TBILISI Clockwise from far left The steel and glass Bridge of Peace straddles the Kura. Immerse yourself in Georgian culture at the Museum of Modern Art. Find the latest fashions at Chaos Concept Store. Sample the local wines at 8000 Vintages. The stylish
This is the year to visit Georgia’s capital – a seedbed of culture and edgy design
We’ve long been intrigued by Georgia: for its location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia; its pre- and post- Soviet history and its eclectic architecture that ranges from Moorish to Modernist. The country’s cuisine, poorly represented even in London’s international food scene, also remains a mystery. Bowl of elarji, anyone? (That’s cornmeal and cheese.)
While the region’s Caucasian mountains, thermal sulphur baths and vineyards have been attracting visitors for millenniae, it’s the recent evolution of the country’s capital that is catching the world’s attention. Former factories are becoming studios, and young, exciting design talent is positively thriving: Balenciaga’s creative director and founder of hip fashion brand Vetements, Demna Gvasalia, is the first Georgian to join The Business of Fashion’s ‘Hall of Fame’ 500.
At this year’s Milan Furniture Fair, Barnaba Fornasetti threw a party for Tbilisi product and interior design duo Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia, otherwise known as Rooms. The pair were in town to launch ‘Life On Earth’, a collection of 12 pieces of furniture handmade from natural stones and manmade materials. Their style is edgy and relevant – they are stocked in New York’s The Future Perfect, and have been picked up by Dutch brand Moooi. But the heart of their look is rooted in Tbilisi: the new range is inspired by the city’s Brutalist Soviet-era bus stops.
Here’s how to experience the vibrancy of this burgeoning design hotspot for yourself, before heading to those mineral-rich thermal spas for some essential revitalisation.
Head to the historic neighbourhood of Vera. Popular with intellectuals and bohemians since the 20th century, it features tree-lined boulevards and views down to the Kura river. It’s here that Stamba Hotel has opened in a former publishing house built in the Soviet era. Designed by local architects Adjara Arch, it has a rooftop swimming pool, brass baths in the rooms and an Art Deco-style restaurant (from £200 per night; designhotels.com). Close by is Rooms Hotel, which the creative duo of the same name helped to design: they have clad walls in 150-year-old reclaimed oak and brought 1930s New York glamour ( leather armchairs, marble sinks) to the interior (£136 per night; roomshotels.com). Both hotels are at the heart of contemporary culture here – they host regular exhibitions and support artistic residencies, with Stamba Hotel’s in-house art studio and co-working spaces opening in September.
For architecture spotting, try a wander down Chonkadze Street to see the city’s best Art Nouveau buildings, then walk across the Led-lit Bridge of Peace, looking out for the precarious-seeming traditional houses that hang over the river’s edge. Continue your stroll with a trip to the concrete Wedding Palace, a registry office built in 1984 that resembles a Georgian medieval church. Visit the Museum of Modern Art to get a feel for the city’s creative energy (momatbilisi.ge). After all that walking, you deserve a trip to Abanotubani, a district in the Old Town where you’ll find a whole street of traditional public bathhouses that make use of the local hot springs. Then, as evening falls, head to Fabrika, a multi-purpose art and design hub that opened last year and now contains thriving studios, exhibition spaces, cafés and an open-air bar that hosts pop-up yoga classes and late-night music (fabrikatbilisi.com).
DRINK AND EAT
Khash, a Georgian tripe soup, is CulinariumKhasheria’s namesake and speciality, but excellent coffee and juices are also on offer (@culinarium_khasheria). Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world and, as you would expect, Tbilisi has plenty of bars where you can try its produce. Head to 8000 Vintages, a bottleshop/ bar in the Saburtalo district, where charcuterie and cheese is on offer alongside the amber-coloured elixirs (8000vintages.ge). For dinner, try the oldfashioned fare at Keto & Kote or the cool, pale-pink painted Ezo for an inventive take on classic Georgian ingredients, such as a salad made using the sweet, berry-like fruit of the native jonjoli shrub (@instaezo).
For seriously cool fashion buys, hit Chaos Concept Store – the city’s first, which is located in a beautifully restored factory (chaosconceptstore.com) – or N-duo Concept, which sells trendy brands, from Shrimps to Mother of Pearl (n-duo-concept.com). For a furniture fix, head to Studio 995. It artfully restores and sells vintage pieces and design classics – be tempted by mid-century modern armchairs reupholstered in dark tangerine or chartreuse velvet (@studio995).