At the foot of the funicular, this fashion-conscious lounge-restaurant sports a ‘theatre kitchen’ producing imaginative Asian-fusion food, including designer sushi (try the mackerel with olive and pine nuts). There’s a hip cocktail bar and a plush garden area with lime-green sofa seats shaded with white drapes.
Şamaxı’s only real sight is the big, sturdy Cümə Mosque . The original mosque on this site was supposedly the second oldest in the trans-Caucasus. Excavations of its 10th-century incarnation can be seen in the grounds where a little nodding-donkey pump has nothing to do with oil – it draws water for the congregation’s ritual ablutions.
This column-fronted neoclassical building once honoured Lenin. Now it’s a multimuseum centre whose most interesting section charts the history of Azeri carpet making. The collection includes over 1000 rare and beautiful rugs from Azerbaijan, as well as Iran and Dagestan.
Hand-woven carpets using wool coloured with vegetable dyes are created before your eyes in this characterful suburban factory that’s decorated with a museumlike selection of traditional handicrafts. Tours are free even if you don’t buy anything. It’s around 20 minutes’ drive northeast of the centre.
Lahıc’s main street is unevenly paved with smooth pale river-stones. Houses, many with wooden box-balconies, are built traditionally with interleaving stone and timber layers to improve earthquake resilience.
Well-presented exhibits on Azerbaijan’s history and culture might miss the odd century here and there, but there’s more than enough to fill several hours if you’re really interested. If not, it’s still worth a brief trot through to admire the building – an opulent 1896 mansion.
This small row of garden dining-booths is a bit of a trek from the centre and the decor is nothing fancy. However, the quality of kebabs is unbeatable, the salad selection includes a spicy aubergine paste and the dovğa (yoghurt soup) is the best we tasted anywhere. Note that there’s no written menu and pricing, while fair, is opaque.
There are several useful services from the bus station . For Baku via İsmayıllı and Şamaxı, marshrutkas (AZN6, seven hours) depart approximately hourly between 6.30am and 5pm or later, supplemented by big buses around midnight. A shared taxi costs AZN12 per person. Şəki train station is a whopping 17km south of town.
The town’s interesting museum housed in an 18th-century domed building that has been used variously as a silk shop, restaurant and zurkhaneh (‘house of strength’ – for the practice of a unique Iranian sport based on sufi philosophy).
The Qobustan Petroglyph Reserve is run by helpful English-speaking staff and it’s well worth paying for a guided tour: deciphering or even spotting the petroglyphs can be pretty tough for the casual visitor. Common themes are livestock, wild animals and human figures, notably shamans. Especially notable is a spindly reed boat sailing towards the sunset.