Borjomi’s Main Attractions
Combining two of Borjomi’s main attractions in into one seemed like the perfect plan for our first day in town. The healing properties of the local water at the ancient sulphur baths and a hike through the lush countryside, were part of our circular hike along the Adventure Trail. The hike officially starts at the entrance to the Ekaterina Park, which was opposite our beautiful hotel, the Golden Tulip. The route may be hiked either way round, but we had decided that we would begin by taking the cable car to the top of the Borjomi Plateau, an area originally laid out for spa patients to wander through the invigorating air, and finishing back at the bottom of the park.
Start of the Adventure Trail
Setting out onto the Adventure Trail straight after breakfast, the cable car was still void of any queues and we were able to board the small cabin after its arrival. During the slow ascent of the gondola, we glanced through the open windows at the scenic views of Borjomi. The Ekaterina Park with fun rides and the Spa mountain stream running below in the valley. The cable car to the top of the Borjomi Plateau would not be our only time riding a gondola in Georgia – we would later on in Chiatura experience a very different kind of ride on one of the rickety cable cars that criss-cross this almost abandoned mining town.
Into the Woods on the Borjomi Plateau
After leaving the gondola at the Borjomi Plateau, we first had to follow the road for a while before the Adventure Trail turned off into the woods, just after a prominent concrete apartment block. This rose coloured building seemed completely out of place in the otherwise tranquil woods, with their clear mountain streams and moss covered ground. Next to the concrete structure kids were running around and playing in the courtyard, breaking the woodland serenity, while behind the women were busy putting washing onto lines on the balconies and windows. Passing behind the flats the path ahead was soft underfoot and led us into the cool pine forest accompanied by the pretty songs of birds hidden in the canopy of the trees overhead and below mushrooms were sprouting among the moss and on fallen tree trunks.
The Temple of Seraphim Sarov
Later the hiking path joins a track to the small shrine and temple dedicated to the holy monk Seraphim of Sarov. This secluded spot attracts pilgrims and worshippers from near and far for prayers and to pay respect. Further on we crossed the track that leads steeply down and right to the Tsar’s sulphur baths, leading from the main road and car park. Leaving the picnic place and car park behind, from there on we are the only people on the Adventure Trail, hiking above a rocky gorge with views to the mountains behind the trees.
Getting Lost on the Adventure Trail
About a further kilometre along the, until now obvious path ended in a field, where nearby a new house was being built and the direction forward was unclear. The local tourist information had provided us with a very basic map of the Adventure Trail but it was not enough help to find the way forward and proved with hindsight to more confusing than useful. We first tried skirting the top of the gorge below the building site, looking out for the red and white markers on trees or fences. After a while the rough path became un-passable and very steep forcing us to return back to the field. Our only choice was to head across the field skirting the building works. Beyond this we wandered across the grass up to a side street near some more houses, where we finally found, several hundred meters further on, at last another way marker. Maybe the builders had removed the marker posts by accident…
Picnic on the Bank of the Borjomula River
The street eventually turned off left and we headed onwards following a dirt track down and to the right. The descending path guided us through a flower meadow bursting with colourful blossoms and butterflies, into the Borjomula river valley. Reaching the bottom we found the riverside was the perfect spot for a picnic. Having brought some kachapuri and drinks from a bakery close to our hotel we welcomed the break in the beautiful surroundings. Seated on the rocks at the riverbank we took off our hiking shoes to cool off our feet in the freezing mountain water.
Crossing the River
Jerome decided to cross the river through the stream, rather than taking the official route, across a rickety makeshift bridge. Generally wading a ford should not been attempted when the water is too fast as it can simply wash you downriver. Jerome made it safely across to the other side of the river, patiently waiting for us to cross on the bridge – I am not sure which was safer! Luckily the bridge turned out to be more stable than it appeared to be, as I had feared us tumbling into the Borjomula River below.
Stunning Views Along the Trail
The Adventure Trail on this side of the valley was fairly steep and gave us plenty of options to stop and enjoy the stunning views of the lush hills and river gorge surrounding us. Again according to our map we should have already turned off the dirt track onto a path that would take us down to the Tsar’s sulphur baths, but as we had already found the map was far from accurate.
Path Leading Into the Valley
Eventually, after a few more bends we discovered a marker and the turn off the dirt road onto a narrow path into the valley. In this section of the hike the path was a narrow trail, quite steep and in parts almost overgrown. The way followed a ridge of land down affording occasional glimpses of the river below. At the bottom we once again reached the Borjomula River and a wide dirt track that led us back towards the Tsar sulphur baths to our right and later on left, into Borjomi.
The Tsar’s Sulphur Baths
The sulphur baths, or more fittingly swimming pools these days, have lost any luxurious and privileged air they might have once possessed when they were first opened by the royal Romanovs in the 19th century. The hot spring’s healing properties used to be only accessible by the high society, but thankfully nowadays are open to the public and everyone can enjoy taking a bath in the warm, soft water.
Entrance to the Pools
After paying the small entrance fee of a few euros equivalent we crossed the bridge and settled down on a free spot on the lawn near the open air baths. We quickly changed into swimwear and Jerome was excited to get into the water, so I walked towards the crowded pools with him. After dipping my feet into the tepid water – I had expected it to be much warmer – I decided to leave it and watch him for a while siting with my feet in the spa.
An Unusual Healing Experience
There was a deep pool for adults and two smaller, shallower ones for younger children. The water did not smell as much of foul eggs as expected either, however the waters did look quite murky, whether from the water itself or the sheer number of sweating people I was not quite sure. The hot day had brought out a selection of locals and tourists to try this unusual healing experience leaving the pools rather packed.
Disappointing and Overrated Experience
I had expected this place to be more special given the reputation of Borjomi as a spa destination. It was a rather disappointing and overrated experience and it felt more like just any other busy outdoor swimming pool. The waters were a bit softer and definitely felt different to a normal swimming bath but the experience and ambience definitely was not what I was expecting. It was hardly the traditional spa experience that we would find later in Tiblisi.
Hiking Back Past the Outdated Fun Fair
We soon decided to resume our perambulations. Crossing back over the bridges we re-joined the dirt track heading towards Borjomi. The path wandered through the mature forest, following the path of the waters down. After a couple of kilometres the valley opened out and we entered the back of the Borjomi Ekaterina Park children’s theme park. The rides here look rather dated and in some cases probably in need of repair, so nothing caught our eye for a ride. The last part of the hiking path winds between the attractions and then crosses back to some pleasant gardens where the famous Borjomi water spring originates. The glass roof in the gardens allows you to see the source of the water and further down people queue to fill their water bottles.
Interesting Adventure Hike?
The Adventure trail was an interesting first day walk and a good length to get the hiking legs walked in, but with hindsight it was not any comparison to the walks we would have in the following days higher in the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park.
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