Don’t let Baku convince you that this city is enough to discover Azerbaijan. Its modern streets, buildings in european style and historical old city are not enough to feel the spirit of the country. Therefore, pack your backpacks and leave Baku. We are going to a small city in northwestern Azerbaijan that is called Sheki (Azerbaijani:Şəki). It takes only five hours to get to one place where you can find five reasons to say goodbye to Baku.
#1 Green is a new black
After crowded and noisy Baku Sheki is just a heaven for your eyes and ears. All that trees, flowers and rivers around will make you feel a part of nature. Special attention should be paid to mountains which surround the city. The mountain Greater Caucasus in that area does not look like cold and inapproachable rocks but more like a green fluffy giant that is immersed in the woods. Such a powerful and at the same time gentle embrace of the mountain provides Sheki with coolness in a hot day and protects it from wind.
Just one breath of fresh Sheki air will give you a power to conquer any mountain, the Greater Caucasus as well. Therefore, if you are tired from the crazy rhythm of Baku and need a warm hug of the mother nature, come to Sheki.
#2 How I met its history
You might think that history is too boring to waste your time on it. However, you cannot tell it about historical Palace of Shaki Khans (Azerbaijani: Xan Sarayi). Tour inside a summer residence of Shaki Khans is both interesting and fast. You are allowed to enter the building only by your order and have a quick 20 minutes excursion. It is hard to enjoy every single detail of the place construction of which took 2 years and decoration 8(!). Every corner, ceiling and wall is painted manually just like every piece of window is linked together by ancient masters. There are no words to describe how beautiful this piece of art is. Thus, be ready to soak any information you hear and remember any pattern you see, because you are not allowed to take pictures inside meaning that your eyes are your only camera.
#3 Food is all we need
Prepare your stomach for the trip because Sheki is famous for its special cuisine. The most famous dish of this region is Piti. It is something like a stew from lamb meat and fat cooked in a crockery, with addition of chickpeas. Piti is totally a dish for meat lovers but even they can find it too heavy for hot summer days. If you are in Sheki and it is cold outside, you should totally order a magic pot of Piti and even winter frost will not screw up your staying in that cozy city.
Sheki’s dessert will satisfy even the most choosey sweet tooth. People from all over Azerbaijan come to the city to get some famous Sheki halva, special type of traditional pahlava. Only in Sheki this Azeri sweet is made of rice flour, and dough is not just rolled up like in usual pahlava, but is spread in a form of bars called rishta. Hard cooking technique and secret recipe do not allow to try Sheki halva somewhere besides the city. So coming to Sheki is the only way to try its halva. Moreover, if you want to get a box of Sheki halva for your homies, remember that the taste of one with walnut will become bitter in a week, but halva with hazelnut can be kept for a month.
#4 Take me to church
After giving food to your stomach you can feed your soul as well. For that purpose you should visit the Church of Kish (Azerbaijani: Kiş kilsəsi). Kish is a little village near Sheki where you can find a 12th century Caucasian Albanian church. Surrounded by roses and trees nowadays church is a touristic place rather than spiritual or religious. However, there is something soulful in standing in front of its altar or drink a water from a little spring outside of it. You should definitely visit it if you want to know more about religion in this region, have a spiritual connection with the universe or just to enjoy an amazing view.
#5 Kids with Cows
Kids in Sheki love tourists, so they will probably greet you with all english words they know, pose for your camera, hug you or even give you roses from their garden. Children from megapolis never pay so much attention to foreigners, conversely they try to avoid you. Therefore, Sheki is a perfect place to communicate with local kids and…cows. Don’t surprise if a couple of Sheki cows will decide to accompany you as being shy is not about local animals and children. Just enjoy your trip with cloven-hoofed bodyguard and little companions, because you won’t get such experience in Baku.