The 3-hour-long drive from Zugdidi to Mestia sees the environment change from subtropical to subalpine and then to an alpine wonderland of meadows and forests crisscrossed by babbling brooks. The road brings you to the foot of the highest peak of Georgia, crown-like Shkhara, and the power couple of twin-peaked Ushba and cone-shaped Tetnuldi Mountains, which, according to legend, are petrified bride and groom sleeping underneath the everpresent snow.
Svan legend tells us that the poor young man, Ushba, and the daughter of a rich family, Tetnuldi, fell in love with one another. Tetnuldi’s family forbade her from having a relationship with a poor boy. Tetnuldi, with her hopes dashed, dressed herself in her white bride’s dress and asked God to turn them to stone so that nobody could stop them from being together. Suddenly the two beautiful peaks appeared on the Caucasus mountains – Ushba and Tetnuldi – who stand across from one another and gaze longingly at one another to this day. There is a tragic beauty in this story: cursed to be forever within sight of one another, but to never truly be together.
Mestia is the home of Mikheil Khergiani, a mountaineer often known as The Mountain Lion. A museum dedicated to this intrepid conqueror of mountains is well worth a visit, but first make sure you see the ancestral Svan Towers. There are 45 of these 24-meter-tall fortifications in Mestia, all of which are topped with the characteristic Svan battlements.
Due to its remote and naturally fortified location, Mestia has long served as the defender of the country’s treasury. When foreign invaders threatened other locations, it was to Mestia that the treasures of Georgia were taken for safe-keeping.
A portion of this treasury can still be seen today in the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography right here in Mestia.
You can also see several well-preserved examples of Middle Age fortifications, churches, and buildings scattered throughout Mestia’s narrow streets. These include the two-story medieval Matskhovari Church, the Seti Archangel Church, Pusti Church, and more.
For those wanting to better understand the local culture, the Mestia Art and Culture Center achieves this through the use of Svan music and dance.
Eight kilometers from Mestia is Hatsvali Resort, and 15 kilometers away is Tetnuldi Resort, two popular resorts where visitors can ski, snowboard, go on skiing tours, heli-ski, paraplane, go on a horseback tour, and more.
Like all of Georgia’s prominent ski resorts, both of these resorts are included in the multi-day subscription package, meaning you can visit both and use their chair lifts on a single ticket.
Lovers of nature will be spoiled for choice in Mestia.
It is just a short drive to the beautiful Koruldi Lakes. It's also possible to organize multiple days hikes to, Lakumurash and Memuli Lakes. There are also the Large Okrotskali and Small Okrotskali lakes, which flow over a 400-meter-long slope, creating a waterfall.
Ushba Waterfall, the most powerful in all of Georgia, can also be found just outside nearby Mazeri Village.