Party Time: Etseri, Svaneti


Hi, we’d like to come for a few days soon. 18 of us, in our own minivan. OK?

Gulp. My wife began negotiating a price for the group, all coming from the village next to hers in Kakheti and several of them acquaintances of hers for many years.

They would bring and cook their own food; we would just host them, help with serving, and of course deal with the aftermath of laundry etc. once they’d gone. So that kept the price down, along with the Hometown Element and the size of the group, which would fill our guest house completely during its stay. They left Kakheti at about midnight and travelled through the night: hardly my preferred time, but it was up to them, apparently to save time.

They ranged in age from about 4 to 60-something, mostly women with a few men sprinkled in. One of the latter so resembled my Svan blood brother that I found myself trying not to glance his way, and had to take his picture to show his lookalike.

The spent a day in Mestia, looking around, going up the Hatsvali ski lift for the spectacular views of Ushba and the Caucasus. The next morning, most of them took a local minivan to Ushguli, which rightly impressed them with its “towers-with-a-village” feel as opposed to Mestia’s “town-with-towers”.

The residents of Ushguli recently closed their road for a day of protest at the lack of attention the government is giving to their 33-odd towers, at least one of which has come down during my last 10 years in Svaneti, having stood for more than a millennium. Shame! Old roofing leading to leaks, freezes and stone cracking is to blame. How they got those original heavy slate tiles on top of such tall structures in the first place 1000 years ago is quite beyond me, but they did. Now, without roof repairs, many of those ancient structures are severely threatened. The government did then show up, and on TV promised to help. We’ll see!

Our group seemed to have no lack of energy, staying up late and getting up early to make the most of each day. I was called to participate in all their main meals as host, joining in with the toasts and once being tamada (toastmaster) as well, an art in which I have been taught well by locals. I brought out my 2700-year-old Kakhetian wine vessel, but this didn’t make much of a splash: “Ours is about 3500,” they responded, so I put it away. But the pair of meter-long kudu horns from Zimbebwe? THOSE were a thing they had not seen before, and promptly had to try out, dry, for photos. (No one dared fill them, I think.)

The final day saw most of the group get driven to neighboring Becho to tackle the hike to its wonderful waterfall, which took nearly the whole day and left them again impressed, though quite tired. They left that evening at about 7, which again meant another through-the-night drive, but again this was their choice, so who was I to argue? Now we’re washing all the bedding, readying for the next group before which we at least have a pause, and consider buying a dryer for days when the outdoor clotheslines fail in rain. Sometimes it pours, both in weather and in guests.

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 nearly 2000 members, at

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

By Tony Hanmer

29 August 2019 18:22