Svaneti’s remote and authentic beauty

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Facts about

Georgia  Country:
250  Population:
8th and 9th century  Founded:
Svan, Georgian  Languages:
Tourism, agriculture  Economy:
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Ushguli

Region: Svaneti

Ushguli is a village community in the Georgian region of Svaneti. The village, which consists of four smaller villages, lies in the mountains of the Great Caucasus and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its defence towers. Located at an altitude of 2,086 to 2,200 metres, Ushguli is one of the highest villages in Europe.

Ushguli consists of the four villages Murqmeli, Chashashi, Chvibiani and Shibiani, which line up along the river for a distance of two kilometres. From Shibiani, the highest village, it is only eight kilometres to the Shkhara Glacier. The route is very popular with hikers.

The approximately 250 inhabitants of Ushguli make their living from agriculture and more and more from tourism. Various families have converted their houses into simple guesthouses, offering their guests rooms and cooking for them.

Ushguli village in Svaneti

The village of Ushguli, part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage since 1996.

Svan defence towers are up to 25 meters high

The tourists come primarily because of the old houses with their Svan defense towers, which are part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage since 1996. The oldest towers date back to the 8th and 9th centuries. However, there are also towers that are just over 200 years old. In the past, the Swanet fortified towers fulfilled several tasks: On the one hand they served the families as living space, on the other hand as protection - partly against unpleasant intruders, but also against avalanches and other whims of nature. They were also signal towers and guard posts.

The fortified towers were mostly attached directly to the house, but there are also free-standing towers. The house in Svaneti is called Machubi. On the ground floor there was always a fireplace, which served the families as cooking place, living space and of course as heating. The livestock was kept in the same room, so it was also the stable. The hay was stored on the upper floor.

The massive tower, built of stone and 20 to 25 metres high, had several floors. Some towers had five or six floors, but most had three. The Svans used to store their food on the ground floor. This room usually had neither doors nor windows - for security reasons. They withdrew to the second floor when there was danger. There (or on the third floor) was also the entrance to the tower, which could only be entered via a ladder that was lowered. On the top floor, covered with a slate roof, were the balustrades with embrasures on both sides, from which the enemies could be observed and attacked if they came too close to the houses.

Svan defence towers

Some Svan defence towers have up to 6 floors.

What else there is to see in Ushguli

Although tourism is becoming more and more popular in Ushguli, the village is more authentic and pristine than the capital Mestia, which lies further down in the valley. The guesthouses are simple, the roads unpaved and the village infrastructure comparatively simple and modest. In Ushguli, locals, tourists and many animals cross paths: cattle, cows, horses, pigs, dogs and chickens move peacefully and freely in the village. A little tip: Get up early in the morning and walk through Ushguli when there are no people on the way. The village then shows its authentic side.

The Lamaria Monastery

Just behind the upper end of Ushguli, on a hill, there is the small Lamaria Monastery, built in the 11th century. The locals believe that Queen Tamar is buried there. The monastery is in operation and can be visited. Not far from the monastery Lamaria there is also the church St. Georg Jgrag.

Ethnographic Museum Ushguli

When the weather isn't that good, it is worth visiting the Ethnographic Museum in Ushguli. The museum is located in an old and well preserved Svan house from the 16th century. The entry costs 5 to 6 GEL.

In the small museum you will see numerous artifacts from the Svan's long history. They are the evidence of old traditions, bloody conflicts and a life full of privation in the remoteness of the Greater Caucasus.mountains. You will find there furniture, arts and crafts, everyday life objects, crosses, icons and much more. The oldest items date back to the 12th century.

The museum is located in the upper part of Ushguli which is called Shibiani.

The Svans and their language

In addition to Georgian, the people in Svaneti have their own language called Svan. As Georgien, Laz and Megrelian it is part of the South Caucasian language family. The main differences are: In Svan there are more vowels and the Svan is not a literary language. The Svans use the Georgian alphabet (Mkhedruli) to write.

There are between 20,000 and 30,000 Svan speakers, whereof the most live in Svaneti. The Svan language is widely-used at home and with friends. The lingua franca in Svaneti is Georgian.

The hiking paradise Svaneti

In winter Ushguli is snowed in for about six months. The best time for a trip to Ushguli is the summer, when the climate in the mountains of the Greater Caucasus is mild. Then it is also a good time to explore the surrounding mountains and valleys with hikes.

For many nature lovers and hikers, the Svaneti region is the number one trekking paradise in Georgia. From and to Ushguli there are various beautiful hikes, of which we would like to introduce a few to you.

Hike from Mestia to Ushguli

  • Distance: 57 km
  • Duration: 4 days
  • Season: June to mid October
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Lowest point: 1,411 m.a.s.l.
  • Highest point: 2,737 m.a.s.l.

On foot from Mestia to Ushguli - this is one of the most popular walks in Svaneti. The route is relatively easy to manage, of manageable length and leads through various traditional Svaneti mountain villages. This has the advantage that you have the choice of camping or staying in inns that are located in all the villages you pass. We recommend to calculate four days for the route. As an experienced hiker you can also do it well in three days.

Hike from Mestia to Ushguli

It's 57 km by foot from Mestia (photo) to Ushguli.

Hike from Ushguli to Shkhara Glacier

  • Distance: 16 km
  • Duration: 5 hours
  • Season:
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Lowest point: 2'122 m.a.s.l.
  • Highest point: 2'430 m.a.s.l.

This rather easy hiking route is also suitable for inexperienced hikers. It takes about 5 hours to get to the glacier of Shkhara and back and the trail is easy to follow.

Skhara Glacier

The glacier of the 5,201 meters high Mount Shkhara in Svaneti.

One leaves Ushguli in the north and marches first on the offroad road upstream along the Enguri. The valley forms a right turn and shortly afterwards you can already see the Shkhara glacier in the distance. The path crosses lush meadows; from time to time you have to cross the river, but this is not particularly difficult.

Private tour to Ushguli or Svaneti

Are you interested in a tailor-made private tour to Ushguli, Svaneti or to any other place in the Caucasus mountains? Tell us about your ideas and we will send you an offer without obligation.


Ushguli
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How to get to Ushguli

Ushguli in Georgia by car

By car

The journey from Tbilisi is via Zugdidi and Mestia and takes about 10 hours. There is also an alternative route via Kutaisi, Lentekhi and the Tsageri Pass. The pass road can only be used with a good off-road vehicle.

Ushguli in Georgia by minibus

By minibus

The best way to get there is by train or minibus to Zugdidi and from there to Ushguli. There are regular connections to Mestia and from there to Ushguli.

Ushguli in Georgia by plane

By plane

From Tbilisi and Kutaisi VanillaSky flies regularly to Mestia (Queen Tamar Airport). From there you can take the minibus (30 to 40 GEL, return per person) to Ushguli. There are also numerous private taxis.

Ushguli in Georgia by train

By train

There are good train connections to Zugdidi. From there there are regular minibuses to Mestia and Ushguli.

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Impressions from Ushguli

Ushguli
Ushguli
Ushguli
Ushguli