Exotic, diverse and still just a little bit of a mystery to the rest of the world, Azerbaijan, located between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, is known as the ‘Land of the Fire’, for its curious phenomena of naturally occurring fires that never burn out. Situated culturally and geographically between Europe and Asia, it has evolved its intriguing blend of heritage into a fascinating destination with true depth.
UNESCO-listed Baku, the capital, offers one side of its personality, with its contemporary architecture and laid back coastal vibe, while within just a few hours’ drive, ancient towns and villages nestled into the Great Caucasus Mountains appear almost untouched by the inevitable march of time and progress.
While tourists are slowly beginning to catch on to the charms of this progressive country, it’s still definitely a very ‘off-the-beaten-track’ destination. It’s surprisingly well facilitated, though, and for those who make the journey it’s an adventure like no other.
What to Do
A more diverse destination you’d be hard pressed to find and, for those looking for a well-rounded range of attractions, they’re in luck.
In Baku, despite the sleek modernist architecture that’s emerged from the city’s evolution as an important industrial epicentre, the charming cobbled streets and artists’ workshops of the Old Town provide a cultural curative that’s a real pleasure to explore.
While there’s a lot on offer in Baku, getting out into the surrounding area offers a fascinating insight into the prehistoric life in the ancient landscape, with UNESCO-listed sites of petroglyphs and the country’s renowned mud volcanoes and natural gas fires.
In yet another side to its personality, the beaches of the Absheron Peninsula might not be the colourful resorts of the Mediterranean but they are no less beautiful or charming, and in the rural Caucasus Mountains you can visit remote villages steeped in the arts and craft heritage of the iconic Silk Road route.
Influenced by Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle Eastern cultures, many Azerbaijan dishes are based on traditional recipes passed down over the centuries. It’s heavy on the meat and makes use of lots of herbs and spices to add to its distinctive flavours.
The staples of the cuisine are hearty soups, pilafs, kebabs, dumplings and meat stews. With a long coastline on the Caspian Sea, it’s also no surprise that seafood features on nearly every menu, with the local black caviar a speciality.
But if there’s one must-try meal it has to be plov, which is the country’s national dish. Made with a saffron rice base, this delicious cumin-flavoured stew uses lamb or beef as well as apricots and chestnuts to plump it out. It’s as hearty and delicious as it sounds and every region has its own version.
The climate in Azerbaijan is quite diverse and it effectively has three different zones: the northern, southern and along the coastline. It experiences very warm summers and cold, dry winters with very little rainfall. In summer the temperatures average between 20-30 degrees Celsius, with frequent thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. In winter temperatures are often below zero and conditions can be quite harsh in the mountainous regions, although less so on the coast and in the arid northern plains.
How to Get There
While it’s certainly an unusual travel destination, it’s not too hard to get from the UK to Azerbaijan. Flying time to Baku Heydar Aliyev Airport is around five and a half hours for a non-stop flight, although for much of the year you’ll need to navigate connections. While there’s not a vast selection of flights, several airlines make the route up to four times a week.
Once you land, it’s good to know it gets easier from there. If you pre-book a transfer with Shuttle Direct you’ll be met by a professional local driver and taken directly to your accommodation.
Travelling to Azerbaijan? Don’t Miss
There is just so much not to miss in this fascinating country, but these are at the top of the list.
- The magnificent Palace of Shirvanshahs, in Baku, is a mind-boggling feat of engineering and construction with a fabulous history to match. This UNESCO site dates back to the fifteenth century and includes its own mosque and huge bathhouse. Part of the site has been turned into a museum and includes a vast collection of clothes and furnishings.
- For anyone curious to see the natural phenomena for which the country gains its name as the ‘Land of the Fire’, a visit to Yanar Dag is a must. Out in the countryside not far from Baku is a mountain right in the middle of huge oilfields. Its slopes are covered in vents through which fires of natural gas burn – and have done for more than a thousand years without ever going out.
- Another strange but wonderful gift of nature are the mud volcanoes that bubble up through the ground in huge pockmarked fields. Unlike regular volcanoes, instead of boiling lava they shoot out cool mud – although it’s definitely not advisable to get close. There are about 400 of these volcanoes in the country including two of the largest in the world.
About Shuttle Direct
At Shuttle Direct we’re proud to be known as the best in the business for onward ground transport from the airport. We’ve got an extensive range of shared and private transfers to make all your holiday arrangements hassle-free. Make a simple online booking before you leave home and, when you land, a friendly driver will be there to get you wherever you need to go.