We drove through Adjara, an autonomous republic in Georgia, in the southwestern corner of that country, adjacent to the Black Sea and the Turkish frontier. Adjara was under Turkish rule from the 17th century until 1878 when it was annexed by Russia and attached to Georgia. From 1922 to 1991, it was the autonomous republic of the USSR; following the dissolution of the USSR, it became part of the newly independent country of Georgia. From 1991 to 2004, the region was under the leadership of Aslan Abashidze, a pro-Russian ruler from a distinguished family of Adjar descent. Following a constitutional amendment passed by the Georgian parliament in April 2000, Adjara has officially designated an autonomous republic. Relations between Adjara and the central Georgian government – already somewhat contentious – worsened following the 2004 election of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose authority Abashidze refused to recognize. In May 2004, Abashidze ordered the destruction of two bridges linking Adjara with the rest of Georgia and the dismantling of rail lines. He argued that these were acts of self-defense against a Georgian invasion. Within days of an ultimatum issued by Saakashvili calling for Abashidze to return to Georgia’s constitutional framework, as well as in the wake of broad demonstrations against the Adjar leader, Abashidze resigned his position and departed for Russia.
Though Adjara’s beaches are mostly stony, the subtropical climate is fantastic and the scenery gorgeous, with lush hills rising behind the coast and peaks topping 3000m inland, giving a dramatic backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Indeed, a drive through the region’s predominantly Muslim hinterland was advantageous, offering superb scenery scattered with picturesque mountain villages. We took a cable car from Khulo to visit a typical Adjarian village called Tago. This tiny village connects to the outer world by the Khulo cable car (the second-longest free-span cable car in Europe, built in 1985, 5 GEL/roundtrip) over the gorge of the Adjaristskali River.