In the Azeri capital, bling is king. From the glittering Crystal Hall – scene of 2012’s Eurovision Song Contest – to the space-age Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre, the city is flaunting its post-Soviet oil boom big time. But beach-front resorts and designer skyscrapers are only half the story. While expats swig Cristal champagne in VIP clubs, the local seniors prefer tea and backgammon. You’ll find them enjoying life in the outdoor tea houses, called çayxanalar, which line the shady streets of the Old Town.
The Flame Towers, Baku’s tallest skyscrapers, are built on such unstable ground that there is a risk of them collapsing.
Venture into the Inner Walled City, a UNESCO protected site; gazing up at the 12th century Maiden’s Tower is a fairy-tale sensation. Then the honk of a run-down Lada – and the squealing brakes of a Lamborghini – will bring you right back to the present tense in Baku.