The story of Karma hostel in Martvili is so amazing, we will jump straight to the interview with its founders.
Tell us about yourself, who are you?
We are two Belgians and one Polish, each of us from very different backgrounds. We have a social worker, academic researcher and actress/vide maker. None of us had any experience in starting a business, let alone a hostel business prior to this – except for the fact that we all love travelling.
How was your first experience in Georgia? What you liked and what didn’t?
Georgia was kind of love at first sight for all of us. It’s been amazing to live in a relatively small country that has everything, ranging from big mountains and nature to historical cities and a lively urban scene full of culture, clubs and bars. Georgia is super safe and easy to start a business, and people are friendly and hospitable. Adventure is around every corner here, which can work as a distraction sometimes when you have work to do for your business but that’s another matter haha. As for the negative sides, we are positive people and do not dwell too much on negative stuff.
What pushed you to live in Georgia, specifically in Martvili? It’s a tiny town, still poorly assimilated.
A lot of other foreigners would agree that Georgia has this magnetic power to persuade people visiting to stay longer and then end up living here. A lot of the reasons we mentioned before.
So why Martvili? Martvili is a real gem yet too often overlooked by tourists and by Georgians as well! It has the well-known canyons (Martvili canyon and Okatse canyon) but also so many hidden, wild spots (hot springs, waterfalls, canyons etc) that give Martvili a lot of potential for tourism. At the same time there wasn’t a bohemian-styled hostel yet like the one we wanted to build, so we just jumped into it.
We live in Nakharebao a small village 3km from the center of Martvili. Although we cannot ignore the socio-economic and other challenges that many villages in Georgia face, village life itself was kind of refreshing for us. When we just moved here, our neighbours couldn’t understand why 3 Europeans would move to a small village on the Georgian countryside. For us it felt like going back to the roots, having animals (sheep, pig, chickens) growing our own veggies, building and renovating with our own hands, just slowing down the pace compared to our often hectic city lives from before. Last but not least, being able to introduce our guests to life in the village just felt like an amazing thing to do.
There’s also a strong community feeling among the neighbours here, we all help each other out, that is really heartwarming for us.
How and under what conditions did you find a house, where you are living now and where the hostel is too.
The house had been abandoned for 15 years before we bought it. It’s like the last owner went to buy some bread in the morning and never came back, with all the furniture, books and clothes just like it was – there were even half full glasses of water on the tables – just covered with a thick layer of dust.
It was a beautiful house with a big garden, nice neighbours and a lot of potential and, just like with Georgia, we fell in love with it immediately.
How did the hostel create idea come from?
As we are all travelers ourselves, our dream was to create the ultimate hostel where we would liked to stay ourselves, and we really succeeded in doing that. We wanted to build a hostel rather than a hotel because we are backpackers ourselves so we were determined to have very comfortable, yet affordable dormitory beds as well, besides private rooms. This also creates a good mix between different types of guests.
What difficulties did you face in the process of living here & creating a hostel?
Well the language barrier is one, Georgian is not the easiest language to learn – to say the least – but at the same time Georgians are very forgiving to people who are trying to learn the language, even when we make a lot of mistakes.
A lot of the other ‘difficulties’ turned out to be a positive thing really. The limitations to get certain building materials and tools, for example, made us a lot more creative throughout the whole process. Instead we re-used literally all the old material from the house, as well as natural material that we could find in the area (like drifwood, bamboo, tree branches). It kind of forced us to look at every object and think „how can we use this in a different way?”. We made cabinets out of old floor planks, lamps out of driftwood, a bar from of empty beer bottles…
In our home countries people would call this ‘upcycling’ but for our neighours its actually the most logic thing to do, everything can be useful. In the end it is all a matter of the time and effort – rather than money – you want to put into it. But if you love doing something, time and effort is not really an issue.
Why “Karma” and What does the KARMA Hostel offer to its customers and what distinguishes it from others?
Karma, for us, is about your actions and the way you treat other people, plants and things. We want our guests to walk in and immediately feel welcome and feel at home. It’s just pure joy to be sitting surrounded by beautiful, unique hand crafted design and eating organic vegetarian food. Everything is done by ourselves and all is made with a love for detail. When people feel comfortable they open up to each other and their surroundings. It creates good karma among everyone.
People want to come to a hostel to be part of something, a community feeling, with moments, talks and drinks to share but also have the space to be by themselves and enjoy a good book or just hang in the hammock.
Our goal has always been to create a hostel that can accommodate travelers in the traditional sense of the word as well as families with kids. Kids really love our place! All our animals are sweet and like to be pet, our cat, dogs, sheep, even our piggy! There’s a big garden to play in including a cozy tree house. It’s really a children’s paradise.
We saw some traditional Sufra pictures full of with Megrelian dishes, who made it? And also tell us about your staff.
We like cooking challenges, the traditional Supra was an special event for our guests that we prepared together with our neighbour. It was a real masterclass of Megrelian cuisine for us as well.
Our food is rarely very traditional however. When we cook Georgian or Megrelian dishes it’s usually with a creative twist. Nearby restaurants are cooking great Megrelian food so whenever our guests want to try local food, we are sending them there. Instead we focus on surprising our guests and sometimes pushing them a bit out of their comfort zone. At Karma we always cook vegetarian meals using local and seasonal products and we are proud to say that we managed to convince even the most hardcore meat eaters that vegetarian dishes can be very delicious as well!
What services does your hotel offer to customers and what is included in the cost of the room?
Karma hostel is not, and will never be, a big commercial touristic company. We offer our guests a personalized experience. We live here ourselves so it’s less a business and more a cozy, bohemian homestay. Karma hostel is about having the village experience but with quality accommodation. Guests can choose from three private rooms as well as a big dormitory, each with its own unique character. We have one shared bathroom with four spacious showers and three toilets. The hostel has a big garden for people to enjoy, with vegetables, a cozy campfire area and hammocks. We even built our own bar out on-site, it’s the perfect spot for people to have a good time in the evening!
We opened in 2018. In our first year we mainly hosted foreign tourists. During the pandemic, however, the borders were closed. So people living here, both Georgians and expats, discovered our place and saw it as the perfect city escape. This has been a new experience for us so we decided to organize a series of weekend events for the upcoming season.
We’re thinking of yoga classes, ecology events, family weekends with activities for kids and much-needed quality time for the parents. We’ve already had a huge interest for cooking classes from our guests who fell in love with our creative vegetarian style of cooking. So we are planning to give cooking masterclasses in the future. Of course we’ll make sure to invite our neighbour to teach some traditional Megrelian dishes. To stay updated, follow us on social media.
Do you have any additional offers? For example: Canyon & Dadiani Residence tours, cooking masterclasses, hiking and etc.
We are both a hostel and your guide to the hidden spots of Martvili for all curious travellers from around the world. We know all of the good spots! Martvili has a lot of them, canyons, waterfalls, hot springs, hiking trails, abandoned buildings… something interesting for everyone.
We offer tours along the nicest spots in the region. For us it’s always been important to follow the rhythm of our guests, not rushing through all the possible canyons and waterfalls with just enough time to take a picture. But instead to let them enjoy each place and take their time if they like. Our own experience as backpackers learns us that travel is about experiences, not about discounts or just pictures.
How can interested people contact you and book a place at KARMA Hostel?
And finally, what about future plans?
Our plans for the near future is all about making our little village paradise even more magical. Cultivating our own vegetables, making our garden even more green and colourful than before and creating more handmade pieces to decorate our house and make it a more pleasant experience for our guests.
And who knows, maybe in the far future we start build another Karma hostel somewhere in Georgia. Cause we still have lot of creativity and love in us to give!