Day 4 of the Caucasian Challenge saw teams drive to Mestia, perhaps the most picturesque town in Georgia.
One of the highlights of any Caucasian Challenge, or indeed any trip to Georgia, is visiting the scenic mountain region of Svaneti. At its heart is the unbelievably beautiful town of Mestia, backed by mountain peaks and filled with unusual stone towers. The people are hospitable too, and cook some of the best food of the region. As we continue our review of the Caucasian Challenge 2016, with only six months till this year’s event, let’s remember the drive to Mestia.
A Surprise in Kutaisi
Day four of the Caucasian Challenge, our second day in Georgia, almost didn’t begin at all. Upon leaving the hotel, drivers from several teams discovered an unexpected obstacle: a street market had sprung up overnight, and the teams’ cars were right in the middle of it. Luckily, we eventually managed to persuade the ladies selling herbs to briefly pause their trading to let us out! Today’s driving wasn’t too challenging, so long as you were prepared for cows on the road at every second turn. We drove very close to breakaway region Abkhazia, having lunch only at Zugdidi, only miles from the “border”.
From there we headed to see one of the world’s largest concrete arch water dams, which blocks the Enguri River just north of Jvari. At almost 300 metres high, it’s a spectacular sight. Several teams chanced their luck at persuading the entrance guards to let us have a walk on the dam itself, with no success. In fact, as we drove back down the mountain path we were passed by a police car heading to where we had just been; perhaps our negotiators fluency in Russian had spooked them a little…
The Drive to Mestia
As we chased away from the Georgian authorities, we began our ascent to Mestia, one of the highlights of the rally. This historic town is the capital of the beautiful and scenic region of Upper Svaneti, and is memorable for its many old stone towers. In recent years the journey from Jvari to Mestia has been made considerably easier by the addition of a new concrete road, dramatically shortening the journey time, especially for local ‘marshutka’ mini-buses who race round corners like F1 drivers. However, they may have paved paradise but the incredible views remain!
Food, Glorious Svaneti Food
The shorter journey meant there was time for a little sightseeing, with a group visit up one of the famous towers, followed by some Chacha, the wonderful (and strong) Georgian brandy. There was plenty more Chacha at the evening’s feast, held at our main accommodation, the Ushba guesthouse. Our host provided a banquet of Georgian delicacies including Khachapuri, Khinkali, and the specialist dish of the region: Kubdari. Meanwhile Rob from team Llanfair Railway was enthusiastically promoting his innovative cocktail of chacha with a mixer of bacardi, ensuring the party went on well into the night.