Marta Mills’ guide to the new Transcaucasian Trail through the mountains of Georgia and Armenia, winner of Wanderlust’s ‘Innovation of the Year’ award
Hikers near to Ushguli in Svaneti, Georgia (TCT)
Countries: Georgia and Armenia, with a future extension planned to Azerbaijan
Length: Two corridors, north-south and east-west, 932 miles each when completed
Starts/Ends: The Western Route starts starts in a village called Khaishi, an hour's drive from Zugdidi (Georgia) and goes to Sijazan (Azerbaijan). The Southern Route starts from Batumi (Georgia) and goes to Meghri (Armenia)
Number Of Days To Complete: About three months, when completed. Sections of up to 10 days are currently walkable.
Rainbow over the towers of Lakhiri in the Svaneti region of Georgia (TCT)
Winner of Wanderlust’s ‘Innovation of the Year’ award at the Adventure Travel Conference 2017, the Transcaucasian Trail (TCT) is the first and only long distance hiking trail in the Caucasus mountains. This is a fascinating journey, with peaks over 5,000 metres high and churches over 1,500 years old along the way.
The unspoilt nature, rich cultural heritage, diverse traditions and rituals, unique ancient architecture, cuisine and wine, and incredible hospitality and warmth of the local people will appeal to any hiker looking for adventure.
The trail will pass through a diverse range of natural and cultural landscapes, from the glaciated peaks and dense forests of Georgia, guarded by ancient defensive towers, to the high volcanic plateau of Armenia, home to some of the oldest Christian churches in the world. Sometimes, you’ll feel as if the time has stopped decades ago and it is just you and the nature around you.
Winter landscape in Dilijan National Park, Armenia (Dreamstime)
A 10-day hike across Svaneti (northwest Georgia), already open for hiking, passes beneath four of the 10 highest peaks of the Caucasus. The incredibly beautiful trail crosses high passes, alpine meadows and glaciers before arriving at the ancient village of Ushguli, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The section in Dilijan National Park (northern Armenia) meanders through rolling forested mountains full of wildlife and spectacular rock faces.
June to September is best for hiking, while ski-touring is possible from January to March.
Tatev monastery in Armenia (Dreamstime)
The Transcaucasian Trail is still under development, and current trails in the Caucasus are often unmarked and difficult to follow. It is very easy to get lost. Hikers should carry a GPS device with the most up-to-date routes, in addition to a back-up map and compass.
Local guides are also available to lead hikers along several sections of the TCT route and can help overcome language barriers and introduce you to the fascinating local culture.
You are likely to get invited for some fresh local food and drink by the villagers anywhere along the TCT, so learning some basic words is recommended but not essential.
Svaneti hillside on the way to Tetnuldi mountain (TCT)
Trekking in the Caucasus (www.caucasus-trekking.com) is run by a Slovak hiker named Josef, who posts route descriptions and GPS tracks of hikes in Georgia.
The official website of the trail (www.transcaucasiantrail.org) has information on the trail and resources for hikers.
The first section of the trail in Svaneti is ready and open to walk now. Sections of 100-200 kilometres will be completed in the coming years, with the goal of completing the whole network over the next 10 years.
The trails in Georgia and Armenia will be built in summer 2017. There are volunteering opportunities available to help with construction. See www.transcaucasiantrail.org for details.
Main image: Tetnuldi (4,858m), the tenth highest peak of the Caucasus, in Svaneti (TCT)