Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Yes, Europe, because Georgia lies west of the Caucasus Mountains, which form the dividing line between Europe and Asia. This alluring city is a fascinating blend of eastern and western cultures. Magnificent Byzantine churches rub shoulders with futuristic glass and steel bridges and public buildings, and ancient sulphur baths share cobblestone streets with trendy cafés where the addictively delicious meat- or vegetable-filled khinkali dumplings are served steaming hot.
The Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace, which opened in June following a four-year closure and a $50 million refurbishment, was built in 1989 during Georgia’s Communist period. In those days, it was “a beacon of light” for the city and hosted VIPs such as Ray Charles, David Beckham, Diego Maradona and Colin Powell.
The solemn Soviet-era architecture has been given a sweeping luxury makeover, and the rebranding to Sheraton Grand has catapulted it to 21st-century standards of style and sophistication. Back on its pedestal as Tbilisi’s iconic hotel, it now boasts the city’s largest ballroom that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests, and was the venue for the lavish inaugural dinner.
The immense atrium, which soars to 10 floors, sports new glass-sided elevators and has spacious seating and working areas, and the charming community managers are always on hand to assist guests with in-house queries.
The Executive Twin Room has a balcony with scenic views of Old Tbilisi.
The 220 Deluxe, Executive and Club rooms, the eight Executive suites and the Presidential and Royal suites blend muted pastel shades with contemporary design, and there are two Deluxe King rooms for guests with disabilities. We had a ninth-floor Executive Room measuring 506 square feet with a desk area, comfortable couch seating and views of Old Tbilisi. There are 89 rooms and suites with balconies and this view — and it really is a winner. Good to know: Rooms on the eighth and ninth floors have the best outlook.
What you see are the surrounding mountains, the Mtkvari River, the huge statue of Mother Georgia holding a welcoming cup in one hand and a sword to warn off enemies in the other, and rising above the rooftops of the historical old town, the magnificent Holy Trinity Cathedral. All this can also be viewed from the Club Lounge (for Club room and suite guests) and the Craft House Bar.
What we loved: Our welcome gift was a chilled bottle of Espresso Martini in an ice bucket and, beside the (extremely comfortable) king-size bed, a colored pebble on a coaster read: “Take me to p’auza for an extra 20 minutes for free on top of your 50-minute aroma massage.”
The modern p’auza spa has four single treatment rooms and one suite. Assistant recreation manager Megi Kveladze ([email protected]; 011-955-332-772-020, ext. 5430) tells us they use Elemis products, and recommends the Hammam Ritual treatment using local mineral clays. There are also indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a fitness center with Technogym equipment.
The Presidential Suite, measuring 1,194 square feet, and The Royal Suite (1,625 square feet, with a kitchen) are on a private-access floor and have separate living / dining areas, dual bathroom sinks and balconies. For families, there are 12 connecting rooms.
Feast Restaurant has breakfasts and all-day dining, also on the terrace beside the outdoor pool. The 10th-floor Ati is known for grills and slow-cooked beef, lamb and pork dishes that are recommended for four guests sharing. The wine list has a range of Georgian reds and whites, many of which have been aged in the typical qvevri clay pots, an ancient tradition listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Insider Secret: The lobby’s Wine Library hosts regular tastings of local vintages, many of which are from small craft winemakers who proudly remind visitors that their wines date back to 6000 B.C., making Georgia one of the world’s oldest producers.
The Feast Restaurant is the hotel’s all-day dining spot.
General manager Fred Smits ([email protected]; 011-995-577-522-011) is the person to reach out to with VIP queries, and director of sales Givi Bitsadze (Givi.bitsadze; 011-995-322-772-020) tells us community manager Anuki Enukidze ([email protected]; 011-995-579-535-200) is the liaison for guests in need of special in-house attention.
The hotel is a vigorous 15-minute walk from the quaint old town, but taxis are inexpensive and easily available. The go-to for information on what to do and how to do it in Tbilisi is head concierge Erekle Asatashvili ([email protected]; 011-995-599-007-759).
We asked Asatashvili about the funicular railway we could see from our room. He told us it climbs up Mount Mtatsminda to the amusement park, but suggested taking a car up to the top to dine in the Chela Restaurant in a grand historical building that dates to 1936. This restaurant has hosted countless visiting dignitaries from Margaret Thatcher to Fidel Castro, and has truly spectacular views over the city. Top Tip: Ask Asatashvili to secure a table on the terrace or beside a window for the view, and to enjoy the luscious boat-shaped cheesy khachapuri pies and juicy khinkali dumplings.
Turn to the concierge team for transfers from the international airport, which is 15 minutes by car from the old town, and is well-served by major European and Gulf carriers, putting Tbilisi into the running for long weekend breaks. We flew in on Turkish Airlines, with a stopover at Istanbul Airport, which is the newest and largest in the world.
The new terminal building has a glittering shopping area with all the big brands and many stores selling affordable and beautiful Turkish crafts. We also checked out the classy Miles&Smiles business lounge, which has a grand piano, Turkish and international live cooking stations, oodles of comfortable seating, suites with showers and even a children’s racing track.
The Atrium soars to 10 floors, sports new glass-sided elevators and has spacious seating and working areas.
Tbilisi means “warm place,” and is famous for its hot springs. Of the dozen ancient sulphur bathhouses in the central district of Abanotubani, we chose the Orbeliani Baths (011-995-322-930-093) with a beautiful blue-tiled façade. Rooms are rented by the hour and go from budget with a hot pool (the water reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit) to a large luxury VIP room with a hot pool, sauna, cold pool, shower and toilet. Good to know: Doors lock on the inside so there is no need for swimwear. Massages and khisas, the traditional scrubs with an exfoliating mitt followed by lots of soapy suds, cost extra and are given by competent professionals.
In this area, Tbilisi’s old houses cling to the cliff face next to the waterfall under the ancient Narikala Fortress, which can be reached by cable car, and from where you can walk to the Mother Georgia statue. With their pastel colors and delicately carved ornate wooden balconies, the houses look straight out of a fairy tale. Nearby Shardeni Street is the hub of Tbilisi’s nightlife with bars, nightclubs and galleries that spill outside in the warmer months and stay open until the small hours.
For an introduction to Georgian traditions, Asatashvili’s concierge team steered us to a popular restaurant, In the Shadow of Metechi (011-995-322-303-030), which has live Georgian music and dancing, and a menu of local specialities.
High-flying Millennials will not want to miss Fabrika (011-99-532-202-039), an old Soviet sewing and knitting factory that has been turned into cafes and craft shops. This is the place to go to pick up fun fashions, tableware, vinyl records and vintage board games. It also has Georgia’s first ramen restaurant, and is a popular venue for street markets and musical events.