Time in Tskaltubo, a former resort town of Georgia, stands still. Located just 15 minutes drive from Kutaisi, this town was a go-to place for locals and residents of ex-USSR residents. There was a direct, daily train from Moscow to Tskaltubo, bringing citizens all over the world for various balneological treatments. Today, these grandevous Soviet sanatoriums in Tskaltubo stand abandoned in overgrown foliage, walls crumbling, and water dripping.
During its glory days, Tskaltubo was (and still is) famous for its curative mineral springs and radon water therapy. The town had 19 grand sanatoriums and nine bathhouses circling a large park. According to several sources, construction of the whole town started in January of 1950 with more than 4,000 workers working almost 24 hours to open its first bathhouse in December.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tskaltubo was abandoned. Those once-grand cement buildings were left empty to decay. However, when the war in Abkhazia broke out, the government gave “temporary” shelter to around 8k IDPs. Even today, 27 years later, some families still live in these extraordinary neoclassical ruins of the past.
Practical information about visiting Tskaltubo
- The town itself is quite small and walkable. All the sanatoriums are located around a vast central park, making it easy to explore them on foot.
- One full day is enough to see every sanatorium. However, if you’ll be taking pictures or want to take your time and explore them without a rush, I would suggest a day and a half or even two.
- Out of 19 Soviet sanatoriums, only nine are worth exploring because of its architecture or mosaics: Aia, Sakartvelo, Medea, Shakhtiori, Gelati, Tbilisi, Metalurgi, Imereti and Savane. You can also visit Tskaltubo Spa Resort, but you’ll most likely need permission.
- Two out of those sanatoriums are a private property now and have a fence around: Shakhtiori (one of the most beautiful and grand) and Iveria. You can’t sneak in into Shakhtiori because it has a security guard. However, you can still explore Iveria if you can be discreet.
- Only two out of the nine bathhouses remain active: Bathhouse N6 and N1. Others are empty, covered in greenery, and crumbling.
Things to do in Tskaltubo: Hunting down abandoned Soviet sanatoriums in Tskatubo
To ease your travels to Tskatubo, I have created a Tskatubo abandoned sanatorium map showcasing the exact locations to save on Google.
You can easily spot Hotel Sakarvelo from the road when entering Tskaltubo from Kutaisi with its typical Soviet architecture and a sign that still stands on its rooftop. IDPs inhabit most of the buildings today, who live in severe conditions.
The reason to visit this sanatorium is the mosaic on a wall and indoor pool. Unfortunately, the whole building is in the worst shape of them all, with water dripping from the roof, plants growing from the concrete facade, and a pool area full of garbage and dust. The mosaic in the pool is very hard to see, but the one on the wall is mostly intact.
Hotel Medea is probably my most favorite one of all. You see and feel the grandevous of this sanatorium the moment you lay your eyes on it from a narrow path leading to the complex. However, you’ll be even more surprised once you walk up the stairs to see marble-covered, Roman-style columns with typical carvings. It still mesmerizes you right away. Looking at those columns with the turquoise color ceiling, I can only imagine how gorgeous it was years ago!
IDPs live in half part of the sanatorium, while the other half is abandoned and ready to explore. You can go upstairs to have a bird-eye view of the inner courtyard and the entrance of the hotel. In the courtyard, you’ll find a fountain with a statue of Medea with kids.
Metalurgi or Metallurgy in English is closer to Medea, so stop here next. It’s another massive sanatorium where IDPs live; however, compared to others, it is less damaged. The former large concert/theater hall doesn’t exist anymore, and the room is locked. You can have a peak from the outside through dusty windows.
The main attraction here is the large, circular entrance hall and the foyer with an internal balcony dominated by a massive chandelier.
Tbilisi is another noteworthy sanatorium for its architecture, both inside and outside. Pay attention to the balconies featuring facial sculptures of man and woman, while the entrance staircase has two giant statues of griffins which seem to guard this place ever since.
According to one Georgian website, the sanatorium has a form of the open-wing bird if looked from above. However, I can’t confirm that, unfortunately. The only area we explored here was the small inner courtyard now covered in lichen, plants, and ivy.
This is the least interesting hotel, in my opinion. At the entrance, we met a very uninviting man with (probably) his mother, so we didn’t want to bother them much and made our stop as short as possible.
We looked at the foyer with internal balconies and wandered through an inner courtyard/terrace. However, I read on Katmandu & Beyond blog that there was a domed and ornate rooftop restaurant.
Shakhtiori is the most and grandiose than any other sanatorium in Tskaltubo. It used to be a fashionable and luxurious sanatorium to stay for the elite of that time. Unfortunately, it’s a private property with a fence around and a guard, so you can’t sneak inside. All you can do is to have a peak from the fence and marvel at a vast Stalinistic style building with terrace-like staircases and massive statue in the courtyard.
Iveria is my second favorite Soviet sanatorium in Tskaltubo with its gorgeous interior. From its typical Soviet-style facade, you won’t even imagine its inner beauty. The main entrance of the sanatorium has a circular hole in the ceiling that was initially intended for an internal balcony. After the surrounding balustrade collapsed, the hole was left like this.
Today, the sanatorium is a private property with a fence around it. On our visit, there was no guard, so we found a small creak in the fence and managed to get inside. If you manage to enter, wander through the stairs to find a dining room and peek at the guest rooms.
Imereti is a colossal building featuring an arched gallery and massive columns on each floor. The ground floor or what might have been the foyer has an oval-shape leading to large staircases and tall windows rising from the floor to the ceiling. Make sure to explore the other parts of the hotel for a more interesting interior.
Very close to Imereti, you’ll find another fully abandoned and grandeur Sanatorium Savane with its semi-circular entrance and completely covered in greenery. We didn’t go inside, as it was quite hard to access it due to the overgrown foliage. But we did admire it from the outside.
Tskaltubo Spa Resort
On the contrary, Tskaltubo Spa Resort is a somewhat newly renovated building that still operates as the resort in its original construction. The territory of the hotel is enormous, as it used to be the central sanatorium of the town back in the day. Most of its buildings have been renovated, except the one where you can find Stalin’s personal room untouched and intact as if the time had stopped right there, in the 1950s.
When I first visited Tskaltubo, the room was not accessible for tourists, but I asked nicely, and they let me in. However, now they charge 20 GEL per person for a group of three, or 15 GEL in case its 3-6 people, to see Stalin’s luxe room, the museum, and a gorgeous concert hall.
The main attraction of the Aia hotel is the Soviet-time mosaics both inside and outside of the building. This tall hotel, similar to many other hotels and sanatoriums in Tskaltubo, is home to IDPs living in heart-wrecking conditions.
The town has nine bathhouses from which only three – 1,3, and 6 are operating. It is believed that the mineral water of Tskaltubo can cure up to six diseases. Even if you are not here to treat anything, have a bath in one of those bathhouses for a relaxing experience.
Number 6, often called Stalin’s Bathhouse, is the central public thermal bathhouse of the town. The building was constructed right on the source of water, especially for him; therefore, it has his private room adorned with mosaics. Ask the staff for a small tour; they’ll be happy.
Abandoned and covered in foliage, you might even miss it if you don’t know where to look. Located very close to the N6, bathhouse 8 has a very unique architectural style constructed in 1959. The bathhouse has a dome-shaped roof made from iron-cement construction that weighs around 42 tones. It was the first of such kind made in that time Georgia and served as a test-drive to the roofing of Tbilisi Sports Palace.
Another entirely abandoned bathhouse worth checking out. I couldn’t find much of the information about this particular one, but from what I saw in its crumbling walls, it must have been quite significant and beautiful with yellow-tiled baths.
Other things to do in Tskaltubo
Explore Stalin’s Dacha
Dacha is a Russian word referring to a holiday cottage. Located a bit far from the Tskaltubo center, it’s a fascinating place to explore. It’s a vast area full of abandoned buildings that might have been used for various reasons by staff members. It is possible that KGB had it’s own “sanatorium” within the territory to guard the place, making it impossible for anyone without a special pass to enter the property.
In terms of beauty or architectural significance, the cottage is nothing special and seemed quite modest. I was told in the Tourism Information Center, that the whole complex was built very quickly, but Stalin only stayed here once. And rumor has it that he even had a favorite spot to sit down and enjoy a view of the whole Tskaltubo from above.
Visit karst cave
Many people come to Tskaltubo because of the Prometheus Cave as a day trip from Kutaisi. The karst cave is rich in stalagmites and stalactites illuminated by colorful lights. Prometheus is one of the biggest caves in Georgia; however, only around 1.2 km long pathway is open for tourists to explore.
Relax at Tsivi Tba
Translated as the Cold Lake, this small lake very close to Sanatorium Iveria and a nice place to have a relaxing walk around in the evening. It’s a popular recreational area for locals. During the season, you can even rent a boat.
Where to stay in Tskaltubo
There are several guesthouses and hotels, but I would suggest staying in Kutaisi and making day trips to Tskaltubo. The town is tranquil in the evenings with a limited choice of restaurants.
But if you still decide to stay in Tskaltubo, search for accommodation here:
How to get to Tskaltubo from Kutaisi
Getting to the town is not an issue as daily minibusses are going from Kutaisi to Tskaltubo. You need to cross the Red Bridge and find marshrutka number 30. The price for one way is 1.20 GEL.
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Georgia travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
- Book affordable flights on Skyscanner, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
- Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Georgia, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
- Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking and Agoda, or find a cool apartment on Airbnb!
- Pre-book a private car transfer from Tbilisi Airport to your hotel
- Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
- Book in advance some of the best city walks, cultural experiences, and day tours to maximize your stay and experience here