Gold Harvest: Etseri, Svaneti


Winter has decided to delay its arrival up in our mountains, and we’re not sorry. Only the surrounding peaks have had one of those sprinklings which is seen only when low clouds dissipate, revealing what they were working on in secret. The white stuff hasn’t appeared in the village at all yet. We’ve even had a few straggling guests, on foot and bike, enjoying the late easy access before certain roads, like the rough but magnificent one down from Ushguli to Lentekhi, are snow-closed for up to half the year.

Instead, it’s all autumn reds, yellows and evergreens together in a fantastic display which only now is losing its splendor as the leaves fall, briefly making bizarre shadows under the trees that are the same hues as the leaves were, before they dry up to brown.

The annual harvest festival at school was even held outdoors recently, a first in many years. Warm autumn sun let the classes deck their tables with all the trimmings of autumn bounty in the sports stadium. Corn, potatoes, apples, pears, pumpkins, squashes, hay, all the leaves you could want as decoration and made into crowns. Someone was even making churchkhela, the ubiquitous national sweet, strings of shelled walnuts or hazels dipped into thickened grape juice, and handing them out!

The different grades made verbal presentations of memorized material, poetry and prose about the season rattled off while I hoped that some of it would stick in their heads. Parents, teachers and classmates looked on and applauded their efforts. The grade 10s danced too, to canned music, and although not in national costume, they looked suitably festive and acrobatic.

How different this was from having snow thick on the ground already, minus temperatures, howling winds, cloudy skies. It may not bode well in the global warming scheme of things, but we know how much proper winter we typically have to “look forward to,” and lessening this by a month or so can make a big difference to people’s moods. See, it’s not so bad after all, we can get through this and spring will return as well, you’ll see!

Perhaps only the winter sports enthusiasts, and there are plenty of them here too, are longing for more snow than we’ve had so far. They’re itching to get up on the slopes of Tetnuldi and Hatsvali resorts near Mestia, with their European-class lifts and world-class runs, and go wild on skis or snowboards, either of which can be rented if you don’t own your own. But this period will come soon enough, and at its higher elevations typically will last longer than Bakuriani’s or Gudauri’s, if you can spare the extra travel time and stay long enough to make it worth your while.

Until then, we mellow in the colored glows, stack up our firewood, let our animals graze outside as long as possible, winterize water supplies and pipes, dig out the cold-weather clothing and put away our shorts and sandals, and enjoy this respite for what it is. Autumn isn’t going away just yet, so let’s not wish it to, but be content with this extra sun and warmth before the heat-reflective white transforms everything and nature really starts to hibernate. Up in Svaneti, winter is a serious thing, not to be taken lightly: an annual test of fortitude and relationships.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1900 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

08 November 2018 19:26