Driving Development Along the Administrative Boundary Line: Supporting Locals to Transform Tourism in Chuberi
When you cross the Sagergili bridge on the way to Svaneti, turn left and you will arrive at one of the hidden delights of Western Georgia – the village of Chuberi. Surrounded by the majestic Northern Caucus ridge, nestled in the picturesque Nenskra river valley, and located just nine kilometers from the Administrative Boundary Line with Abkhazia, Chuberi is rapidly emerging as a mini tourism destination in lower Svaneti, a mere hour away from Zugdidi.
Chuberi’s history is deeply rooted in ancient times, as evidenced by archaeological excavations. The Larilari burial grounds have revealed significant artifacts, including cremated bodies from the 8th-7th centuries BCE and gold coins minted in the names of Alexander the Great and King Lysimachus. These remarkable findings provide a glimpse into the past, showcasing the village’s historical significance.
Amidst the stunning natural beauty of Chuberi and believing in the community’s ability to become a thriving hub for travelers seeking an authentic Georgian experience, a group of visionary locals are harnessing its tourism potential. One of these individuals is Mikha Pilpani, a proud seventh generation Chuberi native. Despite completing university studies in Tbilisi, Pilpani wanted to return to Chuberi and tourism provided him with an opportunity to have his own business while living in the place where he grew up. Pilpani embarked on a remarkable endeavor: the creation of the Feel Funny House guesthouse. Armed with determination and the knowledge he gained from YouTube tutorials, Pilpani set out to build the guesthouse.
His long-term vision for Chuberi extends beyond the guesthouse and is rooted in the belief that Chuberi possesses immense untapped tourism potential waiting to be discovered by adventurous souls from around the world. “I want Chuberi to be more than just a place on the map. I want travelers to come here and experience the unique culture, the breathtaking landscapes and the warmth of our community, he said.” With the support of the USAID Resilient Communities Program, he plans to introduce additional services that showcase the natural beauty of the community including horse riding tours along picturesque trails, thrilling hikes and bike tours. By expanding the offerings, he hopes to extend the stay of tourists in Chuberi from two to four nights. The increased tourism receipts will allow him to employ four to five locals in his business as stable hands and guides.
Mariam Khatchvani, a renowned Georgian filmmaker and a native of Svaneti, sees the cultural attraction of the Chuberi community. She has been organizing the Svaneti International Film Festival for three years and this year decided to expand showings of films to the Chuberi community. Mariam is driven to showcase the profound beauty of Mestia, intricate traditional values and the rich cultural heritage of the region. Chuberi had the honor of hosting a special event at the film festival- an open-air screening of the award-winning film “Dede,” directed by Khatchvani, which was filmed in the Svaneti mountains. When asked about the importance of the festival, Khatchvani replied, “The film festival holds the power to allure renowned actors, drawing in film-lovers and tourists thereby making significant contributions to the development of tourism and the promotion of Svaneti.” With the support of USAID, judges from the world-famous Sundance Film Festival were able to attend the festival together with 50 Georgian filmmakers, putting the festival on the international map.
While Pilpani and Khatchvani are driving the Chuberi community to embrace tourism, there are many challenges along the way. There is a pressing need to improve road access to the community, offer more accommodation and increase marketing efforts. Many community members are already seeing the benefit of developing tourism as a way to keep their community a vibrant, active and resilient place to live. Much like Pilpani’s example, tourism can be a reason for young people to return to the community. With individuals like Pilpani and Khatchvani, more tourists will flock to the hidden charm of Chuberi as the village continues to hold the promise of a bright and prosperous future, enriched by the dreams and aspirations of its people.