Batumi : Georgia Away from the Crowds

Lucy Daltroff visits Batumi Georgia and discovers an attractive city, full of culture, surrounded by amazing nature, with great food and wine.

Culture & History, Europe, Gastronomy

“The word “tourist” is still quite new to us,” said our Batumi guide. This sounded a strange statement when having just got off a cable car, I am enjoying the sunshine and admiring the dramatic beauty of the Ajara region to the west of Georgia. The stupendous views are of the Black Sea surrounded by the snow-capped Lower Caucasus Mountains.

It is just over 30 years since this country emerged from the Soviet Union – and things have not been easy, but travellers can now really benefit from it here, situated as it is between Europe and Asia, with a unique history, language and unique traditions.

Discovering Batumi Georgia

Batumi Georgia Pixabay
Lighthouse and waterfront at Batumi Georgia

The second city, Batumi is in this region and enjoys a sub-tropical climate. It is such an attractive place, surrounded by three national Parks recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, because of their exclusive biodiversity and ecosystems. By the coast modern soaring tower blocks owe their existence in part to a casino culture. It is one of the few places in the region where gambling is allowed, as Georgia is a Christian country surrounded by Muslim ones. This casino culture jars incongruously with the charming Belle Époque architecture found downtown.

Most of the buildings were built when Batumi became prosperous by refining the oil from Baku in the Caspian Sea and transporting it into Europe. At one time one fifth of the world’s oil production passed through here. There is a museum dedicated to the brothers Nobel and to the Rothschild family who financed much of the infrastructure for the industry. It was great to see all the explanations were in English.

Of Religion and Art

For a small country Georgia seems to have churches everywhere due to a long association with Christianity and the importance of the Georgian Orthodox church.

Kartlos a guy in his thirties, succinctly summed it up. “Churches,” he said, “are our identity. That is how we live.”

Lucy enjoying local life in Batumi Georgia
Lucy enjoying local life in Batumi Georgia

In the state museum I was introduced to the work of the famous 20th century Georgian artist, Lado Gudiashvili who depicted everyday life. His mystical flowing pictures were a way of expressing his contempt of the Soviet regime. Bizarrely the museum curator told us that he would never paint ears in his portraits as he thought them ugly.

Georgia is the area of “Colchis”, famous in Greek Mythology as the home of Jason and the Argonauts. Not surprisingly in the main square there is the figure of Medea triumphantly holding up the Golden Fleece. This is not the most famous sculpture in Batumi, as by the long and attractive seven-kilometre tree-lined boulevard that stretches all along the sea front, is a giant metal artwork, known as the Statue of Love. It’s mesmerising, consisting of two figures made of stacked segments. At 7pm, each day they slowly slide towards each other, eventually merging, but never truly connecting. The cycle takes 10 minutes to watch and seemed to me a triumph of mechanics and design, by Georgian artist, Tamara Kvesitadze.

Georgian Food: Khachapuri

Khachapuri, photo by Lucy Daltroff
Khachapuri, photo by Lucy Daltroff

Batumi is also known as the originator of the national dish, Khachapuri, a warm boat-shaped yeast bread stuffed with different cheeses and with an egg in the centre. There are many variations depending on the region, but all are delicious. It’s filling but not slimming.

The food in Batumi is a pleasant surprise. Vegetarians get a huge choice, although beef, chicken and lamb are all widely available. Herbs such as tarragon, flat parsley, dill and coriander combine with walnuts and garlic for rich fillings and sauces.

While I was sitting in a restaurant all the males at the next table suddenly started up a round of polyphonic singing. It was an amazing spontaneous and unforgettable experience. It happens often and is one of the great traditions here.

Georgian Wine

Georgian wine is the oldest in the world
Georgian wine is the oldest in the world

As for drink, Georgia is the first place wine was discovered – the sheltered slopes and fertile valleys providing ideal conditions. Most villages make their own, using kvevri pots, which are buried during the fermentation process. In 2013, UNESCO added the ancient traditional Georgian winemaking method to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. I soon found that these wines can be of varying standards, but some are excellent. It’s a fun tradition to sip them from an animal’s horn. If you manage to drink all the wine from one of the larger horns you get to keep the horn as a souvenir of your achievement.

One of the big attractions to all tourists is that everything is good value and safe. I noticed several stray dogs, but they all have blue tags in their ears which means that they have been vaccinated and spayed. In the countryside, cows wander around at their leisure often crossing roads while motorists happily slow down and let them pass.

Vani Museum
Vani Museum
Vani Museum, photo by Lucy Daltroff

The history of the country is so varied that it was a privilege to drive eighty miles from Batumi to explore the new Vani Museum. It displays archaeological finds from the area which date back to 8th to 1st centuries BC. These stunning artefacts have crucial importance for studying antiquity. The exquisite gold jewellery especially caught my eye.

It was a great way to conclude my visit to Batumi city, which soon I suspect will become much more familiar with the term “tourist”.

Batumi Georgia Fact Box

Batumi Flights

Turkish Airlines flies from London Heathrow to Batumi via Istanbul.

Things to Do in Batumi Georgia

Georgia has information about the country. Go Batumi has information about city and the region.

Batumi Hotels

Hotel Radisson Blu Batumi has sea views and an excellent Asian restaurant. There is also the Batumi Hilton.

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Lucy Daltroff

Lucy Daltroff

As a journalism teacher and a freelance travel writer Lucy has visited many unusual places and met some remarkable people. Her work frequently appears in the national press, magazines as well on online websites and BBC Radio 4's "From Our Own Correspondent". Her hobby is portrait painting and talking to nearly everyone she meets.

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