On the shorelines of the Caspian Sea, the vintage Soviet Union meets Dubai. Right now, Arsenal and Chelsea fans are racing to discover flights to the Bolshevik-to-bling capital of Azerbaijan. The London soccer groups will meet in the Europa League very last inside the town’s Olympic Stadium on Wednesday 29 May.

Its vicinity is intense: Baku is the easternmost metropolis in the Caucasus. The bottom-mendacity capital inside the international – almost 100 feet under the ocean stage (the Caspian Sea, like the Dead Sea, is an undersea stage as measured in the rest of the sector). And it is a deeply fascinating place, with a captivating Old City and dramatic new structure.

Baku also has a variety of unusual natural and guy-made sights on the outskirts.


What to do
Explore the Old City

At the coronary heart of Baku, stout walls rise to defend the Old City. As you stroll through the Double Gate from the extra current city center, you, without delay, an experience that this is way past Europe – indeed, Baku is further east than Baghdad. The caravanserais and traders’ mansions were repurposed as eating places, resorts, and galleries.

But the experience of medieval might is preserved inside the form of the Maiden Tower, a twelfth-century one-hundred-foot stone mum or dad for the city. The exquisite cultural treasure is the Palace of the Shirvanshahs – a sandstone complex of prayer and indulgence.

Take a hike

Leaving the Old City from the Double Gate, head downhill to Fountains Square – sincerely a prolonged polygon serving Baku’s busy commercial and social hub. A series of fountains is augmented with the aid of public sculpture, particularly the lifestyles-length bronze of a young lady chatting on a cellular phone – one small indication of ways liberal this nominally Islamic nation is. (Another is the open-air consumption of alcohol at some stage in Ramadan.)

Exit from the northeast corner, pass one block east, and reduce diagonally throughout Molokan Garden – certainly one of the dozens of parks – to Uzeyir Hajibeyov Street. Call in on the vibrant new tourist workplace, four blocks along, if you want ideas on exploring Azerbaijan more widely, or maintain every other block to the monumental Government House – better recognized lower back within the USSR because of the Dom Soviet.

1966 and all that

The “Russian linesman” who offered England their arguably third purpose within the 1966 World Cup final towards West Germany become, in reality, Azerbaijani. Tofiq Bahramov has had the Lenin Stadium renamed after him. It is near the sweeping curves of the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre – named, like the airport, after the former president. (His son is now in control.) But the Europa League final is taking area in addition northeast on the full-size Olympic Stadium.

Fire stations

Take bus 184, passing dozens of nodding wells inside the Suraxani oil fields, to the give up the route. You arrive almost on the Fire Temple, with an everlasting flame within the fireplace at the center. The courtyard was created with the aid of wealthy Indian traders on the website online of a Zoroastrian region of worship. If it’s far lunchtime, forget about the visitor restaurants in the complicated favor of the Nafis Dad, just along the road overlooking a shady rectangular.

About 15 minutes away with the aid of a taxi (pay no more than 10 manats/£5) is a 20th-century interest, Yanar Dag – wherein herbal gas burns continuously. Amusingly, it was ignited in 1950 while a slipshod shepherd dropped a cigarette that changed into nevertheless alight. So popular is it that, for 2019, it has become a totally fledged vacationer attraction entire with viewing a place.

Guided Azerbaijan offers more than a few bespoke excursions with English-speakme courses that can cowl most of these sights as well as the “dust volcanoes” and petroglyphs south of the town. I paid $140 (£110) for a day’s excursion.
Where to live

Thanks to Azerbaijan’s oil wealth, there are lots of bright new upscale accommodations. But the perfect place is inside the Old City walls – except for characterful lodgings, you will additionally find some tranquillity from the constantly buzzing visitors outdoor.

The choice is the Shah Palace, a boutique hotel organized around a nonviolent courtyard. Rates hardly ever exceed 200 manats for a double without breakfast; pay with coins to keep away from a swinging credit score-card surcharge.