Looking for a nearby destination to celebrate the National Day weekend? With its medieval town and fascinating culture, Baku makes for an intriguing break
LOSE YOURSELF IN HISTORY
After a three-hour flight, start your journey in Azerbaijan’s capital city in its Unesco-listed İçəri Şəhər or “old city” – a cobblestoned labyrinth of ancient mosques, mansions and domed hammams, surrounded by fortress walls. Wander along its tree-lined streets and quiet courtyards, pop into museums, galleries and boutiques or pull up a chair at one of the many outdoor cafes for live music, shisha and a cup of tea.
DRINK MORE TEA
One of the most endearing elements of Azerbaijan’s culture is its tea-drinking rituals. And everywhere you go, you’ll be welcomed with a pear-shaped glass of perfumed black çay. It’s usually brewed in a samovar – most of the time over a wood fire – and is served hot and strong. Homemade preserves and compotes known as murabba will always accompany your tea, too. They’re wonderfully moreish, best eaten by the spoonful and made from just about any in-season produce.
EAT AZERI CUISINE
Azerbaijan’s culinary offering is diverse. We’d say don’t leave the country without tasting as much as possible, which is doable, if you follow these tips: always have breakfast (from a bountiful spread) over order on the qutab (wafer-thin pancakes cooked at street-side stalls); go for all grilled meats, especially kebabs; definitely do the dolma (vine leaves stuffed with meat, onion, rice, herbs, and mint); pile your plate with plov (a buttery rice pilaf) and be brave and try the “screaming stew”.
RISE AND SHINE
Head to Baku’s Yasil Bazaar early in the morning where you will find local fruit and vegetable vendors selling baskets of red, yellow and white cherries; piles of plump, juicy peaches; fresh hazelnuts; stacks of shallots; punnets of rosy red tomatoes; bags of spices and Azeri tea, of course.
HEAD TO THE HEYDAR ALIYEV CENTRE
It’s difficult to miss the swooping, shiny white curves of this building, designed by renowned architect, Zaha Hadid. Inside this striking space, there’s an entire floor of detailed scale models of Azerbaijan’s most important architectural works and a concise ethnographic museum. Outside you’ll find undulating green hills with flower fields and whimsical modern art sculptures.
BOOK A ROOM WITH A VIEW
For the ultimate visa over the Caspian Sea, and the chance to stay in the Baku’s famed, flickering Flame Towers, stay at the Fairmont set in the heart of the city. It’s minutes away from most major attractions, offers great dining options and a Carol Joy Spa.