Often overlooked by tourists, this country on the border between Europe and Asia is full of gems to discover.

Many people know nothing about Azerbaijan. A confidential destination with few tourists, this country in the Caucasus is still unknown to foreigners. Yet with its exceptional landscapes and unique architectural heritage, the country is full of wonders. The reopening of the borders is the perfect opportunity to discover them. Between Baku, the modern capital built on the shores of the Caspian Sea, the desert mountains of the hinterland and the mud volcanoes of Gobustan, what is really hidden in this country at the crossroads of East and West?

Un splendide village dans les montagnes d'Azerbaïdjan.

- © tenkl / Shutterstock

1. Visit Baku, the cosmopolitan capital that blends tradition and modernity

Situated on the shores of the Caspian Sea, on the Apcheron peninsula, Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan. Home to two million people, Baku is the country's nerve centre and is home to a quarter of the country's population. Looking at the stunning architecture of the Flame Towers, you'd think you were in Dubai, but with the added bonus of unrivalled authenticity. The Azeri capital is anything but superficial.

Les Flame Towers à Bakou.

- © saiko3p / Shutterstock

In the midst of this city that looks like a European metropolis, East and West meet everywhere. While the architecture has been largely influenced by the West, here, as in many Eastern countries, hospitality is elevated to an art form.

Don't miss the old town of Baku, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Places of interest include the Shirvanshahs' Palace, the former palace of the Shirvanshah rulers, now converted into a museum, the Djuma Mosque and the Maiden Tower, with its lovely view over the city. For a pleasant stroll around the capital, head for the seafront, where a lovely promenade has been laid out. Azerbaijan is historically famous for carpet weaving, so the National Carpet Museum is a must-see.

Une fontaine à côte de la vieille ville de Bakou.

- © ArtEvent ET / Shutterstock

2. Discover the mud volcanoes of the Gobustan reserve

The country's most famous site is located 65 kilometres south of the capital. The Gobustan reserve is an absolutely fascinating place, an exceptional combination of cave paintings and mud volcanoes. Although it is one of the most visited places in Azerbaijan, the immensity of the space gives the impression of being alone in the world.

Gobustan's first attraction is its archaeological site. It contains 600,000 rock paintings and 6,000 engravings known as "petroglyphs". The paintings depict daily life at the time. War scenes, animal fights and even stars were painted here tens of thousands of years ago.

Un volcan de boue dans la réserve de Gobustan.

- © In Green / Shutterstock

But the reserve is best known for its strange geological formations. Half of the country's mud volcanoes can be found here. In fact, some visitors don't hesitate to apply mud masks, in other words water and clay, the latter being reputed for its therapeutic virtues.

3. Immerse yourself in the history of Lahic, a village frozen in time

Somewhere in the Caucasus mountains, time seems to have stood still. Lahic is one of the oldest towns in Azerbaijan and undoubtedly one of the most interesting. With its medieval village feel and traditional rural life, local products and skills are in evidence everywhere.

La rue principale de Lahic dans la région d'Ismailli.

- © Nurlan Mammadzada / Shutterstock

Wandering through the cobbled streets lined with ancestral stone houses is like stepping back in time a few centuries. In fact, it's not uncommon to see craftspeople working directly in the street. Don't hesitate to wander around the different quarters of the village to soak up the authentic atmosphere of this unique place. If you want to learn more about Azeri history, there's no better place than the Lahic History Museum.

4. Wander the streets of Khinalug at the foot of the Caucasus

Stay in the mountains and head for the highest village in the country. Perched at an altitude of 2,350 metres, Khinalug is a small hamlet in the Great Caucasus. Very isolated and almost cut off from the world, Khinalug experiences extremely low temperatures during the winter. For hiking enthusiasts, this village of 2,000 inhabitants is an ideal starting point for exploring the trails of the Caucasus.

Le village de Khinalug dans le Grand Caucase.

- © mbrand85 / Shutterstock

In this deeply authentic Azeri hamlet, traditions play a major role. The natural environment surrounding Khinalug is far more impressive than in Lahic. The surroundings are exceptionally beautiful, and the views of the mountains fascinating. With its air of the end of the world, it's impossible not to fall in love with this village lost in the middle of nature.

5. Photograph gazelles in Shirvan National Park

Not far from the Caspian Sea, Shirvan National Park was created in 2003. It lies 100 kilometres from Baku and more than 20 metres below sea level. It protects an extremely rich ornithological fauna, including numerous pink flamingos. A number of mud volcanoes also dot the landscape.

Une gazelle dans le parc national de Shirvan.

- © Vastram / Shutterstock

The stars of the park are the Djeyran gazelles, a species that the reserve makes a point of protecting to encourage reproduction. The park's semi-desert landscape boasts a number of lakes and streams where the animals come to quench their thirst. Among this exceptional fauna are the jungle cat, the Caspian tortoise, the jackal, the marsh frog and the garter snake.

6. Hope to see a leopard in Hirkan national park

A radical change of scenery, with forests as far as the eye can see. Hirkan National Park, in Lankaran, was created in 2004. It lies right next to the Iranian border in the far south of Azerbaijan. This mountainous region is very green, nothing like the arid expanses of Shirvan national park.

Le lac Khanbulag dans le parc national de Hirkan.

- © Rzaev / Shutterstock

The flora and fauna are exceptionally rich. Caucasian pear, European ash, Lankaran acacia, Oriental beech, Cappadocian maple: the trees growing in the park form sumptuous forests. Although it was once possible to spot the Caspian tiger, the species is now extinct. On the other hand, many animals live here: lynx, Persian leopard, brown bear, wild boar and badger. Don't miss Lake Khanbulag in the heart of the mountains.

7. Taste the local cuisine

Oil isn't the country's only black gold, there's also caviar. In fact, it's often one of the first things you think of when you think of Azerbaijan. As for gastronomy, the traditional cuisine features vegetables, meat and fish. Fresh herbs are also widely used. With its Iranian, Turkish and Mediterranean influences, Azeri cuisine offers an incredible variety of dishes.

Le dolma, un plat traditionnel azéri.

- © comeirrez / Shutterstock

After tasting a kebab that is nothing like the one we know in France, try qutabs, delicious pancakes filled with meat and vegetables. Another popular dish is dolma, a mutton and rice dish wrapped in a vine leaf.

For something sweet, the choice is exceptionally wide. Azeri pastries, inspired by oriental desserts, are excellent. Shekerbura, a very attractive almond-based sweet, and shekerlokum, Azeri loukoums, are absolute must-tries. To quench your thirst, tea is the national drink. Finally, like any self-respecting former Russian territory, you can drink excellent vodka in Azerbaijan.

Where to stay in Azerbaijan?

The Merchant Baku 4* Baku
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by Editorial Team
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