Following the launch of the Azerbaijan Tourism Board final yr, the vacation spot has begun to see its star rise within the world hospitality market.
Right here Breaking Journey Information editor, Chris O’Toole, touches down in capital Baku to see how the nation is battling overcome its Soviet heritage.
Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, is an oil city.
Like its well-known cousins, Houston in the US, Calgary in Canada and even Aberdeen right here in the UK, the success of the economic system hangs on the value of oil.
Guests to the boulevard which runs alongside the seashore will see the acquainted rainbow colors glistening on the waves, whereas an acrid scent hangs within the air.
Oil rigs will be seen simply off the coast, whereas a refinery is a number of moments from town centre.
Throughout the Soviet interval, the oil itself, in addition to the money it generated, was expropriated to fulfill the wants of Russia and its folks.
Following the bloody demise of the occupation within the early 1990s, Azerbaijan has been capable of reclaim its wealth and start to rebuild the nation.
The ensuing growth has remodeled the skyline of the capital, and there have been some exceptional successes.
The Flame Towers (house to Fairmont Baku) have turn out to be an immediately recognisable image of the nation, whereas the Zaha Hadid-designed Heydar Aliyev Centre is definitely probably the most spectacular buildings wherever on the earth.
Guarded by fortifications relationship again almost one thousand years, the UNESCO-recognised Outdated City has been completely refreshed and is now full of travellers from Russia, India and the GCC.
On the centre stands the Maidan Tower, which has served as a beacon, fortification and, extra lately, house to a world arts honest throughout its lengthy life.
Strolling by the clear, vibrant streets, it’s doable to imagine Baku has totally emerged from the harm brought on by the Soviet occupation throughout these lengthy years that made up a lot of the final century.
In every single place within the centre of Baku there appears to be a sense of optimism, with the wealth generated by oil invested in regeneration.
Stroll alongside Nizami Avenue, the most important procuring boulevard, and you will note locals chatting in cafés, searching for bargains or ingesting within the bars.
Although Azerbaijan is a Muslim-majority nation, the management of president Ilham Aliyev is secular, which means alcohol is permitted and that social mores are nearer to Europe than the Center East.
Given the Soviet heritage, company may communicate Russian with many locals.
Whereas all the important thing vacationer websites in Baku have been constructed within the final decade, there may be additionally an amazing deal extra to return.
Positioned on reclaimed land on the Caspian Sea, the Deniz procuring centre is scheduled to open subsequent yr.
When full, the construction will seem because the star within the Crescent improvement to type a citywide architectural marvel.
The Crystal Corridor, lately host the Eurovision music contest, has additionally added a brand new dimension to occasions within the metropolis, whereas a dozen or extra big malls supply alternatives for procuring.
On this few sq. miles of the capital, Baku has totally embraced its return to capitalism with spectacular outcomes.
That’s not to say all is new in Azerbaijan, with the vacation spot tracing its roots again by millennia.
Traditionally part of the Nice Silk Highway, the nation is located on the juncture of the geopolitical and financial pursuits of many countries.
Because of this, Azerbaijan has a powerful historic and cultural heritage, with greater than 7,500 pure, archaeological, architectural and historic monuments dotted throughout the nation.
Near Baku, company can go to the Ateshgah fire-worshipping temple to hint the Zoroastrian, Hindu and Sikh historical past of the area, or the Gobustan Protect, house to six,000 historical petroglyphs.
Within the capital itself, numerous nineteenth-century mansions line the streets, revealing the wealth of the primary oil barons who made town so successful earlier than the arrival of Bolshevism within the early many years of the final century.
Maybe most well-known of all is Yanardagh.
Azerbaijan has traditionally been often known as the ‘Land of Hearth’, on account of its oil and fuel assets, and the pure fires that blazed for millennia on the Absheron peninsula tremendously influenced the beliefs of the native folks.
Travellers at present can go to the burning mountain, the place pure fuel from the bottom retains a hearth alight in perpetuity – a phenomenon apparently solely seen in a handful of locations wherever on the earth.
After all, with this success, there have been drawbacks.
The political management of Azerbaijan has didn’t shake off the Soviet period, with president Aliyev seemingly putting in himself for all times final yr after an election questioned by worldwide observers.
The capital can also be dotted with monuments to his hubris.
The TV Tower – the form of which can be acquainted to company who’ve visited Berlin, Vilnius or another former Soviet stronghold – additionally offers a continuing reminder of a distinct period.
On the identical time, whereas Baku has been capable of reinvent itself, turning into in some ways a contemporary metropolis, the remainder of the nation has been largely left behind.
Journey out of the capital, towards the mountains within the east of the nation, and the panorama shortly modifications.
Right here Mercedes are changed with Ladas, teams of males sit on road corners enjoying dominoes and the occasional donkey wanders previous – it truly is like going again in time.
Oil wells, the supply of the nationwide wealth, blight the panorama, with a whole lot dotted throughout the barren scrub land that makes up the inside of Azerbaijan.
Whereas infrastructure is creating, authorities are nonetheless working to beat many years of neglect.
Foremost roads are freshly laid, however enterprise away from the most important cities and also you shortly end up on grime tracks winding your means by the mountains – exhilarating, however a distinct world to that of Baku.
The oil cash has an extended strategy to go earlier than it reaches residents within the areas, and with concern over the harm being achieved to the surroundings shortly rising up the political agenda, it might by no means achieve this.
One ray of success away from the capital has been wine, with Azerbaijan lengthy thought of one of many bases of worldwide viticulture.
The vineyards of the Caucasus foothills produce a bounty of grapes that take in the sunshine, producing vintages which are prone to shock unsuspecting oenologists.
Azerbaijan’s wine trade has been increasing quickly during the last decade – however right here once more the Soviet impression will be felt.
Prohibition within the 1980s decimated the sector, with Azari wine falling behind the booming Georgian export market.
Nevertheless, with in depth investments in top of the range know-how, and a playful experimentation with internationally famend grape varieties, native options are starting to get better.
Guests can discover a number of well-known wineries in addition to take part in wine experiences and festivals – with the Savalan winery place to start out.
The Azerbaijan Tourism Board, formally launched simply final yr, has been doing its half to beat the divide between Baku and the inside.
Spreading the worth of tourism throughout the nation, the organisation has been profitable in driving up customer numbers by 11 per cent this yr in comparison with final.
In whole, some three million folks now go to Azerbaijan annually.
Markets with a major enhance in guests embody India (up 67 per cent), the UK (up 24 per cent), China (up 64 per cent) and Germany (up 21 per cent).
With a transparent ambition to double inbound tourism by 2023, the rise in guests is partly on account of an intensive world advertising marketing campaign in addition to an elevated urge for food amongst travellers to hunt out lesser-known locations.
Trying forward, there are plans to extend tourism past Baku, with the vacationer board is trying to launch new customer centres, together with one near the mud volcanoes which will be discovered on the outskirts of town.
Regional improvement groups are additionally trying to finalise plans to launch two new vacation spot advertising organisations in principal vacationer areas Ganja and Lankaran in January.
As Florian Sengstschmid, chief govt of Azerbaijan Tourism Board, explains: “In Azerbaijan, we’re opening additional customer centres at our distinctive mud volcanoes web site and launching vacation spot advertising organisations within the lovely cities of Ganja and Lankaran to assist sustainable improvement of tourism.
“We’re welcoming an rising variety of movie crews to find our spectacular landscapes, together with summer time countryside and winter ski slopes, journey trails, and cultural occasions.”
Discover out extra above about how the Azerbaijan Vacationer Board plans to place the nation on the map as Breaking Journey Information chats with chief govt Florian Sengstschmid.
Or, for extra details about the vacation spot, go to the official web site.