21 October 2019 08:17
Azerbaijan joined the Formula 1 calendar in 2016 and already it has established itself as an attractive destination for race fans and tourists from all over. Motorsport Live takes a look at how to make a holiday out of Azerbaijan and its capital city, Baku.
Baku, located adjacent to the Caspian Sea, melds old with new, with the historic buildings and artefacts complemented by the vast modern architecture still under construction, fuelled by the financial rise in the post-Soviet era. Baku can be reached within five hours from London, with a handful of airlines flying to the Azerbaijani capital, some with direct services.
Next year's event will return to its traditional June date; Baku is renowned for its status as a windy city all-year round but come summer temperatures can reach a pleasant 30c, with long days giving you ample time to explore what the city has to offer. And when there you'll find a mixture of old and new, modern and historic, east and west, and all at affordable prices.
Just a short and cheap taxi ride will take you from the modern airport through the outskirts of the city and into the centre, past the striking Heydar Aliyev Centre, designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid. The curved, white building - named after Azerbaijan's first President - has won several awards for its unique design, and houses a conference centre, auditorium, as well as a museum with temporary exhibits popping up on occasion. Another of Azerbaijan's modern wonders are the Flame Towers, a trio of skyscrapers each shaped like a flame, and which dominate the skyline. The Flame Towers were designed and constructed with thousands of LEDs affixed to the outside, meaning that the movement of fire - or sometimes the national flag colours - is visible throughout the city. The origins of the Flame Towers can be found in Azerbaijan's status as the 'Land of Fire', courtesy of its natural underground gas and oil reserves, meaning fires can burn forever.
Formula 1's sprawling track layout circles the Old City, so be sure to head into the walled area to check out the historic centre of Baku, which is thought to date back almost a thousand years. The cobbled streets are divided into several different districts but the entirety of the Old City is walkable, with several market stalls and boutiques where you can buy traditional Azeri products. Every corner and street has a tale to tell about the history of Baku, with the Old City having never been breached by opposing forces. The Maiden Tower is the focal point of the Old City and houses a museum, while you can climb to the top and take in a view of Baku's past, while looking towards its future. Just around the corner from the Old City is Fountain Square, which leads onto the 3.5km-long Nizami Street, one of the main thoroughfares of Baku that features a pedestrianised section and a plethora of shopping outlets, both local and international. If you're up for a walk then be sure to head to the coastline of the low-lying Caspian Sea during the Formula 1 race weekend; the full-throttle section heading to the start/finish line runs adjacent to a lengthy walkway which features a range of cafes, restaurants and activities, while an amble alongside the blue water is a relaxing voyage away from the bustling centre.
Head a little further afield and you'll find the Bibi Heybet Mosque, a grand religious temple that was rebuilt once Azerbaijan regained independence in the 1990s, half a century after it was destroyed by the Soviets. Beyond the outskirts of Baku there's the Gobustan National Park, rich in ancient carvings and geological wonders, including the mud volcanoes, which can be visited as part of a lengthy tour. For the very brave you can enjoy a mud bath, thought to have medicinal and spiritual qualities.
For the best experience of visiting Baku be sure to acquire some local currency - the Manat - at the airport. It cannot be bought outside of the country, and with cash still king in many places, it's advisable to make sure you're not reliant on cards. One other element is to buy a local sim card at the airport. They're affordable, easy to insert, and will ensure you can stay online without risking any roaming charges.
Formula 1 will race into the streets of Azerbaijan next June (4-7) for the fifth running of the event at the Baku City Circuit. Be sure to join in with all the action courtesy of Motorsport Live, which once on sale, will have a range of Azerbaijan Grand Prix tickets and hospitality options available, so sign up for notifications today!