Hospitality is a tenet many hotels boast, but few get right. At its core is a nuanced balance of generosity and respect that forms lasting memories, an intuitive response that has evolved into a competitive industry.
Georgia, is widely extolled for its hospitality. There is no better way to find out why than checking into the Rooms Hotels with their 94% occupancy rate, an impressive achievement for any major global tourism destination, let alone a place many would struggle to locate on a map. Being here is like reliving a happy end fairytale complete with ancient towers, bountiful feasts and utmost natural beauty.Welcome to Georgia!
Here, hospitality is more than a virtue, but a deeply rooted tradition. Guests are literally god-sent, as Georgian proverb states, and welcomed with a degree of generosity that exceeds common etiquette of most western cultures. Hosts don’t just offer a meal, a bed, a courteous smile. As you manifest good fortunes, they make you feel like you’re meant to be there, treat you to local delicacies, make genuine toasts in your honor. You leave with an unshakable feeling that they can’t wait to see you again. It’s this rare fondness otherwise experienced among close kin that makes Georgian hospitality stand out.
…And then there is the scenery!
Awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, all an understatement. Rooms Hotel Kazbegi rests 1800 meters high on the majestic Caucasus Mountain of Stepantsminda in the pastoral capital of the secluded Kazbegi region.
Time stands still encompassed by massifs and gorges. The visual impact of the towering mountain range is so striking that even hotelier Valeri Chekheria, CEO of Adjara Group Hospitality, is stunned every time he visits the property.
“For the first few hours, I don’t take any meetings,” says Chekheria. “I don’t answer my phone. I don’t even move. I just sit on the terrace watching the mountains.” Here, one starts to realize the true luxury of quiet solitude. Even the most obstinate workaholics surrender to the summits’ mysterious powers.
Tranquility reigns and a moment of such unadulterated lucidity is priceless. The location is just a part of Chekheria’s strategic plan to position Georgia as a premium travelers’ haven. Once a Soviet elite sanatorium, the property was abandoned for decades. “We couldn’t even find any pictures of it. It was just a ruin.”
Re-envisioned by Tbilisi-based duo Nata Janberidze and Keti Toloraia, the inimitable property with 156 rooms combines the grandeur of its environment with contemporary touches and traditional elements into a rustic-luxe aesthetic. All interiors and exteriors are timber-clad. Every refashioned plank tells a story of the nation’s past. The design team scouted remote villages for repurposed wood that holds the spirit of at least 200 years of domestic hospitality. Though the hotel is sleek with folkish minimalism, well-curated Soviet posters give it a sense of nostalgia, making it feel like some eccentric family member’s home full of favorite childhood memories.
The communal spaces are designed so that every spot ends up being a million-dollar vantage point. In no time, it becomes clear that this formidable terrain is the perfect launch pad to embark on any number of extraordinary adventures. A light trek to the Arsha waterfall, a mild hike to the iconic Gergeti Trinity Church, or a challenging three-day journey to upper Khde Valley, all give a chance to immerse in the local heritage.
Among the extreme sports diehards, Kazbegi is a cult heli-skiing destination given its extreme slopes. However, you could also just set up camp in the hotel backyard to experience the great outdoors without straying too far from luxury amenities: the expansive sun terrace, casino, library, indoor swimming pool, and a cozy restaurant with a bar, fireplace, and cigar menu. Leisure can be achieved in a variety of ways.
Hotelier Valeri Chekheria shares his passion for Rooms Hotels: “I didn’t want just another hotel, but an international Georgian brand. I sent my team to New York with a list of places to stay: Beverly Inn, Crosby, Ludlow, Gramercy Park… I said, now that you understand the level I am talking about, let’s work 24/7 to make it happen here. Let’s give people all the comforts, but not standard hospitality. Those “welcome home” notes you get in big hotels, it’s nonsense. When I am in New York, I want to be in New York. When you are in Berlin, Hong Kong, wherever, you want to be there and not in the same limbo. How do we make it Georgian without clichés?
Exciting without compromising quality? What if we go to the art school and the film school to recruit staff: young innovators with the right amount of curiosity, creativity and craziness. People told us it was risky hiring people with no hospitality experience, but it worked magic!” The Rooms Hotels became a proud member of the iconic Design Hotels Group in 2014.
For most international guests, their love affair with Georgia begins in the capital city, Tbilisi. Opened in 2012, Rooms Hotel Tbilisi got the cosmopolitan getaway vibe. Set in the heart of the Vera neighborhood, a historic cultural and intellectual hotspot favored by bohemians and free thinkers alike, it is rooted in the arts and crafts heritage of the Caucuses. Feel free to partake in a literary café discussion on Stendhal over a glass of Georgian wines or glean one-of-a-kind souvenirs made by local artisans sipping chacha (a stiff distilled grape spirit).
“Before the Soviet times, France was where Georgians traditionally went for higher education. Intercultural fusion is what we’ve always done best,” notes Chekheria. Rooms Hotel Tbilisi beckons another Georgia out of the richly layered past. It once stood as a neglected 8-floor industrial publishing house.
After the transformation, conceptualized by the owner Teimuraz Ugulava, the 132 rooms property rises as a beacon of modern hospitality due in part to the emerging local designers and artists contributing to its resplendent interiors scrupulously accented with distressed leather, sumptuous velvety textures, vintage rugs, and bold prints. History is ingrained in its antique furnishings like the pristine claw-foot tubs, while the unmistakable changing face of the area is encapsulated in the hotel’s in-house restaurant, The Kitchen. It serves as a local touchstone of nouveau dining mixing an old-world charm with distinctly modern sensibility.
Speaking of Tbilisi’s robust culinary scene, it now welcomes a unique collaboration with the legendary Basque chef Eneko Atxa, whose three Michelin Star rated Azurmendi restaurant in Bilbao, Spain currently ranks #16 in the world. Located at the Rooms Hotel Tbilisi the new venue promises to deliver an unprecedented Georgian-Basque experience. “It seemed a little forced at first, but we discovered such great synergy between our lands in the process: same altitude, same weather patterns, we have similar features and even few common last names.
There is a great great feeling about this!” Such unorthodox bit of clairvoyance appears essential to Rooms Hotels hospitality ethos. Chekheria pushes his team to anticipate the demands of tomorrow and is resolutely optimistic: “I believe we have a hotel concept that welcomes every type of traveler, so that they can enjoy the golden mix of the past and the present, reality and magic… I mean, just among the recent guests we had Sting and [former US Secretary of Defense] Donald Rumsfeld. You want to talk about the range [laughs]… then add Sophia Loren to the mix!” When pressed for an answer about the next set of challenges, he added: “We are starting to have really good competitors. I appreciate that. It means we can welcome more people to Georgia!”
Rooms Hotel Kazbegi and Rooms Hotel Tbilisi are built on the belief that when you visit Georgia, you should experience its temperament, traditions and spirit in a holistic way. Aside from extreme sports and eclectic culinary enthusiasts, Georgia is gaining reputation in the world of fashion thanks to its burgeoning taste for contemporary sophistication. Leading the charge are Georgia-born fashion designers Demna Gvasalia and David Koma who have taken over creative stewardship of famed European couture houses Balenciaga and Mugler, respectively.