Svaneti is a beautiful and historical mountain valley sitting high in the Caucasus. Difficult to access, the Svaneti region still today retains a remarkable authenticity and traditional way of life. It’s isolation meant that it was protected from many invasions of Georgia; even during the Soviet period, it was relatively uneffected. What also helped prevent invasion were the characteristic stone towered houses that are scattered all around Svaneti. Most of these were built before the 13th century and still stand to this day.
Getting to Mestia
Reaching Mestia by land has a reputation of being particuarly difficult. However with the recent government sponsored tourism development, it is more accessable.
Batumi to Mestia by bus – Many who wish to get to Mestia from Batumi use the traditional route which is well documented on many travel guides, websites and forums. This route involves getting a Marshkuta (minibus) to Zugdidi (15 GEL, 3 hours) and then patiently waiting to get another Marshkuta to Mestia (approximately 20 GEL, 4 hours). This can involve many hours of stress and hassle. Alternatively you can save money and time by getting a minibus travelling directly to Mestia from Batumi (approximately 6hours, 30GEL). These are generally minibuses that you can book on the day (leaving early morning or mid afternoon) at most guesthouses, and will collect you directly at your guesthouse and drop you off at your chosen accomodation in Mestia, if you have prebooked. The driver will most likely stop for dinner if you choose to travel in the afternoon, so some beer and ‘chacha’ may be involved!
Tbilisi to Mestia by train – There is no direct train from Tbilisi to Mestia. However the most common and ‘hassle free’ method of getting to Mestia from Tbilisi is by getting a train to Zugdidi and then a Marshkuta to Mestia.
Tickets for the train range from 19 to 26 GEL per person depending on when you book and what sort of carriage you want, i.e. a sleeper or a regular. Be sure to book to ensure a space as they are sometimes fully booked. For booking, you can use the official Georgian Railways website, however it is renowned not to work. If it doesn’t, try these alternatives; http://www.matarebeli.ge/en/; https://biletebi.ge.
From Zugdidi you can get to Mestia by Marshkuta. This will cost around 15 GEL and they tend to leave only when full; which makes for an uncomfortable and bumpy 3 hour drive. But it’s worth it!
Tbilisi to Mestia by bus – If there are no trains avaliable, there may be a night bus from the top floor of Tbilisi’s main railway station to Zugdidi. This will cost around 15 GEL per person and takes around 6 ½ hours. However, we cannot ganurentee these are avaliable outside of high season.
Tbilisi to Mestia by plane – There are daily flights from Tbilisi to Mestia and back for 75 to 100 GEL one-way. Pegasus Airlines, Kenn Borek Air and and Vanilla Sky currently operate between the two towns. Tickets can be bought online via the airlines websites, at Mestia airport or at several agencies in central Tbilisi. Schedules may change during the winter in particular due to weather conditions.
Where to stay in Mestia
Roza’s Guesthouse (15/per pers in dorms; 20 per pers double room) – Although it is a bit of climb to reach this guesthouse, it is well worth the trek! The small guesthouse is conveniently located just off the main square, with a fantastic view over the valley and majestic mountains. The rooms are simple and cosy, with both double bedrooms and small dorms and great shared shower facilities. There is a really warm and inviting atmosphere here, particularly in the evenings when everyone gathers to eat and share their hiking tips. Roza and her family are extremely welcoming, speak good english, and serve lovely traditional meals. The kitchen is also available for personal use.
Manoni Ratiani’s Guesthouse (double room 20 per pers; camping 5 per tent) – Another good traditional guesthouse which also offers camping with house facilities for a decent price. Manoni’s cooking has a very good reputation, in particular the breakfast tends to be a bit more interesting than the usual bread and boiled eggs!
There are many other guesthouses and hotels in Mestia all of which are centrally loctated, plus more accomodation is constantly being built. Most guesthouses offer similar accomodation for 20-25 GEL with the optional traditional meals.
Eating and drinking in Mestia
In Mestia it is comonplace to eat both breakfast and dinner at your guesthouse. This way you will get to taste some lovely homecooked traditional Svan meals for a decent price.
Laila’s restaurant – Located on the main square Laila’s offers a variety of both Georgian and international food for a decent price. The “Ostri” (beef stew) and soups are particularly tasty. It is one of the most popular places amongst tourists and hikers, as it is situated beside the minibuses heading to Ushguli. It is equally a good place to come and sip beer on the terrace and meet other travellers, or simply to use the wifi.
Cafe Usha – A cheap and traditional cafe and restaurant with a superb view from the terrace balcony. Service can however be abrupt and many options on the menu are unavailable.
Fruit Market – If you wish to make use of your guesthouse’s kitchen and cook your own meals, or simply to buy snacks, Mestia’s fruit market off of Tamar Mepe street opposite Hotel Ushba, is open in the mornings until late afternoon. Beside it there is also a nice bakery with decent pastries. Otherwise the town centre is dotted with various shops selling basic food items.
What to do in Mestia
Mestia is most popular for its wide variety of beautiful trekking trails, and skiing in the winter. Your guesthouse should be able to provide you with a map and some suggested trails and outings. Please always take advice and prepare before you leave.
Short trek to the cross – One trek you will undoutably hear about is the one to ‘the cross’. The cross can be viewed 900m North above Mesita. The views are spectacular, perticuarly of Mt. Ushba which looms above you. It’s a fairly demanding walk but is easy to follow.
How to get there: Walk eastwards along the main road until the road veers left up Khergiani footpath. This footpath will take you to the cross, just take the uphill option at all junctions. The round trip will take 5/6 hours.
Moderate day trek to Mentashi – This is a pleasant hike which doesn’t take too much of your day (about 6/7 hours round trip), yet it is arguably more rewarding than the popular walk to the cross. On top of Mentashi sits a large satalight mast and offers possibly one of the best views Mestia has to offer. What’s more, you’ll be lucky to see another tourist. At the peak, you’ll find yourself directly in front of the magnificant snowy pyrimid peak of Mt. Tetnuldi, with the impresive twin peaked Mt. Ushba to your left, and the lucious forest hills of the Zuruldi Moutian plains on your right. Whether you wish for a great photo or simply a place for peace and contemplation, you’ll certainly find satisfaction here.
How to get there: The first part of this trip involves a walk (approximately 2 hours) to Hatsvali cable-car station (9km from Mestia). Alternatively you can hitchhike or get a taxi (price varies but you shouldn’t pay more than 20 GEL).
From there, enjoy a leisurely ride on the cable cars (5 GEL return) up to the top of Zuruldi range, where you can enjoy a drink and probably the best view of Mestia and the mountains Ushba.
To get to the peak of Mentashi hill from the cable-cars, head East (directly left as you get off the cable-car) until you reach a path. Turn right and enjoy a relatively short and easy trek along the ridge. As you approach the hill with the first telephone mast, veer right and keep walking past. Stay on the path and soon enough you will see another large telephone mast with some satalite dishes. They mark the peak of the Mentashi hill. Stay on the path until you reach the peak. The full walk will take approximately an hour and a half without stopping from the cable-car station. If you manage to pull yourself away from the view, simply head back the way you came.
For more information on this walk and many more across the Caucacus, please visit this website run by a determined and refreshing Slovakain who let us into the secret of this fantastic walk. http://www.caucasus-trekking.com/
What to do around Mestia/day trips from Mestia
Ushguli (150 to 200 GEL for a shared taxi one way, 2.5 hours each way) – Believed to currently be the most permanently inhabited place in Europe, Ushguli is a pituresque Unesco Heritage site with many famous Svan towers and lots of good walking trails. There are equally several decent homestays if you wish to stay after a long day of trekking.
Becho (150 to 200 GEL) – If you want to go off the beaten track then head to this beautiful conglomeration of villages in the Dolra valley for some lovely walks and scenery. It is possible to spend a night here but sleeping and eating options are relatively limited.
Have you ever been to Mestia? Have you ever done any of the hikes or visited the places to eat? What did you think and have we missed anything? Please comment, like and share.
Photos Mestia: To see more visit our Flickr page