This is an exciting equestrian adventure where horseback riders herd approximately 50 horses, 250km from their summer pastures in the Tusheti mountains to their winter grazing in the Vashlovani National Park in the south of Georgia.  Before beginning this epic trail, riders will have a chance to get to know their horses.  It is up to the horseback riders to keep the herd together as they drive them down the mountains, but there is also plenty of time to admire the stunning views along the way.  On Day 5 the horses rest and riders get to explore some of the local villages and monasteries and enjoy a late lunch and some wine tasting at a small family winery.   Once you have completed the mountain section of the trail, enjoy horseback riding through vineyards, urban villages and open plains. This section of the ride offers lots of chances for trots and canters, therefore riders will need to be confident at all gaits and have a good level of horseback riding fitness, as we expect to cover up to 50km per day, you will also need to be good with heights as the winding mountain pass is 2800m high!  

If taking part in Spring drive, you will start the journey down in the plains in the Vashlovani National Park and drive the horses up into the mountains, where they will spend the summer months. 

This is a physically challenging riding vacation due to the long hours in the saddle and the pace of ride, but offers an unforgettable opportunity to take part in this old Tusheti tradition that is slowly becoming more challenging as the country develops and lands are sold for development. This equestrian vacation offers a mixture of lodge nights and camping, allowing riders the opportunity to have a shower and a comfortable nights sleep on nights 1, 2 (at a guesthouse in Omalo), 4, 5 (guesthouse in Alvani, shared bathrooms). 

Meals on the trail and on camp nights are simple but filling, while meals at the guesthouses really are a celebration of Georgian cuisine. This is an adventure unlike any other!

Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.

Review received from BS of Ursviken on 02/11/2023

Ride Summary
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Really great and authentic adventure
Overall impression
Unicorn Trails sales staff

Riding tour leader

Additional Comments
Horses and Tack

Additional Comments
Meals

Accommodation

Miscellaneous

Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
For me it was an absolute bonus that we got the privilege to take part in this authentic, local work experience and live the life of a Georgian wrangler for a few days - not a weak, cushy tourist variant ;)
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Would have been good to understand 'even' better the differences in weather and temperatures. I would have brought warmer and definitely more waterproof clothing ;)
What could we do to improve this ride?
Be honest up front that this is a very tough ride, with pretty basic, local standards - and not suitable for older or unfit guests who do not like camping, long hours in the saddle, meals at flexible times etc.
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
8
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
Guests need to be able to be in the saddle at least 8 hours a day, mostly in trot and some fast canter.
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
NO
Any other comments:
Thank you!!
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback on this exploratory ride. We are working with the host to further improve the description and ride details. It really was an adventure and not one for the faint hearted, but very glad you enjoyed it. Happy riding, Freya.

Due to the early start time we recommend arriving the day before, a few hotels near to the meeting point are listed below, in the extra notes. Tbilisi is a beautiful city with a mix of historical and modern architecture and well worth a visit.  

** Please note that the itinerary below is a guide and may change at short notice in response to the changeable mountain weather conditions**

Spring Drive Itinerary.

Day 1: Tbilisi - Vashlvoani Horse farm
Meet at the Big Bicycle Monument in Tbilisi and transfer to Dedoplistskaro, to register at the Visitors’ Centre of Vashlovani Protected Areas.  Once registration is complete have lunch and visit the local bazaar before transferring on to Vashlovani National Park.  Once you have arrived at the National Park join a 2hr introductory ride, allowing you to meet the horses and adjust to the trail saddles.  Set up camp and over night in tents.  (total transfer time 4hrs with 2hrs riding in the afternoon)

Day 2: Vashlovani Horse Farm - Dedoplistskaro
Have breakfast at the campsite and then gather up the herd of stallions, mares, foals, and young horses and get ready to set off to them summer pastures. Today's ride takes us through the grain fields of Shiraki plain which is considered as a barn of Georgia. enjoy watching the free-running horses you guide them across the plains and towards the highland. The terrain is soft and the pace is mostly canter so to not let the horses scatter into the fields.  You’ll enjoy galloping along the road between the wheat fields and the breath-taking view of the greater Caucasus mountain range beyond the wheat fields. The Overnight in tents close to Dedoplistskaro.(approx 60km / 6-7 hrs of riding)

Day 3: Dedoplistskaro - Sakobo campsite
In the morning enjoy breakfast before leaving the camp and riding alongside the villages of Kakheti - this is the primary wine region where you’ll have a chance to experience the Kakhetian hospitality and try homemade wine too. Today's riding will be mostly at trot and canter. We spend the night again in tents close to one of the Kakheti villages - Tsnori & Sakobo. The site is a relatively small meadow very close to the villages, expect some noise from the nearby roads.  (approx. 60km / 7-8 hrs riding)

Day 4: Sakobo - Vilg. kondoli
After breakfast we’ll start riding alongside the longest irrigation canal on one side and vineyards and gardens on the other side. Some of this traditional route has been squeezed by the development of roads, so expect to pass through some construction traffic. The horses are un-phased by the trucks and construction but the traditional valley views are hampered by this development and you experience noise and dusty conditions for about 2-3 hours.  Have lunch in meadow and then continue through the villages. (approx. 55km 7-8 hrs riding) Overnight at guesthouse with shared bathrooms

Day 5: Village Kondoli - Village Alvani
The last day of exploring the beauty of the vineyards and lowland villages before ascending the Tusheti mountains. Riding is mostly at trot and canter.  Finish the day with a sightseeing stop at Alaverdi monastery (XI c monument), close to our overnight destination -  Alvani, here spend the night at a local cosy guest house.  In the evening we'll have dinner and wine tasting at the small family winery.  (approximately 45km / 7 hrs riding) Overnight at the guesthouse with shared bathrooms

Day 6: Village Alvani - Abano campsite
After a hearty breakfast depart the guest house and gather the herd.  Today head towards the mountains riding alongside the bank of the Stori River.  Keep the herd moving as one up the mountain, riding is mostly at trot and cater.  Spend the night in tents at a campsite above tree level, it might be either before or after the pass according to the weather conditions. (Approximately 43km / 7-8 hrs riding)

Day 7: Abano campsite - Village of Omalo 
After breakfast, ascend towards the highest driveable pass in Europe – Abano pass. As we move higher to the pass the landscape gets rougher and the temperature drops. After a brief pause for lunch, continue over the ancient mountain paths, riding is mostly at walk and trot.  As you continue your journey, watch how the vegetation is changing into lush green colours, created by rich soil and water. After crossing the 2930m high pass, start the descent to Tusheti. A truly fascinating mystical place of silence and tranquility. It is peaceful and beautiful to see the horses enjoy their freedom as we leave them on the Omalo Plateau and continue our trip with our riding horses to our guest house. Overnight at the guesthouse with private bathrooms  (Approx.  32km / 6-7 hrs riding, there may be the need to dismount and lead the horses in some areas) 

Day 8: Exploring Tusheti
The day of exploring the area. Our ride brings us to discover one of the valleys of Tusheti. After discovering villages Shenako and Diklo we’ll head back to Omalo to our guesthouse for the goodbye dinner with the farmer and his crew and spend our last night in Tusheti. Overnight at the guesthouse with shared bathrooms  (approx. 26km / 6 hrs)

Day 9: Tusheti - Tbilisi
After one final Georgian breakfast, start the drive back to Tbilisi. You will take the same route back to the lowland as your travelled by horse. It’s approx. 6-7 hour drive back to the city. Arrive in Tbilisi around 5pm.

Autumn Drive Itinerary

Day 1 
After meeting in Tbilisi at 8am, guests are transferred by car to the Mountains of Tusheti (approx 7hrs), for your first night in the village of Omalo. Before ascending the mountain you will make a brief stop in Alvani, this is a good opportunity to purchase any alcohol you may want for the camp nights.  After travelling 190km through the mountain roads, finally reach the cosy guesthouse in Omalo where guests are welcomed, enjoy a hearty Georgian meal and settle in for the night. 

Day 2 
After breakfast, riders are introduced to the horses and spend the day riding through the mountain terrain. This is the perfect opportunity to make sure every rider is confident on their new horse partner at a walk, trot, and canter before leaving for the horse drive.  During the ride, visit one of the valley’s villages and cover approximately 26km before returning to the same guest house in Omalo.  

Days 3 
Today the horse drive begins, and the first task is to gather the scattered herd and prepare them for the drive. It can take a bit of effort to keep them together and head to the lowland. Once on the dirt road, lead them from both in front as well as following behind to prevent them from becoming scattered. The first day can be quite unpredictable and the camping place is chosen according to the weather conditions and the cattle traffic on the road.  Expect to cover around 23km

Day 4
After breakfast, pack up camp, saddle the horses and gather the horses and start to herd them towards the lowlands of Kakheti. By the end of day, the group will have arrived in the village of Alvani where Tush families stay in wintertime, while their livestock go on to Vashlovani National Park. Stay overnight at the local guesthouse and enjoy a delicious Georgian dinner. Expect to cover around 52km 

Day 5 
Today the horses get a rest before they head to Vashlovani, so the riders will also get to experience a lazy day in Alvani, exploring some of historical and cultural sites of the region. Visit the Alaverdi monastery, enjoy dinner and wine tasting at a small family winery, using Georgian technology, before returning to the guesthouse.

Day 6 
After a tasty, typical Georgian breakfast, saddle up and head out to the plains to round up the horses, where they have spent the night. The route heads south for today's adventure. Lunch will be picnic style to help riders refuel after a morning exploring the beauty of the vineyards and lowland villages. Aim to cover 50-55km at mostly trot and canter before setting up camp for the night near Persimmon plantations. 

Day 7 
After breakfast, spend another day crossing the Kakheti plains, riding at mostly trot and canter between vineyards and villages, covering approximately 55km. Arrive at the campsite near Dedoplistskaro in the afternoon to make camp for the night. 

Day 8
After a hearty breakfast, pack up the camp, gather and saddle the horses and head out. Today, ride through some of the most beautiful golden fields, covering approximately 50km before eventually arriving at the ranch in the early evening where the horses will stay for the winter. There will be a little relaxation time and preparation for a farewell dinner with lots of stories and songs before a good night’s rest in the tents.

Day 9
After a late breakfast, say goodbye to the team and horses and depart for Tbilisi to arrive back in the city around 1-2pm. This will allow time for lunch before your evening flight home or an opportunity to explore the city if you have booked to stay overnight. 

 

Important note: You will be participating in a centuries old traditional working activity and as such the ride follows the route used for hundreds of years.  There might be some unexpected changes due to weather and sometimes you may ride into the early evening, even after dark. It is sometimes neccessary for one day's riding distance to be reduced and in exchange the next day exceed 10h riding, so it’s very important you are very fit and accepting of change. 

 

Some suggested hotels within a short walk of the Big Bicycle Momument: 

Zemeli Boutique Hotel 
Hotel British House
Boutique Hotel Day Inn 

Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.

Horses & Riding

There are between 30-50 horses in a herd and the many of these horses can be ridden. This makes it possible to change horses while travelling down the mountains if needed. The horses are a local breed, Tushetian horses, and are calm, exceptionally strong, very clever, and well used to the mountain terran. They can travel long distances with limited access to water. 



The tack used is traditional Causasian saddles with a leather cusion for added comfort, great for the long hours in the saddle. Stirups are similar to english iron stirups.  If you would like to see a picture of it, please visit the ride gallery.  If you would like to use your own stirups please bring the leathers as well as their stirrup leathers are too wide for UK stirrup irons.



Hard hats are recommended and while there are some available to borrow, it is recommended that riders bring their own where possible.  The Autumn Drive ride starts in the mountains and heads south to the semi-desert area.  While every day will be different, the landscapes are breathtaking. The lower sections of the ride are ridden mainly at trot and canter.  At one point you will pass through villages and along urban roads and see first hand how this traditional migration is being threatened as the country develops. 



The ride covers a total of 250km across the 7 days of riding so is very physically challenging and requires good levels of fitness. 


Rider requirements

For this ride you will need a strong sense of adventure and good general fitness. You will need a good seat and be confident at walk trot and canter in open spaces and be comfortable riding at height and downhill as you will reach 2800m as you go over the mountain pass.

Most days cover large distances and at mainly trot and canter, so riding fitness is essential. Days include between 6 and 9 hours of riding.

You will participate helping to pitch your own tents on camping nights and as you become more familiar with the tack you are welcome to assist with tacking up and untacking the horses if you wish.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 220 lb/100 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.

During the trail guests will stay in two simple guesthouses with 2-3 people sharing a bedroom. The guesthouse in Omalo has rooms with a private bathroom, while the guest house in Alvani offers rooms with a shared bathroom. The trip has 4 guesthouse nights, and 4 tent nights. These involve camping in the wilderness on the trail in 2-3 man tents. They are provided along with foam mats, but riders will need to bring their own sleeping bags. The ride starts at first light during the day, and the larger luggage is transported by cars to the overnight locations. 



Food will be simple but tasty when camping.  Breakfast can include, porridge, pancakes and sweet rice dishes, dinners include BBQ meat, soup, bread and salads,



Lunches on the trail are often quite late in the day, so eat plenty for breakfast!  They include boiled eggs, cucumber and tomatoes, cheese, meats, bread and traditional Georgian potato or cheese breads. There is often a supply of Georgian cookies, these make a great snack during the late morning, be sure to grab some for your saddle bag. 



Guesthouse meals are much more varied and celebrate Georgian cuisine. For breakfast, expect bread and homemade jams, pancakes, cake, omelettes or fried eggs and cheese.  For dinner you will share a range of dishes from delicious homemade soups, salads, fried potatoes and traditional meat dishes. 



 


Vegetarian or other dietary requirements within reason can be accommodated with advance notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests before booking.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip.



If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country.



Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.



General information: As a British National you may enter Georgia for up to 90 days without a visa. You may extend your stay in Georgia beyond 90 days by applying for a temporary or permanent residence permit from the Civil Registration Agency of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia.



The British embassy in Tblisi can be found at GMT Plaza, 4 Freedom Square, Tbilisi, 0105. Telephone + 995 32 274747 (Main Embassy Switchboard) or + 995 32 274775 (Visa/Consular Enquiries) Their website is www.britishembassy.gov.uk/georgia.



In the UK the British Foreign Office gives advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/netherlands

In the US: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Netherlands.html

In Canada: https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/netherlands



 


Climate Summary

This area experiences a humid sub-tropical climate with maximum temperatures of 26 degrees C in July and August. The climate is dry with just 378mm per year.
In June temperatures vary between22-26 degrees C and average rainfall is 54mm, in October temperatures vary between 16 and 22 degrees in the lower valleys and the average rainfall is 33mm Humidity is usually around 73%. The first section of the Autumn drive and last section of the Spring drive is at altitudes of 2000m+ so temperatures will feel much cooler, often below zero.

Climate Chart

Health

Medical facilities in Tbilisi are available but can be expensive. Outside of Tbilisi, medical facilities are limited. There continues to be outbreaks of rabies in Georgia. Tap water should be avoided. Bottled water is widely available.
You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. NHS Direct (0845 46 47) can provide you with advice on the vaccination requirements for Georgia.

Health (ride specific)

Unfortunately is it very difficult to to cater for gluten free or lactose intolerant diets on this horse drive but we can cater for vegetarian diets.
Non-prescription medicines containing codeine are illegal in Georgia. If you intend to travel with prescription medicine, you must carry a doctor’s prescription and ideally the original packaging. For further advice on restricted medicines please consult the government website. www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/georgia

Electricity

220V 50Hz; two pin plugs are utilized

Mobile, WiFi and charging

There will be opportunities to charge phones/ cameras at the guesthouse on the route but not on the tent nights so it is advisable to bring bring batteries / power banks. There is free Wi-Fi at the guesthouses. Phone signal and 4G is good in most locations during off peak seasons.

Packing List

Best to bring lots of layers of clothing as you will be moving from the cool mountains to warm semi-desert (or visa versa) over the course of the ride.

It is useful to take a smaller soft duffel bag as part of your luggage in case the horses need to transport gear up/down the mountains. Pack light if you can! (larger suit cases can be left with the luggage van.
Sleeping bag suitable for freezing temperatures. (4 season)
Inflatable sleeping mat recommended (foam mats can be supplied)
Riding Helmet & riding gloves
Footwear - comfortable hiking boots and chaps are recommended, there may be occasions when you need or wish to walk.
Warm waterproof jacket for up in the mountains (temperatures can be below zero especially in the wind chill)
Waterproof trousers
Warm/ thermal clothes for riding in the mountains,
Warm socks, gloves, neck warmer
Short sleeve tops
Sunglasses and good sun protection
Re-useable water bottle
Toiletries, medication and items of a personal nature.
Torch/headtorch for use in the camp is very useful.
A small supply of sweets for a sugar boost during the long riding hours.

Although saddlebags are provided, you may not have a saddle bag on your horse so we suggest bringing a clip on water bottle/ bumbag or a small clip on saddle bag to ensure you have constant access to water/ tissues/ sweets etc.

Programmes

9 days / 8 nights / 6 riding days on set dates.

Departure Dates

2024: Spring Drive CHANGE OF DATE 30 May - 7 June
2024: Autumn Drive date 20 - 29 October

Pricing
No single rooms available (on some or all nights). Riders must be prepared to share with someone of the same sex.
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
2024 9d/8n7double pp1,575
2024 9d/8n7Small Group Supplement 3-5 pax515
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
2024 9d/8n7double pp1,799
2024 9d/8n7Small Group Supplement 3-5 pax589
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description US $
2024 9d/8n7double pp2,045
2024 9d/8n7Small Group Supplement 3-5 pax669
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
2024 9d/8n7double pp21,679
2024 9d/8n7Small Group Supplement 3-5 pax7,085
Wildlife

The Causcasus Mountains harbour some 6400 species of higher plants, 1600 of which are endemic to the region. Its wildlife includes Persian leopards, brown bears, wolves, bison, marals, golden eagles and hooded crows. At night, you may hear the howling wolves in the mountains. In the lower areas of the ride, there will be vineyards and extensive grass plains. Here live otters, rare wild goats, deer, roe, wild boars, and countless species of bird. Much of the wildlife will stay hidden during your journey as they sense the horses coming but you may get lucky.

Other Information

Tbilisi is the Capital city and holds much history, it is well worth a visit.

Your guide for this ride grew up in the Tusheti mountains with her family and has been participating in the horse drive her whole life. She is the first women in this line of work and is well known in the area. She has extensive knowledge of the history of Georgia and the local area including the wildlife and is happy to share this knowledge with her guests.

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
Big Bicycle Monument, Tbilisi. A short transfer from the airport (Approx. 25€ single, group transfers approx. 60-70€ per car).
Transfer:
Approx. 7hr drive from meeting point in Tbilisi to Tusheti mountains, included.
Flight Guide:
Fly to Tbilisi International Airport (TBS) Flights from £355pp return
No direct flights from the UK.
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