An alternative day trip from Kutaisi, Tskaltubo is a spa resort town just 20 minutes by local bus from the city centre. It’s famous for its radon-carbonate mineral springs – the ‘Waters of Immortality’ – which bubble up from the ground at a pleasant 33-35 degrees Celsius.
Much like Borjomi, Tskaltubo rose to prominence in the Soviet era as a destination for state-mandated workers’ respite. During the 1950s, more than 120,000 people visited the balneology resort and its 19 sanatoria every year, and there was even a direct train service from Moscow to Tskaltubo.
The small town is built up around an overgrown park with a series of small bathhouses hidden inside. Around the edge of the park, there are a dozen large, elaborate resort buildings – each with grand entrance halls and ballrooms, collanaded terraces, spiralling staircases and domed atriums.
Most (but not all) of the sanatoria were abandoned after the fall of the Soviet Union and stripped of anything valuable (tiles, pipes, plasterwork). Nature eventually took over, turning these once-grand buildings into a playground for photographers and urbexers.
Tskaltubo has become a popular place to get your wedding photos taken, and you’ll often see large groups here posing for family snaps! In 2022/3, many of the buildings were auctioned off and restoration works started. Tskaltubo is changing fast.
In the 1990s, several of the larger sanatoria were used to house IDPs who fled from Abkhazia during the war. Many families still live here today, and it’s important to be mindful of this when exploring – take care not to accidentally walk into someone’s home, and don’t attempt to enter any buildings that are cordoned off (some have been sold to developers).
There are restaurants, cafes and shops in Tskaltubo, and a few of the bathhouses inside the park are still operating – including Bathhouse No. 9, which houses Stalin’s private bath.