Svaneti – Europe’s Paradise Rediscovered
Grand Hotel Ushba - as close to heaven as you can get
"During the first hotel season, I think the only complaint we got were from guests about the word 'probably' in our slogan 'Probably the best hotel location on earth'. All those who complained thought we we should take away that word; they strongly believed that they had stayed at the "best hotel location on earth”. - Richard Bærug.
Norwegian-born Richard Bærug is proud of having got involved in a what first seemed to be a modest hotel project in the most beautiful and mountainous part of Georgia and Europe – the remote and somewhat mystical region of Svaneti. During a hiking tour in the summer of 2009 he bounced into the local Argvliani family that possessed two buildings, one of which they wanted to turn into a small hotel. They immidiately decided to cooperate.
"I have been working in the travel industry for many years, but I have never seen such a location as this," Bærug admits.
Precisely one year after they met - on 14 June 2010 the doors of Grand Hotel Ushba were opened for guests at this peaceful mountain resort in the Becho valley at the very foot of the impressive Queen of the Caucasian mountains, Mountain Ushba (4710 m). It has become a target destination for those that have done and seen "everything” and want to bring their travel experiences to new and unbelievable altitudes and emotions.
The mother in the local Svanetian family, Vardo Ushkhvani is the soul of the house. A 66-year young school teacher, she is an excellent chef and a multitalented and strong woman. She makes excellent and delicious „kubdari” (bread filled with spicy meat), „khachapuri” (cheese bread), „achma” (multi-layered cheesebread), „ostri” (meat with tomatoes and onion), „khinkali” (dumlings), excellent cheese, a series of tasty juices and not to forget her own salt and spices collected on the beautiful Svanetian meadows. The Svan cuisine is combined with some of the most extraordinary Georgian wines like Kindzmarauli, Khvanchkara, Saperavi and Mukuzani to mention a few.
Vardo is the key person in several activities offered at the hotel. She organises cooking courses and she teaches people to make the unique Svan hats. Her youngest son Levan is an experienced mountain guide and brings hotel guests to some of the most beautiful spots in the Caucasian mountain world. June is the month when nature explodes in an incredibly symphony of intensive flower colours. The alpine meadows have to be seen in order to believe their beauty, this is also the time when the yellow and white rhodedendron forests wake up around and next to the hotel. The family has several horses and they can be recommended on the steep hike up to the fabulous Mukhere mountain above the mountain village of Latali. During the Middle Ages the mountain used to house what was known as Europe’s highest located monastry at 2700 meters. Now the charming church is restored and from the remains of the monastery a breath-taking view towards most of the highest peaks in the Caucasus opens up. No wonder the munks chose this place to be as close to God as possible.
Ever dreamt about finding gold? Svaneti is the right place to try your luck. According to legends gold drew the argonauts and the greeks to the Caucasus, and on the banks of the strong and sometimes furious Engure river most people can find pieces of gold during one hour of digging.
The older son of the Argvliani family, Arkadi is a multitalented artist and artisan who also make sure that excellent crosscountry skiing tracks are prepared for both guests and locals in the magnificent snow landscape in the upper Becho valley around the hotel. The snow season streches from November till the end of April. Slalom and downhill skiing is possible at the neighbouring resort of Hatsval. Mountain biking and mountain climbing are examples of other activities out in the amazing Svanetian nature.
Svaneti has for ages been considered as a haven of peace, too remote and high for enemies to reach. It was to Svaneti historically Georgian queens and kings brought their most astonishing icons and other valuable items in times of war and unrest. Here they were safe. This historical fact is also one of the reason why the Museum in Mestia has an extraordinary collection of orthodox icons and other historical treasures. Visiting some of the small Svanetian churches with the most beautiful icons and wall-paintings reinforces the feeling of being blessed as a traveller.
Svaneti has kept much of the traditions that elsewhere in Europe have been lost. Paying a visit to the mountain village of Ushgul is like travelling back in time. Wandering around the spectacular Svan towers – the skyscrapers of the Middle Ages – man looses the feeling of time or on the contrary feels that he or she is brought back to the Middle Ages. Needless to say, Ushgul is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Welcome to Europe’s Himalaya!
Some Facts about the Svaneti region of the Republic of Georgia :
- Svaneti, is a historic province in Georgia, in the northwestern part of the country. Located on the southern slopes of the central Greater Caucasus, Svaneti is the highest inhabited area in Europe. Since 1996 the Upper Svaneti region has been included in the UNESCO's World Heritage List "considering that the region of Upper Svaneti is of outstanding universal value being an exceptional landscape that has preserved to a remarkable degree its original medieval appearance, notable for the distribution, form, and architecture of its human settlements."
- "The Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus is an exceptional example of mountain scenery with medieval-type villages and tower-houses preserved by its long isolation. The characteristic landscape of Upper Svaneti is formed by small villages, dominated by their church towers and situated on the mountain slopes, with a natural environment of gorges and alpine valleys and a backdrop of snow-covered mountains."
- "The wealth of monumental and minor art (metal work, manuscript illustrations, textiles and embroidery, wood-carving, icon painting, ancient forms of musical and oral folklore, vernacular architecture) are of paramount importance for the study of Georgia and the Caucasus. The monumental mural painting of Svaneti is of great importance in the study of the origins and development of Georgian and eastern Christian art." UNESCO World Heritage Centre http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/709
- Mt. Ushba ( 4710 meters from the sea level), described as "the Queen of Caucasus", is the most spectaculous and rough mountain of Caucasus. Ushba is known as the "Matterhorn of the Caucasus" for its spire-shaped double summit. From the point of view of mountain climbing Ushba is considered to be the most dramatic to ascend and is considered as one of the most difficult peak in the world.
About Grand Hotel Ushba:
Grand Hotel Ushba was opened on 14 June 2010 at the foot of one of Europe's highest mountain, Mt. Ushba. The hotel has a total of 7 guest rooms, all designed in a simple and tasteful way. All the guest rooms have a mountain view. The Ushba Suite has an overwhelming view towards the Ushba summit (4710 m) in the northeastern direction.
Some of the Activities offered by Grand Hotel Ushba guests are:
- Mountain climbing tours
- Skiing: Off-piste skiing and Cross-country skiing
- Mountain hiking, flower hiking and mineral water hike
- Horseriding and biking
- Trips: trip to Ushguli (UNESCO World Heritage site), museum trip to Mestia, a helicopter trip above the mountain world of Svaneti with views towards Ushba and other peaks and trips outside Svaneti
- A church tour and a concert with Svan song and music
- Courses: cooking course, the Svan language course and Svan felt hat making course
- Other activities: wine tasting, gold digging and a visit to a Svan farm
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