6 AM: The road is thick, fresh snow; undefined – just part of an endless white sheet running the entire mountainside.
It falls in delicate waves as the mini-bus meanders.
Getting to Mestia in mid-winter is proving a mission.
But the sight of stone towers elevates my early-morning haze to a high.
Watch the Video – Exploring Mestia
VIDEO INFO: Getting a mini-bus to the ancient stone towers of Mestia – lost amid mid-winter snow. Drinking with locals, wandering quiet streets, climbing Medieval stone towers, surrounded by the high peaks of the Caucasus Mountains. Travels in Georgia – 2012 (before mass tourism arrived).
Mestia is located in the north-west of Georgia in the Svaneti region.
The Caucasus Mountains surrounding Mestia reach 3000 to 5000 meters, and it’s these parts which are among the highest-inhabited areas of Georgia.
These defensive stone towers were built between 8 and 12 AD. Today, around 175 remain scattered across the valleys of Svaneti.
Travel Advice for Mestia in Winter
NOTE: I traveled here in 2012, and I believe Mestia has really taken off as a tourist resort since (including as a ski resort). Before it was completely quiet in winter.
GETTING THERE: Marshrutkas (vans) from Zugdidi leave early morning from outside the train station (good if you’re coming from Tibisi on the overnight train).
Traveling in the height of winter is possible: It will be very cold but the road to Mestia is usually cleared fast.
(But getting to Ushguli in mid-winter is near impossible. If you find a willing taxi driver it will be very expensive and potentially dangerous due to the snowed-in road).
Travel Gear: Sleeping bag (as home-stays can be very cold outside of the living room), wind-breaker / gore-tex jacket, good fleece jacket w/ thermal underclothes, gloves, hat. Boots and a double-layer of socks.
Accommodation & Eating: Hotels are expensive but family home-stays are good value. You get your own room with shared bathroom and large delicious meals are included, for around $25-30 a day.
Small shops sell alcohol, snacks, etc. However, Mestia eating-out options are limited in winter.
Sights: Aside from exploring Mestia and trekking to other villages – the museum was closed for renovation when I visited – there’s a couple of “family museums” that include climbing the towers and seeing original house interiors.
The Svaneti Mountain Tourism Centre has friendly English-speaking staff and lots of info (895 358049; www.svanetitrekking.ge; Stalin 7, Mestia)