Batumi

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Batumi
Population: 190,000
Mayor: Jemal Ananidze
Main industries: Apparel, tourism, food, medicine, construction materials, and secondary metal processing.
Founded in 8th century
Interesting fact: The symbol of Batumi is a dolphin with a palm branch, representing the natural resources to be found in this city — the tropical plants growing thickly both on the flatland and on the mountains and the sea.
Sister cities: Ashdod, Israel; Bari, Italy; Burgas, Bulgaria; Donostia–San Sebastian, Spain; Kislovodsk, Russia; Kusadasi, Turkey; Marbella, Spain; Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan; New Orleans, U.S.;  Ordu, Turkey; Piraeus, Greece; Savannah, U.S.; Ternopil, Ukraine; Trabzon, Turkey; Vanadzor, Armenia;  Volos, Greece; Yalova, Turkey; Yalta, Ukraine.
Helpful contacts: Nino Jintcharadze, head of marketing and advertising, department of tourism of autonomous republic of Adjaria; e-mail: marketing@visitbatumi.travel; phone: +995 577 115 170
www.wise-travel.ru/asia/gruzija/Батуми/ is a website with travel blogs about Batumi from different bloggers.

BATUMI, Georgia — Since Abkhazia's secession from Georgia, the Black Sea town of Batumi, a stone's throw from the Turkish border, can claim the title of the country's westernmost city, both in terms of geography and atmosphere.

Up until 2004, there was no hint that Batumi would get this honor. Its raison d'etre in the Soviet period was as an industrial port and refinery town for oil from Baku. For most of its post-Soviet history this part of Georgia resembled a Central American banana republic, run by Aslan Abashidze, who ruled the region of Adjaria from his villas on the coast in Batumi from even before the fall of the Soviet Union until President Saakashvili's Rose Revolution forced him to flee to Moscow.

Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement party served as Batumi's main benefactor from 2004 to 2012, and the current Georgian government has continued the largesse. But Georgian politicians are only the latest to honor the city's rocky shores.

Industrialist Alfred Nobel invested heavily here at the end of the 19th century, even building himself a mansion, when the city served as a key terminus for shipping oil from Nobel's fields in Azerbaijan. Stalin purportedly lobbied that it be kept in the Soviet Union as part of the 1921 Turkish-Soviet Treaty of Kars, after having gained his first experience organizing workers strikes there.

Stalinist architecture soon came to dominate the rapidly expanding skyline, with efforts to replace such structures as those from the 1990s, when Abashidze abused the budget to build faux-classical villas and palaces for himself and his supporters. Today Abashidze's villas have been converted into government offices and museums and are surrounded by new international hotels, a bevy of casinos, and pebbly beaches repopulated by tourists.

Local Businesses

Batumi Oil Terminal (oil shipping) 4 Mayakovsky Street; +995 222 76685; terminal.akdesignst.com. Owned by KazTransOil, it can handle vessels as large as 130,000 dead-weight tons.
Bioplus Pharmaceutical Factory (pharmaceutical production) 65 Noneshvili Street; +995 711 00305; the factory is owned by France's Clestra. Hundreds of different drug types are produced.

Batumi seems to take Atlantic City as its role model. The city glows at night with the lights of casinos, hotels and a 12-kilometer-long boardwalk.

Vast sums of money have been invested by the Georgian government in order to bring Batumi to a 21st century standard and begin to turn it into an international tourist destination. Saakashvilli not only brought foreign hotels to Batumi but also placed the Georgian Constitutional Court there in order to demonstrate that the city would play a role in determining Georgia's political future.

In the recent years, much progress has been made in improving the business climate and fighting corruption. Local authorities are trying to follow the procedures laid out by the United Nations Convention against Corruption, giving foreign investors a greater comfort level about getting their feet wet.

Turkish investors are applying their hotel management success at home to Batumi's burgeoning hospitality sector. And in 2012 Donald Trump came to town to unveil his plan to finance a $250 million 47-story skyscraper that will include a hotel and offices and will join the Trump Tower family.

But progress is not as fast as residents and officials would like. There are not enough jobs and many parts of the city are unkempt. While Batumi Boulevard and the historical center are clean and orderly, streets are a broken mess elsewhere. Batumi often has the feel of a large commercial construction site, though many thoroughfares have been improved.

For MT
Nina Grigolia,
Director of Sales at Radisson Blu Hotel Batumi
Q: What are the advantages to doing business in Batumi?
A: The government is creating an investment-friendly atmosphere and introducing a low and simple taxation system. The inexpensive and competitive labor force is another asset for the investor. The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences 2012 has awarded Batumi with a 5-star Diamond Award for the nomination of "Best New Destination," while Adjaria was awarded for being an "Investor Friendly Region."

Q: What competitive advantages for tourism does Batumi have over other port cities on the Black Sea?
A: The Adjaria region is also rich in cultural and historical monuments. The region offers ecotourism, religious tourism, hunting and fishing, horse riding, mountain tourism, cultural tourism and gives an opportunity to explore folklore and ethnography and to taste an authentic local cuisine and famous Georgian wine. Adjaria region is also known for mountain ski resorts, which are currently under development.

Q: Do you believe Batumi can remain an attractive destination for both tourists and business travelers?
A: Batumi is a very interesting conference venue as there are a number of international hotel chains with high standards of service and more are to come. Thanks to the region's natural and cultural resources, the region is also very popular among leisure tourists. For incentive travel there are possibilities to combine business visits and leisure by scheduling seminars on one day and planning tours on the other. The relaxation of the visa regime will enhance the growth of visitors from Russia which will positively affect the hotel business as well. We welcome any opportunity to cooperate with Russian market and host travelers from both leisure and business segments.

— Maximilian Hess

The fruit and vegetables in the shops are fresh, but there is little else on the shelves. There are beautiful restaurants but only foreign visitors have enough money to eat out.

This is part of the inherent duality of Batumi. While it is moving forward, it holds to old traditions. As well as being a mix of the old and the new, the city is also as multi ethnic as the rest of the country: Georgians, Armenians, Russians, Abkhaz, Ukranians, Greeks, Azerbaijani, Ossetians, Yazidi and Kists live in harmony there.  

It is not uncommon to see unwed Turkish or Iranian couples vacationing in Batumi, where social mores are more Western than in Muslim countries, or even throughout the rest of Georgia.The contrast of Batumi is even visible inside the six casinos, which attract people from many nearby countries where gambling is illegal. One can spot Israeli tourists sitting at card tables next to travelers from Iran, to whom Batumi offers an affordable door to the West.

While Batumi might not have achieved the high society status of gambling Mecca Monte Carlo, its accessibility and affordability to tourists from the former Soviet Union and Middle East will help it to continue to sparkle just like the Swarovski crystal on display in its casinos' gift shops.

What to see if you have two hours

Take a stroll down the enchanting Rustaveli Avenue, commonly known as Old Boulevard. Stop in at one of the cafes for a taste of traditional coffee, though the shisha bars are more for tourists than locals. Travelers should be wary that mornings start late in Batumi, and few places will be open before 10 a.m., with most cafes and restaurants waiting till noon or later to open. A coffee at the Art Cafe is perhaps the best location for a quick pick-me-up. All types of coffees can be had for less than 4 Georgian lari, or GEL ($2.30).

Then cut over to the boardwalk, which runs from the Medea Statue to Ardagani Lake. From there you can make your way to the beach, which stretches from the port through the whole city. It is a rocky beach, so bring your plastic shoes with you.

On the promenade itself there are cafes with free Wi-Fi, more Turkish coffee and local delicacies. Near the waterfront it is possible to rent a bike for 20 GEL, which provides an alternative way to sightsee.

To get a view from above for some photography opportunities, you could go on the Ferris wheel (0.5 GEL) which is close to the end of the promenade, where the Alphabet Tower is located (Seaside Blvd.; alphabetictower.com) — so called because it displays all the letters of the Georgian alphabet.

Then head to the Old Town, where most of the colorful two-story buildings are only about 100 years old. Look for Batumi's synagogue (Vaja Pshavela Street), Batumi's mosque (Kutaisi Street), the Government buildings (L. Asatiani Street.), and Batumi's old station building (Old Town).

A truly unique experience is available every summer day or on Saturdays in the off-season. Head to Batumi Tower, widely known as the Chacha Tower, between Evropas Madani and Miracles Park, where, for 10 minutes starting at 7 p.m. the surrounding fountains sprout chacha, Georgia's national liquor.

What to see if you have two days

The Botanical Garden (Mtsvane Kontskhi, +995 042 229 4909, bbg.ge, open every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) should not be missed. It is about nine kilometers away from the city, at the Green Cape village. It is situated above the sea and provides amazing views. Its multitude of plantlife is organized by country of origin. You can get the local minibus No. 31 from the city center, which takes about 30 minutes and will set you back 1 GEL.  A taxi ride from  town  to the botanical garden will set you back 30 GEL. The entrance fee for the garden is 6 GEL.

Behind the garden is one of Georgia's most famous national parks, Mtirala, and tours can be arranged through a multitude of local companies including GeoAlex Tour (geoalextour.ge) and Lot Travel (lottravel.ge).

Consider a visit to the Gonio fortress, which is about 15 kilometers away from Batumi. To get there, take bus No. 101 from the center or a cab for 15 GEL. The fortress was erected in the first century by the Romans and in the 15th century was rebuilt by the Turks. The Roman baths are spectacular, although unfortunately no longer functional. According to legend, the apostle Matthew is buried here.

For a quiet beach experience, just beyond Gonio lies Sarpi Beach, a popular romantic getaway. Beware the waves at Sarpi Beach, however, as a strong current may carry you inadvertently over the border it abuts and into Turkey!

Back in the city you will find the Nobel Brothers Batumi Technological Museum (3 Leselidze Street, admission 2 GEL, students 1 GEL, Monday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m), located in a beautiful old villa that once was Alfred Nobel's home.

One avenue further south, the Akvlediani State Museum (3 Jincharadze Street, admission 1 GEL, students 0.5 GEL, Monday-Sunday 10 a.m  to 5 p.m.) beautifully presents artifacts from the region's history and offers some insight into the ancient existence of the area, known in the Hellenic Era as Colchis, where Jason and the Argonauts supposedly came in search of the golden fleece.

For MT
Nino Jintcharadze,
Head of Marketing and Advertising Department of Tourism of Autonomous Republic of Adjaria
Q: What kind of tourists does Batumi attract?
A: The tourists coming to Batumi are actually mostly from neighboring countries. The greatest numbers we had last year came from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Armenia, Ukraine, Poland, Israel and the Russian Federation as well. There are different reasons for that. For example, we have a no-visa and no-passport regime with Turkey. People are choosing to come to Georgia and to Batumi, especially for gambling, for summer and for the different type of tourist activities that we provide in our region. For Ukraine and Azerbaijan, we also have a no-visa regime.

Q: What kind of investment opportunities does Batumi offer?
A: The biggest investment opportunities are in tourism. We do not have enough beds for the number of tourists coming to the region. Last year there were 1.5 million tourists coming to the region, but we need to further develop the tourism support industry to allow the sector to grow.
We need to advertise in our neighboring and post-Soviet countries but we are also developing ties with the European region, Germany and France. I hope that over the next few years we will expand the area of our advertisement campaigns.

— Maximilian Hess

In the evening, take a stroll down to the Ardagan Lake. It is based at Seaside Park, which is also known as the boulevard. The singing fountains on the lake play music from 9 p.m. to midnight. At 10 p.m. there is also a laser show. 

Where to eat

For traditional Georgian food, Shemoikhede Genatsvale (8 Jordania Street), Shatili (110 Gorgasali) and Megrul-Lazuri (16 Tbilisi Ave.) are highly recommended restaurants. The average bill per person would come to about 15 GEL.

Definitely try the Adjarian khachapuri. This is a bread loaf, with a hole in the center filled in with a watery mess of egg, melted cheese and butter. This is definite carbohydrate and cholesterol overload, enough for two days of sustenance.

Ukrainochka (Khimshiashvili Street, near Ardahan Lake, opposite the singing fountains) offers Ukrainian food such as borsch (beetroot soup), vareniki (dumplings with cheese or jam) and chicken Kiev. It seats 300 people so you are likely to get a table.

Or pick any of the Turkish restaurants (Karabak Restaurant, 39 Chavchavadze — across the street from TBC Bank headquarters art deco building) in the Turkish quarter in Old Town, where they offer great coffee, kebabs and rice dishes.

One of Batumi's most popular restaurants, San Remo (Open daily, 11 a.m. to midnight; +995 222 87 79 50) is on a pier off the boardwalk and serves an incredible variety of Georgian food, including fish dishes. San Remo's menu also has some strange additions — "spicy Mexican potatoes" for example. There is nothing Mexican about them, but they are delicious. A hearty dinner for two will run you about 120 GEL without alcohol.

Where to Stay 

On the high end, the Batumi Sheraton (28 Rustaveli Ave., +995 422 22 90 00, sheratonbatumi.com) is the one of the most popular hotels. With 202 rooms and 26 suites and costs ranging from 313 GEL for a standard double to 575 GEL for a large suite on weekends.

The Radisson Blu Batumi (1 Ninoshvili Street,  +995 422 25 55 55) is slightly less expensive but also boasts high-quality rooms and better views of both Batumi and the sea.  Double rooms start at 200 GEL. The Clouds restaurant, on the hotel's rooftop, will allow fine diners the ability to feel right at home, with dishes and never-before-heard-of cocktails.

The two largest mid-range hotels are the Intourist Palace (11 Ninoshvili Street, +995 422 27 55 25) and the Legacy Hotel (32 Angisa St., batumilegacy.com, +995 422 22 82 67), both late Soviet-era constructions.  

The best reviewed hostels are the Beach Hostel (32 Kldiashvili Street, bookbatumi@boombully.com, +995 595 715 745 ) and the Batumi outpost of Tbilisi's well-known "Why Not?" hostel (205 Melikishvili Street, between Ilia Chachavadze and Alexander Pushkin Streets, whynothostels.com).

Nightlife

Batumi nightlife is nonstop and blaring techno music can be heard from its casinos and its multitude of beachside clubs. One of the most remarkable aspects is that construction sites are often host to impromptu early-morning parties, with the unfinished buildings aurally indistinguishable from the completed clubs next door.

The Bamba Room nightclub (+995 324 39 977; at the intersection of the boardwalk and Batumi pier, just beyond the Dancing Fountains; Admission 10 GEL), is part of an internationally popular chain. Sector 26 Beach Club (Sector 26 Beach Club, +995 597 55 11 55; Admission 10 GEL for men, but it can go up when a top DJ is playing; free for women), just past the Sheraton on the Boardwalk, is especially for those into minimal techno and trance music.

Batumi has three grand casinos, which are definitely worth it for the people-watching. The Casino Iveria in the Radisson Blu Hotel often seems to be the most popular but for a taste of the French Riviera and the chance to see some high rollers head to the Casino Peace at the towering Sheraton Hotel. Poker tables are often occupied by an eclectic mixture of ruffled Russians, robed Saudis, fashionable yuppies from Tblisi and the occasional backpacker.

For the Kids

The Dolphinarium (Rustaveli Ave.; parkbatumi.com, Monday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; admission is 10 GEL) is based in the main city park, near lake Nuri. It was restored and reopened in 2009. The shows take place outside, in a decorated pool surrounded by an amphitheater.

It is possible to swim with the dolphins for 15 minutes. The prices are 60 GEL for 3 to 12 year olds, 100 GEL for 12 to 18 year olds and 150 GEL for adults.

How to get there

The airport is two kilometers away from Batumi, the 10-minute taxi ride into the city costs about 20 GEL. Flights go to Moscow, Tehran, Israel, Istanbul, Kiev, Ankara and other cities. A round-trip ticket from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on Georgian Airways (www.airzena.com) costs $490. There are three flights per week, with a flight time of approximately  2 1/2 hours.

Batumi can also be reached by boat. There are ferries to Georgian towns as well to Sochi, Russia. A one way ticket on a modern hydrofoil from Sochi will cost 4,000 Rubles ($121).

The Makhinjauri Train Station (Tbilisi Highway, +995 422 250 303; ) is five kilometers outside of Batumi. Trains go to Georgian cities like Kutaisi and Tbilisi.There is a ticket office in the old town of Batumi where you can buy train tickets in advance (5 General Mazniashvili Street). The train schedule can be found at railway.ge. A first-class sleeper ticket from Tblisi costs 49 GEL.

Contact the authors at bizreporter@imedia.ru