A detailed guide to cycling from Batumi to Sarpi along the Black Sea Coast via Gonio Fortress – including essential tips and things to see along the way.
If you’ve already visited the Botanical Garden and you’re looking for a slightly off-beat day trip from Batumi, it’s great fun to cycle down to the Turkish border via Gonio Fortress and Georgia’s Black Sea Coast.
Coming from an island nation, land border crossings are completely fascinating to me. I just love the idea of standing in one country and looking out at another (yes, I’m easy to please!).
The Sarpi-Hopa border is particularly interesting because of the immigration building: An iconic modern structure that’s instantly recognisable as part of Batumi’s whacky architectural canon.
The easiest way to get to the Turkish border from Batumi is to take city bus 16. Or, you can make a day of it and ride a bike all the way down the coast.
Along the way, you’ll pass Gonio Fortress (a top attraction in Batumi), a former military base, a number of interesting villages, waterfalls, and of course lots of beaches. Batumi Beach isn’t the best for swimming so it’s worth venturing out of the city for this reason alone.
In this guide, I’ll run through the cycling route from Batumi to Sarpi in detail, covering everything you need to know to plan a successful day trip, including all the best things to see and do on your way from Batumi to Sarpi.
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Batumi to Sarpi video
To give you an overview of the scenery and what to expect, here’s a short video we made of our bike ride from Batumi to Sarpi in June.
Batumi to Sarpi: Overview & planning your trip
- Distance: 20km (12.5 miles) from the top of Batumi Boulevard to Sarpi Checkpoint (total 40km return)
- Time: Allow 5-6 hours return with time for plenty of photo stops and a visit to Gonio Fortress (make it 7-8 hours if you want to have lunch or visit the beach as well)
- Terrain: Pancake flat and paved roads the whole way
The route from Batumi to Sarpi is straightforward and easy to navigate. The road is completely flat the entire way to the border, apart from a very slight decline into Sarpi.
The ride starts out on Batumi Boulevard, but most of the journey is along the shoulder of the E70 highway. This isn’t exactly pleasant in parts, but as long as you avoid peak hour and keep your wits about you, it isn’t too bad.
Most of the road is exposed and it does get extremely hot, so save the ride for an overcast day. The main thing to watch out for (apart from sunburn) is trucks. Lorries use the E70 to carry cargo between Georgia and Turkey, so the road can be busy and quite dusty in parts. There’s one particular stretch of road to watch out for – see my tips in the next section.
The cycling route is marked here on Wikiloc, but you don’t need to worry about navigation – it’s a straight shot with only one turn off after the airport. In the next section, I’ll break it down in detail.
What to bring with you
- Drinking water. There are freshwater springs to fill up your reusable water bottle along the way.
- Sun protection gear. A hat and sunscreen is essential.
- Swimming gear. If you want to break at one of the beaches, pack your swimmers and a towel.
- Rain gear. Batumi is notorious for sudden-onset showers and storms. If you’re going to be outside for a full day, it’s a good idea to bring a rain jacket and waterproof cover for your backpack with you.
- Camera. As you’ll see, there are lots of photo opportunities along the way!
Also read: My complete packing guide for Georgia.
Where to hire a bicycle in Batumi
I recommend hiring a bike from one of the vendors on Batumi Boulevard rather than using the Batumvelo city bikes, which often aren’t very well maintained.
There are plenty of hire places in the park adjacent to the Seafront Promenade that offer a mix of mountain bikes and city bikes for men, women and children. You might have to shop around to find a bike you like the look of. For this route, a city bike is fine because you’re going to be on paved roads the entire way.
Most of these vendors open at 10am, which unfortunately means you can’t start the ride any earlier than that. Typically, they stay open until 10pm, but you’ll need to double check. You definitely DO NOT want to be cycling along the highway after dark, so give yourself enough time to get back to Batumi before sundown.
The going price for a bike in Batumi is ~5 GEL per hour, but you can negotiate something in the neighbourhood of 20 GEL for a full day (anything longer than 5 hours). You could probably get the price lower, but I think 20 GEL is more than fair. Pay when you collect the bike. No cash deposit or ID is required.
Remember to check the tyres, brakes, gears etc. before you set off. You’re not required to wear a helmet when cycling in Georgia.
Cycling from Batumi to Sarpi via Gonio Fortress
Here’s a breakdown of the route to Sarpi over six stages, plus my suggestions for where to stop along the way.
Part 1: Batumi Boulevard to Batumi Airport
Important: When cycling on Batumi Boulevard, it’s mandatory to use the marked Bicycle Lane (the one that’s painted bright orange).
The first part of the ride is the most enjoyable – it takes you all the way down Batumi Boulevard, along the seafront. My favourite part of the Boulevard is the section that runs along the lagoon.
Once you pass Orbi Towers and Kartuli Hotel, you’ll reach the newer part of the boulevard and the beautiful Lech and Maria Kachinsky Park. There is an interesting public art sculpture inside the park called ‘Flip-flops on Eggs’ that’s worth taking a short detour to see.
The bicycle lane ends just after the park, and this is where you need to turn onto the road. Make a left at the roundabout to get onto the Airport Highway. Once you pass the airport (recognisable for its strange air traffic control tower), turn right onto highway E70.
This part of the road is mainly residential. You’ll see the road is lined with beautiful purple and pink hydrangea bushes. There are a couple of small hotels, as well as the customs yard for trucks coming into Georgia from Turkey.
The section just before the river crossing was my least favourite part of the ride because the road narrows to a single-lane. It’s honestly a bit nail biting riding alongside cargo trucks, but there is enough room on the road shoulder for it to still be safe. Take care, and you will be fine.
Par 2: Crossing the Chorokhi river
Continue following the highway and you’ll eventually come to a bridge over the Chorokhi river. There are separate pedestrian walkways on either side of the bridge that you can use so that you don’t have to ride with the traffic.
In the 19th century, this river was the borderline between the Ottoman Empire and Imperial Russia (a good chunk of Adjara region was Turkish territory). The bridge was blown up in May of 2004 by disgruntled members of the ousted Adjarian Autonomous government, but was later rebuilt.
The part of the waterway you see from the bridge is the mouth of the river, where it joins up with the Black Sea. To the east, the Chorokhi flows through Adjara, along the edge of Machakhela National Park, to its point of origin in central Turkey’s Mescit Mountains.
Part 3: Avgia & the former Military Polygon
After you cross the river, you’ll come to the small town of Avgia. It’s at this point the number of kebab stands starts to outnumber khachapuri restaurants. Many houses and businesses fly the Turkish flag alongside the Georgian. The Adjarian flag (blue-and-white striped with a miniature Georgian flag in the corner) can also be seen.
This part of the highway is much nicer because it’s entirely shaded by tall gum trees.
On the left-hand side of the road, you’ll see a vast paddock dotted with derelict buildings and concrete shelters. The only path down to the paddock is marked with a large sign warning visitors of landmines.
From the small amount of information I could find online, this is the old Gonio Military Polygon, which was used for drills by Russian soldiers stationed at Batumi Military Base, AKA Russian Military Base No. 12.
During the Soviet era, it was the headquarters for the Red Army’s Transcaucasus force. The base and the polygon were evacuated and handed back to Georgia in 2007. It’s an interesting, slightly ominous reminder of the complex politics in the Caucasus.
We were spooked by the sign and took extra care not to cross the invisible threshold between the end of path and the start of the base. On our way back to Batumi later that afternoon, we noticed dozens and dozens of cattle grazing around the buildings… Brave!
Par 4: Gonio Fortress
As you continue south, you’ll see the high stone walls and turrets of Gonio Fortress appear on the eastern road shoulder. Tied to the Greek legend of the Argonauts and Jason’s Golden Fleece, Gonio Apsaros Fortress is one of Adjara’s most important archaeological sites and a top tourist attraction in the area.
The fortress dates back to the 1st century and originally encased a Roman city replete with its own theatre and hippodrome. In Byzantine times, the fortress was a stronghold for Genoese merchants who built a factory inside the walls.
In the mid-1500s, the Ottomans gained control of the area and transformed to their desired profile, adding a mosque and bathhouses. All these layers of history – and the rumoured gravesite of the Apostle Matthew – can be explored today.
Gonio Fortress is open every day from 10am until 6pm. Entrance costs 5 GEL. After your visit, make sure you duck down the side road to view the outer fortifications fringed by fruit trees.
From here, the highway edges closer to the seashore. Gonio beach, a nice section of coast for swimming, comes into view just after the fortress. There are a couple of abandoned Soviet-era hotels along the beachfront. This scene reminded me so much of the derelict Yugoslavian hotels you see all around the Bay of Kotor.
If you like Brutalist architecture, pause here for a quick walk along the beach to see the concrete carcasses.
Part 5: optional detour to Gonio Cross
If you have time, you can make a detour to visit Gonio Cross. The lookout point in the mountains high above the fortress offers spectacular views over the Black Sea and Upper Adjara.
The hike takes roughly 5 hours return. If you don’t have time for it now, consider coming back for sunset one day.
Here is my full guide to the Gonio Cross hike, including directions and a trail map.
Part 6: Kvariati
Kvariati is the second-last beach town on the Georgian side of the border. As you approach Sarpi, you’ll notice the landscape change quite dramatically.
The stone beach finishes at Kvariati, and the coastline turns into steep, jagged black-stone cliffs. This part of the road is very scenic. There are lots of safe places to stop for a view of Sarpi and the Turkish Black Sea Coast as it comes into view, fully visible because of the way the coastline bends.
There are lots of waterfalls along the road shoulder around Kvariati. An impressive sculpture, ‘The Path Through Georgia – The Enlightening Path’, sits next to one of the highest falls.
The larger-than-life bronze sculpture depicts a baptism and is dedicated to Saint Andrew the First Called, a fisherman who became the first of the 12 Apostles. Saint Andrew has special significance in this part of the world – when instructed to go to Georgia by the Virgin Mary to spread the gospel in Russia, Romania and Greece, he arrived by way of Adjara region. He’s remembered as the first preacher of Christianity in the region and the founder of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
I wish I knew more about the sculpture (including the name of the artist), but I can’t find any details online. If you have more info to add, please leave me a comment below!
Part 7: Sarpi & the Turkish Border
From Kvariati, it’s a short 1.2km slight downhill into Sarpi. As you round the final gentle bend, you come face to face with a humongous steel crucifix planted on the side of the road. You’d better believe that it’s visible from Turkey!
Your initial view of Turkey is of the coastline and the tall minaret of the Cami mosque in Hopa, the first town over the border. It feels absolutely magical to sail along this part of the road with Turkey in sight.
When we visited Sarpi, the border had only just reopened after the months-long shutdown. I’m not sure what it’s normally like, but for us it was quite busy, with lorry trucks queued up waiting to pass through customs, similar to what you see at the Russian border on the Georgian Military Highway. There were also a few families crossing by foot with their wheely bags.
The highlight of Sarpi is of course the iconic Sarpi Checkpoint. Designed by German firm J. Mayer H. Architects and finished in 2011, the cantilevered silhouette symbolises “the progressive upsurge of the country.” There’s a viewing platform right at the top, but we didn’t try to go inside. The best views of the building itself are from the rise on the left of the road.
Apart from the border checkpoint, Sarpi has a few cafes, casinos and duty free shops, plus a small black-sand beach. It’s quite strange to see scantily clad sunbathers lolling about in the sun so close to a mosque.
I would have loved to have visited the Sarpi Laz Ethnographic Museum, but sadly all indoor museums were closed at the time of our visit. Next time!
Sarpi doesn’t have that ‘seedy border town’ feel you might expect – it’s actually quite pretty, with hulking magnolia trees along the main road and little lanes winding up to houses in the hills. Sarpi St. Andrew the Apostle Church is a nice little stone church with a beautiful set of bells out front.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that an Orthodox church and a mosque are so prominently visible from the border (and from either country). I wonder which one came first.
If you want, you can take a detour up to one of the higher roads for a panorama of the Georgian church roof, the Turkish minaret, and the borderline in between. We wanted to, but we were too exhausted!
Back to Batumi
To get back to the city, simply follow the same route in reverse.
There are a couple of restaurants you can stop at along the way for a bite. We tried to visit Cafe Rakushkebi Fridastan but it was unfortunately closed for renovations. Kalendere Regional Georgian Food Restaurant in the hills above Kvariati also has good reviews.
Batumi to Sarpi: Final thoughts
There are lots of excellent day trips you can take from Batumi – including to some of the country’s top national parks. While riding from Batumi to Sarpi probably wouldn’t be my first pick of Batumi side trips, it certainly is a fun way to explore the southern part of Adjara.
If you have a spare day and you want to see the Sarpi Checkpoint in person – and if you get a kick out of land border crossings like I do – hire a bike, lather on some sunscreen and go explore this stretch of road that most people fly through.
We are planning to cross the border the opposite way later this year after we visit Eastern Turkey – we’ll see how the experience of travelling by bus compares!
Where to stay in Batumi
I recommend staying close to the waterfront and Batumi Old Town. Nice accommodations can also be found at the opposite end of the seafront on the New Boulevard. For more information, see my detailed guide to the best areas to stay in Batumi.
Here are my top picks:
More Batumi inspiration
- My complete guide to Batumi – the best things to do, see, eat & drink
- Batumi street art guide & map
- The best day trips from Batumi
- Guide to visiting the Batumi Botanical Garden
- Guide to the Gonio Cross trail, Batumi’s best hike
- Guide to visiting Machakhela National Park from Batumi
- My favourite hotels in Batumi, Kartuli Hotel