FANCY exploring a little-known and low-cost ski destination? Then try heading to the Caucasus in early spring.
Family-owned firm Mountain Heaven has two distinct sides. Since 2003 it has been a chalet operator covering seven French and Swiss Alp resorts but in the past few years it has also begun offering adventurous organised ski trips to much less familiar destinations. In 2018 and this winter, that was Iraq; next year, it’s the former Soviet country of Georgia, on the cusp of Europe and Asia.
Departing on March 6 and taken in a group of up to 15, this nine-night trip will combine visits to cultural highlights, a wine-tasting session and Georgia’s buoyant capital Tbilisi with on-piste action in three of the country’s ski regions, suitable for intermediate skiers and above.
‘Each region is very different,’ explains Mountain Heaven’s Nick Williams. ‘Gudauri is well established and has seen recent investment with new cable cars and a whole new ski area. It most suits intermediate skiers but experts will find some off-piste. The busy feel is almost North American. Accommodation is ski-in, ski-out.
‘Bakuriani is also a long-standing resort and formerly the Soviet Olympic team’s main training centre. It has accommodation on offer in the town and the three separate ski areas are a short drive away.’
In the more remote north-west, Mestia has only recently been developed for tourism. There are two ski areas — one accessed via chairlift and boasting spectacular glacier views, the other a 40-minute drive away but featuring four modern chairlifts and a mix of on and off-piste skiing. The valley is also a Unesco World Heritage site due its historical defence towers.
Prices in Gudauri’s hotel bars can be expensive, equivalent to those of Alpine resorts, but smaller bars are very cheap. Ditto Bakuriani and Mestia — an evening meal including wine at the latter will rarely cost more than £10 per person. An après-ski scene awaits at each resort but don’t go expecting something like Courchevel or La Plagne.
‘Some beers in a bar is normal,’ says Williams, ‘and then the chacha [vine vodka] comes out. This is basically grappa — after a few of those, you’ll be well away!’
■ From £1,835pp half- board including all transfers, lift passes, entrance fees, wine tasting and three lunches, mountainheaven.co.uk