Baku Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan has for centuries been regarded as the threshold of Western civilisation and Eastern tradition. It is a country in which people with diverse backgrounds, religions and languages have struggled to live together, forging a national identity that is always somewhere in between East and West. Nowhere do cultures blend as seamlessly and chaotically as in Baku, the country’s capital and largest city. But along Baku’s tree-lined boulevards and weather-beaten walls, a further two elements collide.

History meets modernity on every corner of this metropolis. The Old City’s patchwork of sandy rooftops draped in rich, traditional tapestries contrasts with modern ‘new town’ buildings in the shape of crescent moons and flames.

Oil, the source of Baku’s riches, is also indissolubly connected with its history. People from throughout the world used to bow before Baku’s eternal flames, fanned by the mysterious ‘fire water’ that rose up through the earth’s surface. Today, though far evolved from fire worship, oil fuels businesses and Baku’s burgeoning contemporary art scene. It has set alight a city that is now glowing as one of the most promising capitals in the world.

Wake up at JW Marriott HOTEL ABSHERON

674 Azaldiq Square, Baku, AZ1010

Located just off Baku’s seafront boulevard, The Marriott Absheron is an ideal base for exploration of the city. Rooms are spacious and slick, with earth-toned décor and cavernous white bathtubs. In contrast, the hotel’s communal areas are delightfully kitsch – keep your eyes peeled for neon-coloured rubber ducks and stray statues of meerkats. The breakfast buffet is vast and varied, while the in-house restaurant, Fireworks, serves an impressive international menu.Rooms from £140 per night

Climb up THE MAIDEN TOWER

Within the fortified walls of Baku’s sleepy Old City lies layer upon layer of history. Near the shore of the Caspian Sea, the 12th-century Maiden’s Tower is one of Baku’s most beloved landmarks. One legend tells of a king who fell in love with his beautiful daughter and wished to marry her. The maiden, horrified, flung herself from the top of the tower and into the waves of the sea. Climb to the top of the tower and take in the over the Old City, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stop for lunch at THE SULTAN INN 20 Boyuk Gala, Icheri Sheher, Baku

Mere footsteps from the Maiden’s Tower, The Sultan Inn is the perfect place for an indulgent lunch. Their Terrace Garden rooftop restaurant is a welcome suntrap during the summer months, with its views over both old and new Baku. Azeri cuisine is fragrant and light – try the dovgba soup (yoghurt, rice and herbs) and the nar govurma pilaf (rice, lam chestnuts, onion and pomegranate) with a glass of tannic local wine.

Walk along the Boulevard to the AZERBAIJAN CARPET MUSEUM

28 Mikayil Useynov Avenue, The Seaside Boulevard, Baku

Work off lunch with a stroll along Baku’s three-kilometre boulevard that runs parallel to the Caspian seafront. Pass worn yet wonderful fairground rides and head toward the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum – it’s impossible to miss because it’s shaped like, well, a carpet. The traditional art of carpet weaving is central to this colourful country and Azeri rugs are exhibited in the most famous museums of St. Petersburg, London and Paris. Learn about this age-old craft and even take home a piece of Azerbaijan from the gift shop.

Have dinner at BUDDHA BAR99 Neftchilar Avenue, Absheron, Baku AZ1010

Having spent a day absorbing the traditional side of Baku, discover its more cosmopolitan streak with dinner at Buddha Bar. Oversized lanterns, etchings of dragons and an oriental colour scheme feel a world away from the walled fortress of the Old City. Try the chicken salad with Asian dressing, gyozo and mixed sashimi alongside your cocktail. More evidence that Baku is keeping up with other capitals of the world.

Dance at the MUGAM CLUB9, H.Rzaeva str., Baku

If only the walls of the Mugam Club could talk. The space was a former caravan stop along the silk route and the deep, stone alcoves used to sleep the camels of traders passing by. In modern Baku, light floods the Mugam courtyard by day, making it the perfect stop for Azeri tea sweetened with just-set cherry jam. The club really comes to life at night however, when tea lights lace the water fountain, and when Azerbaijani folk music plays. If you’re lucky you’ll witness the locals dancing – describing it as energetic doesn’t even cut it.

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