Booming Batumi, Georgia

Batumi, Georgia is a long standing resort on the Black Sea coast. This city of contrasts is booming and fast becoming the hotspot of the Caucasus. Billions of dollars have been pumped into the city since 2000 and it’s a city of continual juxtaposition. Many travellers find Batumi gaudy and soulless, but it’s a great place to let off some steam and simply enjoy yourself. Fine dine with fellow opera patrons on the modern Italian Piazza and afterwards enjoy some lethal homebrewed Cha-cha in a Soviet-era dive bar surrounded by toothless old geezers. Gamarjobat!

Batumi Square

Batumi Theatre Square is surrounded by crumbling Soviet apartment blocks yet overlooked by glitzy modern hotels (Flickr – tprzechlewski)

 Stay
Globus Hostel (from €7)
Do
BatumiVelo (2GEL per hour) offers bicycle hire points along the boulevard. Enjoy a days cycle with pitstops for ice cream and beer. Don’t forget a refreshing swim afterwards!
Eat
Khinkali, ubiquitous Georgian dumplings – minced, saucy meat in thick flour. Lobiani (Large flat bread with beans) and Ostri (spicy stew) are delicious.
Drink
Local wine, especially Saperavi red, is well renowned yet inexpensive. Cha-cha is an extremely strong local brandy.
Essentials
Be extremely careful when crossing the road, drivers don’t care for red lights or pedestrian crossings….just run for your life!!
Where to Next
Spend the night aboard an old fashioned night train to the capital city – Tbilisi.

Batumi old street

The streets around the old town are slowly becoming gentrified block by block. The city has the feel of an old colonial town, with delightful iron balconies adoring terraced homes. (Flickr – uwebrodrecht)

Batumi skyline

Alphabet tower features each symbol of the unique Georgian Alphabet and is lit up at night. The building to the left has a curious ferris wheel latched on…. looks safe, right?

Sleeping

There are new hostels, hotels and guesthouses opening all the time. On our first visit we stayed at the cramped but friendly Batumi Hostel. We choose to spend a wee bit extra on our second visit and choose the Globus hostel. The Globus has an awesome courtyard with BBQ’s and beer each evening – a great way of meeting fellow travellers. Many guesthouses still line the quaint cobbled streets, and great bargains can be found  – if you can get over the language barrier!Batumi_Peacock

Peacocks and RollerBlades

The beautifully built boulevard stretches 6.5KM from the Lighthouse all the way south to Batumi Airport. Originally constructed in 1881, large plots of beachfront land have recently been bought by the government and new additions have been built such as a bicycle/ path, the large 6 May Park and endless amounts of ice cream stalls.

There are various points where you can rent bicycles and rollerblades – but be safe, during the day it is filled with buskers, artists and ice cream licking walkers! At night, dazzling fountains lit up with every colour of the rainbow shoot up into the sky while couples romance and enjoy the sunset over a bottle of wine.

Dozens of ornate fountains and sculptures line Batumi Boulevard. These have been commissioned by the city council and created by artists from around Georgia and beyond.

Dozens of ornate fountains and sculptures line Batumi Boulevard. These have been commissioned by the city council and created by artists from around Georgia and beyond.

One of the coolest pieces of art in Batumi is an old Soviet helicopter that has been transformed into a colourful mosaic of crazy colours and shapes.

One of the coolest pieces of art in Batumi is an old Soviet helicopter that has been transformed into a colourful mosaic of crazy colours and shapes.

A storm building over Batumi Beach. The beach is lined with beach bars, some of which party till dawn.

A storm building over Batumi Beach. The beach is lined with beach bars, some of which party till dawn.

The retro looking Dophinarium is open everyday and offers an impressive, entertaining 45 minute show. At a ridiculous 20 Lari, it’s a fraction of the prices you’d find anywhere else. There is also a small zoo corner, with exotic birds including ornate peacocks strutting their sexy feathers about the place.

The Black Sea is perfectly OK for swimming. While it may not be as warm as the Mediterreanean, it’s pretty refreshing in the summer months. Sadly the beach isn’t sandy, and can be uncomfortable due to the large pebbles. However there are hundreds of sunbeds available at cheap prices – or all you need to do is buy a drink from one of the vendors.

Lacking creativity, Batumi copied the famous statue of Neptune from Bolonga, Italy. Complete with the pointy nipples…

1-Batumi square (2)

Opposite the newly built Drama Theatre is a remarkably shiny statue of Roman god Neptune. The Roman god is surrounded by fine looking ladies whose nipples spray water into the fountain….. raunchy.  Bizarrely, it is a copy of the original fountain found in Bolonga, Italy. Why the Batumi city council decided on this is bewildering, as there is absolutely no Roman connection with Georgia, and my word does it it look tacky! The square itself reflects Batumi perfectly – two decrepit Soviet blocks tower over the Mercedes cars lined up outside the Neo-Classical Theatre and a casino.

Tradtional Georgian Food

Kinkali (the dumplings), Ostri (meat and onions) and Georgian bread are probably the number one reason why I wish to return to Georgia. Such tasty food!

Food – Kinky Khinkali and the Cha-cha slide

Why has no one ever recommended Georgian food? I think this is what resulted in us staying in Georgia for 3 weeks rather than 3 days. The food is amazing, and the quality is outstanding. It takes time to figure out what exactly to order…. and how to order.
If you order the chicken, you will simply get a breast of chicken on a plate. So don’t forget to order your veg and sauces as well! Once you know your way around Georgian hospitality, the food is fantastic.
Avoid the restaurants around the beach as well as the Piazza, as these are quite expensive and the quality isn’t all that great. Across from Batumi hostel, Retro Cafe on Lemontov St. serves up cheap traditional foods such as Lobiani (bread filled with beans), Ostri (meat and onion stew) and Khinkali (utterly delicious dumplings). Batumi is known for it’s baklava, check out the pastry shops on Chavchavadze Street.

Conor_in_batumi

Batumi took me by surprise. I had heard bad things about it but I really enjoyed it. It’s a clash of traditional Georgian culture and the encroaching Western lifestyle. And it’s remarkable how different it is to Turkey, which is just 30 minutes away.

As with most ex-Soviet States, the Georgians love their drink, and Batumi is where they come to let off steam. The beach front bars and restaurants are packed during summer, and once the sun goes down the clubs blare out music till dawn.The cobbled streets reveal hidden bars and cafes where you taste Georgian beers such as Kazbegi and the local brandy, known as Cha-cha (many small bars have their own hom brewed version).

If you are lucky, sometimes at 6.30PM the Cha-cha fountain pours out free, yes FREE cha-cha! It’s down by the beachfront, near the harbour, so have your bottles ready! Alas when we there nothing came out…but you never know!

Just one of the many romantic sculptures that line Batumi boulevard – ahhhhh.

Batumi backstreets

The grimy backstreets of Batumi are a world away from the glitz of the casinos and boulevard. However this is the real city, and some great small bars and cheap market stalls can be found.

Onward….and Upward:

The Night Train to Tbilisi. Followed by the spectacular Kazbegi in the Caucasus mountains.

Sumela Monastery, across the border in Turkey.

The creepy abandoned Soviet beach resort of Kobuleti – just one hour up the coast.

Going to Turkey? – see our guide to the Georgia / Turkey border crossing

Finally, some wise advice from The Continental Drifters comics….

Driving in Georgia

1 Comment

  1. Max
    17/09/2016 / 5:16 AM

    I liked your coverage of Batumi but in your discussion of the theater square and the Neptune statue you got a few historical facts wrong, major enough to warrant a correction. Although Batumi was founded as a Greek colony, later it was a Roman fortified port, and remained under Rome for awhile. So there certainly is a Roman connection, contrary to what you wrote. In fact, on the city’s outskirts you can still find remnants of an ancient Roman garrison Apsaros, currently called Gonio. At the time, all of Western Georgia was part of the Greco-Roman world. If you visit the Georgian National Museum, they have a trove of artifacts from that era.

    Also, here’s an interesting fact about Batumi’s Neptune statue that I learned recently. An exact replica of this monument also stands in Brussels, Belgium at the Royal Palace of Laeken. So you could argue that Batumi’s Neptune is actually a replica of a replica! Maybe? But who cares? There’s replicas of famous works scattered throughout Europe. I guess you can’t put priceless masterpieces on every public square. As for me, I like Batumi’s Neptune just fine.

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