Oil-rich Azerbaijan has plenty of large, five-star chain hotels in its capital Baku, attracting the nouveau riche and high-end tourists from the Gulf States. However, we chose the small, four-star independent Merchant Baku Hotel, for four nights at the beginning of a tour of the South Caucasus.
The hotel, built in 1858, is located in a magnificent, historic building that once housed the Caspian Shipping Company.
The 63 rooms were located over several floors, and our second-floor room (203) was spacious with comfortable king-size bed, plenty of pillows and bedside cabinets with lights and English three pin sockets ideal for overnight charging of mobiles. There was a large, wall-mounted TV, cabinet containing tea and coffee making facilities and complimentary water, and two easy chairs with coffee table. The wardrobe had a brilliantly large, accessible safe with lift up lid, but in contrast, there were no sockets near a mirror when I wanted to dry my hair. Slippers were provided and although there was lots of hanging space, more shelving would have been useful. It took us a while to fathom out the lighting system and to find comfort mode on the air conditioning panel.
The bathroom had a central basin, with loo on one side and walk-in shower on the other. This had the largest shower head I’ve experienced, and powerful jets of hot water that revived bodies weary after sightseeing. There were lots of toiletries, sadly in un-environmentally friendly small plastic bottles, towels, and hooks. Unfortunately, it was also the hotel of the disappearing hand towels and bathmats which were often unreplaced, in contrast to face flannels, when at one point we had five.
I loved the humorous, motivational signs around the hotel – for example, ‘when life shuts a door, open it again. It’s how it works, it’s a door. So open it, make up my room please’ and ‘the door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last. But not now, privacy please’.
The ground floor central bar had casual seating on one side and an informal restaurant on the other. The style was ‘The Great Gatsby’, where art deco touches mixed with huge green plants, fabulous prints and velvet drapes: all fabulously stylish, but comfortable.
At breakfast, there was an extensive daily changing, selection of cold meats, gravadlax, local cheeses, juices, fruits, yoghurt, cereals, breads, pastries, pizza and quiche with omelettes and shakshuka being cooked on request.
The location was excellent: a 10-minute walk to the Old City in one direction and in the other, the Bulvar, or promenade running along the Caspian Sea. We arrived by car at the main entrance on the busy Aziz Aliyev Street, but the back entrance opened up onto a pedestrianised thoroughfare lined with bars and restaurants, including the hotel’s terraced café bar, Longitude and Latitude.
As expected for a four-star hotel, bar prices were around double those outside: however, although a local beer was 10 Manat (£4.50), it was still cheaper than London and perfect for a restorative drink after a day’s sightseeing, and pre or post dinner drinks. As there was a plethora of restaurants literally on our doorstep, we didn’t eat in house.
Whilst I rarely single out hotel staff on reviews, I make an exception for Ilgar, the bar manager. Having arrived late at night after a long day of travelling, he quickly sorted out large reviving G&Ts, recommended a light snack of duck gyoza with avocado dip and resolved our payment dilemma (unless credit cards are registered on arrival, you cannot simply sign but unfortunately, we weren’t told this at check in). As we frequently passed through the bar/restaurant, Ilgar always greeted us with a friendly word and chat about our day and he also provided an excellent restaurant recommendation on our final night.
Whilst there were a few quirks, I’m glad we chose the hotel, and would certainly recommend it for a short stay in Baku.