Situated away from the main centre, this hotel is normally more useful for a business visit where the company offices happen to be around the corner – or for the 2012 Eurovision song contest, the venue for which is currently under construction near the hotel.
The new Eurovision centre, new roads, and other construction work – like the extension to the sea-front Boulevard walk and gardens (currently around 5km long, starting from Baku port at the far end of the bay from the Crown Hotel, extending to this side of the Old Town)means that anyone visiting between now (end of March) and the contest opening, might find themselves surrounded (as I did this week) by construction work. In Azerbaijan, they don’t completely ‘fence off’ such work; instead directing traffic and pedestrians through and around the work in a manner that wouldn’t happen in a more ‘health and safety’ driven country. The new centre and local road construction – which (hopefully) should be completed for Eurovision – is very evident from the Crown Hotel 7th floor restaurant terrace (see photo). Rooms come in a variety of sizes, with rack prices to match. On this occasion I was in a mid-range ‘Deluxe Suite’. Furnishings and fittings are showing their age when compared to more recent hotels in Baku – but my room was kept clean and tidy each day. Tea/coffee making facilities in the room, and bottled water. If I was visiting on vacation – rather than the business visit that suited this location perfectly – I’d probably choose a hotel in or near the Old Town. Having said that – if you like a good walk, the new sea-front Boulevard extension (the fully ‘joined-up’ version – not planned for Eurovision) should provide a good (pedestrian) access route to the Old Town and beyond, when completed. Others might prefer a hotel on the beaches to the north or south of Baku – some of which provide a courtesy shuttle service to town/airport.
Breakfast buffet had tinned fruit (only pineapple and peaches when I visited); dried fruit and nuts; cereal; yoghurt; hot food including fried egg, bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, mushroom, baked beans and other bits and pieces. And cold cuts for those who prefer continental. A pot of Earl Grey is kept hot on top of the samovar. Served in the breakfast room by Reception. There’s also a bar on this level, which serves bar food – in addition to the 7th floor restaurant with its panoramic views. I wasn’t expecting to be in this hotel, and hadn’t come prepared to make use of the indoor swimming pool, nor the fitness suite.
Baku Old Town has to be visited during any trip, whether holiday or business. It has many interesting sites and buildings within the walls, with historical information widely available. Should you decide to buy a carpet – many on sale near the Maiden Tower – make sure the proper export licence formalities are completed. And take the time to have a walk along the sea-front Boulevard and gardens – possibly stopping at one of the cafes for beer and kebab.
Foodies can try a variety of cultures, with Azeri and Turkish being prominent – but also Lebanese, western, Chinese, Indian and others. As anywhere, of course, you’ll find the inevitable ‘Irish Bar’ and – with Baku being the ‘oil capital’ of the Caspian region – a ‘Caledonian’ influence. Not to mention the big yellow M by Fountain Square in the main town shopping area.
Should probably mention that it is not advisable to hire a car nor attempt to drive in Baku … road traffic here has to be experienced to be believed – and it is best experienced with a good local driver behind the wheel. You’ll find purple London taxi cabs around the town – 1000 of them are already in operation with the Baki Taksi company – replacing cars like the ageing Lada (ex. Fiat) and Renault 12s that previously dominated the taxi scene. When getting a taxi from your hotel, do as you’d do in any former Soviet Union country – ask reception to phone a taxi rather than pick one up in the street.