What do you see when hear Abkhazia? Mines? Barbed wire? Buildings with bullet holes? Encompassing gray? The war ended that only few years ago. And certainly Abkhazia does not seem to be a good place for a trip with your child? In our last post we drew a little dark picture of Abkhazia, today we will try to show you its other face. We found it to be a beautiful land right where Caucasus mountains meet the Black Sea. It’s sunny, interesting and really friendly even for the youngest travellers because full of friendly and outgoing people.
Let us introduce you 9 reasons to visit Abkhazia even for longer holidays because this land offers so much to do there. Mountain views will take your breath away, sea will give you a nice chill and you will get a chance to see some interesting historical sights. But start from the beginning and follow our Abkhazia guide.
1. CAUCASUS MOUNTAINS
Significant part of Abkhazian terrotory is the mountains, hence many tourist attractions in this country are connected with them. The real gem of this part of Caucasus is Ritsa Lake, an alpine water reservoir located at almost 900 above sea level. It is the most popular and in our opinion the best sight of whole Abkhazia. It is the place that attracts most of Abkhazia’s visitors and it is worth to direct your first steps here. Beautiful emerald lake is spilled between high Caucasus peaks. The tops of the mountains that surround it astray somewhere high in the clouds and reflect in the exceptionally smooth mirror of the lake. To protect local nature Natural Reserve Rica was created. Because the water in the lake is extremely cold there is nobody trying to swim in it. Instead you can rent a boat or a pedalo boat and swim on the lake. On the opposite to main viewpoint side of the lake you will find one of the holiday residence of Stalin, which can be reached by boat.
The way from Sukhum takes approximately 2 hours and we recommend to take a whole-day trip there. You can take walk among mountain flora, along mountain rivers feeding the lake or flowing from it and finally dine in one of many restaurants with local food, aroma of which you will smell on the whole lake shore.
2. MOUNTAIN CAVES
Caucasus mountains are reach in caves and grottos located on the territories of different countries sitting on Caucasus. Abkhazia is lucky because on its territory there are few of them including the deepest cave in the world.
Unfortunately it is not open for visitors. Instead of that one you can see, also a very big one New Athos Cave. It is located in Iverian Mountain and is one of the biggest in the world. It has 1,5 milion cubic meters, 9 roms, out of which only 6 are open for tourists. Besides stalactites and stalagmites one of its most interesting attractions is an underground lake of surface of 100 square meters. Tourists can move underground using a train, a 3-station line helping visitors to move between some halls.
Abkhazian Black Sea coast stretches from Bchara by Abkhazian-Georgian border to Leselidze at the border with Russia, located not far because only 36 kilometers from Russian Sochi. The total length of the coastline is about 250 km. Like most of the coast on this side of the Black Sea also Abkhazian part offers mostly rocky beaches. They have their charm, but to have pleasure from spending time there you need to really like them or be equipped with these rubber boots for the rich in sea urchins areas.
Especialy with a little one who doesn’t care about the stones at all, who you have to keep up with it is difficult to get relaxed. But we have to admitt that such a clear water we haven’t seen for long time. Water temperature is perfect, chilling in summer and easy to get in. And the views: on one side sea stretching to the horizon and on the other mountain peaks crowned with white clowds. And in the evening those amazing sunsets…
The best places for bathing are considered Gagra and Pitsunda. The second one is proud of their sandy beaches which attract many visitors. Mix of sand, stones and gravel, a more convenient option than in Sukhum, you will find in Gagra.
4. HOT SPRINGS
Being in Abkhazia it is totaly obligatory to visit hot springs no matter if you are there in summer or in winter. You can choose from two locations Primorskoye and Kyndyg. The second one is located 30 – 40 minutes away from Sukhum. Although it will be difficult to find it on Google maps every local driver will know where they are and its quite easy to get there by “marshrutka”. Hot springs in Kyndyg are the place where highly mineralised hot water gushes from under the ground. The first thing you will see, the spring located outside the complex already shows what you can expect – a little basin reveals masses of steam avan at 30 degrees outside. And this is because the water temperature reaches 100 degrees Celcius. The complex is arranged using the natural conditions and landform. Long pipes, allowing water to cool down to 45 degrees lead from the source and create natural showers, which can even give water massage.
Water flowing from the spring is rich in hydrogen sulfide, which is to have a beneficial effect on joint disease, musculo-skeletal, digestive system etc. However, the best and the basic procedure that you should treat yourself with is a whole-body mud mask containing hydrogen sulphide and clay.
After the session of mud treatment and water jets you can rest in natural pools with sulphur water, which has already lowered its temperature. Admission is 200 Russian rubels and it is worth to plan at least few hour there. Only decent session with the mud and spending some serious amount of time in sulphur water gives you a chance to improve your health.
5. NEW ATHOS
New Athos is a town located on the route from Sukhum to Gudauta. Town and its surroundings offer few touristic attractions and it is even worth considering as a place to stay for the night. The most important sight according to us is the Monastery of St. Simon the Canaanite. Male Orthodox monastery established in 1875 by Russian noks from the holy Mount Athos.
The history of the monastery is turbulent because since its creation with the participation of Tsar Alexander III, it was closed by the Bolsheviks already in 1924 to be returned to the faithful only in 1994. By that time it served as a warehouse, hostel and a field hospital which has saved many lives during the war. In the same many lives have been lost thanks to machine guns located at monastery’s belfries. Today it is an amazing place, restored and of bewitching beauty. The frescoes decorating the interior of the Cathedral Panteleimon were made in the early twentieth century and it’s them what gives the whole interior this amazing mystical character. Admission to the church is free and it takes few minutes to get ther from the town.
On the territory of the complex you will aslo find a grotto of St. Simon, where allegedly the saint patron of the monastery has praid. You can take a longer walk to get to this holy place and there contemplate in quiet. The areas of the Cathedral must be really unique as we found another Stalin’s residence nerby. It is another probable place of dictator’s stay in Abkhazia and surely not the last one. We are wondering if all the former Russian republics are that full of such residences as Abkhazia. The town itself is very pleasant, focused on tourists. Around the town park you will find many places to eat offering wide selection of local dishes. They also have decent offer of ccomodation there.
Abkhazian capital offers many interesting places but the first impression you will get will be the typical seaside resort. On one side health spas with sunbathers occupying the coast of the Blask Sea, seaside promenade filling up with people only in the evening. And since it fills up with people, as you know, it must fill up also with stand selling all that summer colorfull stuff and souvenirs. Exactly as it looks in every other corner of the world. A walk on the promanade is a must-do of every excursion, from the closed pier near Ritsa Hotel to the ruins of the old Sukhum port. Besides the flood of typical games seeing which all kids go crazy you will find also some fine restarants where you will try some dishes of Abkhazian cuisine. However the best in Sukhum restaurant with local food deserves for a separate post.
The most characteristic place, the hallmark of the capital is the building of Council of Ministers. Its pictures are famous all over the world, just like the ones of bombed Ministry of Defence of Serbia in Belgrade, kept unrepaired to remind of recently finished war durign which so many lives have been lost. The Council of Ministers is a central building in the city, completely ruined, what is more totaly taken over by the nature.
Sukhum Botanical Garden was founded in 1838. Initially it was under the supervision of a military garrison. It had two practical functions: first to keep the soldiers busy in their free time and second to provide the land in agricultural produce. Today it covers 30 hectares out of which only 5 are available to the public. It is a collection of plants not pnly typical for this subtropical climat but also many other rare species. Now they have over 5000 species of trees, shrubs and other plants. Admission is 200 rubels and the entrance is a characteristic for this are of the world high colonnade.
Finally there is a place in Sukhum that gave us some significant dilemmas. This is a remnant of the Institute of Experimental Pathology and Therapy, infamous place where in Stalin times they carried many experiments on animals, where aimed to create a hybride of a man and monkey and an animal able to fly to the space. Today in this place there is a Monkey Nursery, a zoo where you can see various species of apes. On one hand we knew that meeting with monkey would be some great adventure for our daughter, on the other what kind a meeting would that be? Seeing number of apes in small cages, behind the bars is not a meeting at all. Neither for Ola nor for them. That would break our hearts if we were to feed the apes through the bars with watermelons sold on nerby booths. We decided that this is not an entertainment for us , we do not support such business and did not finally go there. We wouldn’t like anybody to do it either however you should know that such place is in Sukhum but we do not recommend visitng it at all! It is not a tourist attraction but a place of suffering many animals sentenced for life behind the bars.
Besides the Monastery in New Athos Abkhazia has also other worth visiting temples. The most popular among tourists is the Cathedral in Kaman. It is famouf for being a burial place of St. John Chrysostom in 5th century. His relics were later on transferres to Constantinopole. Kaman Monastery was rebuilt in 1986 on the foundations of the medieval church.
Another important one is the Cathedral in Pitsunda. This temple was built at the end of 10th century and renovated in 19th century. Today besides the sacral functions the object serves as a cultural institution. It has a concert hall where organ concerts played by the most famous Abkhazian artists take place regularily. It is also worth to see the Monastery of the Assumption in Dranda. Built at the end of 6th century was renovated irecently but the frescoes which reportedly were on its walls have not been restored. The austerity of the interior, here and there decorated with some icons, gives the church this unique mystical character.
It is a town located 26 km away from the Russian boarder which next to beautiful views and nice beaches offers also few warth visitng buildings. Those are among others ruins of Abaata fortress from the 5th century, 5th century church but the place of the biggest touristic potential is the Palace of Duke Alexander Petrovich of Oldenburg. Duke chose Gagra for his residence at the end of 19th century and wanted to create there a resort comparable to Monte Carlo, so he built a palace, introduced electricity to the town, opened school and set up a seaside park.
Park with huge colonnade at the entrance, the palace and Garpish restaurant survived until today. The famous restaurant seems rather empty now, no guests are to be found inside but in our surprise no staff either. Much more popular are umbrellas by the seaside. But as something interesting we can recommend a brewery restaurant Old Prague brewing 4 different beer types under the name of Oldenburg. Besides those attractiona Gagra is more like a big stand with inflatable mattresses and toys, full of tourists resting on the beaches. We haven’t found any signs of Monte Carlo there.
9. LESS AND MORE EXTREME SPORTS
Those who on holidays like to raise their andrenaline level and spend their free time actively may consider Abkhazia as their destination. In the fist way you can take a ride by 4×4 cars to the mountains. Where the road ends the real adventure starts. In each bigger town you can rent such car and head to the mountains off the main roads. Thanks to such transport you will be able to get to usually inaccessible areas, find magical mountain waterfalls and among others reach the Little Ritsa Lake located even higher than Ritsa itself. And the view should be amazing.
Another mountain attraction for active travellers, a way to raise your blood pressure, are so called „tarzankas”. Beautiful blue-green mountain rivers with steep banks clever Abkhazians use for a very popular sport – ride on the rope to the other bank of the river. Price of such attraction is decent because it is only 200 Russian rubels so there are many people using it with undisguised joy. The ride takes only a wile but surely gives lots of emotions!
And if you are a huge fan of extreme sports you shoud try paraglinding from the peaks of Caucasus towards the azure waters of the Black Sea. Alternatively parachuting. That has to make your heart beat faster and give you long lasting memories