Where: Borjomi is a spa town in south-central Georgia.
When: June 2018
Why: Borjomi was our little treat in the middle of our Caucus backpacking trip. In most of the places we visited we stayed in hostels and budget hotels, but Jeff booked for us to stay in the Crowne Plaza in Borjomi as my wedding anniversary present (thanks J). We went to the town as we wanted to visit the spa and see some other parts of Georgia.
We started our Caucus trip in Sofia (our stepping stone to the Caucus), then we went to Baku, Azerbaijan, Tbilisi and Borjomi in Georgia, we went to Armenia for a few days, then we ended our trip in western Georgia, at Batumi on the Black Sea coast and Kutaisi, which we flew out of.
Borjomi is located on the Mtkvari River. This is the major river that the train runs alongside. A lot of Borjomi is located on the north side of the river, though for our stay we were based on the south side. Bojormi Parki Railway station is on the south bank, as is the mineral water park. Much of the main part of the resort is based in an offshoot, lush, cosy valley, which runs alongside the Borjomula River, which runs into the much more mighty Mtkvari here.
If you go anywhere in Georgia or Armenia you’ll see promotional umbrellas and fridges with Borjomi written on them. This is because Borjomi is a famous brand of mineral water, named after the resort in which it is sourced, kind of like the equivalent of Evian in Europe.
Borjomi itself is a lovely spa, resort town located in a stunning national park, about four hours from Tbilisi. The resort is long and thin, running up a valley with a white water river in the centre. It reminded me of Betws-y-Coed in Wales.
In the centre of the town is the Crowne Plaza hotel, which dominates the resort. This international chain is set in pretty, designed grounds, along the river edge and we got the impression that they had been instrumental in developing the resort to bring it more upmarket.
Our stay at the Crowne Plaza was my wedding anniversary present from J (thank you, my love) and it was so wonderful to have a little bit of luxury in the middle of our trip. Backpacking whilst pregnant was hard, and we had been staying in budget accommodation, so to have a luxury chain room, with a billion pillows, loads of freebies, chocolates before bed, a swimming pool/spa, was magical. I didn’t want to leave.
Borjomi itself I liked, but again there were still quite a few dilapidated buildings within the resort and areas which looked a little bit unloved. It felt like a town that was being invested in though, and hopefully the tourist money here can help develop the town.
The scenery here was stunning: not overly dramatic but lush, empty and interesting – with forested hills that stretched on into the distance. Borjomi sits on the edge of Borjomi Nature Reserve and the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, which cover over 850 square kilometers. It’s a very beautiful region – you can see why it is so famous.
Getting there and getting around
We caught the train direct to Borjomi from Tbilisi and then back again. It cost us 2 lari each (60p!/66c!) and took about four hours to get there.
The train was awful. It was so dirty and old. You could tell it had probably never been cleaned. I fell over twice as there was a strange step next to the chairs. There was a bathroom but it was disgusting (worse than Indian trains). The train stopped everywhere – usually at small stations, either with no platforms or signs or at stops with crumbling infrastructure. This was definitely a train for locals, with people carrying huge bags of agricultural products onto the train. However, the scenery we passed was very pretty, the low price was just preposterous and I felt safer travelling on the train than I think I would have done in a packed mashruka (mini-bus), which was the other option. The windows opened, so there was a breeze blowing through, and the seats were comfy. There was no official drinks or snack service, but occasionally old ladies would wander up the carriages selling bread or snacks.
We bought our tickets from the ticket desk at Tbilisi train station but we could have bought them from the guard on the train or from the ticket machine which is in each carriage.
Going our train left Tbilisi at 6.40 a.m. (ouch) and got in at 13.00ish.
Coming back our train left Borjomi at 16.40 and got in at 21.30ish. There’s also an early morning train from Borjomi to Tbilisi at 07.05.
I’ve just had a look at the timetable on the Georgian Railway Website and according to this there is also a train from Tbilisi to Borjomi at 16.15.
There’s two stations in Borjomi. We got off at Borjomi Parki Railway, the end of the line. The station building obviously used to be beautiful, all art deco and lush, but now it is pretty unloved and there are no facilities or train staff here. (There was a photocopied sheet of paper with the train times on, in Georgian and Russian only). However, there were two nice cafes/restaurants in the old station building. We went in Metropoli and had a drink and used their toilets.
We found this lovely blog by My Travel Affairs to be really useful and it also has lots of pretty pictures of the journey.
A mashruka between Borjomi and Tbilisi only takes three hours and cost 6 Lari (£1.80/€2), but I found these mini-buses very scary which is why we opted for the much slower train.
Within the resort we walked everywhere as it’s very small.
What we did on our holiday
We had two nights and one full day in Borjomi. The first afternoon we just enjoyed the hotel and then went for dinner, the second day we explored.
There is a cable car which runs from the entrance of Mineral Water Park, up to the top of the hill. The views from the cable car were beautiful: we could see a big waterfall and the valleys. It was a fun experience. (The cable car operator was a bit too touchy-feely with me and other female guests though, so watch out for him).
At the top of the hill there is a ferris wheel (closed when we were there) and … nothing else, as far as we could tell. No maps, no information, no signs… nada.
We went up in the cable car, walked up the road a bit – trying to see if there was anything up here – there wasn’t – then we got the cable car back down again. We’d seen mention of a path in the Lonely Planet, one which goes from the top of the hill to the thermal pools, but we couldn’t find it anywhere. We followed their directions but couldn’t find anything. Later on, we saw the other end of the path and we were quite glad we hadn’t walked it as it was pretty steep and probably would have been a bit too rough for me.
The views over the surrounding countryside were very pretty, but other than that there wasn’t much to see at the top.
The cable car cost 5 lari each way (£1.50/€1.60). We paid on the cable car on the way back down.
Borjomi Central Park and Spa
At the end of the valley, weaving alongside the river, is Borjomi Central Park, which is also known as Mineral Water Park. This park, originally built in 1850, is where you can go to try the mineral water from the source. Like most volcanic mineral water it’s a bit gross: it’s warm, thick and sulphorous.
The start of the park is very classic, like a Victorian pleasure gardens, then as you weave up the valley it becomes more of an amusement park, with many, many activities and rides for children. I particularly liked Fairy Land, which had an obstacle course in the trees.
At the end of the amusement park the track carries on along the river, though at this point it becomes a rocky, unpaved road. About 3km up this track (5km from the resort) are the thermal, mineral-water baths. This section of the path had no infrastructure, apart from the occasional bench, and the path was quite rough – you wouldn’t want to walk this in your flip-flops. It was, however, very beautiful and although I was hot and tired, it was lovely to walk alongside the bubbling river, in the forest.
Now, if I say thermal mineral water baths, built by the Tsar’s brother, managed by the Crowne Plaza, you’d expect something a little classy. At the height of summer it wasn’t. The bar was playing 90s rap music at top volume (the bar tender had to turn the music down so he could hear our shouted order); the pools were packed, kids were dive-bombing in them; everyone was smoking (pretty normal in Georgia) and there were packs of teenagers, smoking and being teenagery. It wasn’t awful (we found it funny more than anything) it just totally wasn’t what we were expecting and even though we’d walked five kilometers to be there, after seeing how crazy it was we decided we didn’t want to go into the pools after all, as they just didn’t look fun or relaxing (also, being pregnant I’m not allowed to go into hot pools anyhow, but I was hoping I could dip my feet in).
There was a bar by the pools, changing rooms and a large, grassy area for sun-bathing.
I think away from peak season the pools might be much more pleasant and relaxing, more of a spa experience than a water park. I’d love to go back in the snow.
Entrance to the mineral water park is 2 lari (60p/66c), free with a Crowne Plaza key.
Entrance to the thermal pools is 5 lari, free if you’re staying at the Crowne Plaza.
What we didn’t do on our holiday
Blue Palace Fruza
The Blue Palace is located next to the cable car car park, just at the end of Borjomi’s main street. It is a beautiful house that was built by the consul of Iran in 1892. It is very beautiful and if you look to the upper balcony you can see lots of beautiful inlaid mirrors and glass, in a Persian style. It is now a luxury hotel and restaurant called the Hotel Golden Tulip.
Borjomi National Park/Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park
The Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is the largest national park in Georgia. It looks like a serious national park: one with big, serious hikes, rather than short day strolls.
The national park administration office is in Borjomi. Here you can get a free entrance ticket to the park and a map of the trails. The office is on the north side of the river, to the west of the town. Here’s a link to the Google map showing where the office is.
The Agency of Protected Areas website has online maps of the trails.
Kukushka Railway: Borjomi to Bakuriani Train
The Kukushka is a 37km, narrow-gauge railway that runs from Borjomi to Bakuriani, a ski resort at 1,700m. George Eiffel built the viaduct over the Tsemistskhali River between the stations of Tsaghveri and Tsemi. If you follow the train line on the map you can see how dramatic it is; turning back on itself and weaving up and around.
The train departs from the other Borjomi railway station.
Girl Astray has a lovely blog about taking the Kukushka in winter, including some fabulous photos.
The Green (Mtsvane) Monastery
9th – 10th century monastery located about 13km from Borjomi. It’s called the Green Monastery because of its green stones.
The Forts of Gogia and Petra
Apparently there are three forts that were built to protect Borjomi and these are still there. Gogia’s Castle is a ruined castle, built to the north west of the town in the fourteenth century. It’s on the north side of the river and according to Google Maps there are paths leading up to it.
Peter’s Castle was also built in the fourteen century and this is located on the south side of the river, opposite the Romanov Palace in the village of Likani. It doesn’t look very easy to get to, but apparently inside there are the remains of a residence hall and a wine cellar.
Apparently there is a third fortress, Sali fortress, but I haven’t been able to find anything else out about this. If anyone can help, please let me know in the comments.
Romanov Summer Palace
In the village of Likani, west up the river from Borjomi, is the Romanov Summer palace: a chateaux built for Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich of Russia. Apparently the palace still contains Romanov treasures, including a table given to them by Napoleon.
The Palace was closed to the public in 2004 when it became an official residence of the President of Georgia, but apparently it is being converted into a museum and will be open to the public in 2019.
Where we ate and drank
It was lunchtime when we got off the train and we weren’t able to check in to our hotel until three, so we went and camped out at the very lovely, friendly Inka Cafe. Inka Cafe served good coffees, cakes, breakfasts and pizzas. The service was great and they had free wifi. They were clean and well-maintained and very friendly. We really enjoyed watching the VH1 eighties and nineties videos on the large screen TVs here. We weren’t the only ones camping out here for a while; it was just a nice place to be.
We liked Inka Cafe so much that we went back for brunch on our last day too – and camped out here again. Sorry guys.
Inka Cafe is located on Erekle Street, the main street in south Borjomi. It’s one of the first cafes you’ll pass if you are coming from the station.
Tourista is a family run cafe, over by the train station. It’s a small, very local, very quirky, friendly place. There were only two tables inside and it really felt like the living room of their home. Later I went to the toilet and it looked like they cooked the food in their own kitchen too.
The couple who ran it were so friendly and I felt really bad that I couldn’t finish my food; that I left so much that it looked like I didn’t like it. It wasn’t that, it was just that being pregnant I had no appetite at all. I had beans in a pot and it was lovely, but very filling. They also gave us some free apricots at the end of the meal and normally I would gratefully accept this generous hospitality, but I didn’t know if they were washed (one of them had an ant on it) and being pregnant I didn’t want to risk eating them. Normally I’d scoff it down and hang the consequences, just not to offend, but I had to be careful.
I can make it up to them by recommending them though and saying the food was good Georgian fare, they were really sweet and it was preposterously cheap.
This is the outdoor cafe by the cable car and the entrance to Mineral Water Park. We went here for lunch while waiting for the cable car. They served nice pizzas. That is all.
1 + 2 Caffe
1 + 2 Caffe is located on the main strip, opposite the Crowne Plaza. To be honest, we only went here because it was really close to our hotel and it had a really nice puppy outside. We don’t think the puppy was connected to the cafe, but he was very sweet and looked like their maitre d, so we went in. We also chose them as they had a large TV screen outside and we wanted to watch the World Cup football.
The food was fine. It was the usual Georgian fare. I had beans in a pot; J had aubergine with walnuts, plus local bread. The service was a bit slap-dash and the terrace was quite smokey, but then that’s pretty normal for Georgia.
Supermarkets and bakery
There were a couple of small supermarkets on Erekli Street, which sold basics, such as bread, drinks and ice cream, though very little fresh food, such as fruit and veg. There were also two bakery kiosks on Erekli Street and I went to these to buy breakfast. I had no idea what any of the pastries were, but they were delicious.
Where we stayed
Crowne Plaza Borjomi
We went to Borjomi for the Crowne Plaza. This was our treat in the middle of our holiday and my anniversary present from Jeff. Thanks honey.
The hotel was lovely. It looks like a castle and sits alongside the white water Borjomula River. It’s in nice grounds, with a fake waterfall and fairy lit gazebos hanging over the river. They were very romantic places to sit of an evening. It also had a really cool swirly bridge, which looked like a 1980s TV sport logo.
Inside the design is nice, very chain hotely, but comfortable and pleasant. We spent an hour just relaxing in reception, waiting to check in – just because it was such a nice place to sit and relax. They also had a bank and ATM, and a computer room, with free printers – which we used to print train tickets. There was a nice wine-bar and restaurant but we didn’t use these as they were a bit too pricey for us.
Our room was gorgeous. We had a huge bed with a million pillows, free tea, coffee and snacks, loads of lush products in the bathroom (our stock lasted for the rest of our holiday), power shower, bathrobes. It was relaxing and luxurious and I could have hidden away there for the two days quite happily.
The hotel also had a spa. The treatments were a little bit pricey and being pregnant I couldn’t use the sauna or steam room, but I did use the pool a couple of times and that was lovely. Both times I had it all to myself, it had those wonderful water massage jets and there were lots of fluffy towels and sun-loungers to relax on.
J paid €80 per night for a standard room. Thank you my love.
You can find out more about the hotel, including prices, at the Crowne Plaza website.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny, unless otherwise stated. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.