Let’s start with Sarpi, a coastal village divided into two sections. One part is in Turkey and the other is in Georgia, with an enormous fence dividing the two.
Most of the village’s population is of Lazi descent. There are about 2,000 Lazis living in Georgia, mostly in the Sapi-Kvariati area, in Adjara. Besides Georgian, you can also hear Lazi speech in Sarpi. Lazi is a Kartvelian (Georgian) language reportedly spoken by more than 1.6 million people. Most of the Lazi people live in Turkey.
Sarpi has the smallest Black Sea beach located on the Georgia-Turkey border—not the quietest place on earth, not least because of the main highway passing just above it and connecting Sarpi to Batumi. Nonetheless, this section of the beach is swarming with people in the summer. Why? Because of the beach’s crystal-clear seawaters and Kvaomakha, a mammoth cliff protruding into the sea. The word “Kvaomakha” in the Lazi language means “a ridged, cracked stone”. The horizontally layered cliff offers terrace-like areas for tourists and locals to gather in summer. Jumping off Kvaomakha into the sea is in a way an extreme sport activity.
If you ascend the path to Sarpi, you will suddenly find yourself in a mountain village overlooking the sea. And the views are the main attraction of the village, where every elevation offers a spot to enjoy the sight of the sea, to snuggle in the meadow and take in the peaceful, swaying infinity.
In September, the annual Kolkhoba festival is celebrated in Sarpi. The villagers gather by the sea to hold various performances. The festival’s guests can listen to Lazi songs, try local dishes, and familiarize themselves with Lazi handicrafts.
Besides in Sarpi, Lazis also live in Kvariati, a small Black Sea coastal village with a beautiful, peaceful, and special location. Kvariati, similar to Sarpi, consists of two parts: Coastal Kvariati and Hilly Kvariati, with a highway in between. Kvariati, scattered on a mountain slope, offers fantastic views of the infinite horizon. There are numerous family-run hotels in the village. Looking for a tranquil and pleasant place ten minutes from the beach? Then, Kvariati is your best vacation destination!
Unlike Sarpi, Kvariati’s coast features rows of café-bars and bungalows, of which the Rakushkebi Café is something else. Rakushkebi is located where the sea has chiseled out a small bay between Sarpi and Kvariati. Known for its original, colorful design, this café has been Kvariati’s calling card for years. People come from Batumi and other cities to this place, because this small café offers an atmosphere unseen anywhere else.
The boundary between Kvariati and Gonio is hypothetical. Yes, the road sign reads that you have just exited Kvariati and are about to enter Gonio, but visually almost nothing changes. The only difference is that Gonio’s coastline is a bit noisier and has more tall buildings. Pretty much every family rents out an apartment here in the summer. Tourism is the main source of income for Kvariati’s residents. In the summer, cafes and bungalows operate in every corner, playing all kinds of music and offering all kinds of services.
Gonio includes Gonio-Apsaros Museum-Reserve, complete with an ancient fortress. Historians believe that the earliest human settlement in Georgia must have been built in the area around the fortress. The Gonio Fortress itself, found by the seashore, was built by the Romans and is believed to be the resting place of the Apostle Matthew. At the time of construction, it was of crucial strategic importance, serving as a key crossroads between the Kolkehti Plain and the Near East. After the 1547 conquest of Chaneti by the Ottomans, the Gonio Fortress housed an Ottoman imperial garrison for a few centuries. The Ottomans maintained control over the fortress until 1878, when it was handed to the Russian Empire by authority of the Treaty of San Stefano. The ancient Greek historian and philosopher Arrian links the story of the legendary Argonauts to Gonio-Apsaros. According to him, while fleeing from Colchis, Jason and Medea murdered Medea’s brother, Apsyrtus, there. Legend has it that King Aeetes buried his son where today the Gonio Fortress is.
Similar to Sarpi and Kvariati, Gonio’s beach is a clean, perfect place to rest. Gonio and Batumi are separated by the Chorokhi River and unpopulated areas.
North of Batumi there are the Botanical Garden and Green Cape. The Green Cape coast, with its semi-virgin landscapes, is uninhabited and easily accessible from Batumi’s side, near the entrance of the Botanical Garden, which means that you can also reach the place by public transport. Urban legend has it that the Black Sea is the clearest around the Green Cape.
In the summer, you will come across tents all over the Green Cape, a place favored by campers.
To get from the Green Cape to Chakvi, you will have to return to the main highway. Chakvi is a coastal settlement with two-story homes and crystal-clear sea waters. The coastline is more or less developed, with one five-star and several smaller hotels.
Besides the sea, Chakvi used to be famous for tea plantations. In November of 1893, one Liu Jun Zhou, a Chinese tea cultivation expert, arrived in Chakvi in the company of nine other Chinese specialists at the invitation of the Russian merchant Konstantin Semenovich Popov. They brought thousands of tea saplings and hundreds of sacks of tea seeds. Liu Jun Zhou started growing tea in Chakvi, Kapreshumi, and Salibauri. His product was known as Princely Tea, which received a gold medal at the 1900 Tea Exposition in Paris. Liu Jun Zhou stayed in Chakvi until 1926. The house where he and his family lived has survived and stands out from the other buildings in Chakvi with its exceptional architecture. The idea of opening a tea museum here has yet to materialize. Still, we recommend visiting Liu Jun Zhou’s house. It has no doors or windows, nor is a ticket required to enter. Your Instagram account, though, will be several gripping pictures richer, inspired by the house’s interior.
Tsikhisdziri, another seaside village, is also near Chakvi.
There are no cafes, bungalows, or beach infrastructure in Tsikhisdziri. Instead, there is a sea with the clearest blue water and an isolated coastline with giant coniferous trees. Tsikhisdziri is your kind of place if you steer away from noisy, crowed beaches, and prefer peace and quiet.
Besides the sea, Tsikhisdziri features the unique Petra Fortress, the only fortification in Georgia built on an inaccessible cliff by the sea.
In the 5th century AD, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great ordered his court official John Tzibus to build this fortress, which played a significant role throughout the Middle Ages.
Today, only the ruins of the fortress have survived. The views from Petra will make a lasting impression on you. Today a citrus orchard is arranged in the fortress. The green terraces have survived from the communist era, and are now an integral part of the monument, putting the finishing touch on the appearance of the fortress’ ruins.
And if you happen to stay in the Petra Fortress at sunset, don’t rush back, but wait for the burning red sun-disk to sink into the sea. The horizon turns purplish at first, then grows darker eventually to give way to the dusk enveloping the sea. The tranquility instilled by contemplating the sea and horizon will last you a whole year until you revisit this now familiar landscape.
Text by Manana Qveliashvili, Special Reporter from Batumi