Set at the junction of two beautiful high-altitude valleys, diminutive İlisu was once the capital of a short-lived 18th-century sultanate. It’s a narrow ribbon of photogenic old houses with box windows, arched doorways and red-tiled roofs with only a few Soviet and 21st-century blemishes. Towards the southwestern end of town the square-plan, five-storey Summaqala Tower commands a picture-perfect valley view towards distant snow-topped peaks. Opposite the unusual triple-arched Ulu Mosque, the lane towards Saribaş leads past the drum-shaped stone Qala, a remnant bastion of İlisu’s historic fortress. At the northernmost end of the village, the main road dead-ends at the good-value Uludağ Resort, with pine-fresh, apartment-sized rooms; some (like 35 and 36) have mountain panoramas from their balconies. A jeep track from here leads steeply up the mountainside to Şələlə, a much-photographed ribbon of waterfall cascading over upturned strata. Allow around 40 minutes’ steadily uphill walking or pay a whopping AZN20 to hop in a Niva jeep (horribly bumpy). Hikes deeper into the mountainous İlisu Nature Reserve aren’t permitted as the reserve is a closed zone and the peaks behind form the sensitive Russian border.
Several summer-only restaurants and bungalow resorts lie on riverside meadows 3km south of İlisu village, close to a 17th-century bridge. Best value is Ulu whose bungalows were refitted in 2011. Around 1km further north, Sangar Qala Restaurant is an unmissable new fantasy castle built within crenellated dark stone walls.
Marshrutky leave from Qax (40q, 20 minutes) at 7.30am, 10.30am, noon, 2pm and 5pm, returning almost immediately on arrival in İlisu.