Borjomi is a town of about 40,000 nestled in a valley in the middle of the Republic of Georgia. It is most well known for its mineral water which is sold widely throughout ex-Soviet states. The main street is Rustaveli Street which runs alongside the river that goes through the town. Most of the restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops are here. The whole city is surrounded by mountains and nature, some of which has even grown into the city and around the buildings. It is pretty much right in the middle of the country, about two hours by marshrutka (cost is 6 lari) from Tbilisi.
What To Do
Although the town happens to be small, it has a fair amount to do while you're there. Most obvious would be the giant attraction park, located right across the river from the center, which consisted of many 1980s retro rides and arcade games dispersed in a dense forest surrounded by a thick forest and lined with walking trails. Leading up to the entrance, there were many small cafes, and street-side shops (most of which were selling homemade wine and honey). Once the rides and attractions end, the trails continue, eventually leading to hot springs which are open to the public for swimming. It's big enough to wander for the entire day and still not see everything, and overall, it's completely unlike anything else I'd ever seen anywhere before.
Alongside that, there are a few other trails up in the mountains surrounding the city that allow you to hike up and see the entire view of the valley below. Unlike the park, though, the entire trail system is completely void of people, thus allowing you to to climb up without the shouts of families. The views are pretty incredible and you can see the whole village below in the valley once you are atop.
Finally, there is a huge national park just outside the city which can either be reached on foot or by marshrutka. It is the biggest national park in the entire country, and if you really enjoy it, it's big enough to spend several days there, going on multiple different treks. Just remember to bring a tent and other supplies like food if you decide to do this since there will be no shops or access to supplies once you are in.
Granted I have only every been to Borjomi once, and therefore have only stayed at one place, I can still confidentially say that Riverside Hostel is awesome! The host, a man of about my age named Libo, could not have been more welcoming. He was incredibly helpful with all of my questions and gave great information about what to do in the town and where else to visit in the country (even providing photo books and travel guides). We communicated in Russian and he spoke to me as if I were a friend, as opposed to a guest.
As for the hostel, the place was clean and had a full kitchen and comfortable beds. The showers were warm (not always a guarantee in the small towns), and the whole atmosphere was cozy and relaxed. Not to mention, it only cost 20 lari (about $8) per night with everything included. And also, as a cool side feature, Libo's friends come around to hang out some nights and were equally friendly. English wasn't well known among them, so we spoke entirely in Russian and they weren't bothered in the least by my numerous mistakes.
Bottom line, Riverside Hostel in Borjomi is awesome!
Where to Eat
Prior to arrival, I was completely unaware of any sort of eating establishment in Borjomi. However, Libo quickly gave me a recommendation of a place called Bergi on Rustaveli street. Trusting his judgement, I went to check it out. As it turned out, he was absolutely right. The atmosphere was nice and relaxed, the food was great authentic Georgian cooking, and the wine was best of all. And as a final plus, my total bill (apatizer, main course, and drink) was just 11 lari (about $4).
Even though it was the only place I went to eat during my stay in Borjomi, I can highly recommend it as a place to eat. It's easy to find, about half way down the main street and on the opposite side from the river. Plus the staff was nice too, so all the better.
My Odd Encounter
Believe it or not, strange things can sometimes be found near old, abandon train tracks. I first saw the sight upon my arrival to the Georgian town of Borjomi. Overgrown by grass and plant life, they followed along a river before vanishing off into the woods, and I, being curious and feeling like a cat, had the idea of following along and seeing where they went. However, no more than three minutes into my journey, I came across a short, stocky, middle-aged man in jean shorts and shirtless. Seeming to appear out of nowhere, he approached me.
Speaking in Georgian, he began saying things to me, but since I didn't know anything in Georgian other than to say hello, his words fell on deaf ears. I asked if he knew Russian or English, but he shook his head no and continued talking. That's when things got a bit strange. He began pointing to a hidden spot around an abandon shed, and, motioning with his hands, he acted out shooting a needle into his arm. I stood there, looking perplexed, and he pointed again.
"Heroin. Heroin." he said, pointing first to him and then me.
Well, I thought, this wasn't quite what I was expecting. Usually locals just offer food or drink. Eventually, I shook my head no, but he was persistent. He kept mimicking the action of shooting up and again motioned for me to follow. Again, I refused, and again he insisted. This went on for another five minutes until I eventually realized that I was half this man's age, significantly taller, and in much better physical condition.
So, without another word, I turned and left, periodically checking over my shoulder to see if he decided to follow.Thankfully though, he did not. And just like the babushka fight before, I decided not to return to the tracks for the rest of my stay in Borjomi.