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Svaneti: Georgia’s rocky wilderness, new ski ‘paradise’

Upper Svaneti has emerged as an increasingly popular destination for tourists from Europe and elsewhere
AFP

Mestia (Georgia) (AFP) – With its rugged landscape of rocky peaks, virgin slopes and breathtaking vistas, Georgia’s most isolated region, Upper Svaneti, is a magnet for skiers and even hopes to host the Winter Olympics one day.

Famous for its ancient villages dotted with stone watchtowers, forested gorges and alpine valleys, this tiny Caucasus region is one of the highest and most remote settlements in Europe.

Upper Svaneti was locked away from the outside world for centuries but has over the past few years emerged as a popular destination for tourists from Europe and elsewhere.

The slopes of Svaneti — where a ski season lasts for as long as six to seven months a year — are especially popular with skiers.

“It’s simply a paradise for me here,” Igor Lipovoi, a skier from Ukraine, told AFP on the slopes of Tetnuldi mountain.

“And besides, it’s fairly cheap here: it’s much, much cheaper than Europe.”

In a bid to attract tourists, the government spent millions of dollars to improve transport links to Svaneti and built a new airport in the village of Mestia, a regional hub, and two modern resorts.

The region — designated a UN World Heritage site — was once so isolated that cultural and religious treasures were brought here for safekeeping during the many invasions Georgia has suffered over the centuries.

Some of those treasures, including a thick leather-bound Bible dating from 897, remain in the local museum.

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili has said he discussed “the prospect of hosting the Winter Olympics in Georgia” with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach during a trip to Lausanne in February.

“I believe that we should aim for 2030, adopting a very important and ambitious plan in order to prepare the country for an international contest of this magnitude,” Kvirikashvili has told the government.

Magda Sanikidze, a spokeswoman for Georgia’s Mountain Resorts Development Company, said that over the past five years the government had seen explosive growth in the number of foreign tourists.

“The international interest towards Georgia’s ski resorts such as Svaneti is growing in leaps and bounds,” she told AFP.

“Svaneti’s 30 kilometre-long ski tracks are ideal for both amateur skiers and top-level international ski competitions.”

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