oil drills AND HOLY FLAMES
Baku – Qobustan – Absheron – Sumqayit – Nardaran – Xinaliq – Sheki
This tour is offered on a regular monthly basis. Let us know your desired departure month by clicking on the learn-more button below: we will match your preferences with the next relevant scheduled group departure. If you are still unsure about your desired departure date, then simply tell us a period or a season of the year and we will provide you a range of scheduled group departures: just pick up yours!
Our scheduled group departures don't suit your plans? If you are travelling with more than 4 friends, you can set your own departure date: we will arrange a bespoke tour just for you for the same price per person advertised below. If you are travelling solo or with less than four companions, we will then organise a slightly more expensive tailored tour according to your time schedule and specific geographical preferences.
Please note: the following itinerary has a strong focus on multiethnic cultural heritage and Soviet history. If you are more into classic attractions (i.e. mosques, ruins, palaces, temples and museums) and/or natural wonders (gorges, lakes and gentle slopes alike), we can easily design a bespoke itinerary according to your own specific preferences. Get in touch for more details on our tailored routes in Azerbaijan.
DAY 1 - Soviet Baku
In the morning you will meet your tour guide in the lobby of the designated hotel (exact hotel address and meeting time will be communicated well in advance per email; private airport pickup and shuttle service available for a small additional fee).
Introductory briefing about the region, the route and the set of rules to observe while travelling in Azerbaijan.
In the company of a local expert, we will enjoy a comprehensive Soviet Architecture tour of the city, which will include both early examples of Soviet constructivism and neoclassicism and later modernist and internationalist buildings, as well as a selected compendium of Soviet memorials and pre-Soviet architectural wonders.
We'll also go truly off the beaten path by visiting the hinterland norther districts, the so-called mikrorayons, a real-life compendium of Soviet urbanist theories and practices.
We suggest to order your own copy of the Architectural Guide Baku edited by DOM Publishers, as a perfect introduction to the tuff-and-concrete shapes of the city.
Lunch, dinner and overnight in Baku.
DAY 2 - Absheron Peninsula
We'll devote the entire day touring the surreal badlands and the odd sights of the Absheron Peninsula: burning rocks, fire temples, secret Islands, melancholic Soviet resorts, semi-abandoned dystopian towns, rickety oil drills, fishing villages and ancient mosques.
Seafood lunch in one of the many villages and hamlets dotting the peninsula.
Afternoon visit to the petrochemical Soviet town of Sumqayit and environment-focussed tour of the surrounding post-apocalyptic badlands.
Dinner and overnight in Baku.
DAY 3 - Southern Riviera
Early morning drive along Azerbaijan’s Southern Riviera: long sandy beaches, industrial archeology, socialist architectures and lots of hidden gems; a paradise for Soviet-geeks and photographers alike.
Around midday we’ll visit the area around the industrial city of Qobustan: active mud volcanoes, perfectly preserved petroglyphs and stunning views over the riviera.
After lunch we’ll then head for the country’s little-visited interior, stopping en route at the Soviet town of Yevlakh, known as the “Gate to Karabakh”, for its proximity to the internationally unrecognised but the de facto independent Nagorno Karabakh Republic.
In the late afternoon we’ll arrive in Naftalan, an archetypically Soviet town known for its petroleum sanatoria, once popular vacation spots among the hard-working citizens of the mighty Soviet Union: oil from these spas is claimed to be an effective treatment against psoriasis, arthritis and rheumatism.
At the height of their Soviet-era popularity, the spas in Naftalan had 75,000 visitors a year. The combination of violent ethnic conflict in nearby Nagorno-Karabakh and the end of Soviet-sponsored free trips brought the industry to its knees in the early 90s: all but one of the older spas were converted into refugee housing.
The spas are, however, making a slow but steady comeback, most of them have been reopened and their rickety structures went through complete renovation; but fear not: although some of the buildings have irreparably lost their original Soviet modernist features, the atmosphere inside has stayed the same: enjoy your bath and time travel back to the good old days of Soviet tourism.
Oil bath, dinner and overnight in Naftalan.
DAY 4 - Sheki
Lazy morning at our Soviet-era sanatorium in Naftalan and visit to nearby Ganja, formerly Kirovabad, the second largest city in the country.
After a short Soviet tour around Ganja, we’ll then head for the historical city of Sheki, home to glorious palaces, ancient mosques, atmospheric chaikhanas, narrow alleys, colourful markets, and labyrinthine caravansaries.
Dinner and overnight in Sheki.
DAY 5 - Zaqatala
In the morning we’ll make a short excursion to the Udi village of Kish to admire a well preserved Caucasian Albanian church and learn about the obscure culture and the traditions of the Udis, the last Albanians of the Caucasus.
We'll then head north towards the high peaks of the Greater Caucasus to visit Zaqatala and the namesake province, a region of superb natural beauty and intricate ethnic dynamics.
We'll tour the town’s Soviet and pre-Soviet sights as well as the bustling central market, where you'll be able to observe and interact with the different ethnicities inhabiting the region: Lezgins, Tsakhurs, Tabassarins, Akhvaks, Avars, Dargins and, of course, Azerbaijanis; all coming together to one place to sell, buy and trade everything imaginable from smelly onions to rusty utensils.
In the afternoon we'll visit the traditional Avar mountain village of Car and later transfer to the ancient city of Qax, a picturesque stone-and-wood traditional town with a seizable Georgian minority.
Dinner and overnight in Qax.
DAY 6 - Shamakhi
Early the morning we'll hike to the holy waterfall of Ilisu and after a picnic brunch in the fresh breeze we'll drive back down south to the beautiful valleys of the Ismaili Province.
There we'll shortly paid a visit to the village of Ivanovka, inhabited mainly by the Molokans, a religious and peaceful Russian orthodox sect following a strict traditional lifestyle: the Soviet answer to the Amish communities of Pennsylvania.
We'll then head to the ancient city of Shamakhi to visit the crumbling old mosque and a massive abandoned Soviet astronomic observatory located in the hilltop village of Pirkuli.
In the late afternoon we'll eventually head back to Baku where we'll enjoy a well-deserved night of gastronomic pleasures.
Dinner and overnight in Baku.
DAY 7 - Xinaliq
In the morning we'll leave Baku and head north along the Caspian coast.
Besides the routine stops food and photography, we'll break the drive at the holy mountain of Besh Barmag, a five-peaked rock cliff rising abruptly from the desert steppes of northeastern Azerbaijan, and in the bustling and multi-ethnic frontier town of Quba.
Just outside Quba we’ll also visit the curious community of Krasnaya Sloboda, the last place in the country inhabited by a Jewish majority and - by extension - the very last Shtetlekh (pre-Holocaust Jewish-majority urban localities) in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
After a kosher lunch in Krasnaya Sloboda we'll head to the mountains of Greater Caucasus.
A scenic drive across green pastures and whitewater streams will eventually lead us to Xinaliq, a remote mountain hamlet surrounded by breathtaking sceneries.
The village of Xinaliq is inhabited by an historically isolated population said to be one of the oldest distinct ethnicities in the Caucasus; the mountain area itself, comprising even more remote villages, is, instead, mainly inhabited by the Lezgins, a Sunni muslim ethnic group with its roots in the neighbouring republic of Dagestan.
Dinner and overnight in Xinaliq.
DAY 8 - Flight back home or transfer to further destinations
After enjoying a last lavish Xinaliq-style breakfast together we'll take care of your transfer to the airport/train station of choice.
For those flying out: transfer to Heydar Aliyev International Airport for your flight back home.
For those wishing to take the train/bus to reach further destinations: transfer to the local train/bus station.
End of the tour.
3 to 8 participants: 1100 € per person
The price includes: double/twin room accommodation (breakfast included; single supplement: 18 euros/night), private transport in the region (jeep or minivan), entrance fees to the attractions listed in the itinerary, guiding and translation service.
The price does not include: international flights, transport to and from the airport of arrival/departure (35 euros/ride), meals, drinks and tips, visas if required, entrance fees to attractions not listed in the itinerary, insurance.
The route of this tour has been carefully designed after several research trips in the region. It is, however, always possible to slightly modify the itinerary according to the needs and the suggestions of the participants. Our motto is flexibility.
Airport pickup in Baku is available for just 35 euros per ride.