Although Kutaisi is Georgia’s second city population-wise, the resort and port city of Batumi is in many ways the real counterweight to Tbilisi in terms of atmosphere, setting and appearance. Set on a warm semitropical coast with a backdrop of mist-wrapped hills near the Turkish border, Batumi has become the country’s summer holiday capital, pulling in tourists from around Georgia and beyond. Its history is a lot shorter than that of most Georgian cities, and it owes much of its unique charm to the elegant fin-de-siècle architecture of its original boom time a century ago.
For most travellers arriving from Turkey, Batumi will be the first Georgian city they encounter, and it makes a great introduction to the country, with its relaxed atmosphere, lots of hotel space, good restaurants and nightlife.
Batumi developed in the late 19th century as the western terminus of a railway from Baku that then carried one-fifth of the world’s oil production. A pipeline and refinery built by Ludwig Nobel, brother of Swedish dynamite inventor Alfred, soon followed. Batumi gained free-port status, over 20 foreign consulates set up here, and the town developed into a fashionable resort at the southern tip of the Russian empire and a crossroads between Europe and Asia.
One of the first decisions of the post-Abashidze administration in 2004 was to make Batumi an attractive place to visit, something in which they are, happily, succeeding. Charming old buildings have been restored, renovated and floodlit, attractive new ones are joining them, and strolling around the leafy, low-rise central streets is a real pleasure.