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Inside Europe’s highest town which is only accessible for half the year



A small settlement in Georgia is Europe’s highest and is only accessible for half of the year.

Ushguli is 2,100 metres above sea level and located in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains. It is home to only 300 residents.

Made up of five medieval villages – Chakhashi, Chviani, Zhiviani, Murkmeli and Lamjurishi – the area is a historic site that also offers off-the-beaten-track skiing.

Georgia Travel said of the area: “Nestled among the rolling hills and high mountains, Ushguli in winter is draped in white, while in the summer the green fields, colorful roofs, and Svan towers will take your breath away with their beauty.”

It is not in an accessible location which has preserved many of the villages’ medieval characteristics, including unique defensive tower houses called Svan towers. Due to their preservation and traditional architecture, the area has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The tower houses are between three and five stories tall and were built between the 9th and 12th centuries. The isolation of Ushguli has preserved the towers where others nearby have been lost.

Chazhashi, one of the villages within the community, contains over 200 of these towers and has been preserved as a museum.

Their remote nature meant that few could conquer the villages. The name Ushguli is connected to the term “ushishari guli”, which means “fearless heart”.

Other notable sights in Ushguli include the Lamaria Mother of God Church, the archaeological museum, the summer and winter towers of King Tamar, and the St. Barbare Church in the Murqmeli village.

Ushguli’s slopes are free of modern amenities such as lifts and resorts, giving skiers a one-of-a-kind experience to explore nature. 

Ushguli is on the slopes of the 5,201-meter-high Shkhara peak. This is Georgia’s highest peak, and the third-highest in the Caucasus Mountain Range. 

Visitors are advised to warm up on Hatsvali Mountain, near Svaneti. The panorama from here offers breathtaking views of Ushba Mountain, affectionately known as the “Matterhorn of the Caucasus”.

John Crook, a British mountain guide, said when he skis in Svaneti, he selects a hill according to the daily conditions, climbs it (usually from 900 to 1,500 metres) and skis down from there.

He said: “It’s different from skiing in the resorts, where there are a lot of people. In Ushguli, you choose your mountain, your line. It’s hard to get over skiing like that. Once you do it, you’ll never ski in a resort again”.

The area is cut off by snow for around six months of the year, making it inaccessible. During the summer months, the two roads out of the town can be used.

Visitors can fly into Queen Tamar Airport in nearby Mestia and drive the 28 miles to Ushguli. There are a handful of guesthouses in the town to stay in.

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