Set on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan straddles the borders of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, a country of contradictions.
Known as the ’Land of Fire’, Azerbaijan is home to ancient historical empires, hilltop castles, timeless rural villages, the Great Caucasus mountains and their snow-capped peaks.
By contrast, its oil-rich capital Baku has in recent years emerged as a flourishing cosmopolitan hub, its skyline changing by the week.
The city played host to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, how much that had to do with the boom is hard to tell but one thing’s for sure, it is fast becoming a must-go destination.
Testament to its newfound status, Baku has just playing host to the first ever European Olympic Games. The colossal event has seen billions spent on a vast new athletics stadium, and state of the art aquatics, gymnastics and BMX venues, further cementing Baku’s place on the world stage.
There is more grand infrastructure on the way as Baku’s Black City is redeveloped by Foster and Partners into the modern new centre; Baku White City. The new development will include retail and leisure outlets across 10 neighbourhoods, housing around 50,000 people, this metropolis in the making is set to open in 2021.
There’s no doubt the city is striving to become the Dubai of the Caspian.
Baku, the essentials…
What to do
The ancient heart of Baku lies within its Old Town, a now beautifully restored Unesco World Heritage site which is home to the 12th-century monument of Icherisheher, the Maiden Tower – the symbol of Baku. Shady courtyards can be found nestled amongst the streets, ideal places to stop by and soak up the history of centuries gone by. The Art Garden gallery and restaurant is one such place, stop by in the evening when live jazz entertains the crowds.
Fire has been worshipped in Baku since the ancient times, hence no trip is complete without a visit to the magical Ateshgah Fire Temple in a small town on the Northeast edge of the city. Stop by Fire Mountain, where gas seeps from a hillside causing flames to burst naturally from the ground come rain or shine.
The Boulevard is Baku’s answer to Cannes’ La Croisette; a tree-lined waterfront promenade running parallel to the shore of the Caspian Sea. Last year, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum open on the Boulevard, shaped like a giant rolled carpet, the museum captures the country’s love of making carpets complete with carpet-making demonstrations
If it’s more than carpet shopping that you’re after, then it’s the elegant Port Baku Mall that you want for all the iconic designer names. You can find everything from Joe Malone perfume to Jane Packer flowers at luxury fashion and lifestyle concept store Emporium. Whereas the newly opened Harvey Nichols is home to not just seven floors of tempting retail therapy but also to a rooftop bar and club.
What to see
Zaha Hadid’s spectacular Heyday Aliyev Centre has fast become Baku’s most identifiable icon .
Baku Museum of Modern Art is home to both an impressive collection of avant-garde Azerbaijani art and works by internationally renowned masters such as Picasso, Dali and Chagall.
There is a reawakening of the arts in Baku and come July and August there is a citywide public art festival curated by Yarat, the non-for-profit art platform deducated to nurturing an understanding of contemporary art in Azerbaijan.
Where to eat
On the boulevard overlooking Baku’s long waterfront you’ll find Bisque Café the perfect spot for people-watching as you tuck into something delicious
Amburan Beach Club is the coastal hangout to see and be seen whether for watersports, sunbathing or top DJs.
Where to stay
Azerbaijan is known for being home to nine of the eleven internationally recognised climate zones and just 200 kilometres to the north east of Baku is Azerbaijan’s first and largest ski resort; the Shahdag Mountain Resort Complex.
The resort sits in the foothills Azerbaijan’s Greater Caucasus mountain range, near Shahdag National Park, which is known for it’s stunning untouched natural beauty. Mountain lakes and waterfalls, steep valleys, dense forests and mountain glaciers all contribute to the magnificence of this region.
Known for it’s stunning untouched natural beauty
Pik Palace Shahdag Hotel is a premier luxury destination offering world-class skiing facilities at a breathtaking 2,500 meters above sea level. Nestled mid-mountain, the Pik Palace boasts stunning views of the untouched mountains that can be taken in through the floor-to-ceiling windows in one of the 167 bedrooms, complete with French balconies. The oversized marble bathrooms feature twin sinks, vast bathtubs and walk-in rain showers. Meanwhile, The Spa caters for every taste with both indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, whirlpools and an extensive treatment list. Dining options in the hotel range from the Chocolat Café and Alpina Brasserie & Wine Bar to the Fujisan Asian Restaurant.
The nearby Park Chalet Hotel is an all-season resort hoping to redefine the mountain getaway. From skiing and snowboarding in winter to mountain trekking, horse riding and biking in summer, there’s plenty to keep guests occupied all year round.
The hotel’s 164 bedrooms and suites combine simplicity and timeless design with breathtaking views over the mountains.