In the middle of August my husband was presented with an opportunity to take a week off from work, so we decided to hit the road and to visit some of the most beautiful and famous cities in Azerbaijan – Qabala, Mingachevir, and Shaki, all of which are part of The Silk Road. The beginning of our adventure started a week earlier, when our family of four began preparing for the journey ahead. Some of us created a to-do list, others lost the to-do list; some of us thought we have everything under control, others were frantic with worry that we might be forgetting something.
Anyway… 5 hours later than we had initially planned, we finally managed to get out of the front door and into the car.
Please, take note! If you are planning a trip in Azerbaijan in August – take plenty of water and if possible – keep it in a cooler bag. If you’re traveling with kids, make sure that you’ve packed more things than you think you might need (food included!). Hopefully, you have a big car…
Keep in mind that the roads to many of the sights that you will probably want to visit are difficult to access with a regular car. This helps to preserve their authenticity, but poses a risk to break your car. Of course, you can always leave the car in the city and go by foot (hike) to the place you want to see.
Don’t let that leave you with the wrong impression! The road network in Azerbaijan is very well developed. There is a state-of-the-art highway connecting the capital Baku with the second biggest city – Genja, via which you can even reach Tbilisi, Georgia. However, if you decide to make a turn towards some historical sight hidden in the hills or mountains of Azerbaijan, you will most probably need a SUV. A full-scale SUV! Of course, you can travel with a regular sedan, but you will have to leave it at some point (if you don’t want to risk breaking it) and continue by foot. And I’m telling you, August is not the best month for hiking in Azerbaijan! The weather is very hot (40-42° C) and the sun is strong and dangerous.
You can also ask someone local to take you to the place you want to see with his car. It will be fun, adventurous and it won’t cost you lots of money. Apart from that, you will have a fascinating story to tell your friends and relatives afterwards. The local people are nice and hospitable most of the time. They speak mostly Azerbaijani, but are eager to help. Sometimes you might need an extra share of patience and motivation to explain what you need, but you will eventually come to an understanding of each other (maybe not always, but often). 🙂 I won’t recommend this option to families traveling with kids, but otherwise – go ahead and have fun!
So, on to our first stop!
Prepare to visit Shamakhi!
Similar to Baku, Shamakhi is also an important part of the Silk road. The main sights of the city are the Juma Mosque (meaning – Friday Mosque; there’re many mosques with this name in other cities as well) and the Yeddi Gumbaz mausoleum. Unfortunately, we couldn’t reach Yeddi Gumbaz. We saw it from the distance, but there wasn’t any road leading towards it and no sign to tell us how to get there. After asking a couple of locals about directions, we found the road (the off-road!) and gave up. The state of it was such that it would have taken us ages to get there, and we were already late with our schedule. Next time!
We did visit, however, the Juma Mosque. It dates back to the XII century and is very beautiful. Unfortunately, we were there at noon which prevented us to take good photos of it, but even so you can get an idea of how impressive it is.
After Shamakhi we headed towards Ivanovka village. This village was established in the 19th century when a group of Molokans left the Russian Empire and settled here. The Molokan faith is a type of Spiritual Christian sect, which doesn’t recognize the church as an institution as well as the Church Hierarchy. They honor the Almighty God and Christ. There are different versions as to where the word molokan comes from. The most popular one is that it comes from the Russian word “молоко” (“moloko”), meaning milk. Milk was the main food in their fast and it is perceived as the most pure food – the fist food that man tries in his life. During the USSR period, the kolkhoz of the village, led by Mikhail Nikitin, was among the leading ones in the whole Soviet Union.
Next, we headed straight to Qabala – the end point of our trip on day one. We arrived there soooooooo much later that we had expected. Thanks to our Navigation system! It tried to mislead us all the time and finally succeeded! We ended up driving extra 60 km and naively took a stone path (to say the least!) that was too unlikely to lead to our 4-star hotel. Anyway, an hour and a few telephone calls later, we finally managed to find the right exit leading towards our hotel. And it was niiiiice – a first-class road in a tunnel cast by the crowns of the trees, winding amid picturesque villages.
Welcome to Qafqaz Thermal & SPA Hotel! OK, now… This is a place you want to visit! Prices are very good and the service is deserving of 5 stars! Tranquility among nature, clean (very clean!) and beautiful hotel, lakes, horses, SPA, mineral water – the perfect place to enjoy a long-awaited break from everyday life. Unfortunately, amid tourist season, they didn’t have any places left except for one room for just one night, so our stay here was very limited. However, we will most probably try it again at some point in the future.
On the next day we loaded the car and decided that it’s time to bring some extra happiness in our son’s life. So, what can make a 3-year old boy happy on a hot summer day (apart from ice-cream, candies, watermelon, airplanes, etc.)?! – Yup, the local equivalent of Disneyland – Qabaland!
I won’t go into too deep a description about this theme park, but let’s say that if you’re visiting the city with kids – it’s a must-see! The kids will have fun and you might even enjoy it as well. It’s full of people in the evenings, since it’s too hot during the day, but even if you end up there at noon (like we did!), you will be able to relax in the big indoor playground (thankfully, there is such), while your kids spend their energy running around and having fun. It’s suitable for kids all ages, and even the adults can relish spending some time on fresh air and marveling at the nature surrounding the park.
After spending a couple of hours at Qabaland, we headed towards the next stop of our journey – the city Mingachevir. Now, I keep telling my husband that I want to make myself a T-shirt saying “I <3 Mingachevir!” 🙂 This city was such a refreshing surprise for us! We never expected it to be this good! Actually, we added it to our trip out of pure curiosity. It’s not as famous as Ganja, Qabala, Lankaran, and Shaki, but it’s a great place to enjoy a fun and peaceful holiday.
Prepare to visit my favourite city in Azerbaijan (after Baku!) in the upcoming Part 2 of our Summer Adventures on the Silk Road!
(To be continued…)