About Exciting Package of AzerbaijanSelling itself as the 'Land of Fire', Azerbaijan (Azərbaycan) is a tangle of contradictions and contrasts. Neither Europe nor Asia, it's a nexus of ancient historical empires, but also a ‘new’ nation rapidly transforming itself with a super-charged gust of petro-spending. The cosmopolitan capital, Baku, rings a Unesco-listed ancient core with dazzling 21st-century architecture and sits on the oil-rich Caspian Sea. In the surrounding semi-desert are mud volcanoes and curious fire phenomena. Yet barely three hours’ drive away, timeless rural villages, clad in lush orchards and backed by the soaring Great Caucasus mountains are a dramatic contrast. In most such places, foreigners remain a great rarity, but in return for a degree of linguistic dexterity, you'll find a remarkable seam of hospitality. And a few rural outposts – from village homestays to glitzy ski- and golf-hotels – now have have the odd English speaker to assist travellers.
Perched on the crossroads of Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Azerbaijan’s incredibly rich cuisine (think lamb, lots of lamb) has been inspired by many nations, yet remains distinctly unique. Keep in mind that it’s currently still legal to light up indoors in Baku so, if you’re keen to avoid the fumes, ask to be seated in the non-smoking section (if they have one). Reservations are recommended at more upscale restaurants. Local: Azeri cuisine is dominated by meat, rich cheese and the national fruit emblem, the pomegranate. Some of the best restaurants to sample local cuisine in Baku include the casual Kafe Araz and the slightly more upmarket Firuza (don’t leave without trying its beetroot dip), both located on opposite corners of pretty Fountains Square. The pick of the city’s more upscale local options include the rooftop restaurant at the Sultan Inn Boutique Hotel, and Sumakh (sumakh.az), near the Supreme Court. All do their own delicious versions of local favourites such as plov (Azeri-style pilaf), lyula kebab (lamb or mutton skewer served with lavash), qovurma (lamb stewed with onions and pomegranate) and saj ichi (meat and vegetables cooked in a cast-iron pot).