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Introducing Adjara

The southwestern corner of Georgia is a highlight of the country and intriguingly idio­syncratic: it’s humid and semi­tropical and has a sizable Muslim population.

Since the loss of Abkhazia, Adjara (also spelt Achara, Ajara or Ajaria) has taken on the mantle of Georgia’s holiday coast. Batumi, the Adjaran capital, is the destination of choice for most Georgians – and many Armenians, Azerbaijanis and Ukrainians – in search of summer fun, with a real party atmosphere, especially in August.

Though Adjara’s beaches are mostly stony, the climate is beautiful and the scenery gorgeous, with lush hills rising behind the coast, and peaks topping 3000m in the Lesser Caucasus inland.

Many travellers enter Georgia at the busy Sarpi border post with Turkey, just south of Batumi. Onward transport to the rest of Georgia is good.

Adjarans are ethnically Georgian and speak the Georgian language. Under Ottoman control from the 16th century to 1878, most of the inhabitants were converted to Islam. The Russian takeover in 1878 presaged an early boom time for Batumi as an export terminal for oil from Azerbaijan. In Soviet times Adjara returned to backwater status (the Turkish border was an absolute no-go area), but since Georgian independence it has again become an important entry point to the Caucasus region.

Adjara has retained its status as an autonomous republic within Georgia and until 2004 was the personal fiefdom of its pro-Russian president, Aslan Abashidze, who kept it out of Georgia’s internal conflicts but ran an authoritarian, corrupt regime backed by his own militia. A standoff between Abashidze and President Saakashvili climaxed in 2004 when Abashidze sealed the Adjaran border with the rest of Georgia, raising fears of another Georgian civil war. However, Abashidze lost his crucial support from Russia and days later left for ignominious exile in Moscow, to the delight of Adjarans.