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Exploring Tskaltubo: Abandoned Spa Resort Turned Refugee Shelter

Tskaltubo Georgia

 

 During our stay in Kutaisi, we heard a lot of people talk about Tskaltubo. We heard that it’s an abandoned spa resort or sanatorium by the Soviets that even Stalin frequently visits. Everything sounds fascinating to the point that Rich and I decided to take the 20-minute trip to Tskaltubo since we have the free time before our 3 pm Baia wine tour.

            We both decided to wake up extra early that day to make up the most of our time exploring Tskaltubo and be on time for the Baia tour in the afternoon.

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Hotel Metalurgi Tskaltubo

Rich already has a segment dedicated to abandoned places on his blog and after encountering those cool abandoned houses during our Trusso hike, I was as excited as Rich to visit the place. I didn’t even care that it was raining that day, the rain just seems to add to the magic and mystery of what we’ll discover.

History of Tskaltubo

            Upon further research about Tskaltubo, I found out that it is true that it’s an abandoned spa and sanatorium built by the Soviet Government. The land already has a natural spring of mineral water believed to have healing properties originally discovered by a shepherd by chance in the 13th century.

The first bathhouses in the area were built in 1870 while the first sanatorium and in-patient facilities were built in 1925. Development continued since over the years and in 1931 the Soviet Government designated Tskaltubo as a spa resort and a balneotherapy center. Balneotherapy is the treatment of conditions and diseases by bathing in mineral-enriched waters.

Bath house no 5 Tskaltubo
Bath house no 5 Tskaltubo

Tskaltubo became such a popular spa destination to the Soviets that it’s visited by over 100,000 people each year. The most popular guest is Stalin himself. Apparently, he’s a regular visitor to the resort that he has his own suite and rooms in one of the hotels there, a personal cottage, and a favorite bathhouse, Bathhouse No. 6.

Bath house no 5 Tskaltubo
Bath house no 5 Tskaltubo

            At its peak, Tskaltubo has over 20 sanatoriums and nine bathhouses catering to over 1,500 guests daily. The buildings surround and were connected by a park. I’m sure it looks splendid in its glory days.

However, due to Georgian Independence and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tskaltubo’s spa resort was forced to close its doors and ultimately collapse without its guests. This also marks the fall of the Tskaltubo’s spa industry and its total abandonment and decay.

Bath house no 5 Tskaltubo
Bath house no 5 Tskaltubo

During the Georgian-Abkhazia in 1992/1993, over 200,000 people fled the region of Abkhazia and became internally displaced. 8,000 to 9,000 of them were given refuge in the abandoned Tskaltubo spa resort with its numerous empty hotel rooms and apartments as temporary dwellings.

Bath house no 5 Tskaltubo

However, many years later, these temporary dwellings have become the permanent make-shift homes of the refugees who have given birth and even had grandchildren in the poorly maintained hotels and semi-destroyed sanatoriums of Tskaltubo. They have to make-do and adapt.

The Current State of Tskaltubo

 Today, Tskaltubo remains largely unmaintained and in disrepair. The refugees who settled in the buildings have created new generations of families to call Tskaltubo as their home and are trying to make the best of the poor conditions they’re living in.

Bath house no 5 Tskaltubo

Some of the hotels and sanatoriums are still completely abandoned where travelers like us are free to go in and out to explore while most of the buildings are occupied by families of IDPs (internally displaced people). So while it’s very cool and exciting to explore abandoned places with such fascinating history such as Tskaltubo, it’s important to give respect to the people who live there. We are just guests exploring the place they call home, after all.

How to get to Tskaltubo

            Tskaltubo is conveniently located just 10 km away from Kutaisi, Georgia’s second largest city. So from the center of Kutaisi, find the red bridge across the market hall where you can ride marshrutka no. 30 to take you to Tskaltubo. The ride costs 1.20 GEL or 0.40 USD per person. The marshrutka no. 30 is in operation from 8 am to 7 pm and departs every 20 minutes or so.

            There’s also the option to take marshrutka no. 34 that’ll directly take passengers to Tskaltubo’s bus station. The trip heading to Tskaltubo should only take 20 minutes.

Rich and I took the ride on marshrutka no. 30 to Tskaltubo. The driver asked us where in Tskaltubo and we’re just dropped by the park and wandered around from there.

What to See in Tskaltubo

            For the locations to explore in Tskaltubo, we’ve downloaded maps.me where the buildings are already named and marked by location, although its accuracy needs some work. Rich and I sat by the side and worked out a plan on how we’re gonna see all the buildings in the area since we only have 2 PM until we need to get back for our tour. It’s already 10 AM and I want to explore Tskaltubo as much as I can.

  • Hotel Iveria and Hotel ShaxtiorTskaltubo

 We decided to go explore the one that we read was the prettiest, Hotel Iveria. But to my dismay, it was all boarded up and we couldn’t enter. It’s the same case with hotel Shaxtior that’s just beside hotel Iveria.

            It was really disappointing and sad because it was said online that these two hotels were among the prettiest of the building and it was true based on the pictures we’ve seen online.

            We’ve circled around the perimeter to see if there are any opening and I even hopped on a pedestal to see inside but we just decided to not jump the fence out of respect since the barricades are there for a reason. We know when to give up so we just went to our next stop.

  • Hotel SavaneHotel Savane Tskaltubo

 Hotel Savane was the first building that we get to enter and explore. It was completely abandoned and the vegetation is pretty much taking over the place–there was so much of it. The cool circular structure was amazing to look at though but quite creepy to walk around in. For some reason, I’m always creeped out by abandoned places like this and just like the abandoned salt farm in Hong Kong. 

Hotel Savane Tskaltubo Hotel Savane Tskaltubo

Rich and I usually wander around on our own but this time I asked him not to stray too far away from me.

  • Bathhouse No. 5

            From Hotel Savane, we headed to the bathhouses across the round. We first stumbled upon what was apparently Bathhouse No. 5.

Tskaltubo

Bath House No. 5 Tskaltubo
Baths
Bath House No. 5 Tskaltubo
Bath House No. 5 Tskaltubo

            It was also totally abandoned but we have no problem getting inside as the vegetation growth isn’t as bath as Hotel Savane’s. The interior is large and airy and I bet would’ve looked impressive back in its glory days. We saw several of the deep yellow-tiled baths were still intact and there were some private baths in the basement. It also has an inner yard complete with a fountain but everything is in poor condition.

Bath House No. 5 Tskaltubo

  • Bathhouse No. 6Bath house No 6 Tskaltubo

            We headed to Bathhouse No. 6 next which is still operating to this day and makes quite a contrast to its surrounding bathhouses because of its very modern design. We saw a lot of cars outside with AZ plates so maybe people from Azerbaijan? I’m not sure.

Bath House No. 6 Tskaltubo

            We wanted to get a treatment in the bathhouse as it is Tskaltubo’s main bathhouse because it sits directly on the source of mineral water. I also read that this is Stalin’s favorite bathhouse and has his own private pools here featuring ornate mosaic work. But alas we have no time so we just wandered around in the lobby which is quite grand as is the entirety of Bathhouse No. 6.

  • Bathhouse No. 8

Bath house No 8 Tskaltubo

            Going into Bathhouse No. 6, we’ve noticed a building just off to the side. So we quickly went for it after our time in Bathhouse No. 6 and it turns out, this building is Bathhouse No. 8.

Bath house No 8 Tskaltubo

            This was my favorite among the buildings we’ve explored. It was so pretty. I think it was a public bathhouse because the baths numerous and in a circular pattern with what seems like a huge skylight in the middle of the ceiling shaped like a circle, of course.

Bath house No 8 Tskaltubo

            The bathhouse has four sections so Rich and I just kinda wandered around and made up stories about what it was like in this bathhouse back when it was still fully operational. It was totally abandoned and is given up to the elements but I bet it was very lively back in its day.

  • Hotel MedeaHotel Medea

 From Bathhouse No. 8, we were trying to find Hotel Matalurgi first but maps.me was getting confusing and like I said above, not entirely accurate.

            We stumbled upon Hotel Medea in a wow moment. Hotel Medea is another favorite of mine with its grand looking entrance that looks like it’s lead to a grand theatre. We saw a lady in the center like she’s waiting for people to arrive. We’ve loitered on the grounds a bit and she smiled at us. I asked if we can go up the balcony and she responded with ‘go, go’ motions.

 The right side of the hotel was completely abandoned but people were occupying its left side. We stayed on the balcony for a while with its spectacular columns that remind me of Greece.

Hotel Madea Tskaltubo

  • Hotel Metalurgi

Hotel Metalurgi Tskaltubo

            From Hotel Medea, we continued on and finally found Hotel Metalurgi. This hotel was largely occupied and seemed to be the least run-down amongst the abandoned buildings. It seemed empty at first when I peeked through a glass but it was clearly occupied when I scanned the left side of the building. A young girl even saw me looking through the glass. We didn’t want to intrude so we went to the quieter parts of the hotel but the friendly girl let me in and said hello.

Hotel  Metalurgi Tskaltubo

 Inside the hotel was very pretty despite its disrepair and it would’ve looked very majestic with its high ceilings before it was abandoned. The center of the building which I guess was the hotel foyer was huge with indoor balconies overlooking the circular floor. Plus, it has a huge chandelier.

Hotel Madea Tskaltubo

            I walked through several floors of the building and each time I saw someone, they seemed to just smile. I always remind myself to show respect and to remember that I’m in their homes.

Hotel Metalurgi Tskaltubo

  • Hotel Gelati

Hotel  Tbilisi Tskaltubo

            Hotel Gelati seemed to be more occupied that the last two hotels so we didn’t get to wander around inside a lot. It felt too much like we were trespassing, unlike the last two buildings we entered.

  • Hotel Tbilisi

 

            This was supposedly our last stop as we were told that the rest of the buildings we have yet to encounter are heavily lived in so we didn’t intend to explore those.

Hotel Tbilisi

            But Hote Tbilisi was the best one for me because of a special experience. When we entered the building we saw two people playing what looked like backgammon. We greeted them and walked around the ground floor. The place also has a pretty courtyard.

Hotel Tbilisi

            I looked up at the steps and saw Nora, a woman, waving and motioning for us to come up. We were reluctant at first but decided to go with her. She invited us for tea and coffee at her home which was one of the abandoned hotel rooms.

Hotel Tbilisi

            Nora spoke no English but we were lucky enough to be exploring the hotel with another guy who spoke Russian. Nora explained that she was a refugee from Abkhazia, she has three daughters, and she’s been living here in Tskaltubo since 1992. She was kind enough to share with us some coffee, bread, and even more, she shared some cognac, liqueur, and wine. I didn’t want to drink at first since it was just 1 PM and we’re going on a wine tour later but Nora did invite us to her home and she was insistent so why not?

Hotel Tbilisi

            Everything tasted good and the food we ate was all homemade. Nora just wanted to entertain people and share stories about their lives here. If only I spoke more Russian. We spend 30 minutes just speaking and bonding. It was such a nice experience!

Hotel  Tbilisi TskaltuboHotel Tbilisi Tskaltubo

            Spending time with Nora was a good way to end our explorations. Now it was time to go back to Kutasai and catch our tour.

            We covered mostly everything on foot but we definitely missed out on some of the attractions there. We saw that they have a swimming pool and a lake. If we had more time, we would definitely explore more of the area.

Getting Back from Tskaltubo to Tbilisi

            We hailed a passing marshrutka back to Kutasai. We happened to catch marshrutka No. 34 which dropped us off at Kutasai’s bus station that’s a few minutes outside the town. You can hop on marshrutka No. 1 to get back in town or if you wait for another round in marshrutka No. 34, it can drop you off by the Colchis Fountain.

Safety

            When in Tskaltubo, wear proper shoes (no flipflops!) and be careful to watch your step when exploring. Some of the buildings are decaying and in disrepair so there are holes, uneven ground, sharp objects and decaying wood everywhere so be extremely cautious and look at where you’re going.

            The people living in Tskaltubo are really friendly and welcoming. Some would wonder why we’re there to which we say we were tourists exploring the town, always best to tell the truth. For most of the people we encountered, we just smile and greet them and they greet back. I never felt unsafe at all.

Plans for Tskaltubo

Apparently, aside from the few operational hotels in Tskaltubo, a few of the other hotels and sanatoriums were bought by investors and are being prepared for renovation or are currently being renovated. They already have a few working hotels in town and even some restaurants. Hopefully, the IDPs will have better living conditions than the ones they currently have.

There are also talks of the government slowly rehoming the refugees and developers making plans on relaunching the spa resort as a luxury tourist destination. At this point, who knows what the future holds for Tskaltubo and its refugees.

Staying in Tskaltubo

            Currently, there are a few operational hotels and sanatoriums in business ready to take in guests. For those looking to have a unique experience and an affordable place to stay in, maybe Tskaltubo is the ideal place for you. Here are some of the hotels you can stay in at Tsklatubo:

  • Tskaltubo Hotel Prometheus – this hotel is just a few minutes’ walk away from the main park of Tskaltubo which makes it an ideal place to spend the night if you plan on taking an entire day exploring the town. It has complete amenities with free wifi and even a restaurant serving Georgian cuisine.
  • Tskaltubo Spa Resort – this is a spa resort in every sense of the world complete with on-site mineral baths. It’s probably what the hotels in Tskaltubo would look like if they were all in operation today. Staying in this resort is probably a vacation on in on itself.
  • Tskaltubo Plaza Hotel – this hotel is the one nearest to the lake I mentioned above. It’s probably a great place to stay if you’re planning to spend the day exploring the town. It has complete amenities for guests complete with free wifi, free parking space, a pool, and restaurant serving European cuisine.

Tips on Visiting Tskaltubo

  • I cannot stress enough to wear sensible shoes and always watch where you’re going. Keep cautious and make your safety a priority while you’re exploring.
  • Always give respect and space to the people living in the buildings. This is the place they call home after all and we’re essentially unannounced guests exploring their home. The good thing is that most of the people in Tskaltubo are friendly and even welcomes travelers into their homes like Nora.
  • It’s probably best to go to Tskaltubo as a day trip. We’ve come here early but we still haven’t got to explore the entirety of the town. The good thing is that you can get to explore it on foot.
  • Most of the people living here speak Russian so it’s best to learn some basic Russian as you will encounter them on some of the buildings, you can get by with just English though.

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