Tskaltubo (sometimes also Tsq’altubo or Tskhaltubo) is a seemingly uninteresting small village located about 10 km from Kutaisi in Georgia. However, if you dig deeper, you will find out that there is something special about this peculiar place: its history, its magical healing radon springs, and its grand Soviet architecture from the beginning of the 20th century – the latter currently abandoned.
We have first visited Tskaltubo as a day trip to Prometheus cave from Kutaisi, but haven’t paid attention to much else. By chance, we were back about a month later – and this time, we realized Tskaltubo is far more interesting than we gave it credit for.
Read more: Why I loved Kutaisi (and you will too)
The local radon spring has amazing healing properties for a variety of diseases and due to my recent back injury, I successfully tried out the local physiotherapy treatment. The location has been known and popular for over a thousand years, however, it was the Soviet regime that shaped its current face.
Radon springs in Tskaltubo
To be honest from the start, radon springs are a bit of a controversy. The treatment, after all, consists of baths in radioactive water! Radon is present in the local water, but it evaporates quickly, thus the patients both receive it from the water and by breathing. Along with calm baths, the local spa facility offers a range of other treatments, such as underwater massage, ascending shower (whatever that is), exercises in a pool, gynecological irrigation and much more.
The water is clear, without any smell and mildly thermal – it almost reaches the temperature of the human body at 33 – 35’C and therefore needs not to be heated.
There are organizations who consider any intake of radon as dangerous to health (such as the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA), but how about the patients who return year after year and claim to feel a significant relief from their ailments? Personally, I got to Tskaltubo after a recommendation from a local orthopedist in Kutaisi, without ever knowing anything about the composition of the water. Having already tried several healing springs both in Slovakia and Pantelleria (Sicily), I was a bit skeptical of the claimed “magic” results of the Tskaltubo spring. My skepticism was gone after I felt a relief from pain and rapidly increased mobility after only three days. It has only been about four months since the car accident that broke my spine, but I almost feel better than before!
Although I googled more information on healing radon springs, there were not many personal experiences to be found – that is partly why I am writing this.
Tskaltubo in the past and today
People have known about the spring in Tskaltubo at least since the 7th century and it has been fairly popular in 12th – 13th century already. The first modern bathhouses were built in the 1830s and a large development project has started in 1930s. Stalin is known to have enjoyed the curative properties of the thermal carbonate radon springs and as the most famous patient, he is often mentioned by the locals. (In my experience, some Georgians have a surprisingly high appreciation for this cruel man in general.) There is a hotel where you can tour his former room, another hotel (abandoned) that also claims having hosted old Djugashvili and you can even see his private pool (but not bath in it, it has been dry for years) in the spring number 9.
Most of the monumental communist architecture from the 30s and 50s is abandoned at this time; there are plans for development and the revitalization of the beautiful park where the springs are located is ongoing (roads, playgrounds, plans for a shopping center, mini golf…), but currently, Tskaltubo is a perfect place for travelers interested in urbex, abandoned places, and Soviet architecture. There is even a company organizing such tours in Georgia and they bring their visitors here to check out the exact spot where Stalin liked to soak himself. (Probably while discussing some party purge plans with his comrades.)
Nowadays, only a handful of springs are working, but they are in a good shape, clean, with kind and helpful staff (who sometimes even speak English).
In the Soviet times, hundreds of thousands of patients flocked to the local large health center. People have told me they used to wait for two or three years to get a ticket for the treatment! Nowadays, you can visit whenever you wish and although the number of patients is lower, the center is certainly busy, mostly with elderly people and children, most coming for health reasons, but some simply for relaxing.
Physiotherapy and treatments in Tskaltubo
Four months after the injury, I started the physiotherapy treatment at this spa. After consulting the local doctor, I was advised to do a pool exercise every morning, electro-massage (that one was weird) and calm baths in the afternoon. I wasn’t too convinced that I’d be leaving that much healthier – at first I just wanted to learn the exercises and go my own way – but after having spoken with other patients (most of them come from Azerbaijan where these baths are widely known and popular) and feeling a fast progress myself, I was completely convinced. This is surely not the last time I am visiting these baths!
Radioactive or not, these thermal baths have helped me get rid of back and leg pains, gain more flexibility (I have spent about two months in bed after my accident and certainly needed this), but also cured my eczema (let’s see when or if it comes back!) and eased some gynecological issues I’ve been having for years since undertaking a heavy treatment with antibiotics during my dengue fever. I felt these results very quickly (after first three days) although the least recommended time is 10 days, preferably 2 – 3 weeks. (I stayed for two weeks in the end and can’t wait to return.)
Read more: How to Avoid Dengue Fever When You Travel?
Food and accommodation in Tskaltubo
There are few restaurants in the village where you can eat, but if you don’t mind cooking, some of the guesthouses also offer you the use of their kitchen. There is a relatively large bazaar (for the size of the village) where you can buy a plethora of fruits, homemade cheese, honey and other delicious products for good prices (at least in the summer).
As for where to sleep, there are several hotels on the fancier side (some with a pool etc.), but you can also stay in a guesthouse that takes more pity on your budget. Look for Russian signs on the gates or ask for a “komnata”. (Say: “U vas yest komnata?”) We paid 30 GEL for a spacious room in a beautiful guesthouse and stayed with an incredibly nice family who ended up inviting us to eat almost daily. (That is, whenever they saw us.)
If you are on the tight side of the finances, there is no problem with camping in the central park. The guardsman is a nice guy and will likely show you the flattest spots around. (We did this in the beginning for a few nights.) This will leave you close to the bathing facilities, bathrooms and drinking water, although a little further from food. Some people squat in the abandoned buildings at times, but beware – some also occasionally use them as a toilet! The only problem with camping in the park is that the police will be worried about you – we got checked at least three times and the police officers ended up driving us to a safer place because they didn’t want us to get robbed.
Healing springs in Tskaltubo
Although I don’t believe in miracles, I was happy to be proven wrong in Tskaltubo’s radon waters. I have felt the effects of my physiotherapy very quickly and one month after the treatment, I still feel very good. I got rid of several of my problems that I didn’t even hope to address in this spa, such as skin allergy and gynecological issues.
Although there are few medical pieces of research in English to be googled about the effect of radon water on human health, after speaking with other guests of the spa and undergoing the treatments myself, I think these waters in combination with easy exercise were ideal to help me get better after my serious injury in April 2017.
Since I am not a doctor and thus can not give you a medical advice, I will only say that I hope to go back for another two weeks in a few months time. If you have similar problems as me, perhaps a treatment in Tskaltubo is what you need.
I was obviously a bit confused and worried about the effect of radon on human body, however, I have recently watched a documentary film called Babushkas of Chernobyl which suggests that our city lifestyle might be even more harmful than heavy exposure to radioactivity. As unrelated as it seems, it gave me a different perspective and eased my own worries. (Not that I recommend you to move to the restricted zone, but you know.)
A bit unrelatedly, it was also very funny to do the exercises – picture a group of elderly women with various ailments, many of them obese, who jump around in a pool naked, happily singing while their bones and muscles hurt less and less. Let’s not forget about a Russian nurse in her fifties who counts raz, dva, tri, chtyri – if something will give you a taste of the Soviet style, well this might as well be it.
Stay tuned: Coming soon, I am preparing an article full of photos from my urban exploration of Tskaltubo!
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