Samegrelo contains the land of Colchis where the legendary king Aeëtes, son of Helios, ruled.  It was also the homeland of Medea, with whose help Jason obtained the golden fleece. As for Svaneti, because of its isolation among some of the highest mountain peaks of the Greater Caucasus range, it preserves an unwritten language and aspects of culture that are pre-Christian. The medieval Svan towers rise from the rugged terrain like sentinels. Because Samegrelo and Svaneti are neighbouring regions–one on the coast at the foot of the mountains the other in them–their cuisines are similar to some degree yet remain distinct.  An attentive gourmet will, for example, easily taste the difference between sulguni cheeses from these two regions.

Places to visit

Dadiani palace in Zugdidi  The Dadiani dynasty ruled in western Georgia from the early Middle Ages to the 19th century. The Dadiani palace in Zugdidi–a very elegant

19th century complex and an architectural treasure in its own right–is now a museum that houses archeological collections, medieval manuscripts, objects of religious importance (a vestment of Christ’s mother among them), and a death mask of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Zugdidi Botanical Garden   Under David Dadiani–last of the family who ruled–began the construction of a decorative garden around the palace in the mid-1800s. It fenced in a large area of natural forest and was stocked with native and exotic plants. It has since seen many transformations and is now managed by the city of Zugdidi.

Svan towers  stand side-by-side with residential structures. Although their height and construction clearly mark them as defensive architecture, in times of peace parts of them are used for storage, stabling livestock, or sheltering families in extreme winter conditions. The towers of Svaneti are listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage architecture.

Mestia and the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography   This modern Museum has collections of illustrated manuscripts dating back to the 9th century, ancient Svan icons, an extensive numismatic collection, archeological finds shedding light on mountain life in the 3rd century BC, a learning centre and a library.  The peaks Ushba and Tetnuldi look down on Mestia. A legend tells us that Tetnuld was the beautiful daughter of the sun and Ushba a poor peasant boy. The sun did not approve of their love so God turned them into mountain peaks which could look at each other forever.

Dishes to savour

Megrelian cuisine is typically made spicy with red or green ajika.

Ghomi   This thick porridge of corn meal is often used instead of bread. At its best it is served with smoked sunguli cheese and a savoury sauce.

Elarji is similar to ghomi but the cheese is already incorporated in the porridge. Samegrelo is known for its sunguli–plain or smoked, and cheese with mint (gebzhlia).

megruli khachapuri  Every region of Georgia has its own khachapuri. The Megrelian version has a dough rich with butter, milk, cheese and egg, with more cheese on top.

megruli satsivi Fowl in walnut sauce, served at room temperature.

jurjani   Fried pork or beef organs served in a spicy ajika sauce and cooled with pomegranate seeds.

kupati  Pork sausage made from liver, lung and spleen, then hung to dry or smoked.  It will keep a long time and traditionally helped a family get through winter. It is eventually served on a skewer or roasted, accompanied with ghomi and sour plum sauce.

Although Svaneti is short on agricultural land, the cuisine is dominated–as in

Samegrelo–by meat and dairy.

sham corn meal porridge with slices of sulguni  cheese inserted. tashmijab is similar to elarji but made with cheese and mashed potatoes. chvishdvari a cheese dumpling made with millet flour

svanuri marili (Svan salt)  salt mixed with garlic and mountain herbs

Wines and other beverages

ojaleshi  Of the more than 500 types of grapes produced in Georgia, over 60 grow in Samegrelo. The ojaleshi grape is generally considered to produce the finest wine—a semi-sweet red wine that has a faint aroma of wild roses and a distinctive bright ruby colour. Ojaleshi means ‘growing on trees’, a natural behaviour of wild grape vines.

Because of the severe cold, the short growing season and the scarcity of arable land, Svaneti is not suitable for growing grapes. A strong alcoholic drink–rakhi–is distilled from local fruits and berries.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Zugdidi, transfer to hotel, city tour, overnight in hotel

Day 2: Master class in Megrelian cuisine and sampling, overnight in Zugdidi

Day 3: Departure to Mestia, accommodation in Lenjer village (1km from Mestia)

Day 4: Master class in Svanetian cuisine and sampling, possibly with local music, free time, dinner, excursion to Mestia, free time, overnight in Mestia

Day 5: Departure to Zugdidi, end of tour

Note: Price depends on type of accommodation and number of persons