We didn’t know what to expect when we decided to go to the Caucasus in 2015, so we were hoping to be impressed by the three nations: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, after spending a week in Baku, we were not that in love with Azerbaijan. Granted, the place has a fantastic downtown and a couple of very impressive modern structures, but it was overpriced and we had to argue constantly to avoid being scammed. But leaving the country with only the capital visited wasn’t a great plan either, so on our way back to beautiful Georgia we stopped in historical Sheki on the north of Azerbaijan, a bizarre place lost in time and space that was so worth visiting.
Other than Baku, Sheki is the only city in the country with a lot of heritage. Different historical layers can be seen everywhere. This place was rich under Persia, Russia, and as the capital of the short lived Sheki Khanate. The outstanding Khansarai, Palace of the Sheki Khans, was built at that time. The only remaining structure from a large palace complex built on a hill, it overlooks the entire city. The richly decorated building stands out for its rich ceramic tile façade, stained glass windows and colored wooden roof.
We arrived to Sheki at the break of dawn after a 12 hour night ride on a comfortable Soviet style train. We were able to arrange our stay at the famous Caravanserai Hotel beforehand. Strangely enough the historical hotel didn’t have a webpage, nor could be booked online.
The hotel looked mysterious: massive walls with a huge wooden gate. We rang a bell and the reception guy let us inside this monumental stone fortress building with a charming garden in the centre. Apparently he lived inside one of the walls. It felt awesome to be the only guest in this astonishing 18th century building. It felt like the 18th century too! Our room was freezing cold, with basic toilet facilities and a hard rock bed. A magical place, no doubt, but not all magic is comfortable!
Baku makes such an attempt to look glitzy and modern with its luxury shops and fancy architecture that it was a pleasure to get to know a more hospitable relaxed side of Azerbaijan. We loved getting lost in cobbled streets between traditional stone houses. The beautiful gardens and quiet life made us forget about the cold as we walked around. Plus the Azeri food here is home-made delicious. We were ready to continue to sunny Georgia, leaving Azerbaijan with a smile.