Eric Lafforgue

Kazakhstan

The world’s ninth-biggest country is the most economically advanced of the ‘stans’, thanks to its abundant reserves of oil and most other valuable minerals. That money has transformed the capital Astana, on the windswept northern steppe, into a 21st-century showpiece with a profusion of bold futuristic architecture. Travelers will find some fantastic restaurants and accommodation amongst the leafy avenues of Almaty too; its biggest city also boasts the chic ALZhiR Museum-Memorial Complex, glossy shopping centres and hedonistic nightlife. But it's beyond the cities that you'll find the greatest travel adventures, whether hiking in the high mountains and green valleys of the Tian Shan, searching for wildlife on the lake-dotted steppe, enjoying homespun hospitality in village guesthouses, or jolting across the western deserts to remote underground mosques.

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