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Borjomi, the Last Virgin Forest in Europe

Borjomi is an ideal town between the mountains of the Lesser Caucasus and on the banks of the Mtkavari River. It is surrounded by pristine forests and landscapes that will blow your mind. But what has really made it famous does not come from the surface, but from the depths of the earth.

Its legendary waters are exported to more than 30 countries and they say they have holy properties against hangover and some problems of the digestive system. Some people have even compared it to Vichy’s. It is a type of carbonated mineral water with a little amount of gas. They say that either you love it, or you hate it.

Nowadays, the thermal city offers a good hotel and B&B infrastructure, restaurants, and spas revolving around the liquid element. However, its tourism is not only nourished by water and many travelers are attracted by the echo of the stories of people who have visited one of the most spectacular National Parks in the country: Borjomi-Kharagauli.

This natural jewel hides memorable trails through one of the largest intact forests in Europe. It occupies about 1% of the national territory. After spending two weeks here, Tchaikovsky described the town as “one of the most charming places I’ve seen. So much that I have fallen in love with this place. From time to time I shout with joy for the beauty that is really deep down in my heart with every step I take”.

The paradise that the great composer was talking about is 157 kilometers (97 miles) from Tbilisi and, today, it is easily accessible by road and train. It is a good point to explore the region and visit Vardzia and the city of Akhaltsikhe.

In fact, the tourist office of Borjomi usually organizes daily trips to these two places with stops at the most noteworthy monuments along the way. Although Borjomi is the best-known resort, there are others such as Likani, Tsaghveri, Daba, and Tsemi in the southeast area.

History

The healing properties of Borjomi waters were known to locals since the beginning of time. But it was not until 1829 when they began to become famous. That year, Russian soldiers found one of the springs while searching for firewood near the Borjomula River.

The commander of the regiment, who suffered from a chronic illness, had heard the stories of the miraculous properties of the waters in the area and he decided to try it. After a while, he healed. Then he began to proclaim his healing with great fanfare and many people who followed suit were cured of their illnesses, including the daughter of the Viceroy of the Caucasus called Ekaterina.

In 1856, the first bottling plant was opened. The power of Borjomi’s waters spread to neighboring communities and the locality began to develop. Soon after, the Romanov family chose it as the destination of their summer vacation and the brother of Tsar Alexander II, who suffered from stomach problems, spent long periods here.

This is how Borjomi became a popular destination among the wealthy classes. Today, it is a very popular destination for hikers, people who seek to ‘disconnect’ and breathe some fresh air, skiers who go to the Bakuriani station, and others who undergo treatments using the medicinal waters.

What to See in Borjomi?

Mineral Water Park

Address: 9 Aprili Street

Price: 50 tetri in summer, free in winter

This is located southeast of the city, a quarter of an hour walking from the tourist office. It is on the other side of the Mtkavari, just at the end of 9 April Street. The park occupies 30 hectares of a wooded canyon created by the erosion of the Borjomula River. It is the place where the Russian soldiers found the first sources of healing water.

The exact site is marked by the glass dome at the entrance of the park where hot water is flowing with a strong flavor. You may not like it but it is a holy’s hand curing some stomach problems. Inside, there is a family amusement park with carousels, bumper cars, and a small roller coaster.

If you continue walking a couple of miles along the same path, you will find yourself facing a small natural pool of warm water. If you’re expecting something ideal, you’ll be disappointed, but it’s perfect to go for a swim if the day is good. Outside the park, the old cable car (3 GEL round trip) of Borjomi ascends to a rusty Ferris wheel that only works in summer.

Surroundings

Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park

Can you imagine entering one of the largest untouched ecosystems in Europe? What about a place where the beauty and humidity of the subtropical forests coexist at close distance with the aroma of immense masses of conifers and pines? The Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is an all-in-one destination for all of that and it is an amazing place to visit.

It is in the heart of the mountains of the Lesser Caucasus and it extends over 85,000 hectares, between 800 and 2650 meters (2624 and 8694 feet tall). It was one of the first national parks of the Caucasus (1935) and it remains almost unadulterated. In 2012, the British Travelers Association classified it as one of the three best places in the world to go on for a holiday, especially for nature lovers.

It is a paradise for fans of trekking as it offers 11 routes -from one day to five days. You can explore on foot or on horseback. There are very well-marked roads and they have an interesting network of mountain shelters for overnight (10 GEL) stays on the routes as needed, camping areas (5 GEL), and picnic areas. There are also conditioned areas to make fire along the way.

The first thing you should do is go through the visitor’s center of the park, which is outside Borjomi, to sign up. They will offer you all kinds of information and they can clear up all your doubts.

If you are not well equipped, do not worry: they have camping tents, sleeping bags, and mountain equipment for rent. They also organize horse riding and they offer guide services, educational and cultural tours.

Green Monastery (Mtsvane Monastery)

It is six miles from Borjomi, reachable by taking a detour from the road to Akhaltsikhe. It is from the ninth century. The surrounding area is usually crowded with people going on picnics on Sundays.

From Borjomi to Bakuriani aboard Kukushka

This train is not fast and it takes about two hours to cover the 18 miles separating Borjomi from the Bakuriani ski resort, but traveling aboard the Kukushka is quite an experience. It is a historic narrow-gauge train created by the Romanov family. The train cuts through thick forests, picturesque villages, and leaves behind spectacular mountains.

At times, you do not know if you are in Georgia or if you have traveled to Switzerland. Maybe in some towns like Cemi, Cagveri, Tba or Libani. The latter is famous for housing the Palace of the family of Tsar Alexander II.

The train has its own station in Borjomi, and it leaves for Bakuriani every day at 7:15 a.m. and 10:55 a.m. It leaves back from Bakuriani at 10:00 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. However, you can check out the tourist office in case there are schedule changes.

Museums

Borjomi Local History Museum

Address: 5 Tsminda Nino Street

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Price: 3 GEL. It is a quite complete center with three floors.

The first floor is dedicated to the archeology of the area, the second floor to the history and ethnography of the region, and the last floor focuses on the local nature.

The museum was created in 1938 in the former chancery of the Romanov family. Its collection is made up of 38,000 pieces from the Stone Age to the 20th century. It exhibits the first Borjomi existing water bottle (1890) as well.

Practical Information

Borjomi Tourist Office

Address: Rustaveli Street

Phone: +995 367 22 13 97

Opening Hours: from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

In winter, they open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The tourist office is in a small glass building next to the white suspension bridge. They will help you with accommodation issues and in deciding what to do in the area.

The Borjomi Tourist Office sometimes organizes minibus excursions to Akhaltsikhe and Vardzia (30 GEL/pax). Along the way, they also stop at the Green Monastery, the Khertvisi Fortress, and the Vanis Church.

They can also have everything planned with a Borjomi taxi driver who speaks English and makes the same route. Price: 120 GEL. You should ask at the tourist office if they know any tourist interested in sharing expenses together. With four people, it costs 30 GEL each and it is affordable.

Transportation

Marshrutkas leaving from the Borjomi bus station (8 Meskheti Street):

  • Borjomi-Tbilisi. Every hour from 7:00 a.m. to 5:50 p.m. (6 GEL)
  • Borjomi-Akhaltsikhe. There is usually one marshrutka every hour (4 GEL)
  • Borjomi-Gori. 7:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. (5 GEL)
  • Borjomi-Batumi. 9:00 a.m. (17 GEL)
  • Borjomi-Bakuriani: 9:00, 10:30, 12:15, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 p.m. (3 GEL), although the schedules may change

Trains

  • Borjomi-Gori-Tbilisi. At 7:00 and at 4:40 p.m. (it takes 4 and a half hours). For more information or online tickets: www.railway.ge or you can check things out at the Borjomi tourist office.

Accommodations

Cheap Lodging

Marina´s Guesthouse

Address: 2 Ketevan Tsamebuli Avenue (Shroma Street nº 2)

Phone: +995 598 18 45 50

E.mail: marinasgusthouse@gmail.com

It is one of the most famous places among backpackers. This is a nice house with beautiful views and a friendly atmosphere. The owner speaks a little English. Good location, a short distance from the Mineral Water Park.

Guesthouse Besarioni

Address: 32 Niko Pirosmani Street

Phone: +995 599 77 90 55

E-mail: besikilursmanashvili@yahoo.com

Guesthouse Besarioni is another of the guesthouses that work best in Borjomi. It is close to the Mineral Water Park and is located in a pretty quiet area about ten minutes from downtown. It has double rooms with or without a shared bathroom, garden, and a shared kitchen. The family speaks a little English and they will help you as much as they can.

Guesthouse Dodo Chopikashvili

Address: 4 Saakadze Street

Phone: +995 599 92 94 24

They have 4 triple rooms and two double rooms. The guesthouse is 328 feet from the bus station and the rate is 30 GEL with breakfast. They do not speak English.

Expensive Lodging

Victoria Panorama Hotel

Address: 1 Gogiat Sikhe Street

Phone: +995 577 73 20 02

E-mail: reservation@victoria-panorama.com

It opened in 2012 and it’s all practically brand new. It is a very comfortable hotel with the best value for money in the area. There are also magnificent views there. Chalva, the owner, speaks a little Castilian. They have 11 rooms. Individuals: 115-148 GEL; doubles: 148-181 GEL; triples: 181-214GEL.

Borjomi Palace Hotel

Address: 17 Gamsakhurdia Street

Phone: +995 322 43 00 31/ +995 5 99 99 80 84

E-mail: info@borjomipalace.ge 

This hotel is a spa hotel with a swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath, hydromassage capsules, and comfortable rooms. They also offer medical treatments. Modern and very comfortable rooms are available at reasonable prices. Half board: $ 90 (single), $ 130 (double), $ 200 (superior and family), $ 260 (suites). For more information: www.borjomipalace.ge

Restaurants

Cheap Restaurant

Old Borjomi Cafe

Address: 21 Kostaba Street

Opening Hours: from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.

This is the typical Georgian tavern. It is perfect to eat something or have a couple of beers.

Medium Price Restaurant

Inka Cafe

Address: 2 9 Apirili Street

It is an attractive coffee place for non-smokers. Good pastries and excellent coffees are available, although a little expensive for Georgian standards.

Pesvebi Restaurant

Address: Kostava Street

Opening Hours: from 11:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m.

At 1640 feet from the tourist office, it is a well-known Georgian restaurant. A good feast costs around 15 or 20 GEL.

Practical information

Important thing to know:

If you do not want to carry a tent, most routes that require several days offer the option of staying overnight in mountain shelters. They are quite basic and you will need a sleeping bag. Most of them have water, but others do not, so you should find more information about these places carefully. You’ll have to stock up for longer routes. Do not forget to take food, drinks, and a gas stove or similar camping supplies.

Visitor Center of the Park

Address: 23 Meskheti Street

Opening Hours: Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

It is 1 km from the bus station, continuing on the main road towards Akhaltsikhe. They offer maps of the park. They organize horseriding (60 GEL), and this is where you have to pay to spend the night in the mountain huts (10 GEL) or camping (5 GEL). They rent tents (10 GEL) and sleeping bags (5 GEL). Contact persons:

Giorgi Mukhuradze Phone: 577 10 18 94. E-mail: gio.mukhuradze@gmail.com