Text by Natia Akhalashvili
When was the last time you were in a village?
Just focus and imagine a house with all its homelike flavors and things, a yard with trees providing a burst of color, stories to tell, homemade food, and good wine.
People, sick and tired of urban chaos, are increasingly eager to find places where they, at least for a while, can enjoy peace and quiet, a slower pace of life. They want to spend at least a few days in a totally different environment, to take in tranquility that, albeit fragmented, will last them for a while back in everyday life.
Some find it in agritourism. I am conducting a search of my own, too. I try to embrace whichever place I’m visiting, to walk in the locals’ shoes, to wake up in the morning the way they do, and spend their Friday night, not mine.
Places like that are slowly but surely emerging in Georgia, and they are, at least at this point, related to wine, which probably makes sense in the homeland of winemaking.
In winter, these places become more intimate. With the outdoor work and related hubbub lulled to sleep, your hosts switch to a relatively peaceful schedule, which leaves more time for mingling with guests.
Now this place must be more than you can even imagine! The vast Alazani Valley, with only vineyards and orchards around, and the Caucasus Mountains right there a stone’s throw away. Amid these vineyards there are two stone- and ceramics-clad buildings, and the most palatable wine, homemade dishes, a fireplace and, of course, total peace.
In a nutshell, a perfect place for an authentic Georgian adventure, one that makes you feel at home.
Wintertime. Vineyard and garden activities are finished, and the main process has transferred into the winery, to the qvevri vessels, and you are about to witness magic in action.
The most exciting adventure awaits you by the fireplace. Sitting by the table loaded with yummy dishes from your hosts, mother and daughter, you sip Mestvirishvili wine and listen to their son Beka’s stories about their family and vineyard.
Architecturally the house is quintessential old Georgian, though with everything you’ll need to feel comfortable. If you just cannot live without an internet connection, they have Wi-Fi, too.
TIP: I’ll let you in on one secret: Beka is an excellent Georgian folk performer. Just ask him to sing for you.
TIP: On your way up to or down from Shovi, make sure you visit the Oni Museum displaying many exciting exhibits from different periods in the life of this region.
This is the best place to go if you want to get lost in the forest, mountains, and snow. Yes, get lost! And stay away from the internet, among others.
Here you will stay in a wooden house amid snow-covered fir trees and silence, total silence, just the way your hosts live. You will walk through the shovel-cleared path with a snow wall on either side. In the middle of the forest, you can taste sour mineral waters and try to check the marks on the snow to guess what animal roamed these parts the night before. And the real magic starts at night, when you can see every star in the sky through the skylight.
I can recommend one local pastime activity for those daring enough. Rise first in the morning and look at the village, and find out who the most diligent villager is – whoever’s chimney starts smoking first.
The hosting family will take care of your diet, three times a day, with exceptionally delicious dishes using local ingredients. Racha cuisine is quite diverse and especially pleasant when enjoyed together with the region’s crowning achievement, noble Racha wine. The aftertaste of homemade cured lori ham will last long to remind you of the snow-covered fir trees reaching up to touch the sky. There are no cafes or tourism infrastructure operating in Shovi in winter. 25 kilometers separate Shovi from the regional center of Oni.
Upon request, your hosts can arrange a tour in nearby villages.
There is no internet connection in the facility. For emergencies, though, you can use a mobile internet connection (Magti, Geocell).
Grand Hotel Ushba
This hotel-style traditional house is found in Svaneti, in Tvebishi near the village of Mazera, on the ridge of Ushba, one of the highest peaks in Europe at 4 710 meters above sea level.
Svaneti has long transformed into a fabled destination, and scores of visitors flock here year-round. This place, however, is not as touristic, enabling you to enjoy quiet in the midst of the Caucasus peaks.
The house is owned by clan Arghvliani, a family that operates like clockwork. The furniture is made by one of its members. The wife is an expert in Svanetian cuisine, and her dishes are the best guides to the Svanetian supra festive table. You can also attend culinary workshops here and learn how to make local dishes like kubdari pies with minced meat and tashmjabi mashed potatoes with cheese.
Another family member is an exceptional tour guide promising a totally amazing adventure to familiarize yourself with Svaneti.
In a word, you’re in the middle of the mountains, in a good, sturdy, and comfortable house that, among others, has a sauna and a library, by the way. Above you, there are the Caucasus Mountains, and you are surrounded by fir forests, an alpine zone, and cliffs. It doesn’t get any more rural, does it?
Also, you can make arrangements in advance to have a local folk group perform authentic songs and dances as you enjoy a traditional Svanetian meal.
TIP: Make sure to ask your hosts about Svanetian customs and the significance of the local supra festive table. You will hear amazing stories!