President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration is trying to implement a bold plan to turn Georgia’s highest mountain peaks into a world-class recreational playground. The project is proceeding even though a study to evaluate its environmental sustainability has yet to be completed.
The rugged region of Svaneti, which borders Russia to the north and separatist Abkhazia to the west, is already well known for its traditional ways and stunning mountain vistas. Although its paved roads -- first built in the 1950s -- remain derelict, the region has become an increasingly popular among hikers and adventure tourists. An estimated 10,000 people visited Svaneti in 2010, a 40 percent increase from last year, according to the Department of Tourism.
Saakashvili administration officials are now hoping to take Svaneti one step further, by turning it into a “Switzerland in the Caucasus,” complete with ski slopes and air access to a Black Sea resort. The project has already generated about 200 jobs for the local population.
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Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.