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Discover Azerbaijan: a melting pot of cultural influences

Thousands of years of history combined with deeply rooted traditions are what makes Azerbaijan so special. Some traits are familiar, others may seem exotic. Immerse yourself in Azerbaijan's culture by embracing its quirks!

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Azerbaijani culture is so rich that diving deeply into it could easily take a lifetime. Here are some local experiences for you to test the waters (and inevitably fall in love with this multicultural country).

Feel the spirit of the Great Silk Road

As part of the Great Silk Road, these lands have been traversed by many people, forming the nation’s traditions of hospitality and tolerance. Azerbaijan is a secular country where Sunni and Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews, and many others live in peace.

Follow in the footsteps of ancient travellers and merchants on the scenic route between Baku and Balaken!

Whether it be discovering ancient crafts in remote mountain villages, visiting wineries, hunting out historical relics, sampling local dishes, or hiking in the clouds, there’s something for everyone on this stunning route along the southern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains.

Take your time in timeless Sheki

Inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique architecture and history as an important trading centre along the Silk Road, the charming city centre of Sheki is one of Azerbaijan’s true travel gems.

Make sure to pay a visit to the impressive Palace of Sheki Khans and call into local craft shops to observe talented artisans making pots, papags (national hats), miniature caskets, national instruments, and cushions featuring takalduz embroidery.

Your trip won’t be complete without attending the Sheki Fortress’ shebeke workshop. Here, you can witness breathtaking mosaics being painstakingly crafted from thousands of tiny pieces of stained glass. A truly wonderful experience!

Sheki
Credit: azerbaijan.travel

Get pakhlava making tips from local chefs

You can find culinary masterclasses all over Azerbaijan as locals do love sharing! But if you have a sweet tooth, make your way straight to Guba. The city is known for the most delicious traditional sweets, such as pakhlava and bukma. 

Visit one of the local bakeries with a private guide or contact the Guba DMO to arrange a masterclass and see how the magic happens.

Discover Gobustan’s ancient rock art

The UNESCO-listed Gobustan Reserve displays prehistoric rock art and musical stones that vividly depict the Azerbaijani people’s age-old past. A fascinating collection of over 6,000 ancient petroglyphs dates back as far as 40,000 years ago. 

Located about 60 kilometres south of Baku, the reserve also contains remains of once inhabited caves, settlements, and burial grounds that reflect intensive human use from the Upper Paleolithic to the Middle Ages. 

Tip. A short drive from Gobustan will bring you to some of Azerbaijan’s astonishing mud volcanoes, one of the world’s most intriguing natural wonders.

Credit: azerbaijan.travel

Learn the secrets of kelaghayi making in Basgal

The kelaghayi is an exquisite silk headscarf traditionally worn by Azerbaijani women. Come visit Basgal, an authentic mountain village, to see how kelaghayis are made!

In the past, silk weaving and kelaghayi making were practised in every household in the village. However, by the end of the Soviet era, they almost disappeared.

Kelaghayi making in Basgal
Kelaghayis’ patterns are made using the batik technique that involves stamping on hot wax to prevent the dye from colouring the fabric.
Credit: azerbaijan.travel

Basgal became the centre for the revival of the ancient craft when a kelaghayi factory was opened here in the 2000s. A new generation of designers is now creating fashion outfits inspired by historical headscarves’ symbolism and beauty. 

Discover how kelaghayis are made at the factory then stroll down Basgal’s cobblestone streets that still recall the days of the Great Silk Road.

Meet Udi people in Nij village

Just over 20 kilometres southwest of Gabala, the village of Nij is home to the largest Udi population anywhere in the world. 

Udis are Christian people directly descended from one of the main tribes living in Caucasian Albania, which is a modern name for a former state located a long time ago in the Caucasus, mostly in what is now Azerbaijan. The Udi people still speak an endangered language that is almost identical to that of the ancient Albanians. 

Another great destination for ethnic tourism in Azerbaijan is the picturesque village of Khinalig. Sitting over 2,000 metres above sea level, it is related to the story of Noah, who some believe anchored here during the Great Flood.

Visit the beautifully restored Chotari Church, which stands in the shade of magnificent plane trees, to experience the history and culture of this welcoming community.

One hour’s drive from here, near Sheki, you can spot another beautiful ancient Albanian temple that dates back to the 1st century. Even so, archaeologists believe a cultic site existed here as far back as 3,000 B.C. Today, the temple serves as a museum dedicated to Caucasian Albania.

Take a day trip to Lahij

About three hours’ drive from Baku along an incredibly beautiful canyon, Lahij enchants travellers with its antique cobbled streets, romantic stone houses, quirky souvenir shops, and extraordinary crafts heritage. 

In the past, Lahij was home to more than forty different crafts, including hat-making, leather production, blacksmithing, and carpet weaving. However, this historic village is most famous for its copperwares, which were once sold all over the Caucasus and can now be seen in some of the world’s top museums.
Credit: azerbaijan.travel

It is believed that Lahij copperware enhances the health benefits of food, so many Azerbaijani families come to this pretty little village specifically to buy it. By the way, besides speaking their own language, the Tat people who live in Lahij have a unique cuisine that is well worth trying!

Visit the Goygol winery

There is no doubt that the South Caucasus region is one of the oldest winemaking regions on the planet. You can easily rent a car and take on a wine tour across the country.

It’s probably best, however, to focus on a single winery since you’ll most certainly want to taste wine along the way.

Discover the history of Azerbaijan’s wine industry at the winery in Goygol, which in the nineteenth century was known as Helenendorf.

The settlement was established by destitute Germans. Having moved to these lands on Tsar Alexander’s invitation, they quickly settled in and expanded their small vineyards into a family business that, within a generation, became Azerbaijan’s largest wine producer and the first to ship wine overseas.

Tastings still take place in the original German cellar dating back to 1860. Take it easy though and please refrain from trying all fifteen sorts of wine and brandy in one sitting!

Explore Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan’s best off-the-radar destination

The Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is Azerbaijan’s landlocked exclave with enchanting landscapes, quaint villages and a unique cuisine distinct from the rest of the country.

Nakhchivan cuisine is packed with fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables, and lamb.
Credit: azerbaijan.travel

One of the first human settlements in the region, Nakhchivan is home to the 12th-century Mausoleum of Momine Khatun, the legendary Alinja Castle as well as the striking Khans’ Palace.

Nakhchivan, also known as the “Museum of Mineral Springs”, boasts 250 natural springs. Two famous water brands Sirab and Badamli are also produced here.

Driving the scenic route to the town of Ordubad, you’ll see Mount Ilandag’s cleft peak, which is believed to have been carved out by Noah’s Ark. In Ordubad, be sure to try their honey-soaked puffy omelettes as well as lush figs, peaches, and pears for which the region is known.

Tip. 12 kilometres from Nakhchivan City you will find Duzdag, or “Salt Mountain”. This former salt mine has been converted into a leading salt therapy centre in Azerbaijan.