The Villages of Tomorrow: Hiding in the Woods

Rural projects unlock the development potential of Machakhela Gorge

November 2, 2021

Photo: Irakli Dzneladze/UNDP

As Georgia kicks off an ambitious rural development reform, the EU and UNDP are supporting local projects across the country, aiming to diversify rural economies, reduce poverty and make rural areas a better place for entrepreneurship, employment, education, health care, technology and climate action.

Hiding in the Woods

Need to recharge? There is no place better than ‘Woodhide’, a fairytale guesthouse deep in Machakhela National Park.

Natia Kakhidze started this increasingly popular business with GEL55,000 (US$17,500) support from the Ajara AR Government, provided as part of the EU and UNDP rural development grant programme.

To fulfil her dream, Kakhidze left her successful career in bustling Batumi to return to her home village in Machakhela Gorge. She is convinced that it is the best place in the world to enjoy nature, relax and get away from stress.

“We spent the whole winter working on the site, trying to finish building the cabins before the tourist season started. I think it turned out quite well!” said Kakhidze, adding with a broad sweep of her arm, “now tourists can come here and enjoy all this beauty.”

In Soviet times, Machakhela Gorge’s proximity to Turkey made it a restricted area that was concealed in the Ajara highlands. Virtually no one could enter the region except for border guards and residents with special permits. Decades of control and isolation formed a unique lifestyle characterized by local communities’ reservedness and general reluctance to embrace change. 

Things began to change in the 1990s after Georgia acquired its independence. Though restricted areas and movement permits became a thing of the past, economically, Machakhela lagged behind the other regions of Georgia, especially fast-developing Ajara. Small, isolated villages scattered across the valley continued living on farming and illegal logging, almost not noticing the booming economy of Georgia’s Black Sea coast just a 30-minute drive away.    

In 2012, Machakhela Gorge was granted the status of National Park, largely due to efforts by Georgia’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility. New opportunities for sustainable green growth opened as tourists poured into the region to enjoy its lush forests, mountain views and exquisite cuisine. However, it took several years for the local communities to respond to these realities.

Kakhidze believes that rural projects can unlock the development potential of Machakhela Gorge and help people explore new prospects from environmental tourism. “Projects like this bring a new life into our village and our region. They show what we can do to build our future.”