Georgia, Europe

Getting Up Close and Personal with Mount Ushba: Paragliding in Mestia with Mestia Paragliding

September 24, 2018

Looking for a unique adventure in Georgia?  How about paragliding in Mestia?  Read all about my experience of soaring high above the mountains in northwestern Georgia in this post!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. All this means is that if you make a purchase through one of the links I have provided, I will earn a small commission as a result but the cost to you will remain exactly the same.

When I hopped on a marshrutka from Kutaisi and headed into the mountains of northwestern Georgia, running down a mountain harnessed to a crazy Russian fellow with a parachute strapped to his back was the last thing I anticipated doing with my time there.

But, within hours of arriving in Mestia, there I was hundreds of metres above it.

View from Bapsha Guesthouse, Mestia

Paragliding in Mestia

It all began when we checked into our room at Bapsha Guesthouse.  The guesthouse is located slightly uphill at one end of Mestia’s main street, so our balcony afforded us views of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley.  Running up the mountain – yes, actually running, in spite of the fact that it was Summer – were some ski lifts.

As there didn’t seem to be a lot to do in Mestia itself (our primary reason for coming this far was to head a little further the following day, to the highest permanently inhabited settlement in Europe – Ushguli), we decided that we should spend our afternoon searching for these ski lifts.  If nothing else, the views from the top of the mountain would be incredible!

Mestia, Georgia

So we checked with our guesthouse owner that the lifts were in fact open to tourists, and subsequently headed back down to the town’s main street, in order to find a road that headed uphill on the opposite side of it.

I think we actually walked down as far as the main square (where you see the Mestia Public Service Hall on the map below) before turning off the main street, but if you’re staying at or near Bapsha Guesthouse there is a quicker route you can take.

Once you’ve crossed the river and start climbing, you’ll be rewarded with some wonderful views of Mestia and its traditional Svan Towers.

Mestia, Svaneti

When you get to the ski lift, it’s a flat rate 10 GEL payment (£2.88), regardless of whether you’re coming back down or not (as far as we were aware at the time though, we were).

Ironically we followed two paragliders on to the ski lift.  They may well have been the two we flew back down the mountain with later that same day.  There are two stations at which you can alight: Hatsvali or Tetnuldi.  Of course we decided to go all the way to the top – Tetnuldi.

It felt rather strange to be travelling up a mountain on a ski lift and not be wrapped up in salopettes and a ski jacket, with skis strapped to my feet and a couple of ski poles in one hand.  It was also very surreal to see green everywhere instead of white and to not feel in danger of getting frostbite in my fingers.

At the top of the mountain there was of course a cafe.  Much to Stu’s disappointment, they weren’t serving beer.  Much to my disappointment (because I probably would have changed my mind if I’d known), Stu’s large glass of red wine was cheaper than my coffee.  But our disappointment soon faded when we walked out on to the terrace and admired the view before us.

View from Tetnuldi ski station, Mestia

I was busy snapping photos of this view when I realised I’d lost Stu.

We’d been up there less than five minutes and already he’d honed in on a paraglider and struck up a conversation with him.  Five minutes after that he was trying to persuade me to take my third paragliding flight (the first of these was in Pamukkale, Turkey; the second in Ayacucho, Peru) there in Mestia that very afternoon.

Ordinarily I would have said yes in an instant, but we were close to the end of our trip; Georgian Lari is a closed currency so I had scrupulously budgeted to ensure that I had just enough money remaining for transport and food and little else.  And the funds I had remaining in my bank account were to sustain me for the remainder of the month when I arrived home.

Knowing Stu as I do, I was sure that there was no way he’d be able to pass up an opportunity like this – even if it meant starving for the rest of the trip.  But I would have been seriously gutted (read: fuming) if I’d had to get the ski lift back down the mountain while he flew, and he knew that.  So, rather than us both miss out on a flight over majestic mountain peaks, glaciers, pristine alpine meadows and traditional Svan settlements, he offered to pay for my flight as an early birthday present (it was my birthday 11 days after we returned from Georgia).  Stu’s useless at actually buying presents, so knowing that I’d probably end up with nothing otherwise, I considered this to be a pretty good deal.

So Pierr Alexandre (our French pilot), Egor (his Russian colleague), Stu and I agreed on a price, picked up the gear, and headed off to find a suitable launch site.

With all the gear, heading off to the launch site

Now I don’t know why (maybe he’s just lucky), but Stu always seems to end up with the most experienced pilot, the one who speaks the most English, and the one who takes the first flight off the mountain.

This always means that I manage to get plenty of photographs of Stu as he takes off and becomes airborne but none of myself doing the same.  You’ll just have to take my word for it when I tell you that I did fly too.

Pierr and Stu taking off, Mestia, Georgia

Pierr and Stu in the air, Mestia, Georgia

As soon as Stu had taken off, the wind dropped.  My heart sank as Egor tried time and time again (which was actually only around three times) to lift the parachute off the ground.  Fortunately the forth time we were lucky and the rest of take-off happened in a bit of a blur because Egor wanted to get us airborne before the wind dropped again.

I started running exactly as I had been instructed until Egor stepped on the heel of one of my Moroccan moccasins, which removed it from the back of my foot.  Keen not to lose one of the shoes that formed the only pair I’d packed, I spent the rest of take off trying to get the heel of my shoe back on to my foot instead of running as I should have been. Always reassuring to find out that, when faced with a choice, I choose footwear over safety.  But, fortunately it didn’t seem to hinder our take-off too much (Egor may tell a different story, of course).

The fact that the only English words Egor seemed to know were “good” and “flight” (in that order) meant that the conversation in the air was a little stinted, but I passed the time by snapping photograph after photograph of the mountains and villages over which we were flying.

Paragliding in Mestia

Paragliding in Mestia

Paragliding in Mestia

Paragliding is a bit of a strange ‘extreme sport’ because – although there are very obvious dangers, especially if you have an inexperienced pilot who tries to push the boundaries of his or her capabilities – whilst you’re sitting there in the harness, snapping photos of the views, it never feels dangerous.

My favourite part, and one I don’t think I’ve experienced on either of my previous flights, was the part where we caught some thermal lift.  Thermals are pockets of rising warm air and as a paraglider you soon learn how to spot these if you want to maximise your time in the air.

But we didn’t just catch one.  Oh no!  Towards (what I thought was) the end of the flight, we caught about four in a row!

We literally kept rising and spinning and rising and spinning.  It was such an exhilarating sensation! Although I have no idea how pilots manage to maintain control in the midst of a thermal, because it was also disorientating as hell.

When we did eventually land, it was in the middle of of a beautiful alpine meadow on the outskirts of Mestia.

Alpine Meadows, Mestia

Egor, post landing, Mestia, Georgia

Except that I couldn’t see Stu.  He’d taken off a good 20 minutes before me and we’d caught multiple thermals during our flight; surely he should be on the ground by now?

It was then that Egor pointed him out to me.  He and Pierr were still airborne.

The landing site, Mestia Paragliding

Stu coming in to land, Mestia Paragliding

It was only once they’d landed that I found out just how close to Mount Ushba they’d got during their flight.  My photos paled in comparison to Stu’s video footage, which made it look as though he could almost have touched that mountain.

It made me want to catch the ski lift back up to Tetnuldi and do it all over again.

The landing site, paragliding in Mestia


Where to find Mestia Paragliding

If you don’t want to rely on serendipitous encounters, you can find Mestia Paragliding at this address:

Parjiani str. 7, Mestia.

They’re also contactable by telephone or WhatsApp.  Details can be found on their Facebook page.

Where to stay in Mestia

I can’t recommend our little guesthouse enough.  German-Georgian owned Bapsha is a newly-constructed bright, modern and airy guesthouse located slightly uphill from Mestia’s main street.

The inclusive breakfast every morning is fantastic, and the staff will even provide it at an earlier time than advertised if you have a bus to catch. We also really appreciated that the lady at reception (I think her name was Tamara) offered to book us a spot on the marshrutka to Kutaisi and to organise collection from the guest house. She also arranged a taxi for us to Ushguli and back.

Bapsha Guesthouse, Mestia

We actually originally booked a downstairs room for one night, but when we had to change our plans we needed an additional night and none of the budget ones were available, so we booked an upstairs one with balcony (which offered some lovely views). Tamara let us stay in the more expensive room for the second night, at no additional cost.

Check availability and prices here.

Where to eat and drink in Mestia

On our first day in Mestia, the guys at Villa Mestia (where our pilot Pierr was staying) invited us to dine with them for free, so we only actually ate out once during our time there.

However, the place we chose was so incredible that I happily would have dined there every night, given the choice.

Cafe Laila is a popular spot on Mestia’s main square, where the amazing Georgian folk band had everyone dancing by the end of the evening, and where we’d paid our bill but couldn’t resist staying for “one more glass of wine” – approximately four times.

Whilst the food there isn’t outstanding, it is good and it is traditional Georgian fare, with many Svan specialities included on the menu (if you’re a fan of cheese you MUST try the cheesy mashed potato).

Mestia, Georgia


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**Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  All this means is that if you make a purchase through one of the links I have provided, I will earn a small commission as a result but the cost to you will remain exactly the same**

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