An entrepreneur develops Georgian food tourism with support from the EU, Sweden, and Austria
When Nanuli Chelidze went to the bank to get credit for expanding her guesthouse in Ushguli, she only brought one thing – the notebook filled with reviews from tourists who had stayed at her property in the last couple of years. When she handed the notebook to the credit officer, she had no idea what the visitors had written. She had never read it. The bank employee took the notebook to the head office.
A week later, Nanuli Chelize got a call that her credit application had been accepted.
Today she tells this life-changing story with a smile on her face, saying she got lucky that the bank trusted her without putting down any property. As it turns out, the bank made a good decision – Chelidze’s hotel Villa Lileo is one of the most popular places to stay in Svaneti, Georgia.
Nanuli Chelize was born in one of the highest inhabited settlements in Europe. Ushguli, a community of five villages, is located in Svaneti, 2,100 meters from the foot of Shkhara – one of the highest summits of the Greater Caucasus. Svaneti is famous for breathtaking mountain views, centuries-old traditions, long skiing tracks, and unique cuisine.
“I was born and raised here and never plan to leave this place,” says Chelidze.
The love for the Svaneti region and its history motivated Chelidze to start working in a local museum. More than 30 years later, 60-year-old Nanuli Chelidze is the director of the same museum while successfully leading her own business.
It all started in 2012.
“As a family, we were famous in the village and always had many guests. At a certain point, these guests turned into tourists,” she says. “I had just four rooms and divided them with curtains to accommodate visitors. It was still not enough. So I’d make arrangements and send some tourists to my neighbours overnight. It was a huge problem because nobody wanted to leave. That’s when I knew it was time to expand.”
She got the bank credit and a grant from Enterprise Georgia – the state programme that invests in business development. Soon enough, the four rooms divided with curtains turned into a fully-equipped 22-room hotel that helps tourists create unforgettable memories at any time of the year.
In 2019, before the pandemic, Villa Lileo hosted over 2,000 visitors, mostly from abroad. Hike lovers come here in summer to enjoy long trips in the high mountains, and those who love skiing choose the winter season for their stays.
But Chelidze says, except for mountains, many tourists return for one more thing – her cuisine.
Chelidze started food masterclasses for her visitors early on, showing them how to make iconic dishes from the Svaneti. Tourists then write down recipes and take those back to various countries, raising awareness about the Georgian cuisine.
“During the stay at my house, I treat the guests as my family. Even though I don’t speak English, we still understand each other, and I still keep in touch with many of them. I guess gastronomy has no language,” explains Chelidze.
Once the number of tourists increased, Chelidze started thinking that her kitchen couldn’t fit them all. Luckily, she got support from an EU/Sweden/Austria co-funded project, GRETA | Green Economy: Sustainable Mountain Tourism and Organic Agriculture, under the EU4Business umbrella and built and equipped space for masterclasses.
“The support came in when I most needed it and was the beginning of a successful journey,” she says. “It’s hard to imagine that such space exists in as remote a place as Ushguli,” she adds, noting tourist love the opportunity to learn more about Georgian food.
There is no life without dreams and goals, Chelidze admits. Indeed, she has many of them. The first includes the construction of a sauna – something winter visitors have been requesting for a while. She also wants to add a big hall to the guesthouse that would host events like conferences, weddings, etc.
“And finally, I have one more dream. My father-in-law was a famous doctor in the region, and I want to open a charity pharmacy named after him,” Chelidze says. “Hopefully, I’ll turn all that into reality.”
GRETA | Green Economy: Sustainable Mountain Tourism and Organic Agriculture in Georgia’ is supported by the European Union, Austria and Sweden and is implemented in Georgia by the Austrian Development Agency. The project aims to improve the business environment and increase opportunities for generating additional income for the Georgian economy in two important sectors, mountain tourism and organic agriculture. The project is implemented in close cooperation with the local government and involves the regions of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, Racha-Lechkhumi-Kvemo Svaneti and upper Imereti, where the entrepreneurs are engaged from the municipalities of Mestia, Lentekhi, Tsageri, Oni, Ambrolauri, Sachkhere, Chiatura and Tkibuli.
This material has been produced with the assistance of the European Union, Sweden and Austria in the frame of the GRETA project and with the collaboration of the EU4Business umbrella programme. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the GRETA project and EU4Business umbrella programme and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union, Sweden and Austria.