Known as the ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’, the subtropical Georgian city of Batumi has been charming visitors for over 2,000 years. It is both ancient and modern, generous and hospitable, and blessed with some of the most delicious food and wine in the world. What are you waiting for?
1. Escape to the mountains
The mountains of Ajara that rise up sharply behind Batumi are more than just a breathtaking backdrop to the city. Sitting 1,500-2,200 meters above sea level, the steep slopes, covered in thick forest and peppered with waterfalls and lakes, are at once a haven of tranquillity and an adventure playground.
Here you’ll find trails leading through timeless coniferous forests, past ancient monasteries and onto tiny rustic villages. Hospitality is king here. Don’t expect to escape without partaking in a strong cup of coffee and a sweet local treat.
Activities including rafting, cycling and horseriding are available in the mountains. And avid skiers will love the soft dry snow found at the Goderdzi Ski Resort from November until the end of May.
2. Immerse yourself in nature
Batumi is literally surrounded by nature and is the perfect place to explore some of Georgia’s most precious natural environments – including three national parks, recently recognised by UNESCO for their unique natural attributes.
Machakhela National Park, just 30 kilometres south-east of Batumi, is a ‘relic’ forest dating from the ice age where you will find humid deciduous rainforest, home to martens, wolves, brown bears and lynx.
To the north, Kintrishi National Park straddles the Kintrishi River gorge. While at Mtirala National Park, visitors make a beeline for the famous Tsablnari Waterfall. 28 meters high, surrounded by ancient forest and often shrouded in mist, it is one of the most magical places in Georgia.
Or you could simply visit the Batumi Botanical Garden. Established in 1912 and set over 108 hectares, these beautifully designed gardens host plants from nine different climatic zones, one of the widest varieties of flora in the world.
3. Go birdwatching
Ask any birdwatcher and they’ll tell you Batumi is a birdwatcher’s paradise. The city sits right on the Eastern Black Sea Migration Corridor, a narrow ‘lane’ through which about one million birds of prey migrate south to Africa each year. If you want to see raptors, the ‘Batumi Bottleneck’ is the place to come.
The season officially starts on August 16 and ends on October 16, with the annual Batumi Birdwatching Festival held in the first week of September. On any given day you’ll see up to 10,000 raptors in the air, including eagles, owls, buzzards, kites and vultures. 35 different species have been spotted in all, including some of the rarest birds of prey in the world.
There are two ‘official’ birdwatching platforms in Ajara, in the village of Sakhalvasho and Chaisubani-Shuamta. But you can also observe the migration from the Ispani peatlands, the Chorokhi river delta and even the Batumi Botanical Garden.
4. Admire the architecture
Batumi is a city of eye-catching architecture, where stately 19th Century buildings sit beside some of the most playful and unique skyscrapers in the world. From stately baroque edifices and ornate houses of worship to Insta-friendly novelty buildings like the Alphabet Tower, Batumi has it all.
Start your exploration in the Old Town. Here you’ll find Theatre Square, home to the Batumi Drama Theatre and the Neptune Fountain, and Europe Square, home to the Astronomical Clock and the Medea Statue. Batumi Piazza, completed in 2012, is a modern take on Italy’s famous piazzas and has fast become the city’s vibrant heart and meeting place. As you head towards the more playful buildings along the waterfront, you’ll pass the Holy Mother Virgin Nativity Cathedral and the city’s imposing synagogue.
Finally, for an overview of the city’s skyline, take a ride on the Argo Cable car to the top of Anuria mountain. The views of the Black Sea and the city are spectacular, especially at sunset.
5. Sample fine food and wine
It is best to come to Batumi with an empty stomach, especially if you get invited to a supra, a traditional Georgian feast. Tables literally groan under the weight of countless local treats, and with the city’s reputation for hospitality, you’re not leaving before you’ve tried every one of them.
Khachapuri, a kind of cheese-filled bread topped with an egg, is the staple here. The local version is shaped like a boat in honour of the city’s maritime heritage. Other favourites include lakhni, a tender stewed beef with walnut sauce, sinori, a curd-filled puff pastry delight, and of course, the city’s incomparable baclava.
No meal is complete without a glass or two of wine from vineyards of nearby Keda, made from the local tsolikauri and chkhaveri grapes. Georgians have been making wine for over 8,000 years so they know what they are doing.
6. Soak up the culture
Whether it is the unique polyphonic singing of the area, the ancient Ajarian dances or the toasting so closely associated with supra, the tradition of feasting, culture in Batumi is inextricably linked with community celebration and hospitality. Show any kind of interest and you will be welcomed in with open arms.
Khorumi and Gandagana are dances that originate from ancient times and were granted the status of an Intangible Cultural heritage. They are performed at festivals in villages throughout Ajara and in Batumi itself at the International Music and Folk Dance Festival. The Batumi Art & Musical Centre often hold performances. The puppet theatre is worth checking out too.
Increasingly, public art has become an important expression of Batumi’s distinctive local culture. The eight metre-tall rotating sculpture, Ali and Nino, created by Georgian artist Tamara Kvesitadze, celebrates love and diversity. These, and other similar works of public art, ensure Batumi’s unique culture is being expressed in new and exciting ways.
7. Explore the coastline
The water in the Black Sea near Batumi is so blue and inviting that the ancient Greeks referred to it as the ‘Hospitable Sea.’ Thanks to the subtropical climate, the sea temperature rarely dips below 16 degrees Celsius. Swimming here is a rare treat.
The 21km stretch of coastline is dotted with both lively seaside towns such as Sarpi and Kobuleti and lovely secluded coves and nature reserves. All manner of watersports are available, from sailing and diving to parasailing, kayaking and kiteboarding. The coast here offers something for everyone.
In the heart of the city you’ll find the Batumi Seaside Boulevard, a seaside promenade that has been Batumi’s recreational retreat since 1881. Stretching for over seven kilometres, you’ll find gardens, colonnades, theatres, dancing fountains and the famous Alphabet Tower, all beside the sparkling sea. It’s also a popular venue for events and festivals too, including the Summer season opening festival which happens every June to celebrate the start of the warm season, and the Black Sea Jazz Festival which brings international musicians and pundits from around the world every July.
However you decide to spend your time in Ajara, you're in for a break full of surprises and will no doubt return home with memories that will last a lifetime.
For more information, check out the official Batumi website.