The Hedonist: Baku

At large in Azerbaijan, by Ben Illis from Hg2 luxury city guides

I knew my weekend in the capital of Azerbaijan would have, shall we say, a certain Through the Looking Glass potential. Baku is always a tricky one – right from bed booking. Are we feeling a little individualist, bijou and in need of the personal touch? That'd be the Sultan Inn (
sultaninn.com) where 11 rooms offer the ultimate in intimate. Are we having a Russian rock-star moment of lavish ostentation? Step forward The Excelsior (
excelsiorhotelbaku.az), where more is most definitely more.

On our grander days, when service is all, and we expect – nay, need – every little detail attended to, then the grande-dame of the Baku scene, the Hyatt Regency ( baku.regency.hyatt.com), fits the bill admirably. I mean, they even have yoga mats in the suites. Sometimes, though, it's all about the down-home, informal quirk factor – and what could be quirkier than the Caucasian homage to Frank Lloyd Wright that is the American-run Hale Kai (hotelhalekai.com)? Here, relaxed four-star service comes with a three-star price tag – a welcome change, to say the least, in Baku.

Night one's festivities kick off with a sundowner overlooking the bay from the 19th-floor Sky Bar of The Landmark ( thelandmarkhotel.az), surely the most breathtaking view of what must be one of the world's most beautiful cities by night.

Mojitos down, it's off through the throng on the recently renovated Boulevard – the prom built from the profits of the first oil rush, a century ago. The Caspian Sea sparkles to my left, while every fashion brand in Europe glitters seductively, and astonishingly expensively, along Neftchilar Prospekt to my right.

Mind you, that's what credit cards are for, no? New shades swinging in my open-necked shirt, I swagger on to the newly opened Chinar ( chinar-dining.com), where one green-tea-based cocktail leads effortlessly into another. Here, the Chinese-leaning Asian fusion menu is matched only by world-class design.

I manage to drag myself away to the Face Club ( face.az) to catch Moscow's premier hip-hop act, Basta. But about this time the cocktails kick in... and everything is a little blurry until I wake up, shamefully too late for breakfast, in the hotel. No matter, that's what the Ali & Nino Café ( alinino.az) was invented for. Then, a quick jaunt around the Old City and a meltingly, oozingly, almost cloyingly thick demi-tasse of one of the world's great hot chocolates at the Chocolate Café on Boyukgala Street.

At Shikhov Beach, oil rigs loom on the horizon. The beach itself is, well, unique in an oil-riggy kind of way, and very much an experience worth notching up. However, last night's dizzy heights have left me a little woozy, so tonight will be time for a lower-level version. That means a beer among the hoi polloi at the intriguingly shaped Mirvari Café on the Boulevard by the pier, followed by dinner on the terrace at Zeitun (that's Azeri for "olive", by the way) in the new Park Bulvar Centre, right on the Boulevard itself.

Zeitun is a brand-new fine-dining place that is very fine dining indeed. Washing down the gürza (spiced lamb pasta parcels with yoghurt and the freshest herbs imaginable) with a glass of admirable Ganja shiraz really is something every self-respecting foodie should be aiming for.

I swill down the last of the red just in time to hoof it to the Jazz Center ( jazzcenter.jazz.az). Last time I was here it was to hear Al Jarreau and, although the Azeri names on tonight's list are unfamiliar, the experience of hearing a sultry vocalist riff with a scratch DJ will stick with me for some time to come. And in the Caucasus, too: who would have thought it?

Afterwards, I head to Filarmonia Park for a scoop or two of sumptuous Italian ice cream at Dondurma by the Old City Metro – just the thing on these sultry Bakuvian nights. Talk turns to some exciting guest DJ up at the all-new Hezz Club by the TV tower. It seems like a plan and I haven't checked it out yet, but I wonder if I can still make my massage at the Sabun Nga Spa ( sabunngaspa.com) in the morning.

It's the most authentic slice of Thailand the Caucasus could have devised – all the staff and every last iota of interior, style, technique and concept have been flown in from Chiang Mai. To cap it all, your massage is followed by a light Thai lunch prepared by the executive chef and served up in a private dining room.

Too good to risk, surely? Ah, to hell with it. Taxi! Hezz Club, please.

Ben Illis ( benillis.com) is a travel writer and photographer, and the author of Hg2 Baku, which is out now. See hg2.com for more details

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?