Set in the topmost reaches of the Enguri valley beneath the snow-covered massif of Mt Shkhara (5193m), Georgia’s highest peak, Ushguli is an unbelievably picturesque spot. With more than 20 ancient Svan towers, it has been on the Unesco World Heritage List since 1996. This community of four villages, a 47km, 2½-hour drive southeast from Mestia, reaches up to 2100m above sea level and has a claim to be Europe's highest permanently inhabited settlement. From lowest to highest, the four villages are Murqmeli, Chazhashi, Chvibiani and Zhibiani.About 70 families (about 200 people) live in the area, enough to support a small school. The area is snow-covered for 6 months of the year, and often the road to Mestia is impassable.
Typical Svaneti protective towers are found throughout the village. The Ushguli Chapel located on a hilltop near the village dates back to the 12th century.
There’s some wonderful walking around Ushguli: it takes about six hours to walk 8km up the valley to the foot of the Shkhara glacier and back. One tower in Chazhashi houses Ushguli’s main Ethnographic Museum, with a superb collection of gold, silver and wooden icons and crosses dating back to the 12th century from Ushguli’s seven churches. At the top of Ushguli, beautifully situated on a hill looking up the valley to Shkhara, is the 12th-century Lamaria Church, with a defensive tower next to it.
Young men still ride through Ushguli’s streets, galloping on horseback besides free-range livestock, ranging from pigs to goats, splashing through the muddy paths in a world that feels like it hasn’t changed in centuries. The only sign of the outside, modern world are the electricity pilons hanging losely between the houses. Surrounding views are extraordinary and worthwhile to go. Accommodation is minimal, kind of gust houses only.
[caption id="attachment_6318" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Lamaria Church[/caption]