Savour a Relaxing Bath
Tbilisi’ s most famous attraction could well be the ancient mineral baths located in the district of Betlemi at the old heart of the capital city. The thermal spas similar to Japanese onsens, or perhaps a Finnish sauna are a local experience that should be enjoyed by any traveller and tourist to Georgia! The spa baths are a peaceful place where locals and families savour a relaxing bath, to take their mind off the daily grind. After three weeks of exploring this diverse country, our last day had arrived and before leaving we wanted to experience ourselves the local mineral baths!
Finding the Right Abano
On our wander through the old part of Tbilisi, after visiting the Botanical Gardens, we had already taken a peek at the brick, domed roofs of the Thermal Baths in Betlemi and the stunning façade of the most famous spa, the Chreli Abano. I had dreamt of soaking tired limbs, after days of hiking in the Lower and Higher Caucasus, surrounded by the mesmerizing beauty of one of Chreli’s private rooms. However, surprisingly large numbers of reviewers had voiced their disapproval of staff at this iconic building. It is also known to be overpriced and very touristy, so instead a large number of local reviewers and our hotel staff had recommended the family run Gulo’s Thermal Spa instead.
Book a Private Room
If you planning a visit to one of the spa baths and are a family like us, or perhaps a small group of like minded friends, it pays to reserve a private room in one of the many spas that dot the area. Single travellers might enjoy to mingle in the relaxed company of the shared abanos and to experience a more authentic, local adventure. These are definitely for those comfortable with a bath and sauna environment, or those happy to lower their inhibitions and be relaxed being naked in front of other people.
Being naked when in these local mineral baths is a must (although I am sure there are plenty of tourists known to wear swimming costumes)! If you are in a small group it is essential to reserve a private room in advance to avoid disappointment upon arrival and the baths being fully booked. You can bring your own towels, however they may also be rented for a small fee at the spa. We would also highly recommend considering to book a massage and proper body scrub to complete the full local experience.
Female and Male Masseurs!
Please note that if you do take a massage you might get a woman or man to provide this service but do not let that deter you. We had a man and although it was slightly awkward for me at the beginning, I just had to remind myself that he had probably seen and rubbed down thousands of other naked women before!
Clean Changing Room
After our arrival at Gulo’s Abano we were led to our private suite, the mineral sulphur smell was surprisingly bearable and after a short while we got used to the somewhat unpleasant background odour of the natural springs. There was a spacious clean changing room with a comfortable sofa and a table where we could change out of our clothes. As important advice, take off all jewellery, my earrings tarnished in the sulphur water!
Our Spa Room
The main room of our spa was lit from a skylight and beautiful mosaics decorated the walls and floors, plus the sides of the two built in baths. One bath held scalding hot water and the second, smaller one with cold water. The copious water poured through the baths constantly flowing from the hot springs keeping the water clear and sparkling in the sun from above.
Soaking in the Hot Waters
Off the main room was our private shower and toilet. Before dipping into the hot baths, it is always necessary to take a shower and clean yourself! Jerome was then eager to get into the hot water he has always enjoyed relaxing in Japanese onsen on our trips there. I am always in two minds about hot bath, especially in Japan, where I often have to take a bath on my own with the other women, unless private rooms are available. While the boys are happy to soak in the hot water for hours until their hands and feet have grown webs between their fingers and toes, I get restless after a few minutes in the water.
Hot and Cold Tubs
The three of us comfortably settled in the scalding water, trying to relax until someone would turn up for our body scrub and massage. However Jerome was in and out of the bath, testing the cold water in the second tub and then plunging back into the warm water. I felt like I was melting in the heat, however the boys seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the soak.
Our Body Scrub Experience
Dad was the first person to get scrubbed and massaged, so he was our guinea pig! It looked surprisingly rough, when the masseur started to scrub him with a coarse sponge. After the harsh treatment he was soaped up with a soap inside a fluffy towel, which turned him into a “snowman” covered in foam before being hosed down with buckets of water. Jerome was next and I was not sure if I really wanted to be handled in such a brutal manner, it appeared similar to but less enjoyable than our hammam experience in Morocco a few years before. I “survived” the scrub, the soaping I found more difficult to endure. The boys always say I am too fussy about the products touching my skin and I told the masseur to spare my face, as I could not stand the thought of having it soaped with unknown lotions.
An Experience That Should Not be Missed!
However in the end our skins felt like those of a baby and we returned into the hot mineral water for a short relaxing time before the hour was over and we had to leave. The abano was definitely an unfamiliar experience that no one should miss during a stay in Tbilisi. For us it was certainly an interesting way to relax before our flight back that night, making it an intriguing end to our trip through Georgia, which is certainly a diverse and captivating country. I have a feeling it will not be long before we come back for more…
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