Once an Olympic site contender, the ski village of Bakuriani fell on tough times after collapse of the Soviet Union. A Georgian multi-millionaire is now attempting to reverse time by pouring cash into the improvement of skiing facilities and construction of new hotels and guest houses. Village roads are now packed with Turkish trucks stacked with construction supplies, minibuses packed full of construction workers, and SUVs with local construction inspectors.As we climbed the hills around Bakuriani, construction crews gave way to herds of dairy cows feeding on hills of electric mossy green. As we climbed higher, a Soviet era van offered us a ride up the hill. We declined and it left in a plume of smoke that smelled distinctly of a shashlik barbecue.
On our descent, one of the shepherds invited us to join him for the evening cow milking. “You need to be strong,” he said. Though tempted, we graciously declined, noting the rolling clouds and disappearing sun. Only minutes later the Soviet era van pulled up again. The front door opened and the driver's hand shot across the front seat as he offered Audrey a bouquet of red plastic flowers. No words were exchanged, the door closed, and the van barreled down the hill, leaving Audrey in its wake with a curious gift.
A few minutes later, a second old van drove by. We accepted their offer for a ride and joined the construction workers as they crammed into their seats to allow us ample room. Later, when we tried to buy some Georgian flat bread in the village, the local baker wouldn't accept payment. Everyone was certainly doing his best to make us feel welcome.
The following morning we learned that Bakuriani's unofficial motto: more hotels, less information. Armed with information from the tourist office regarding the departure of the kukushka (cuckoo in Russian), the scenic train that runs between Bakuriani and Borjomi, we arrived at the train station ten minutes early. The lone train station employee there informed us that the train left 15 minutes ago and pointed to a sign from March 2007 with new train times. There are only two trains per day; it's not complicated. But apparently complicated enough to prevent a heads-up phone call from the train station to the tourist office just up the street.
Lesson of the day – always get your transport information at the source, no matter how shiny the tourist information office and its brochures may look.
Transport to and Accommodation in Bakuriani
- How to get there: By marshrutka directly from Didube station in Tbilisi (10 Lari/person – 3 hours) or from Borjomi (3 lari/person). Train from Borjomi – morning and afternoon departures. Check with the train station directly regarding times, as they change often, without the tourist information center's knowledge.
- Where to stay: Hotels are going up at every corner of the village, so this is the one place in Georgia with an overabundance of accommodation (at least in the summer). We stayed at Vera's place – the yellow house right next to the tourist information center. Nice rooms with en suite bathrooms. 20 lari/person, including breakfast, fresh milk from her mother's cow and some snacks at dinner. Very nice family.
- Where to eat: There is a cafe on the main road around the corner from the information center. Good khinkali and kebabs. Reasonably priced.
- What to do: In the summer, hike around and try and get away from all the construction roads and building. The higher you go, the more beautiful it becomes. In winter, ski your heart out.