Autumn has finally arrived to Tbilisi. End of October is the right time to feel the temperature decrease up to scary +12 or even frightening +10 Celsius, to see some rain and fog behind the window… But what if you’re a tourist with just a day or two to see everything? Do you feel like sitting in a hotel or apartment? No? My usual recommendations (in case there are no festivals or concerts in the city) are: Museum of Soviet Occupation and National Gallery (I like them myself), Zurab Tsereteli Museum of Modern Arts, Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theater, Kakha Bakuradze Movement Theater or Pantomime Theater. Finding veritas in vino (I mean wine tastings in multiple cellars) is also a good idea.
But one of the most proper and authentic option in case of rain (also: sadness, hangover, need of real Georgian experiences) is a visit to sulfur bath. I avoid quoting Alexander Pushkin’s praise of Tbilisi baths, however, I have also never experienced something better. Probably because I am not allowed to visit a traditional one (Russian style) with its infernal heat and steam, this kind of thermal water is my best way to get at least some hot treatment.
The main reason of a visit to a sulfur bath is experiencing the healing effect of hot sulfuric water, which is flowing into pools directly from the source. No above mentioned infernal steam! You take shower, stay in the pool for a while, and then, if you want, mekise (bath attendant, masseur) arrives to give to your stressed body a proper session of rubbing, scrubbing, cleaning and strong massage. After that your skin becomes very soft and gentle. Then you can go to the pool again – don’t stay inside too long, it is better to do it repeatedly for 5-7 minutes.
However, there were other reasons for visit: communication. All the websites for tourists say that in good old times the bath was a place to share city gossips and news. To me, a visit to a bath is associated with an episode from the book “Ali and Nino” as young man from Azerbaijan was visiting the relatives of his future wife in Tbilisi, he drank too much at supra (feast), and the next morning the relatives took him to the bath. While he was having strong massage and chilling in miraculous smelly water to feel alive again, the other men in the bath had conversations about what was going on in town and even treated themselves with some delicacies. It was described in such a lively manner, that during my second touristic visit to Tbilisi in 2013, I couldn’t resist and headed to Abanotubani, the sulfur baths district.
After moving to Tbilisi, I often go there as well. Of course, there are some other places where you can improve your health in sulfuric water – as I wrote once, there is a very cool new bath at Lisi Lake, and on the left bank, around David Aghmashenebeli Avenue, there was something as well. However, I remain faithful to the real heart of Tbilisi, and if I don’t have a proper company for going there and renting a separate room, I go to the public female bath (however, I do pick a time when it’s not crowded). Back to the reasons to visit: yes, people really come there to talk, many of them know each other. But since Tbilisi has grown dramatically, the gossips and rumors than circulate there, are usually about Ortachala and Avlabari districts.
Recently I had a group of tourists from Sweden, who were about to experience that hard massage and super influence of sulfuric water for a reasonable non-touristic price. Then I realized that I haven’t completed more or less detailed “market research” during my two years here… Alright, now, after such a long waltzing around the bathhouse topic, I am about to explain you briefly and clearly, where you can experience traditional spa Tbilisi style. Let’s go!
Locally famous, it is located next to Heydar Aliyev park. There are always people – in the general or separate rooms. Public bath (of course, men and women bathe separately) costs 3 GEL/hour, a clean towels costs 1 GEL / piece. The cheapest room (20 GEL) includes only shower – seems like people actually go there for that! Rooms with a hot pool cost 40 GEL; for 80 and 100 you can get a more spacious room and also use sauna. The bath is open from 8 AM to midnight. At the time I came to “explore the market”, all the rooms were occupied, so I didn’t manage to shoot the interior.
Royal Bath / Samepo
Located at Grishashvili str. 1, to the left of the monument to falcon and pheasant. This is the bath I went to my very first time. Not the cheapest one, it is open from 8 AM to 11 PM. Room rates: from 65 to 95 GEL, sauna is paid separately and costs 75 lari.
Located at Grishashvili str. 3, just above the Royal. One of my favorite in terms of price and quality balance. There are separate rooms for 30, 40, 70, 100, 120 and 200 GEL per hour. Only two people can fit into 30-GEL-room, and there will be no sauna. My Swedish guests took the room for 100 GEL, which had a sauna, a quite spacious pool with sulfuric water, and plenty of space for four people. More expensive rooms can accommodate up to 10 people, there are bigger pools, and sauna is also available. Massage is good good!
Towels will cost 2 lari/piece, shampoo and soap – from 1.5 GEL. Tea and Turkish coffee were free of charge, when I was there for the last time, so you get a really oriental treatment. Another plus: opening hours are quite long – from 7 AM to 3 AM.
A funny fact: once Sting was in Tbilisi, he was invited to this bath by the concert organizers. He liked it a lot and came again the next day!
“Fantasy” (historical Mirzoyev Bath)
Located in the next dead end after “Gulo’s” (if you are going up Grishashvili street), next to “Bohema” restaurant, this bath is supposed to be the first to appear at this district. At least, the archaeologists say so after a decent research. The sulfur water goes to the pools directly from the springs!
Many rooms, many price categories: you pay from 30 to 100 GEL (as you already know, the more spacious, the more expensive). Sauna costs 50 GEL. In addition, they offer lots of different types of massage – Thai, Indian, needle, classic, relaxing. The cost of one session is from 20 to 30 GEL.
I’ve been to this bath too, and must say that the friendliness of staff conquered my heart. Loved their tea and walnut jam that we had! Massage and scrubbing were long and tough, as it should be (thank you, Zemfira the mekise!). My radiant skin forces to me write: I do recommend the place!
If you go another ten meters up Grishashvili street, on the right you will see the entrance to the public bath. Sauna is for men only (10 GEL/person), and general price is 5 GEL. Towels and soap cost the same: from 1.5 GEL.
As I said, I usually go there, if I don’t have a company. It’s also a very local thing. Be prepared to naked flesh everywhere.
Located to the left of the bridge that goes along a small river direction waterfall. If you are not very attentive, you can just oversee this small bath, which is called simply “Sulfur bath” the Georgian and promises a royal mood for fifty lari. I find the rooms not that comfortable as in “Fantasy”, “Gulo’s” and Royal. The price is around 50 GEL for a room for 3-5 persons. Towels and soap cost the same.
Located between Tiflis Palace hotel and Bath №5, it has only one, but a very large room, where you can actually fit a big bunch of people. You pay 150 GEL per hour. There is also a sauna. The bath is open 24/7.
The price for masseur/mekise service is the same everywhere: 20 GEL for massage + scrub, or 10 lari for massage or scrub. You need to warn that you want to have this service, as you take the room. He or she is always there ready to come to you, as you are showered and prepared for rapid rejuvenation of your skin.