Georgia’s second largest city has reinvented itself in recent years as Vegas on the Black Sea, complete with casinos and crazy skyscrapers.
Read also: What to see and do in Georgia
The railway arrived here in the 19and century, connecting it to Baku in Azerbaijan so that oil could be shipped from here to the rest of the world. Later it became a fashionable seaside resort, with the visit of the Russian Tsar, and the old town still has many distinguished buildings which welcomed and entertained aristocratic guests.
Nowadays, the mild climate and vast beaches attract tourists from Turkey, Israel and the Middle East. A brand new town is being built to serve all their needs and brightly colored neon signs light up the sky at night. It is also a good place to sample traditional Ajarian cuisine which makes good use of nuts and dairy products. And Georgian wine is always excellent and remarkably cheap.
Here is my selection of things to see and do:
Originally laid out in 1881, the seafront promenade now stretches for 7 km, but there are plans to extend it by 13 km to the Turkish border.
It starts at Miracle Park, on the promontory next to the harbor. Highlights here include the Ferris Wheel, a lighthouse built in 1882, and the Alphabet Tower – a futuristic 130m tall double helix displaying all the letters of the Georgian alphabet in neon.
Starting with the huge statue of Ali and Nino, famous characters from an Azerbaijani novel, most of Batumi comes out for an early evening stroll.
The tree-lined boulevard continues south past newly constructed skyscrapers and an assortment of fountains, cafes and beach bars, all perfectly pleasant.
Of course, it’s the perfect place to watch the sun go down over the Black Sea and savor the bright lights of the modern city.
Built over a century ago, during the oil boom years, the neoclassical houses have wrought-iron balconies with trailing vines supported by towering columns. It’s an attractive neighborhood, much like the French Quarter in New Orleans, and fun to explore on foot. It houses the oldest church in Batumi, built in 1865 and dedicated to St Nikoloz. Originally Greek Orthodox, it was recently restored to Georgian Orthodox.
The new is not far away. Opposite is the Piazza, a 2009 development in the pastiche Venetian style, which houses cafes, bars and restaurants. Nearby is the Place de l’Europe, with the former post office transformed into a luxury hotel, and an extremely high plinth surmounted by a statue of Medea holding a shimmering golden fleece in her hands. It is worth taking the Doppeymayr cable car, which takes you to the top of the city in ten minutes to admire the view.
Batumi Nobel Brothers Technological Museum
Opened in 2007, it is the city’s most interesting museum and details the 19and century adventures of the Nobel brothers and the Rothchilds as they created an international oil company. Ironically, Robert Nobel was looking for sources of wood for gun barrels when he came across oil in Azerbaijan in 1876. The Rothchilds later built a kerosene cannery in Batumi so it could be shipped safely worldwide. At the same time, a Chinese merchant established tea plantations in Ajara which are still productive today.
Nine kilometers to the north are extensive botanical gardens, founded in 1912, straddling the hill by the sea. More than 5,000 species of plants grow here, collected not only in the region but also in other subtropical climates , including Japan and the Himalayas. A herbarium contains 40,000 other species and there is an extensive rose garden with 1,200 varieties. It is a wonderful place to walk around and there is the added bonus of the diversity of birds flying among the giant eucalyptus trees.
15 km to the south, towards Turkey, is the Gonio-Apsarus fortress, founded by the Romans in the 1st century of our era. The massive Byzantine walls, topped by 18 towers, surround an area of around 47,000 square meters, now filled with fruit trees and palms. Excavations have unearthed remains of Roman baths and barracks, and a large cross marks the tomb of St Matthias, a minor apostle, who died in Georgia in AD 80. There is also a small museum with finds from the site.
FLY: Turkish Airlines flies from London Heathrow to Batumi, via Istanbul.
INFORMATION: Georgia has information about the country.
Go Batumi has information about the city and the region.
READ: Bradt’s guide to Georgia is a must
STAY: The Radisson Blu Batumi hotel offers sea views and an excellent Asian restaurant.
EAT: Terrassa Askaneli is good for Khachapuri, traditional cheese pies.
Bern Restaurant offers traditional Adjari cuisine.
The Ajarian Wine House is outside of town and has live music.
Château Kvirike is nestled amongst its own vineyards.