Exploring Georgia's Ushguli, Europe's Highest Village
Getting to Ushguli: Where's the Lyft When You Need One?Imagine living approximately 7,000 feet above sea level. The air is thinner, the landscape grander, and the potential for vertigo much higher. Welcome to Ushguli, Europe's highest village, nestled comfortably in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia. Reaching this remote hamlet, however, is not as simple as punching "Ushguli" into your GPS and setting off. You will need passage on a marshrutka (mini-bus), a 4x4, or if you're feeling extra, a horse. Should you attempt the journey by car, be prepared for a bone-rattling experience. The road leading to Ushguli isn't exactly the Yellow Brick Road. It's more like Dorothy crash-landed in the middle of a meteor crater field.
The Village That Time (and Modern Conveniences) ForgotUshguli consists of four small settlements, dotted with medieval village towers, and has a population of roughly 200. It has UNESCO World Heritage status, and as such, it's preserved in time like a fly stuck in amber. What does this mean for you, dear traveler? It means you can leave behind any expectations of Wi-Fi, ATMs, or reliable electricity. If you need to withdraw cash, you'll need the assistance of a very understanding cow with exceptional penmanship to sign over its milk money.If you're seeking a place to lay your weary head after a long day of altitude sickness, there are a handful of family-run guesthouses. These accommodations are cozy – in the sense that you may feel like Goldilocks hastily climbing into someone else's bed. But the hospitality is genuine and the homemade food is so hearty that it could double as a winter coat.
Ushguli's Must-See Attractions: Because You Didn't Come All This Way for NothingUshguli boasts several attractions that warrant the arduous journey. Among them are the Lamaria Church, the Shkhara glacier, the Ushguli Museum of History and Ethnography, and the village towers. Be sure to pack your hiking boots, your camera, and perhaps some oxygen.
Lamaria Church: A Holy Place with a ViewPerched at the top of a hill, the Lamaria Church is a 12th-century religious relic that houses some impressive frescoes and offers sweeping views of the surrounding valley. The hike up to the church will leave you breathless, either from the rugged terrain or the breathtaking panoramas – or both. You can also make a wish by placing a stone on the small stone piles near the church. But the altitude may cause you to forget what you wished for by the time you descend.
Shkhara Glacier: A Natural Wonder, or Nature's Practical Joke?For those who enjoy a challenge, a hike to the Shkhara glacier may be just the ticket. This trek will take you through lush valleys, across icy rivers, and past herds of curious cows. However, be prepared for the possibility that you may not actually reach the glacier. The unpredictable weather in the area can leave the trail socked in with fog, snow, or an angry mother cow. It's Mother Nature's way of saying, "You thought you were in control? That's cute."
Ushguli Museum of History and Ethnography: Nerd Alert!If you prefer your adventures to be of the intellectual variety, the Ushguli Museum of History and Ethnography is for you. This museum, housed in a 12th-century tower, showcases a collection of ancient artifacts, including pottery, weapons, and utensils. While it may not have the razzle-dazzle of a Smithsonian, it does offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of Ushguli's ancestors. And you might even learn something, if your brain hasn't frozen from the icy mountain air.
Village Towers: The Original Tilted TowersThe iconic village towers of Ushguli are a must-see. These ancient stone structures served as both defense and living quarters for local families. Today, they stand as a testament to Ushguli's perseverance and its history of surviving invaders and the elements. Just be careful not to lean on them – you don't want to be responsible for toppling a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Leaving Ushguli: The Long and Winding Road HomeWhen it's time to bid farewell to Ushguli and its dizzying heights, you may find yourself wondering if it was all just a fever dream induced by altitude sickness. But as you painstakingly retrace your steps back to civilization, you'll be left with a sense of accomplishment and a newfound appreciation for modern conveniences. You'll return home with stories of your adventures in Europe's highest village, a few new friends (both human and bovine), and a collection of bruises from the bumpy ride out.