From the highest village in Europe

Considered the highest all-year-round inhabited settlement in Europe, Ushguli seats at about 2,100 metres above sea level. In every direction there are snow-clad mountain peaks, even during the middle of summer.

What were the towers used for? To protect one clan from another. Basically, for neighbours to protect themselves from each other.

When I drove into the upper part of the village, it was like stepping back in time. There were no roads, my car was too wide to fit between most houses, pigs and cows roamed around. There was a very particular vibe that was distinct from anywhere in the so-called modern world. 

Svaneti, the region where Ushguli is located is famous for it’s towers. One resident told me there used to be 400 of them. What were the towers used for? To protect one clan from another. Basically, for neighbours to protect themselves from each other. Many of the towers have collapsed and though a part of Ushguli has been named a UNESCO heritage site, another tower collapsed just the week before we came. 

Ushguli has been isolated and somewhat mysterious to outsiders for a very long time. As I spoke to Mihail an Ushgli local who works as a driver, he said “It’s tough to live here. We have 7 months of winter, but some of us aren’t going to move out. Where to?” 

In my short time in Georgia I’ve already visited Ushguli twice. Both short visits, but enough to have been captivated by the place. I plan to go back again, meanwhile here are some of the photos I’ve already captured. 

Above is a young man bringing back the cattle on a horse. Horses are the perfect vehicle for the terrain in these parts of the world. Not many cars can make it up to Ushguli because there still aren’t any sealed roads to come here. 

Mount Shkara looms over Ushguli. There were moments when I could see it so clearly. During another day you couldn’t see it at all because of the clouds. I can’t imagine the impression someone would have of Ushguli without seeing the mountain during their visit, but with unpredictable weather, I guess some don’t. Click the video above to watch the scene come alive. 

Yes, this is where we camped. Best views around. Nothing like waking up to an overwhelmingly beautiful sight of snowy mountain peaks. 

A girl and her dog in a house/restaurant where we had most of our meals. The girl was taking a break in between helping her mum. The dog is the most common type in the mountains of Georgia, it’s a Caucasian shepherd breed. 

While I absolutely love dogs, generally my experience with these dogs has not been great. In Turkey I felt like I was going to get torn to pieces by a few of these beasts. In Romania, the same was very close to happening to our driver and guide. For whatever reason in Svaneti these dogs are different. They are very chilled with humans. 

The ones you see play-fighting here were constantly hanging around the car, whining, wanting attention. Physically they are just as big and seem just as intimidating, but they’re gentle giants. 

Chacha - Georgian pomace brandy is a big part of Georgian culture. While I was told that in Svaneti the locals actually brew a special, weaker type of Vodka, Chacha still flows in abundance. 

Georgians love to share a drink with a guest and the people of Ushguli are no different. A random invitation ended up in… a couple of Chacha shots. The key is to make up an excuse why you can’t drink any more. Chacha and rocky, winding paths are not a good combination. 

While I was in the house drinking Chacha, I thought – why not take a photo of the hosts. The man with the shot glass in the previous photo was his son. 

Waiting for the cows to come home. The cows herd on the green mountain slopes and they come back around the same time everyday. Generally someone goes out and initiates the process of them returning. 

There’s a fortress at the top of Ushguli, I wanted to photograph it in a non-typical, non-glamorized way. From the point of view you’d get while walking through the village. 

The weather in these mountains was very inconsistent. Over the two visits we had sun, hail, rain, fog and more rain as we left. This white horse was always hanging around the restaurant where we ate. Once, just after it rained I took a photo of it through the car window, just to add a bit of ambience to the shot. 

The view of Ushguli during the rainy day that we left. I’ll be back here again, but not before a few adventures elsewhere.