Mountainous Azerbaijan © Matthew Hadley
Called the 'land of fire', Azerbaijan is famed for its old-world ties, oil spas, healing springs, and ateshgahs (eternal fires). History buffs and wellness tourists will not be disappointed. The country lies between Asia and Europe and is an important player in the South Caucasus' energy space. Indeed, Azerbaijan was first to explore the region's tremendous potential in the sector.
Azerbaijan is also renowned for Naftalan: a unique, medicinal oil. The remedy is thought to be an effective treatment for arthritis, psoriasis, and rheumatism. Naftalan town has special spas and treatment centres, where patients sit up to their necks in baths of the rare oil. Visitors can choose from more than 1,000 mineral springs throughout the country as well.
The capital, Baku, is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the Caucasus region, and is Azerbaijan's cultural, economic, political, and scientific centre. Situated on the Caspian Sea, it is about 5,500 years old.
History lovers can see some wonderfully preserved relics, ancient mosques, cities, oases, fortresses and palaces. They can also visit the ancient fire-worshipper temple complex, Ateshgah, and walk the natural gas-fuelled Yanar Dag (Fire Mountain), which is one of many impressive eternal fires on the Absheron Peninsula. For the most part, Azerbaijan is mountainous and dotted with beautiful lakes. Many resorts line the Caspian Sea's sandy beaches.
On a cautionary note, there is ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the small Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Though largely populated by Armenians, it is officially part of Azerbaijan. The trouble began with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when both countries gained their independence.