Think of an autumn city break and Berlin or Barcelona might spring to mind. But Tbilisi? The Georgian capital has been left out of the action – partly because getting there has long been a hassle, involving an irritating stop-off in Istanbul or Kiev. No longer. Reaching the ‘Rome of the Caucasus’ is now a breeze: Georgian Airlines flies direct from Gatwick, three times a week, with the journey taking a shade under five hours. A flurry of hip new hotels – such as The Stamba – has also helped put Tbilisi on the tourist map. And autumn, when the summer crowds have thinned but it is still T-shirt weather, is a great time to explore this East-meets-West city.
Rooms (roomshotels.com/tbilisi) – a colourful boutique hotel housed in a former Soviet-era publishing and printing house – gets the details, from dining to decor, just right. It was the most stylish hotel in town until the arrival of the Stamba (stambahotel.com). This towering five-story edifice offers all manner of luxuries, including gilded free-standing brass bathtubs, a glass-bottomed rooftop pool, a grand cafe serving traditional Georgian cuisine with a modern twist, and a glamorous two-floor casino.
Travellers on a tighter budget should check into the charming Guest House Lile (guesthouselile.business.site) where rooms are basic but clean, and an easy stroll away from all the sights and shops.
The Instagrammable Old Town is made for meandering with its maze of squares and narrow lanes lined with pretty wooden houses, bohemian bars, inviting cafes, ancient stone churches – don’t miss Sioni Cathedral and the sixth-century Anchiskhati Basilica – and shops selling colouful rugs.
It’s all overlooked by the Kartlis Deda (Mother Georgia) monument, erected in 1958 to mark the city’s 1500th anniversary, and the Narikala Fortress, which has kept watch over Tbilisi since the 4th century and can be reached by cable car from Rike Park.
Feeling energetic? Hike to Chonkadze Street, also in the old town, to ride the steep funicular railway (bag a seat in the front carriage for the best views) to the top of Mount Mtatsminda. Here you’ll find the city’s favourite park and plenty of stalls selling acharuli khachapuri, a delicious cheese pie.
Check out the eye-catching, love-it-or-hate-it Peace Bridge – a wavy pedestrians-only glass-and-steel structure by Italian architect Michele De Lucchi. It opened in 2010 and stands in stark contrast to the rest of old Tbilisi. The bridge links the west side of the Mtkvari River with flower-filled Rike Park, whose northern end features a concert hall and exhibition centre designed by another Italian, Massmiliano Fukas. The bizarre Leaning Tower of Tbilisi (often referred to as The Gabriadze Clock) is another modern addition to the city. Built by puppet master Rezo Gabriadze in 2010, an angel appears from a door and strikes a bell every hour.
Springs gave the city its name (the word tbili in Georgian means warm), so recover from your sightseeing with a trip to one of its sulphur baths.
The most famous is the blue-tiled Orbeliani (facebook.com/pages/Orbeliani-Baths/1409182652627881) – its past guests include Alexander Pushkin; Bathhouse No. 5 (abano5.ge/ka) in the Abanotubani district is the oldest in the city and renowned for its stunning mosaics.
It’s not exactly pampering – expect a rough scrub followed by lots of hammam-style slathering – but for authenticity it is hard to beat. You can book online and nudity is the norm.
Adopted from www.telegraph.co.uk