It’s that time of year again where we all groan, complain and cover our ears, yet somehow we can’t manage to avert our eyes: Eurovision. Though some countries have been known to dominate the Eurovision landscape in previous years (hello, Ireland in the ’90s), 2012 is treating us to somewhere new: Baku. All thanks to the cheesy-but-loveably Azerbaijani crooners Ell & Nikki, who won last year’s contest with their pop hit “Running Scared” (admittedly, a little too catchy…).
Baku’s undergone a bit of a makeover for the event – no surprise, considering it’s Azerbaijan’s first Eurovision win and therefore its first time to host the contest. The Crystal Hall was constructed in North Baku especially for the event, which takes place May 22, 24 and 26, 2012.
Here at Hg2, we think Baku is pretty groovy. So, we’ve put together a few of our favourite hotels, shops, clubs, bars and restaurants in Baku for Eurovision fever.
There’s something about the Metropol’s bold colour scheme of red and black with dark metallic silver curtains which feels a bit like a late 80s gangster’s den, but it certainly works. Rooms are large; fittings are well thought out, with plasma screens et al throughout, and the ultra-complicated space-age multi-jet shower cabinets are, well, complicated! The Metropol offers an affordable slice of grade B rock star luxury that makes it the perfect Baku Eurovision hotel. Oh, and it’s only a few blocks stroll from the shops and services of Torgova and the Old City.
A stunning vision in a Floridian combination of pastel yellow and white, the Filarmonia was originally built back in 1910 as a casino and modelled on the great gambling houses of Monte Carlo. The story goes that it was modelled after a design, sketched with a cigar stub in a moment of inspired genius by the suitably hedo-nistic-sounding architect. Impressively renovated back in 2004, the Filarmonia is one of the top venues to hear classical music in Baku, hosting an impressive array of classical concerts in the indoor main hall, the smaller rotunda in the park and on the impressive outdoor stage.
With a name that means ‘bravo!’ in Azeri and bedecked in traditional Azeri handicrafts, Bah Bah is a great restaurant in Baku for the uninitiated to sample Azeri cuisine. A live band provides an appropriate musical backdrop of traditional folk music, sometimes breaking into less traditional Beatles’ medleys over an electronically-generated bossanova beat – perfect for Eurovision fever. If you’re unsure what to try, go for the dushbara (mutton broth with small raviolini-like meat-filled pasta twists), shüyüd plov (herby rice) with narbiç (chicken stewed with ground walnuts and pomegranates) or a saj (meat and/or fish and potatoes served sizzling on a traditional wide skillet).
Stepping down from the street into Khalifa transports you into the world of the 1001 Arabian Nights. You half expect to encounter Ali Baba peeking out of an oil jar, or Aladdin rubbing his magic lamp. Slip off your shoes and sink into a low, luxuriantly upholstered banquette, sip on a cocktail or an expertly served glass of tea, poured from an elaborate metal pot, warmed over candles. Marvel at the exquisite frescoed scenes of Arabia, draped in chiffons of every hue under the sun. Then, your senses wrapped in goose-down comfort, the nightly belly-dancing performance starts.
Baku’s the kind of city where you can get anything from handmade carpets to Dior suits, but we recommend you head to Zeynalabdin Taghiyev Street for something a little different: chocolate and books. Valonia is an upmarket chocolaterie, making the finest chocs to Belgian recipes, while nearby Ali & Nino Bookstore is a small Baku bookstore chain (the other branch is on Nizami Street) with the best selection of English language books in Baku. It takes its name from Kurban Said’s eponymous classic of Azeri literature.