THE HEART OF THE CAUCASUS
The Svaneti region of Georgia lies in the centre of the Caucasus mountain range and is home to steep plunging valleys, picturesque villages and towering snow capped mountains. As such it has been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, not bad! I'd been eager to visit Svaneti ever since planning my dissertation research on the Adishi glacier here. Unfortunately that plan failed to get funding so the Caucasus remained on the bucket for a few more years. Having met up with Cass Gilbert, a pioneer in the bikepacking world with his popular blog and his equally beautiful tumblr, we caught an early morning train from Tbilisi and headed across the country to the town of Zugdidi, close the the Black Sea. It was the first time I'd ever left all my heavy things behind and gone lightweight, with the aim of riding the Svaneti circuit and returning to Tbilisi a week later. It kind of feels like the best of both worlds - being able to really go off the beaten track with a lighter weight set up, whilst still maintaining the 'got to cycle across the country/continent' mentality. Georgia is a perfect place to do just this, with a cheap, regular train network that accepts bikes you can zip from one side of this small mountain country to the other in not too much time at all. Throw the bike on top of a 'Mashrukta' (local bus) and you can get to wherever you need to go at not too much cost. Perfect.
I realised how long it had felt since I'd been in some proper mountains back in Tajikistan, although in reality it was only a little over a month. The Svaneti park is usually a busy place in the summer time with lots of hikers, however, we we there at almost the last moment before the snows came. Late in October the trees which covered the steep valley sides had erupted in colour whilst the mountain tops were covered in a thick blanket of snow. I've always found autumn to be my favourite season, and
Throughout the Svaneti region, and the Georgian mountains as a whole, little villages are dotted. In and amongst the farms and towers are a couple of guesthouses which usually are able to rustle up a little bit of food for not much money. Oftern this would centre around the outstanding 'cachapurri', a bread dish filled with cheese and with an egg cracked on top. They're usually pretty big affairs and could certainly fill the stomach of a hujngry cyclist.
THE VAINAKHISH TOWERS
Perhaps the most striking region of Svaneti, and of the Georgian Caucasus as a whole, are the stone towers that are found dotted throughout the small villages that nestle in the mountains. The history of these towers dates back to the medieval times, yetand what once were defensive structures built to defend the settlements from intruders, now stand derelict and in a little disrepair.
Although I was only in the Svaneti mountains for a week or so it was a spectacular time. I'd pretty much been racing through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to get to Georgia before winter descended, and thankfully I arrived just in time.