Azerbaijan, meaning ‘Land of Fire’, is a sovereign state in the South Caucasus region bordering Georgia, Russia, Armenia, and Iran, with the Caspian Sea to its east. Like its western neighbour Georgia, Azerbaijan sits at the seam of Europe and Asia; a cultural and geographical crossroads that’s witnessed the rise and fall of many an empire.
The least visited of the three main Caucasian nations (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan), this is a place slowly nudging its way on to the tourist radar. Oil money is transforming the capital, Baku, into the Dubai of the Caucasus, and the rest of the country offers an array of sights and experiences for the curious visitor. There are spectacular mountains, bizarre Soviet-era sanatoriums, neon-pink salt lakes, ancient shrines, half the world’s mud volcanoes, Caspian Sea resorts, burning mountainsides, Zoroastrian temples, glittering 18th century palaces and much more.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Azerbaijan has enjoyed a thriving economy, in large part due to its large oil reserves, high literacy, and low unemployment. The current president is Ilham Aliyev.
Things we love about Azerbaijan
- Baku. A fast-changing city that not only boasts a charming old citadel but some of the most impressive modern architecture on the planet. The late Zaha Hadid’s $300 million Heydar Aliyev centre may be the current poster-boy, but just wait until the new Sydney Opera House-esque Caspian Waterfront complex opens in September 2019…
- Carpets. Oh how we love Azeri carpets! We challenge you to come home without a carpet (or three) rolled up in your bag. And if you somehow manage to avoid the temptation, then don’t leave without visiting Baku’s astonishing Carpet Museum.
- Its burgeoning wine industry. In an effort to curb perceived alcoholism in Soviet-era Azerbaijan, Gorbachev ordered the destruction of the nation’s vineyards. Now, slowly, viticulture is making a resurgence, and with some impressive results. The cognac is rather fine too.
- Kelagayi, the traditional Azeri silk scarf. Colourful, hand-printed with Zoroastrian symbols and made from locally produced silk, these might just be the best presents in the world.
- The Karabakh horse. Famous for its effortless speed, intelligence and endurance, the Karabakh is the national animal of Azerbaijan. Endemic to the country, they’re one of the oldest breeds in the world and much-favoured by the country’s chovkhan (Azeri polo) players. Even Queen Elizabeth owns a couple.