During the last year, I have been exploring countries part of former Soviet Union. One that was still on my list, was Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. All my colleagues told me this is one worth visiting and a city very different from others.
The Friendly Hello!
Full of expectation when we left a cold and snowy Moscow behind for a long weekend by the Caspian Sea! Arriving late Friday night, we got a friendly greeting at the hotel for this weekend – the Intourist Hotel Baku.
Once an iconic hotel and nowadays almost a landmark. Intourist is not a boutique hotel, but all my fears disappeared once the friendly doorman opened the doors. Even though a big hotel, the common areas had a unique, contemporary and a bit artsy design. Loved the library, the lounge in living room style and in the summer, I could easily see myself hanging out on the terrace letting my dreams travel all the way over the Caspian Sea!
Saturday morning, and time to explore “little Dubai ”. Luckily, we woke up to a blue sky and Baku turned out to be a perfect weekend escape, yet very different from its neighbors Armenia and Georgia. Baku is a fusion of influences. Asia meets Europe, not only through its location but also in terms of languages (Azeri Turkish and Russian are the most common ones), architecture, history. Well, almost in everything. Quite quickly you realize that Baku is a city built to impress. The oil and gas money is reflected in the many impressive ultra modern buildings and the shimmer of the old houses and cleanliness of the streets that many of its neighbors miss.
Our two days in Baku, were filled with experiences, contrasts and a glimpse of a culture very different from any we had ever experienced before!
Admiring the Architectural Wonders – Old meets new
I had seen photos of Baku’s sky scrapers before but still, I got a bit spellbound by the contrasts. Such a unique mix of old and new, architectural styles from all over the world. Majestic buildings and wide avenues from its Soviet heritage, Dubai like sky scrapers, medieval streets mixed with mosques and palaces with the most amazing mosaic decorations. Exploring the different parts of Baku, is a history lessons where the streets takes you through one era after another!
Behind the city wall, hides the oldest part of Baku. A labyrinth of picturesque streets with medieval buildings and mosques, baths and palaces for the Muslim community. In every corner, locals are selling handcrafts and souvenirs. The colorful carpets give this part of the city the color touch needed to make it an Instagram paradise. We ticked off all key buildings like Shirvanshahs Palace and Maiden tower but, as always, it was getting lot in the streets that I enjoyed the most.
We stayed until ate afternoons and it turned out to be a good choice. The light was magic and the Flame Towers in the background was a truly unique sight. Old meets new in real life!
The flame towers are a symbol of the modern wealth based on the oil and gas findings in the Caspian Sea. Built on a hill, these three sky scrapers have become an iconic landmark of Baku as you can see it from most corners of Baku. The magic happens during night when they get dressed in colors of the Azerbaijan flag and flames.
Enjoying the Sea Breeze, the Parks & the Baku Vibe
Cities by the sea, always offer something extra and Baku is not an exception. Even though a bit windy, we loved to stroll down the wide and long board walk. The Caspian Sea by our side passing by one modern building and creation after another from the Baku Eye, the carpet museum to little Venice , and all the way down to the Baku Pier!
Baku does not only have the boardwalk to brag about but also lots of parks, squares and oases and we enjoyed them all! Perfect spots for a break while enjoying the beautiful settings and beautiful fountains. I found my favorite spot in the pretty Philharmonic Fountain Park.
The Baku vibe, another thing we liked with this city. The city is built for people to meet in the parks, on the board walk, in restaurants to socialize, play chess or just discuss life. Families, friends, a mix of generations. I always get a bit jealous when I visit cities like this where the climate and culture are a bit warmer than the Nordics.
One Ultra-modern & One Traditional Visit
Museums. We realized that Baku is full of them and it was hard choosing which ones to visit. Our choices took us from an ultra-modern experience to a truly traditional one. First out was the Heydar Aliyev Center, a futuristic creation that cannot be missed even if you just want to see it from the outside.
Located on a hill and designed all in white with luminous shapes it almost looks like it is more part of the heaven than the earth. Inside offer an overdose of lights and modernity but also a journey in the history of Azerbaijan. If you will not be able to see all iconic buildings of Baku, you can see them all in miniatures on the third floor!
The Shirvanshah restaurant and museum was a totally different experience. Located in one of the oldest streets of Baku, outside the modern city center, we got welcomed by a friendly door man opening the door to another world, another time. A unique experience consisting of food and exploring Azerbaijan life 100 years ago. We got a full tour of the this place, exploring different handcrafts and eras of the Azerbaijan history. We were lucky to visit a local dinner party and did some try in dancing with the locals. A bit touristic but the genuine feeling was the winning one in the end.
On our way back, we got a glimpse of the tough life outside the core of the beautiful city core. A different world. An area to which the money for cleaning the streets and making the houses shine do not reach. Unfortunately, the sad truth in many countries and especially in this part of the world.
The Delicious Food
A Man without a Big Belly is like an Apartment without a Balcony
At least so I was told…. Azerbaijan is a country full of delicious food and Baku is not the place for diets. Our food experiences, were also filled with contrasts.
We started at the hip and contemporary Chinar restaurant. With an interesting story, starting as a tea house under the chinar trees this place has now transformed into cool lounge inspired restaurant and meeting place with strong Asian vibes from design to food. Loved everything about this place. The modern, yet cozy design, the open kitchen, the tea display and the pink wine cellar. We loved the sushi, spring rolls and Asian beef. The perfect weekend place with a very vibrant party vibe.
For a more local experience we went to the Shirvanshah restaurant. A true local experience with a menu you will not be able to read during an evening. Luckily, our nice waiter helped us with the choices and this was a culinary experience. The interior and entertainment of this place made our evening an unforgettable one.
We ended our culinary journey with some delicious meat. Baku is a city where you should eat meat and so we did at one of the premium Turkish steakhouses, Prive Baku. A trendy place being a restaurant and a food market in one and with a design taking you to a steak house in Istanbul . The owners and waiters were amazing and so were the food. It is hard to beat a glass of good red wine and delicious meat!
The Magic End – The Incredible View
When possible, cities should be seen from above and luckily, Baku is prepared for this. We took the funicular up the hill and after some searching we found the secret road to the platform next to the Baku Flames. A truly magnificent view of Baku.
We had a fantastic weekend in Baku and I would highly recommend to visit this unique city by Caspian Sea!