Too often, city tours are merely elaborations of what you can find in any guidebook. In Georgia, I enjoyed having a local show us major Tbilisi sites like the Narikala fortress, the Meidan, the Abanotubani neighborhood and the Metekhi Church, but the experience I’ll never forget was Rooms Hotel Tbilisi’s private Insider’s Guide tour. No urban explorer should miss it.
Our guide, Alexander, spoke excellent English and showed us numerous places we never would have found on our own, starting with a gorgeous, decaying “Italian courtyard” in the Zemeli neighborhood just off grand Rustaveli Avenue. The wooden spiral staircase connecting the multiple stories of balconies, though apparently still in use, was literally falling apart.
In another hidden courtyard off Rustaveli stood the meticulously restored Gabashvili house, its balconies trimmed with complex, lacy gingerbread. Like many other mansions on Rustaveli, it had been slated for demolition. It was saved only by the efforts of Stalin’s private physician, who was married to the owner’s daughter.