If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path places to visit, feel history around you and combine urban exploration, outdoors and high level comfort, then Tskaltubo city and its surroundings are for you.
Exploring the abandoned sanatoriums built in USSR can give you thrills, that is one of the reasons why we fell in love with the city and its abandoned stunning soviet architecture. So let me tell you all what we've learned from our urbex trip to Tskaltubo.
History of Tskaltubo
First of all, the story behind these buildings start very early. Back in XII-XIII centuries the place where is Tskaltubo now, was already known and visited for its healing mineral waters. Later in the 17th century, specific effects of these healing streams were described in Berlin Society of Friends of Natural Science. It forced the discovery of unique waters, and after chemical analyses in the 19th century it was declared to have medical features.
But the biggest impact on resort development gave Stalin. In his young days, while fighting for revolutionary ideas, he had a lot of “misunderstanding” with the government. Thus, he had spent quite a time in prisons and exiles, suffering hard conditions. Which of course affected his future health. Stalin was suffering from leg pain, by some sources it was rheumatism. In Moscow, he was advised by doctors to visit Tskaltubo waters. Stalin as Georgian has heard about this place, listened to advice, and took treatment in 1931-1932. For his visit, the first 3 spa complexes were built in record times by 4000 workers. After this significant patient city started booming. There were built 16 more complexes of gorgeous marble sanatoriums, large roads and round junctions that were quite uncommon for soviet architecture in those days.
Soviet Union citizens have declared “Right For Rest”. Which means that a comrade who worked well for party, production and society had the right to receive a voucher covered by the state to visit a resort where he would get an energy for future feats of communist architecture. This way the resort received 125000 visitors annually, mainly by railway which had daily direct connections with Moscow.
But everything ended up in 1991 after Soviet Union collapsed. Compared to other resorts in Georgia (Sakartvelo) like Borjomi, visits to Tskaltubo were only by vouchers and was not that much popular among regular people, it wasn't a place where you could just come yourself. Eventually it caused dramatic decrease of visitors from 125000 till 1000 in our days.
Today there's 3 SPA open in park officially, and 1 renovated SPA hotel. Also spring number 6, where Stalin and Beria were taking procedures. But we were more interested in the part of the city which is not yet renovated. We encourage you to take a walk in corridors, rooftops and inner gardens of old marble temples. To imagine yourself in ballrooms, cinemas, luxury balconies as soviet officer who came from WWII or a daughter of a high party member.
But please be respectful and careful. On one hand, buildings are not renovated, some of them decay from water and fire, so safety first.
And on the other hand, a lot of the buildings are partly populated with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Abkhazia that were moved after armed conflicts in this region. From about 600000 people around 9000 moved to Tskaltubo. Back in 1993, it seemed like a good solution for these people.
At some point, with the help of the state a lot of them got a new home, but some of them are still waiting for it, for 27 years. Their mode of life is not rich, but they are friendly and nice people with not simple destiny. On our visit there, we ran into an old lady, who invited us for a cup of coffee and had a short conversation about the place and life in sanatorium “Tbilisi”. This building is a must-visit, from the roof you can observe stunning views of mountains and the city.
Our days government is closing sanatoriums for renovation and promises to bring them back nice and shine. Some of them are already surrounded by a fence. But a lot of them are still free to go. In any case, you will need a day or more to discover this place.
To see all best abandoned sights in Tskaltubo with comfort and safety we advise you to take a local guide, that will also deliver you from hotel and back.
How to get to Tskaltubo?
Tskaltubo is only 10 km away from Kutaisi (the second biggest city in Georgia). The shortest way is to take marshrutka 44 or 34 from Kutaisi auto station in center, the ride will take about 20 minutes. They are running from 7 am till 7 pm.
Tskaltubo is located fairly close to the Kutaisi airport too, 22 km away, so if you fly there you can come here directly from the airport.
Where to stay in Tskaltubo?
We enjoyed staying at Guest House Lake Side, it was a cozy, warm heated place which is very important in winter. With a separate kitchen and bathroom for tourists. We visited a lot of guest houses in Georgia and it is one of our best experiences. If you decide to stay we advise you to call owner Platon +995 595 959 733.
What to see near Tskaltubo?
After discovering the ghost part of the city, the next day you can enjoy a medical bath with a massage, which would be a perfect contrast. Or enjoy 2 more exciting attractions around Tskaltubo that you can easily manage yourself or with the local guide if you took urbex tour.
You can visit Prometheus Cave which is 40 m under sea level and is 2km long. You can manage it by foot or on guided tours by boat. Colors of cave and rock are impressive to see, and it is only 6.5 km far away from downtown, you can easily get there by taxi.
Sataplia Nature Reserve
You will love this place if you are into dinosaurs who are older than Stalin and nature trails. Because here were found footprints of 120 million-years-old dinosaur! There’s a cave and beautiful nature views. Also they have Jurassic park with an explanation of what kind of dinosaurs were kings of this land before us and cave with great light effects. It is a perfect place to visit on the way back to Kutaisi, it is almost on the road, and offers nice spots for picnics as well.