Experience Georgia's Svaneti region on this unique Intrepid Exploratory trip

Wedged between plenty of rocks and all manner of hard places, it’s probably none too surprising that Georgia’s Svaneti region isn’t a regular fixture on the Eurasian tourist trail (well, on what Eurasian tourist trail there is). The Mongols never made it to Svaneti, and even the Soviets only exerted a tenuous hold – so that should give some idea of its remote and rugged nature. Isolated and independent, tribal traditions still hold sway here in a major way: the wheel only made an appearance in 1935, pagan elements suffuse Christian beliefs, stone watchtowers dominate the verdant valleys of Mestia and Ushguli, and provincial cuisine is still preferred. If it’s the world’s forgotten backroads you’re after, sign up for this unique Exploratory trip through the Svaneti.

TRIP CHANGES FOR 2017:
From 1st January 2017 this trip will change to become the KFSI Tbilisi to Istanbul and include destinations in Turkey along with the Svaneti region of Georgia. More details to come in coming months, with the itinerary outlined below:
1 Tbilisi
2 Tbilisi
3 Kutaisi
4 Mestia
5 Mestia
6 Ushguli
7 Mestia
8 Mestia/Batumi
9 Batumi
10 Batumi/Sarpi/Ayder
11 Ayder
12 Uzungöl
13 Trabzon
14 Flight to Istanbul
15 Depart

Start
Tbilisi, Georgia
Finish
Tbilisi, Georgia
Countries
Georgia
Themes
Expedition
Code
KFSG
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 12
Carbon offset
0kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Far from a mere sightseeing tour, this trip is active and hands-on. You'll try your hand at preparing delicious kubdari, hike to the Shkhara glacier, and mingle with the locals of the Kutaisi farmers market
  • In Georgia's beautiful old capital, Tbilisi, enjoy not only a guided walking tour but also a visit to the spectacular treasury of the Museum of Georgia
  • Discover the World Heritage-listed Jvari Church and Svetitskoveli Cathedral in Georgia's spritual centre – the 3,000-year-old town of Mtskheta
  • Journey to the Svaneti region, the remote and alluring land of snow-capped mountains, medieval-style tower-houses and a fascinating local dialect

Itinerary

Welcome to Georgia, the 'Balcony of Europe'. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm, followed by an optional group dinner in a local restaurant. Please look for a note in the hotel lobby or ask the hotel reception where the meeting will take place. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
After breakfast, enjoy a guided walk around Tbilisi to see its beautiful sights. All the places of interest in the Old Town are very close to each other, within a few minutes’ walk. You will begin at Metekhi Church, continue to the Great Synagogue, then to Sioni Cathedral and Anchiskhati Basilica. Next is the Narikala Fortress and the Sulphur Baths, with some beautiful views of the charming Old Town along the way. Afterwards you will visit the stunning treasury of the Museum of Georgia before taking a stroll along Rustaveli Avenue, the main street in Tbilisi. The evening is then free for you to spend as you please. Perhaps indulge yourself in Tbilisi's lively theatre scene and witness some of the energetic and acrobatic dance that Georgia is known for.

Notes: Total walking time today is approximately 4–5 hours.
Drive the 25 km (approximately 30 minutes) to visit Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia. This gem of a town, the nation's spiritual centre, is more than 3,000 years old. You'll discover its major historic sights, including the Jvari church (6th century) and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (11th century). The Robe of Christ is said to be buried at the latter. Afterwards, continue on to the pretty town of Kutaisi, the second largest city in the country (approximately 3 hours). Kutaisi is an antique town, also more than 3,000 years old. It's connected to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts, along with his mythical (or is it?) Golden Fleece. Here you will encounter the medieval Gelati Cathedral. There may also be time to explore the cobbled streets of the town as you make your way up to the ruins of the Bagrati palace and citadel. Tonight you will stay at a local guesthouse in Kutaisi with private facilities.

Notes: Total driving time today is approximately 4.5 hours.
In the morning you will visit a local farmers market; later on, a stunning natural grotto with mesmerising stalagmites and stalactites. After lunch, prepare for the next exciting part of your journey – into the remote Svaneti region. This is the highest inhabited area in the Caucasus and is divided into two parts: Upper Svaneti and Lower Svaneti. You will arrive in Mestia, which is the centre of Upper Svaneti and is surrounded by lush mountains and medieval-type villages. Its tower-houses were built to accommodate villagers at times of invasion and violence between the 9th and 13th centuries. Around 175 towers still stand today, though many are uninhabited. This area is home to the Svans, a proud people with a long history of survival in this isolated part of Europe. They speak an unwritten language that's all but foreign to other Georgians. Tonight you will stay in a local guesthouse in Mestia with shared facilities.

Notes: Total driving time today is approximately 5 hours.
After breakfast, it's off to visit a local family to witness the making of Georgian cheese. Cheese is a key ingredient in many Georgian dishes, including the famous khachapuri, a traditional dish of cheese-filled bread which you will no doubt enjoy plenty of during your time here. Continue to the village Lakhiri (approximately 20 minutes) and start your walk (approximately 4–5 hours) in the direction of Mestia. After a little uphill walk, you will descend to a beautiful valley full of blooming flowers, and enjoy an amazing view of Chalati Glacier (2,300 m) and Mestia Valley with its watchtowers. The paths can be steep and the ground can be uneven, so you will need a good level of fitness and appropriate footwear for this walk. Those who would rather not hike can stay in the village or in Mestia. Once back in Mestia, you will visit the Museum of History and Ethnography (closed on Mondays). Then it's time to visit the home of another local family, where we will participate in the preparation of kubdari, a traditional dish filled with pork and beef that originates from this region. Retire for the night in your Mestia guesthouse.
Today you will visit the village of Ushguli, a town located around 50 km southeast of Mestia. Ushguli has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The village lies at 2,200 metres above sea level, and is claimed to be one of the highest inhabited villages in Europe. It is most famous for its abundance of watchtowers, and you'll take in the famous view of these towers and their snowcapped backdrop – the highest mountain in Georgia, Mt Shkhara (5,068 m). You will also visit the Church of the Virgin Mary (12th century) and walk to Queen Tamar’s tower. Again, those who would prefer not to walk today are free to stay and explore Ushguli, perhaps visiting some small ethnographic museums and watchtowers. Tonight you will stay in a family guesthouse with shared facilities.

Notes: Total driving time today is approximately 3 hours. Total walking time is 2–3 hours, depending on conditions and fitness levels.
Today's longer walk begins from the guesthouse. The route will take you to the base of Georgia’s highest mountain, Mt Shkhara (5,068 m). On the way to the glacier you will encounter small creeks as well as many rock formations and beautiful meadows, all the while surrounded by spectacular peaks. Cross your fingers for clear weather so you can enjoy this experience as much as possible! The walking trail comes to an end at the Shkhara glacier, where the Enguri river originates below. Return to your guesthouse in Mestia in the afternoon. Those who would rather not walk today can discuss alternative options in advance with their trip leader. 

Notes: Total driving time today is approximately 3 hours. Approximate walking time is 5–6 hours.
Today is a long but rewarding day of driving. Journey through the sublime Georgian mountains, from Mestia back to Tbilisi (approximately 8–9 hours). There will be stops along the way for lunch, photos and to stretch your legs. Tomorrow there is plenty of free time, so take this opportunity, while you watch the countryside go by, to plan how you will spend your last days in Georgia. Tonight you'll stay in a hotel in Tbilisi that has private facilities.
Enjoy free time in Tbilisi. Chat to the warm-hearted locals; explore more of the ancient or modern side of this dynamic city; fit in the optional activities you didn't have time for at the start of your trip; or perhaps relax and feast on your final fill of khinkali (Georgian dumplings). There's a lively cafe scene here, a great way to wile away the day. Alternatively you can try digging for treasure at the Dry Bridge Bazaar. In the evening there will be a final (optional) dinner and glass of Georgian wine with your fellow travellers. Retire afterwards to your Tbilisi hotel. Your trip concludes on the morning of Day 10. Those staying longer might like to take one of several excellent day trips offered by our local partners – to the Kakheti Wine Region, David Gareja Monastery or along the Georgian Military Highway to Kazbegi. Talk to your leader if you are interested in any of these activities.
View trip notes to read full itinerary

Inclusions

Meals
8 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 5 dinners
Transport
Private Bus, Public bus
Accommodation
Guesthouse (5 nights), Hotel (4 nights)
Included activities
  • Tbilisi - Sightseeing City Tour
  • Tbilisi - Museum of Georgia
  • Kutaisi - Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery
  • Mtskheka - Jvari Church
  • Mtskheka - Svetitskoveli Cathedral
  • Kutaisi - Farmers Market
  • Mestia - Museum of History & Ethnography
  • Mestia - Kubdari (Cooking- Preparation)
  • Mestia - Georgian Cheese Making
  • Mestia - Lakhiri Village Hike
  • Ushguli - Village Hike
  • Ushguli - Church of the Virgin Mary
  • Ushguli - Shkhara Glacier Hike & Picnic

Dates

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Important notes

1. We recommend taking a torch or head torch as there are frequent power cuts and facilities might be outside in some places. There also may be no street lights in the villages.
2. Please note there is a chance of potential changes to the itinerary due to: heavy rain, flooding and snow at higher altitudes, which often affect roads and bridges making travel difficult or impossible (particularly in remote areas). Landslides are also common.
3. Please note the 3 lunches that are included on the trip are "Lunch Box" type meals, they are not cafe/restaurant meals.
4. Don’t photograph sensitive sites like military bases and power installations, you maybe charged a photo fee at some places. Be aware of cultural sensitivities when photographing churches and other religious sites. Some visitors have been prevented from photographing the Presidential Palace in Tbilisi.
5. In the case of a genuine crisis or emergency, Intrepid's local operator Visit Georgia can be reached on: +995 593 99 69 68 and/or +995 599 55 89 98.
6. Please make sure you have access to an additional US$500, to be used when unforeseen incidents or circumstances outside our control (eg. a natural disaster, civil unrest or an outbreak of bird flu) necessitate a change to our planned route.
7. High altitudes will be experienced during this trip of up to 2200m above sea level.
8. Although prices are often quoted in US dollars and Euros, according to Georgian law all goods and services should be paid for in local currency (Georgian Lari). Credit cards are widely used in Tbilisi, but less so in the regions. ATMs can be found in major towns. Travellers’ cheques are not widely accepted.

Trip notes

Want an in-depth insight into this trip? Your trip notes provide a detailed itinerary, visa info, how to get to your hotel, what’s included - pretty much everything you need to know about this adventure and more.

View trip notes

Reviews

Our Expedition - Svaneti, Georgia trips score an average of 4.78 out of 5 based on 9 reviews in the last year.

Expedition - Svaneti, Georgia , August 2016

Expedition - Svaneti, Georgia , August 2016