Europe’s highest village, about 2200 m above sea level, has come quite a long way since I lived there for the winters of 2007-9 teaching English, when there was hardly any public café, bar or restaurant available at all, even in summer. Not everyone likes all of the changes (you can’t please all the people all the time); but the choices for the village’s many visitors and tourists have grown considerably, to suit a wide range of budgets, tastes and interests, from just eating to learning how the food is made in professional hands-on lessons. As there are no addresses in the village of 4 hamlets, it may be best to ask for directions to a particular place, and also to double-check when you arrive that it is the place you were looking for! The hamlets, in ascending order from the bottom coming from Mestia, are: Murqmeli, Chazhashi, Chvibiani and Zhibiani.
Note, these are generally eateries which are separate from guest houses or hotels, although they may also be part of such; but every place offering somewhere to stay will also feed you to some degree or another, either as part of the price or negotiably for more. Also, not all of these places have online reviews or even contact information yet, but the available information is presented here for one’s choosing.
Café Koshki, Chvibiani hamlet
Good food, not high prices, wi-fi, a general and souvenir shop next door, and some amazing carved wood, including the traditional Svan chair for the man of the house, as you’ve never seen it before. (+995) 596 11 98 61
Café Bar Enguri, Chvibiani hamlet, near the main bridge and the school
A large new wood building with good local food and drinks, wi-fi, well located.
Tel. +995 592 11 01 79
Café Ushguli Maspindzeli, Chvibiani hamlet, near Koshki (see above)
Tel. +995 599 97 48 73
Beqnu Bar & Café, Chvibiani hamlet
Enguri Hotel Café, Chvibiani hamlet
Villa Lileo, Zhibiani hamlet
(Full disclosure: I lived here in my 2 Ushguli winters, before the current building was made. It has expanded much from then, both in size and in diversity of offerings to the visitor.)
Dato Ratiani and his wife Nanuli Chelidze run this place, arguably Ushguli’s best, which boasts a magnificent locally styled dining hall able to seat and feed 80 (the village’s largest). The cooking uses local and organic ingredients, can be scaled to any budget and dietary needs, and can also include tailor-made lessons for individuals or groups. Wi-fi, of course; a big fireplace and bar too. They stand out.
(+995) 599 912256
Just a sampling! Please note, one should expect to pay perhaps more to stay and to eat in Ushguli than at comparable places anywhere else in Georgia, because… it’s the end of a rather long and winding road. All that infrastructure must be taken painstakingly up, up, up, and simply getting it there is more costly in fuel and time than to anywhere else in the whole country. Also, it’s a good idea to stay in the village for more than just a few hours. There IS enough to occupy you, what with hiking, museums, towers, meeting the locals, and even comparing eateries in order to decide which is your favorite. Let it all sink in; you won’t regret the opportunity to get to know the place a bit better than an afternoon will give you.
It’s also worth reviewing the places you tried online, and encouraging the proprietors to put up at least a Facebook page if they don’t have an online presence yet. Constructive criticism may also be well received, if offered in the right spirit.
Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1900 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/
He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: