MODERN ARCHITECTURE, OLD CITY WALLS AND THE WARMEST PEOPLE ARE WHAT YOU’LL FIND IN AZERBAIJAN’S CAPITAL, BAKU. FACT CHECKS INTO THE CITY’S MOST SOUGHT-AFTER ADDRESS, THE FOUR SEASONS HOTEL BAKU TO EXPLORE A DESTINATION THAT STILL REMAINS LITTLE-VISITED BUT SHOULD DEFINITELY BE ON EVERY TRAVELLER’S BUCKET LIST…
For GCC residents, Baku is an east-meets-west destination that offers the best of both worlds. Its historical core firmly keeps a foothold in the orient whilst its beautifully refreshing promenades and sky-high Flame Towers take one step towards picturesque European life. With a visa on arrival for Gulf nationals, and a brand new ASAN e-visa system for citizens of 81 countries, including the UK, Australia, and US (making it quick to apply and receive a visa via email), visitors can now take full advantage of a place that blends cosmopolitan living with old-world charm. As with every trip we embark on for the first time, location is key to getting the most out of your break. And so, the Beaux-Arts style luxury hotel that we chose was everything – and more – than what we’d hoped for (and seen online). Enter, Four Seasons Hotel Baku…
ALL THE CHARACTER
There’s a reason why we love the Four Seasons as a hospitality brand. They go above and beyond to embrace the essence of every destination in which they open a hotel. Here, there couldn’t be a more picture-perfect property to showcase the distinct sides to Baku. Its exterior is classic, reminiscent of luxury neighbourhoods in cities like London and Paris, with a white-washed stone front that quickly adds a palatial elegance to the façade. Inside, we’re greeted by marble everything with sophisticated flower arrangements, cosy sofas, and stylish chandeliers – and that’s just the lobby. We’re soon taking note of the décor because it’s every interior maven’s dream, and all the things that we’d want in our own home. The feeling is one of being in a large living room with all your friends from all over the world gathered in one place, for the staff and guests that we came across had at the very least a friendly smile to share, if not, great conversation about Baku and their visit. If the hotel’s goal is to make your surroundings comfortable on a homely level, they’re doing things just right!
You have to pinch yourself when the hotel room you’re staying in is bigger than your entire apartment. Not only is the Premier Room a huge space, it has THREE balconies; one looking directly into the Old City, the second with an instagram-worthy shot of the famous Flame Towers and the third boasting far-reaching views of the promenade along the shores of the Caspian Sea. Yes, it was hard to tear ourselves away to go out and explore the city every morning when seeing all its different sides from our room was a beautiful cultural experience in itself. With the option of either a king-sized or twin beds, our accommodation is filled with light. It’s airy, neutral tones and indulgent décor reminds us that Four Seasons is truly a tasteful brand. The beds can only be described as what we imagine it would be like to sleep on a fluffy cloud, and the ottoman-style furniture means there’s a place to do everything.
Large arm chaired seating is perfect to sink into after a day of walking, the work desk with executive leather office chair is a laid-back space to catch up on emails without compromising on relaxation, and the huge bedside table means that aside from the very large walk-in closet, you’ve also got plenty of room to store things in the bedroom. The highlight of the room, however, had to be the mind-blowing bathroom which extends to reveal a set up that wouldn’t go out of place in a 5-star spa. We’re talking one very BIG marble bathroom that includes double vanities; mirror embedded television, a deep soaking tub, separate rain shower room and a separate toilet with bidet. When you’re ready for full-on luxury downtime, slip into a sumptuous terry cloth bathrobe and enjoy the high-speed internet access for multiple devices, fully stocked private bar, in-room movies on the 42-inch LCD television with a Blu ray player, iHome for your iPod and iPhone, and a room service menu of the most delicious food. Do you even need to leave?
It’s often the case when you stay at a hotel that at least one area is in need of improvement or attention. Not here. Down we go to Zafferano, the signature all-day dining restaurant, which is named from the Italian word for “saffron,” the spice that grows abundantly in Azerbaijan. The Italian-themed menu highlights delicacies from Central Italy (we find that Italian cuisine has a stronghold in the city’s food scene).
In warmer weather, the restaurant opens to an outdoor terrace at the edge of the new Philharmonic Park. What convinces us almost immediately about the restaurant is our first foray down to breakfast. Having just ordered our beverages, a gentlemen on the table next to us bids good morning and proceeds to say “this is the best hotel breakfast in Baku” and with lots of nodding and smiles, we get up to explore. Think pastries galore, an Azeri breakfast station, eggs cooked to order, healthy juices, an extensive cereal counter, hot foods like sausages, sautéed mushrooms, beans and more, plus all the beverages you need for a wake up call or morning boost. The hotel’s version of the local egg with tomatoes breakfast main is definitely worth a try – you might even go for seconds like us! On our last day, we enjoy a leisurely breakfast followed by a quick nap and then a visit to what I can only describe as the most sophisticated spa of any city hotel we’ve every visited. It’s the only spa in Baku with a view of the sea and for that alone it’s worth a visit.
The luxurious Jaleh Spa and Health club has treatments dedicated to advanced skin care and body therapies with ancient traditions of Turkey and Persia. There are nine relaxing treatment rooms as well as the sensual bathing retreats known as hammams. Separate changing rooms for men and women offer showers, saunas, steam rooms, ice fountains and heated loungers. The indoor pool is unlike anything we’ve seen before and it takes we can’t stop taking pictures of it – though no phone screen can do this grand space justice. Most of all, it was the small touches by the staff who replenished our water and offered complimentary tea and dry fruits and nuts as relaxation snacks, regardless of not having a treatment booked – and this is just some of the finer benefits you get to experience as an hotel guest.
SEND ME YOUR LOCATION
You’ll be that annoying person on your insta and Facebook feeds who spams everyone with all their checkins because the Four Seasons Hotel Baku is the most ideally-located hotel you’ll find. It’s just seconds from the Old City where trinket treasures, local vendors, quaint homes, and the most incredible authentic Azeri food await (highly recommend lunch at Tandir – a small tavern with the best Azeri bread, ever). This means that souvenir shopping is right on your doorstep. On the other side, you can cross the road and tackle the stairs up to the Flame Towers and Marty’s Lane where the best views of the entire city will give you real hashtag travel goals. Turn left out of the hotel and cross over to the promenade or keep going until you reach the bustling Nizami Street where a more modern approach to shopping, cafés and monuments is evident. Also, just across the road is the stunning Carpet Museum
We’d recommend taking a food break at the Cookshop Baku where our request for a non-menu item (the local kuku – eggs with herbs) was fulfilled by a friendly waiter and a happy chef! In simple terms – we couldn’t have picked a better hotel as the base for our very first trip to this mesmerising city!
There are very few traits left of the country’s soviet past, bar the odd old-school car – which actually adds a sense of nostalgia and realness to the place. Azerbaijan makes most of its money from oil and gas, though grains, grapes, cotton and livestock are also a good contribution to its economy. You will learn more about the country’s many different revenue streams as well as its family oriented culture just by talking to locals around the city. They are a gracious people – men carry a gallant attitude, holding doors open and addressing passers-by politely, whilst the women will stop to have conversations about everything from your outfit to your beauty regime and, as we encountered, to offer you fresh baked local desserts straight out of their grocery bags. As Baku is in the early stages of becoming a tourist hotspot, we found that the local people welcomed us with genuine intrigue and an eagerness to learn and share stories. With a cup of Azeri black tea soaking in the lemon slice flavours, which is served at every seated spot, we happily obliged and made new friends and memories of our own!
GO: FLY DIRECT FROM DOHA TO BAKU WITH QATAR AIRWAYS. CALL +994 12 404 24 24 OR VISIT WWW.FOURSEASONS.COM/BAKU/ FOR RESERVATIONS AND MORE INFORMATION.