Spirit of hospitality in Azerbaijan

Caucasian hospitality is famous worldwide and during your stay in Azerbaijan you will have plenty of opportunities to experience it for yourself. You might, for example, get invited to someone’s house for ”tea”. However, if you think that you’ll just spend a couple of hours drinking tea with your host  – think again. Azeri people are very modest and they will never admit that they had just spent a day preparing for you a small feast of delicious, home-made, traditional local dishes. You’d better show up hungry!

gift

Before the visit

Although it’s not expected, it is always in good taste to bring some gifts for the host. A small bunch of flowers for the lady, sweets for children and a bottle of liquor for the head of the family will do just fine. However, if due to religious reasons alcohol is out of the question, sweets  are a prefect alternative. Azeris love to have their tea with a candy or two so you cannot go wrong. Finally, make sure your outfit is appropriate and tidy as local people pay a lot of attention to appearance. You will find more information about Azerbaijani customs here.

The meal

Appetizers

A typical meal consists of appetizers, main courses, tea and sweets. Before the main dishes are served, the table is usually set with plenty of appetizers – fresh herbs (chives, dill, parsley, coriander etc.) and vegetable (mainly tomato and cucumber), mixed pickles and salads, cheese, olives, aubergine with nuts etc. They all look delicious but try not to indulge in them too much as they’ll be followed by a huge meal!

Main courses

The choice of main dishes varies. The hostess may prepare vine leaves, aubergine, tomatoes and/or peppers stuffed with rice, meat and spices (dolma), fish filled with nuts and served with pomegranate sauce,  lamb stew, delicious kebab or plov, which is considered a particular delicacy and served only on special occasions. Sometimes the main courses are preceded by a soup – dushbere with tiny dumplings on a cold day or dovga (yogurt soup) in the summer. If you feel full, leave some food on your plate as otherwise it’ll get refilled instantly. More information about traditional Azerbaijani food you will find here.

Table

Image: thetravelmanor.com

Tea

It is common to mix two types of tea – black and thyme. Drink will always be accompanied by dry fruit, varene, cookies or cake. To read more about the great tea drinking tradition in Azerbaijan, visit our past post.

After the meal

Once the meal is finished – don’t leave immediately. After the feast you will need to rest a while anyway, and it’ll also be a good chance to finally speak to the ladies of the house, who most likely spent the whole evening preparing and serving food. Also, if you’re lucky, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise of traditional singing and dancing.

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Shahdag Resort – winter madness in Azerbaijan

If you’re looking for refreshing alternatives to crowded European ski resorts, look no further. In the shadow of Shahdag mountain, one of the highest peaks in Azerbaijan, enthusiasts of winter sports will find everything they need.

gusar shahdag ski resort skyscrapercity

Source: skyscrapercity

Why ski in Azerbaijan?

Shahdag Mountain Resort offers anything an amateur of winter fun could wish for – the latest equipment, experienced instructors, variety of wide and exciting pistes, picturesque landscapes, lots of snow (artificial if needed), good food and comfortable accommodation. As the country is still fairly new to the winter sports madness, the resort is always full of visitors but only a few of them actually ski or snowboard, which means you will be able to make the most of your time on the slope. In addition, the ski resort is situated only about  200km ride from Baku, most of it by highway, thus it makes a perfect day trip for those short of time.

pik palace hotel

Pik Palace hotel. Source: Pik Palace Hotel’s website

The resort

Currently, there are 5 km of pistes available for skiing, 1 km of easy pistes for beginners and 4 km for intermediate skiers. They are situated between 1300m and 1800m above sea level and are serviced by 4 ski lifts. More will be created in the nearest future, including piste for advanced skiers, which will be located as high as 2500m above sea level. Visitors can stay in one of the hotels located next to the piste, Zirve (80-120 AZN/night) by the main entrance or the luxury Pik Hotel on top of the hill (from 223 AZN/night). Those on the budget will find cheaper accommodation farther away from the resort.

margriet

Author: Margriet van der Woerd

Getting there

The ski station is located about 3 hours drive from Baku. To get there you have to follow the Quba highway. Once in Quba, continue towards Qusar where you will find clear indications for the ski station.

Some advice

If you go to Shahdag on a weekend, make sure to get there early as the place fills up with visitors very quickly and you may find it time-consuming to collect the equipment. The staff is friendly and competent but remember that it’s a new resort (2nd season operating) and it may take longer than usual to get them up to speed, especially on the busiest Sundays.

If the main ski rental point near the parking runs out of equipment, go to the one situated next to the Pik Hotel. You may as well go there straight away as overall it’s usually much less busy than the one next to the main entrance.

Example prices

Parking about 7AZN/day

Day ski pass for an adult 22AZN

Rental of ski, shoes & poles 30AZN

Useful links:

FB page of Shahdag Resort

Shahdag Mountain Resort official website

Backstreets of Targova – the residence of Agha Bala Guliyev

mural 2

Source: Azerbaijan International

The complicated history of Azerbaijan left Baku with plenitude of architectural gems not highlighted in typical tourist itineraries. That’s why, when visiting the city, it is worth setting aside some time to stroll through the backstreets of Targova, the area rich in beautiful mansions constructed during the first oil boom. Nowadays many of them crumble due to neglect over the last decades, nevertheless they still give an idea about their former grandeur.  Among the buildings deserving special attention is the former residence of Agha Bala Guliyev designed in 1899 by a Polish architect, Eugeniusz Skibinski. Currently the building serves as the seat of Architects’ Union.

The mansion

ABG

Source: AZerbaijan International

Located just a short walk from the Fountain Square, the former residence of Agha Bala Guliyev is among the most impressive and best preserved buildings in the area.  Guliyev owned many mills and, unlike most of the local rich of his times, made his fortune  trading flour (hence his nickname the ‘’Flour Baron’’). In contrast to the fashionable European designs used by other millionaires, he decided to build his house in Baku-Absheron architectural style and incorporated decorations from the portals of the Shrivan Shah’s Palace (Source: Azerbaijan in the Beginning of XX Century (…) see the link below). But the richly decorated villa contains not only Oriental elements – there’s also a multitude of modern artwork including colorful oil paintings and murals. Click here for more information.

staircase

Source: Azerbaijan International

Getting there:

The place is located on 24 Murtuza Muktarov Street, about 10 mins walk from the Fountain Square. You should be able to enter without any problems. Just remember to be considerate for the people working there!

Useful links:

Interiors: Architects’ Union. Agha Bala Guliyev’s Residence. Azerbaijan International

Azerbaijan in the Beginning of XX Century: Roads Leading to Independence. Dilara Seyid-zade

 

Welcoming the New Year in Azerbaijan

After the long New Year holidays we finally get back to work with lots of energy and motivation for these coming months. However, before telling you about New Year celebrations in Azerbaijan, we’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all the best in 2014 and beyond. We hope this coming year will bring you lots of happiness and success both in your personal and professional lives, and plenty of exciting travel opportunities to new, inspiring places. We also hope to see you in Azerbaijan sometime soon!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

idea-plastic-bottles-tree

Baku’s New Year tree made of plastic bottles. Source: azernews

Celebrating the New Year in the Land of Fire

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the New Year (Nowruz) was celebrated in Azerbaijan in March in accordance with the Persian tradition. However, after Azerbaijan became part of the Soviet Union, the new authorities introduced the more widely used Georgian calendar and banned celebration of the Persian New Year. From then on, the coming of the New Year began to be celebrated on December 31. After Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, Nowruz was restored as a public holiday but the end of the calendar year continues to be celebrated on December 31.

wikispace

Ded Moroz & Snegurochka. Source: wikispace

Ded Moroz and Snegurochka

Nowadays the New Year’s Eve in Azerbaijan is very much a family holiday although often celebrated together with friends. Typically, a Christmas-like New Year tree is decorated in the house before December 31, and then removed after the Old New Year (14th of January), an Orthodox holiday. Another important tradition is the visit of the Ded Moroz (in Azerbaijani Shakhta Babah), the equivalent of Santa Claus, and his granddaughter, Snegurochka, who come on the New Year’s Eve to give presents to children. Finally, right before midnight family and friends with a glass of champagne or sparkling wine give a toast to the passing year and then at midnight another toast is given to the incoming New Year.

For more information click here