With a backdrop of mist-wrapped hills, Georgia’s summer holiday capital has sprouted new hotels and attractions like mushrooms in recent years, but it still owes much of its charm to the fin-de-siècle elegance of its original boom time a century ago.
For travellers arriving from Turkey, Batumi makes a great introduction to Georgia, with its relaxed atmosphere, plentiful accommodation, 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 and developed into a fashionable resort at the southern tip of the Russian empire. In Soviet times the nearby border with Turkey was closed, making Batumi a bit of a backwater, but it has since bounced back as a hub of commerce as well as tourism.
One of the first decisions of the post-Abashidze administration in 2004 was to make Batumi an attractive place to visit, something in which it has happily succeeded. Old buildings have been renovated and floodlit, bold and attractive new structures have joined them, and strolling around the leafy parks and low-rise central streets is a real pleasure.