Safety : The Georgian mountain region Svaneti
is quite dangerous because of many inhabitants owning hunting weapons and being situated close to the unstable region Abkhazia. Mainly Mestia and it's surroundings and the road from Zugdidi to Mestia leading along the Abkhazian border are unsafe to visit. Ushguli, Melle and Lentekhi are safer but there are no hotels,
no restaurants and no cafes. In Mestia it's possible to find organized guest rooms. Ushguli is a lot more beautiful than Mestia. I found the Svanetic people
more closed than the lowland Georgians, but once the ice is broken they are very friendly and hospitable. The moment you have become friend with one family you are safe, the family (and all their friends) will protect you at all cost. This is the most scenic and also the most traditional mountain region of Georgia. Ushguli is also reachable in the winter but then only via Mestia.
Religious feasts : Kvirikoba (the biggest religious feast of Svaneti
in the small church in Kala, 28 july), Ushguli (5 august), Tsjanishi (smaller,
2 august). During these festivities it is a lot easier to find transport in Svaneti, there are even direct busses from Tbilisi taking the family members that have emigrated to the capital back home for the yearly festivities (25 lari, better reserve in advance).
Travel route through Svaneti : I made a loop starting off via Zugdidi
and Mestia and back via the east way passing Ushguli and Melle. It is safer to take the difficult eastern way to Ushguli but it is often splashed away by inundation, which also happened to me. The roads are in a very bad state. The airport of Mestia is closed. Kutaisi -
Zugdidi (10:20 - 13:00, 4 lari, many pickpockets), Zugdidi - Mestia (army bus,
5 hours traveling, departing from the Svan towers in Zugdidi if the bus is full,
look out for pick pockets), Mestia - Ushguli (40km, taxi 10-15$),
Ushguli - Melle (basically no public transport available, try to find somebody in the village with a jeep that is willing to do this bumpy ride, 30$, 3
hour traveling), Melle - Lentekhi (bus, 50km, 2 hour traveling, the road is sometimes splashed away by rain),
Lentekhi-Kutaisi (3 hours traveling, tickets costs 4-5 lari, group jeep costs 7 lari per person).
Lentekhi : is a quite ugly little city squeezed in between the lower mountains of Svaneti. In the evening the local policemen gets terribly drunk and quite annoying, after 1.5 hour of hassling to get bribes from me they finally let me go after I started showing photos of my family at home which led to them having to toast on the family and suddenly were my friends. If you don't have a guest family there is a woman who rents out a house next to the water well.
Melle : Stretched out farmers village that is a lot nicer situated than Lentekhi in a wide valley with a river that sometimes over floods. Melle is a bit of the end of the civilized world,
the last village to where you can find public transport. No possibilities of accommodation unless you find a guest family.
Mestia : The capital of the higher Svaneti. Situated in a wide valley, consisting of about 30 tower houses and a lot less nice located than Ushguli.
Home stay guestrooms via Silurian Gabliani, Rustaveli St. 16 (near the centre square), phone 569358. Via her bed and breakfast you can find beds for bigger groups also since she belongs to a group of women that offer guest rooms at home. Tsiuri made me the best meal that I had in Georgia, she is teacher of German language, the price was not determined
(I gave 10$ for the bed and 5$ for food which is the standard price). You can visit the museum of Mestia
(tickets 5 lari, expensive and not very interesting unless you are really into icons.)
Ushguli : Amazingly situated mountain village with a lot of tower houses and view on the highest mountain of Georgia. No organized accommodation is available, and it seems more difficult to find a guest family, apparently there are other tribes living here than in Mestia, is is possible to go here as a day trip from Mestia. There are two ethnographical museums in Ushguli, the one in the middle of the village is the most interesting (entrance ticket 3$), but the conservator seldom lets visitors in. In the other museum you can buy (expensive 10-30 lari)
polished wood souvenirs.