Views of Atskuri Fortress
The small, dusty village of Atskuri is generally bypassed by most travellers and tourists en route from Borjomi to the ancient cave town at Vardzia. The only remnants of the once prosperous and important trade centre are the crumbled towers and walls of Atskuri castle. Perched on a hill, overlooking the river valley and the verdant green mountains, the castle is a scenic spot for a stop. Kids will especially enjoy a clamber up the hill and across the remains of the fortress. We only gazed at the castle from the bridge below, as Jerome was moaning that he was too tired after our earlier long hike along the snowshoe trail from Atskuri past waterfalls with a long and steep ascent into the Borjomi Kharagauli National Park.
Healing Hot Spring
Our main reason however for driving back through Atskuri village was to reach our second destination for the day, a hot spring that I had discovered online but we only knew the approximate location on Google maps. Georgia is well known for its healing hot springs, world wide renown are the sulphur baths in Tbilisi and to a lesser extend the Tsar’s bath in Borjomi that we had visited on our wanders through the hills a few days prior. Soaking in hot water sounded like the perfect way to relax our tired legs and feet after the strenuous hike, and in Jerome’s opinion better than another walk up to the castle ruins!
Rural Georgian Village
Leaving Atskuri village behind we dove along the main road towards Akaltshike trying to guess the right way. After a few kilometeres we turned right off, onto a dirt track, passing a cemetery and shortly afterwards reached the outskirts of a rural Georgian village. Amidst the fenced gardens with their metal gates, stood peaceful, wooden houses with enclosed porches and balconies, pigs and chickens were running wild along the narrow street and locals were working in the fields while children freely played.
At the centre of the village proudly stood a recently renovated church, encased by stone walls. I stopped the car to take some photos, the curious eyes of two men sitting on a bench, followed my every step through the grounds. Inside the church I found paintings of religious icons, on a bright golden background, obviously the pride and glory of the local community. One fact that still surprises me, is the lack of any seating inside the churches. Do Georgian worshippers stand during the entire service? I presume they must…
Search for the Hot Spring
Driving on, along a winding road beside a cool mountain stream we almost gave up on our search for the remote hot spring, maybe the website had been wrong after all! But we did not need to despair, after having followed a transit van packed with locals for a further six or seven kilometres we reached a shell of a building and behind we noticed a pool filled with water.
Taking a Bath With the Locals
Having stopped right behind the transit, we watched the locals happily leaving the van and the kids could be seen running towards the pool in their swimming gear. It was surprising just how many had packed into the van. We quickly changed into our bikini and swimming trunks and shyly walked towards the bath. The locals, although at first surprised to see us, welcomed us warmly and invited us to take a dip in the pool. An old lady tightly held onto her walking stick, watched us getting into the pool.
Healthy and Healing Waters
The water temperature of the hot spring was even warmer than expected and reminded us of the many outdoor onsens we had visited on our travels through Japan. One women tried to explain that the water was very healthy and healing with a few broken words of English, but we appreciated her effort of making us feel comfortable in these unusual surrounding. Boys and men kept jumping off the side of the hot spring pool and Jerome eventually braved himself to join them. Some of the locals clearly did not even possess any real swimwear and bathed in their underwear, shorts and bras.
The old lady still stood there, holding on to her stick when we left the pool of the hot spring. She probably waited for the rowdy commotion to end so she could enjoy a relaxing and calming bath herself as she had a towel under one arm. I took a quick peek into the empty building next to the bath and it appeared to have once been covered in tiles, maybe an indoor pool for rainy and colder days?
An Enjoyable and Unforgettable Experience
For us, it was a curious and peculiar, however a very enjoyable and unforgettable experience to have a healing bath with all these Georgians in a remote hot spring, somewhere in the hills near Atskuri and the perfect end to our day hiking in the hills.
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