From Sunday 6 December through
Wednesday 9 December I drove with colleagues of mine from Baku to Tbilisi. It was winter so the weather was cold and rainy. Yet, it was a great opportunity to get off the beaten track, away from the capitals and see the inside of country. We traveled in Northwestern Azerbaijan from Baku to Shemakha, Ismayili and Qabala where we stayed in the nearby Qafqaz hotel. From there we continued to Sheki and Zakatala to then return and stay the night at the hotel in Sheki. The next day we crossed the boarder into Georgia at Balakon. Quite an experience in itself. In Georgia, on the way to Tbilisi we stopped in the idyllic restored mountain top village of Sighnaghi. Bringing the GPS along helped to record the route and the locations visited. You can find a copy of the actual route on Wikiloc
Ismayili is a non-descriptive little town like so many others in Azerbaijan. Like many other city centers in Azerbaijan it has its Haidar Aliyev Park and Government and administrative buildings which all have a new and clean appearance standing out from the surrounding areas. They seem to provide the locals with an island of cleanliness, manicured gardens and modernity brought to them by the father of the nation.
We spent the night in Qabala. Not much to see in Qabala besides the Haidar Aliyev Prospekt and in spite of the fact that nearby Old Qabala is supposed to be one of the oldest cities in Azerbaijan. It was rediscovered in 1959, yet not much has been excavated. The town is surrounded by beautiful green mountains which provide for great excursion opportunities away from Baku, in all seasons. Just 5km north of the town centre a beautiful 5 star resort, the Qafqaz Hotel, is barely a couple of years old, providing topnotch accommodation and service.
Sheki was the most worthwhile stop on the trip. It seems to have a rich history with the Caucasus Mountain rage as a backdrop. The key attraction is The Khan’s Palace. It was built in the early 1760′s. While small it is exquisitely decorated on the outside and the inside. The wall paintings inside are stunningly beautiful.
Another worthwhile visit in Sheki is to the Caravanserai which dates to the 18th century and currently operates as a hotel and restaurant. The size of the caravanserai clearly is a testimony the importance of Sheki as a trading place a few hundred years ago.
An additional worthwhile stop is Kish, just 5km north of Sheki. it boosts a beautifully restored Albanian Church, or Church of St Elishe. It has been restored with the help of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The cultic site found beneath the altar of the church dates to about 3000 B.C., while the construction of the existing church building dates to about the 12th century (990-1160 A.D.).
The border crossing from Azerbaijan to Georgia at Balakon is an experience in contrasts – almost in civilization. On the Azerbaijan site the border is not organized at all. There’s long queues, actually many queues of people trying to jump ahead on for, by car, van and even by truck resulting in total chaos. The only way to get ahead and through in a reasonable amount of time is to provide some “tea money”. Once through, on the Georgian side, everything is smoothly organized and no queues to be had. The entire procedure taking no more than 10 minutes and with every official encountered sharing you a warm and genuine “welcome to Georgia” …in English.
Sighnaghi is an attractive little medieval town in Kakheti region. It’s being restored and with its idyllic setting is a slowly becoming a favorite location as a setting for weddings. It’s a great place to spend the day, have a stroll around and take in the views of the Alazani Valley and Caucasus Mountains.
Last Updated: 28-12-2009
Copyright © 2012 Hans Dewaele – All rights reserved