Seven Years On: Etseri, Svaneti

Date: 17 February 2011 at 18:46

Subject: Hello from Mestia


I have enjoyed your newspaper for much of the 11 years I have lived in Georgia - based in Tbilisi until 2007, and from then onwards in Svaneti. At the moment, following 2 winters teaching English in Ushguli, I am with TLG and doing the same job in Mestia's No. 1 Middle School.

I would like to offer you the services of my photography and writing from Svaneti, samples of which are available on my blog [no longer available]... I also run the Svaneti Renaissance Facebook group, currently with over 220 members.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Hanmer

Maia, [translated] Definitely reply with thanks and that we agree on letters from Svaneti, we'll start this week, article + photo for the usual fee.

George Sharashidze

Dear Tony,

Thank you very much for your warm words and your interest in cooperating with Georgia Today. We would be very glad if you could send us 1 story with a photo on a weekly basis. Please let me know if that is all right for you and suggest any idea you will be writing about this week.

Wish you and your Svan students and pupils all the best,

Maia Edilashvili

[then] Editor

Georgia Today

With these three emails, I began a new career. It was more than six months before I even met any of the GT staff in person in Tbilisi, but from then until now I have been able to write an article a week without missing one issue of the newspaper. In this time, I have amassed nearly 300 stories just from Svaneti, a photo for each, and quite a few from elsewhere along the way (those Svan articles need a publisher; a book I dream of awaits.)

The necessity of writing x words a week by a deadline has been a good impetus, although I must also say that there never seems to be nothing to write about. When I started, the renovation of Mestia and its road up from Zugdidi was in full swing, pushed into action by a very energetic Mikheil Saakashvili, then in his second term as President of Georgia. He was a frequent visitor to the town, skiing on newly restored Hatsvali runs, often with VIP guests. The place was booming.

Since then, the road has been extended more than halfway to Ushguli and Tetnuldi Ski Resort has opened between Mulakhi and Ipari villages. Guest houses and hotels have mushroomed in Mestia and all villages in the region. Winter tourism has picked up enormously.

There are some downsides too. Some village renovation has strayed far from the local esthetic, unconstrained by any building codes. Misha’s road, tarmacked to the edge of Jorkvali and cemented from there up, has suffered deterioration of its unprotected cement surface from the harsh elements of weather and rock-falls. Quite a number of places on it have seen heaving, sinking or outright falling away of the surface. Only emergency upkeep or repair is being done, meaning that this amazing road, our lifeline, could decay to its former 1- or 2-gear misery in a couple of years, more, then doubling the time from Zugdidi to Mestia.

Crime and uneven police response remain challenges; the rule of law here is still often seen as unnecessary, a sissy thing. Be warned, visitors!

It is an enormous privilege not only to live here but also to write about it, and I thank and salute the staff of GT for having me on board these years. Many more to come, I hope!

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 1800 members, at

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

22 February 2018 19:53