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On the Radar – Baku, Azerbaijan

Rohan Vasa, Writer
Baku, Azerbaijan

You pride yourself on being a traveler in the know. You’ve been there in Amalfi, done that a million times in Paris. So we have an off-the-wall idea for you: Baku. As in the capital of Azerbaijan. Take in Zaha Hadid’s last architectural feat. Eat some caviar. And better yet, there’s a Four Seasons. This is what to do in Baku, and why it may just need to make your list.

The City: Baku

When you think of modern architecture against a desert backdrop, cities like Dubai or Qatar probably come to mind. Now there’s another place to add to that list: Baku. Located between Europe, Asia, and The Middle East, it has a culture that is influenced by each but is still uniquely its own. Because of its natural resources, Baku has garnered great wealth and is pumping it back into the city. This creates interesting juxtapositions: you’ll see old minarets next to futuristic architecture. There is the famous medieval walled city, plus the equally iconic Flame Towers, outfitted with LED screens that transform the exterior into the color of burning embers. Baku sits along the shores of the Caspian Sea, and it’s here at the waterfront where the Four Seasons has chosen to create its outpost.

The Hotel: Four Seasons Baku

Four Season Baku goes above and beyond on all levels of comfort, with a finger on the pulse of this vibrant city. Because of its location, it has easy access to some of the most intriguing and charming sites in Baku. The Beaux-Art-style building sits along a tree-lined boulevard right by the water. It is also conveniently located right next to Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is a must-visit. The rooms at The Four Seasons range, but the best ones are with the view of the Old Town and Flame Tower. You can choose from options though that have views of the city, and suites with balconies overlooking the Caspian Sea.

Amenities and Dining

Of course, staying at The Four Seasons means you get access to all the amenities. This particular Four Seasons has some that are specific to the region, from luxury hammams to guided tours. Of particular note, there’s  heated indoor pool, located in the Roman-style atrium with a glass ceiling. You feel like you’re in a Roman bath as you take a dip in the massive pool. The Jaleh Spa and Health Club offers a variety of treatments, baths, and massages in the Turkish and Persian traditions, all in a luxury hammam. There’s also a full-service nail and hair salon, and a 24-hour fitness center.

For dining, there is Zafferano, one of the best restaurants in the city, focusing on central Italian cuisine. Dine under the warm lights or out on the terrace, and enjoy signature dishes like the seafood stew and the salmon tartar. Bentley’s creates an intimate lounge atmosphere specializing in cocktails and cigars but also offers lighter bites and snacks. Piazza, located in a light-filled space off the lobby, is great for lunch or afternoon tea.

Excursions

With all this and more it may seem like you wouldn’t want to leave the Four Seasons, but there’s much to see and explore in Azerbaijan. Here are some excursions we recommend.

Old Town

Take a walk through Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been continuously inhabited for centuries. The site of Bronze-Age burial chambers, it’s an archeological treasure. Dubbed the Acropolis of Baku, Old Town is a maze of alleys full of stores and cafés that offer a range of artisanal wares and local delicacies.

Heydar Aliyev Center

Another must-visit is the Heydar Aliyev Center. Designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid and considered one of her most beautiful accomplishments, it’s known for its flowing curved style. The building features changing exhibitions and a museum about Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s third president. 

Walled City of Baku

Stop by the Walled City of Baku, built in the 12th century, and take in the historic architecture. Check out the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a beautiful 15th-century landmark that gives you a feel of what the area used to be like. Also, be sure to visit Maiden Tower and climb to the top for excellent views of the city and the Caspian Sea. 

Yanar Dag

Fire is especially important to this region culturally. We highly recommend taking a 30-minute car ride to Yanar Dag. It’s a burning hill with flames coming from under the rocks because of the natural gas escaping the earth. If you can believe it, this area has been continuously burning for five decades. In fact, flames sometimes spontaneously erupt from the ground, a reason why the country sometimes also goes by “Odlar Yurdu,” or Land of Fire. 

The Ateshgah Temple

The Ateshgah Temple, built in the sixth century, is 15 minutes from Yanar Dag and built on a natural gas vent that has been a sacred place for Zoroastrians. It is also known as the Temple of the Fire Worshippers and has been largely preserved for thousands of years. 

Azerbaijan is a country that’s not on everyone’s list but should be. This is just a small taste of what the greater area of Baku has to offer. It is a great location to delve into the history of the region while taking in the eclectic culture and landscape. Not overrun by tourists, Baku is a great place to get away and have your own inspiring adventure.

The Restaurant List

Besides copious amounts of caviar, if there’s one dish to try in Baku, it’s the traditional Azerbaijani eggs. Breakfast is an institution in Azerbaijan, and the scrambled eggs with tomatoes is a recipe you’ll want to create at home.  A favorite breakfast is Chayki, which is right on the waterfront of the Caspian Sea. Make no mistake, this isn’t a kitschy local spot; Chayki is a glamorous day to evening proposition. The dining room evokes a little Casa Tua in Miami with how the rooms flow. It feels like an elegant home where the sunroom is a favorite place to enjoy breakfast. The following are additional spots to check out for chic, fun meals in Baku, with glamorous people.

Chayki
Chinar Bar & Lounge
Mari Vanna
Scalini Italian Restaurant
Société Baku
Syrovarnya

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