There are few destinations in the world that are still off the beaten path, but Baku should be at the top of your ‘must see’ list.
Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan, a small country located at the intersection of East and West. It’s a cultural melting pot with an ancient fire religion, medieval ruins, and Islamic traditions; it also spent nearly 70 years behind the Iron Curtain.
Here are the reasons why you should arrange a vacation to modern-day Baku right now to eat, sit, roam, and have your mind expanded by the cultural encyclopedia.
You’ll pass through majestic Imperial Russian structures, curving lines of the Orient, austere soviet apartment blocks, and magnificent achievements of modern design in the span of a few blocks. Of course, Baku’s heart, the UNESCO-listed Old City, which goes back to the 12th century, is definitely worth visiting.
You may easily spend a day just visiting the exteriors of this mosaic-like city, whether you’re an architecture specialist or simply a curious traveler.
There’s a Hillside on Fire All The Time
Yanar Dag, or ‘flaming mountain,’ is a famous Azerbaijani sight, and getting up close to it is rather spine-tingling. The entire hill used to be entirely aflame, according to evidence dating back to the fifth century, but the natural gases have slowly dwindled over time. Only a few square meters remain, and it is expected to be completely gone by 2020.
The country is nicknamed as ‘The Land of Fire’ because of its strong connection to the element of fire. The Ateshgah fire temple is nearby, and it has a long history as a center of pilgrimage for both Hindus and Zoroastrians. Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest continuously practiced religions, with many aspects of its culture still visible in Azerbaijan. Fire is sacred to the Azeri people, and you’ll see innumerable references to its flickering flames in their daily lives.
The Azeris are proud of their carpet-making heritage, so it’s only natural that a museum dedicated to the woven marvels exists. The museum includes three levels of exquisite art and history, and you’ll learn that carpets may be used for a variety of purposes. There’s even a carpeted mustache cover to keep every hipster’s facial hair safe.
The Shirvanshah Museum Restaurant, a museum of a different kind, is a must-see. You can choose from a maze of elaborately painted chambers in this medieval bath house, as well as sample a variety of traditional Azerbaijani delicacies. There are innumerable chambers between the stairwells and tapestries, each with a different subject and depicting a different aspect of Azerbaijan’s history (you can even choose to dine in a meticulous recreation of a Soviet era kitchen). This popular (and well praised) museum slash restaurant has a team of over 35 cooks that can cater for up to 1000 customers at a time.
Baku is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the world, and you can easily go around on two feet all day (and night). Take an afternoon stroll in the Old City, exploring hidden alcoves and passageways. For a pre-dinner stroll, head to the promenade, where you’ll get a beautiful view of the Caspian Sea and the newest structures along the coast. After dinner, spend some time with the people on Nizami Street, the city’s main thoroughfare. It’s a pedestrian and shopping street lined with restaurants and bars below ground. The finest action, though, is up above, when the city comes alive with locals walking their dogs, catching up for tea, and simply soaking up the ambiance as the evening progresses.
While Georgian wine is the center of attention, Azerbaijan is only across the border. Both of these places have a similar style and terroir, so sample some local wine while you’re there.
There are some distinct grape varietals such as Madrasa and Saperavi, as well as related processes and customs, such as the use of amphora for fermenting. For the full experience, go to one of Baku’s newer wine bars, like as Kelfi. There’s also pomegranate wine, however it has a distinct flavor…
The waiter who finds out exactly what you’re hungry for and then proposes the appropriate pick from the menu with a smile is the frosting on the cake of a fantastic meal. Of course, it is the PEOPLE who genuinely distinguish a location.
Throughout my time in Baku, I only encountered true friendliness. The Azeris are extremely proud of their culture and are eager to share it with anyone who is interested. Are you a foodie? When you ask how something is manufactured, don’t be surprised if you’re invited into a kitchen.