long ago) is located on a 40m high natural rock pillar of top surface about 150 square meters. After first archeological digs in 1944, it was believed that the constructions on the pillar were two 5th and 6th centuries churches. Nowadays, after more detailed research the Katechis Sveti structures were re-dated to 9th-10th century. Recent studies revealed there a medieval hermitage and Georgian inscriptions found on the spot indicate that the hermitage was still in existence in the 13th century. The Pillar of Katskhi complex consists of a church dedicated to Maximus the Confessor, a crypt, three hermit cells, a wine cellar, and a surrounding wall. The Pillar of Katskhi church's dimensions are 4.5x3.5 meters and it is a modern reconstruction of the medieval times. The complex can be reached by climbing a metal ladder going from the bottom to the top.


Sataplia - 'the place of honey", despite the name has nothing to do with honey. It's a cave complex not far from Kutaisi with dinosaur footprints saved in solidified lava. The name Sataplia comes from the nearby mountain of the same name at which locals collected honey from the bees. The cave Sataplia was discovered in 1925 and ten years later Sataplia Natural Reserve was created here to protect the grotto. The cave Sataplia and surrounding park were seriously refurbished a few years ago - there are nice paths and viewpoints in the park, a roof over dinosaur footprints was built, the cave is well lit and pleasant to walk. The Stony Heart Hall presents a very impressive beautifully illuminated, huge stalagmite sitting on the cave's floor.


The Cave of Prometheus is a picturesque cave length of 1060 m, near Tshaltubo. The Cave of Prometheus was discovered only in 1983. After having been made ​​the necessary adjustments to lighting and safety of the cave for the visitors illuminated lighting along the entire route revealed the spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. The route is safe and well lit. The Cave of Prometheus consists of 16 small caves and large halls (21m). The path rises, then descends, passes over underground rivers and lakes. The Temperature is more or less constant at about 15-16 degrees Celsius. You can finish the journey on the boat drifted on the underground lake (about 280 m).


Motsameta Monastery "the place of martyrs". According to the legend the monastery was constructed on the place where Muslim invaders executed David and Konstantin Mkheidze, Georgian nobles, who refused to accept Islam. The Motsameta Monastery was built over the martyrs' graves by the king Bagrat IV in the 11th century. The Motsameta Monastery is located in a very picturesque place - mountains, forests and the river Tskhaltsitela surrounding the Motsameta complex from three sides create a fabulous combination.

Motsameta Monastery "the place of martyrs". According to the legend the monastery was constructed on the place where Muslim invaders executed David and Konstantin Mkheidze, Georgian nobles, who refused to accept Islam. The Motsameta Monastery was built over the martyrs' graves by the king Bagrat IV in the 11th century. The Motsameta Monastery is located in a very picturesque place - mountains, forests and the river Tskhaltsitela surrounding the Motsameta complex from three sides create a fabulous combination.


Mevlevi Monastery complex (Cave monastery) Mgvimevi Monastery complex (Cave monastery) the church is located in the back of a large natural cave. The monastery is quite difficult to access because it is partially craved into a cliff - to get there one needs to climb a long and narrow staircase and pass an artificial tunnel. The facade of the main building is decorated with ornaments around the windows. large crosses and other elements. The entrance door is a masterpiece of wood craving - it consists of wooden panels presenting various episodes of Christ's life. Jesus Christ and twelve apostles are located at the top of the composition. Some paintings and wall murals were also preserved inside the church. There are 13th-century frescos presenting portraits of the founder of the monastery at the northern wall of the temple. Southern wall displays paintings of the 16th century...


Bagrati Cathedral(Cathedral of the Dormition) early 11th-century church located in Kutaisi is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. It's popular name "Bagrati" comes from the name of the king Bagrat III, who reigned Imereti when the Cathedral was constructed. The church was heavily damaged at the end of the 17th century by the Ottoman army and for more than three centuries the ruins were the place of pilgrimage. In 2012 the renovation works aiming at returning the temple into its previous shape, were finished and now it is again functioning as an important place of worship. ..


Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park the largest (76,000 hectares) National Park in Georgia situated in Lesser Caucasus. The park is a nature reserve with marked trails and some mountain shelters for the hikers, however, if choosing to stay overnight one will need a sleeping bag and some food, because there are no guest houses on the way. The park is covered with forests and it is a paradise for birdwatchers and botanists as well as for hikers. The territory of the park is not as elevated as many other places in Georgia - the highest peak in the park is 2642 meters, so the trails can be reached all the year round if the weather allows. More and more visitors are coming to the park for its unique landscapes, historical monuments, and rich fauna and flora. The history of the park is tightly related with the Grand Duke Michael Nikolaevich Romanov, the brother of Russian Tsar Alexander II. After Georgia lost its independence and became a protectorate of Russia (Treaty of Gieorgievsk, 1783), Michael Romanov was appointed Governor General of Transcaucasia. He found the beauty and health potential of Borjomi area so impressive, that he built his summer residence in Likani in 1895. Later a water-bottling plant was also constructed and Borjomi water became famous in Russia. Due to Governor's order also lumbering or hunting without permission were restricted, thus making the area protected from uncontrolled deforestation. Good source of information about interesting touristic trails is a book by Peter Nasmyth "Walking in the Caucasus"..


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