Few people know where Azerbaijan is, let alone its capital Baku. This unique country is geographically part of Asia but potentially a member of the European Union. Safe and settled, I felt at ease roaming the streets, wearing skimpy neon pink beachwear and indulging in cocktails. The culture and spirit of Baku is unlike anything I have experienced before… natural and historic sights and seaside delights are nearby while the main city has buzzing restaurants and an impressive art and jazz scene.
Fairmont Flame Towers – This iconic new hotel is a reference point in Baku city centre. Amid cypress-lined, café-filled streets, the exceptional Fairmont Baku (part of the iconic Flame Towers complex) has just opened revealing 318 beautiful rooms, unrivalled meeting facilities, exceptional dining and bar options and a soon to open ESPA spa with indoor pool. The views are breathtaking and the service is memorably excellent.
Four Seasons Baku – Perhaps the favourite of the five star international accomodation options, this hotel is a real asset to this cosmopolitan oil capital. Four Seasons presents a Beaux-Art style luxury hotel on the waterfront promenade just steps from the old city. It is a sensational place to stay for business or pleasure trips.
Mangal – Cheerful and cheap, Mangal is the ideal place to try a traditional and simple Azeri lunch in the old town. Taste the classic dishes like Lamb Lula Kebab and Aubergine Salad.
Chinar – Recommended by most guides as the top dining choice in Baku, Chinar did not disappoint. Offering exquisite Asian food, tasty cocktails and a huge specialty tea collection, it was the most memorable meal of our trip.
Fireworks at The Marriott Absheron – Overlooking the Baku Azadliq Square, the FireWorks Restaurant terrace was buzzing on a hot Friday night. Enjoy superior salads, juicy grills and a glass of something chilled. A relaxed restaurant, with very good (English speaking) service!
Mugham Klub – After wandering round the idyllic old town of Baku, enjoy a drink and some traditional music in the Mugham Klub, known as the most atmospheric restaurant in the city.
Baku Roasting Company – The Baku Roasting Company is your coffee refuge in Baku. Great food, exceptional service and Baku’s only locally roasted coffee beans set this cafe apart from the rest. There are two branches, and we couldn’t find either for hours, despite acquiring a very determined taxi driver. We eventually did discover the Baku Roasting Company, seemingly unimportant from the front, but inside delicious, wonderfully aromatic coffee.
Miniature book museum – In the old city of Baku resides the only museum in the world dedicated to miniature editions of books. The collection is the project of Zarifa Salahova, who has been collecting for more than thirty years. In 2002 she opened the museum making her collection public and including the donation of a Ukrainian collector, who presented his books to Salahova in 2001.
Fountain Square – The name of the this area derives from the presence of dozens of fountains constructed during the Soviet rule of Azerbaijan. The square is a public gathering place, especially after business hours and during the weekend. With lots of surrounding boutiques, restaurants, shops and hotels, it is the ideal place to hang out and enjoy a drink or ice-cream.
Heydar Aliyev Centre – Perhaps the most curvaceous building in the World, this new fluid structure is quite a sight amongst the surrounding landscape. It is the perfect illustration of Baku’s regeneration activity, complete with theatre and conference centre. It is a wonderful cultural hub for exhibits, productions and important meetings. We loved the Andy Warhol temporary exhibition and the miniature Azerbaijan show which displays dolls house-sized handmade representations of the major Baku buildings.
Museum of Contemporary Art – This new museum was built at the initiative of the First Lady of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva and opened on 20 March 2009. The museum was intended as a focus for an “eco-cultural zone” conceived of by Thomas Krens, former director of the Guggenheim Foundation. They have an amazing collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures and a great café for lunch or coffee.
Martyrs’ Alley and the Eternal Flame – Perhaps the most poignant place to see in Baku is the sad and solemn Martyrs’s Alley, memorial to the Azeri citizens who died while fighting for Azerbaijan’s independence in 1990.
Hop in a purple London taxi – these offer the most reliable mode of transport and are perhaps the only taxis in town to use a clear meter system – traffic later in the afternoon is unbearable, so at this time of day it is always best to walk.
Yashil Bazaar (Green Market) – Let your senses enjoy the colours and scents of this bustling fruit and vegetable market. Loveably dilapidated, and full of genuine traditional Azeri charm, this market is a must, even if you don’t buy anything.
Caspian Cruise – This 30 minute boat ride gives an different view of Baku’s skyscrapers. There is no guide or particular focus but for the equivalent of just a few pounds it is a cheap and pleasant activity especially at sunset.
Bisque – Is a fun and fabulous clothes concept store located in the centre of town. Offering hip and popular designers like Wildfox and Alice & Olivia, the brightly coloured clothes and accessories are all very tempting, especially when their summer sale is on! Just up the road you will find the Bisque café, similar in style serving up delicious snacks, ice-cream and coffee.
Emporium – A new stylish concept store in Baku. In Emporium you will find everything to help you feel the pulse of modernity: the very latest in fashion, design, music and art, the most recent clothing collections from leading brands and young designers, unique perfume and cosmetic brands, progressive music, and special art publications. The store also has a lounge area and a cafe, and the Emporium art space promises to delight visitors with a series of exhibitions, talks, evening social events and cocktail parties.
Jumeirah Blihah Beach Hotel – The Jumeirah certainly has a unique selling point as Baku’s only beach resort. Just 25 minutes drive from the city centre, this hotel is perfect for a day of sunbathing, swimming in the sea and best of all acting like a big kid in Baku’s biggest water park.
Ateshgah Fire Temple – In 1998 this castle-like religious structure was nominated for World Heritage Site status. When we visited the site, in the suburbs of Baku, it was deserted and silent, only a few workmen could be heard. Eerily still with just a fire burning constantly in the centre, it is a strange but historically important site.
Yanar Dag – This is a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula, flames jet out into the air 10 feet (3 m) from a thin, porous sandstone layer and justify why Azerbaijan is often known as the ‘land of fire’.
Gobustan - Visit this ancient site for incredible cave drawings dating back 40,000 years. There is also an informative and interactive new museum well worth checking out.
There is a lot of change ahead for Baku and Azerbaijan, and I am so excited to be part of it. Bring on the next trip!
Thoroughly Modern Milly travelled with British Airways. British Airways operates a daily service from Heathrow to Baku seven times a week. The lead-in fare is from £463.95 including taxes/fees/carrier charges. To book or for more information visit www.ba.com/Baku or call 0844 4930787.