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From traditional souks, mosques and UNESCO World Heritage sites, to futuristic skyscrapers, Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, offers an eclectic mix of old and new.
Among the most startling additions to the modern skyline are the Flame Towers, a trio of sky-high structures that resemble tongues of fire reaching high over the Caspian Sea.
Designed by US architecture firm HOK, and with Tower 1 standing at 182 meters, they’re the tallest buildings in Azerbaijan.
And visitors can stay in them – one building’s residential, one is for office use, while the third, the 165-meter-tall Fairmont Baku, is a contemporary five-star hotel.
The towers can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, but night is when they truly come alive. Orange, red and pink LED lights dance across the towers like burning flames.
For some in Baku, they’re now a symbol of home.
“You can see Flame Towers as you fly into the airport, lit up with multicolored lights and shining the way,” fashion designer and media professional Nina Zandnia tells CNN Travel. “They’re the sign that lets everybody know they’ve reached Azerbaijan.”
So what’s it like to stay in one of the country’s most familiar landmarks? It’s certainly no ordinary hotel.
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The bold, sometimes bombastic statements begin with the dramatic exterior and keep going all the way inside.
The venue’s seven-story lobby is dominated by an extravagant chandelier, using five kilometers of strands, decorated with 840 lights and more than 600,000 crystal beads, and weighing a whopping two metric tons.
Taking pride of place below is a limited edition black and red Fazioli, one of the most expensive pianos in the world. The M Liminal, designed by NYT Line and Philippe Gendre, was purportedly accompanied Nigar Jamal and Eldar Gasimov in the performance that took Azerbaijan to victory in the 2011 edition of the annual Eurovision song contest.
Guests shouldn’t expect to hear it used in any casual jam sessions, it’s now only played by top pianists on special occasions.
The tower is home to more than 300 rooms, suites and serviced apartments, that range in price from $170 to upwards of $5,000 a night.
Even the most basic offer ceiling-to-floor windows and sumptuously large double beds. The décor is a contemporary luxury mix, with plush carpets and modern furniture. Spacious and comfortable, each room in the hotel either looks out over the city or across the bay into the sea.
Crisp and glamorous as it is, it does have an edge of corporate blandness that falls short of the regal vibes felt, for example, in the nearby Four Seasons.
A typical one-bedroom suite on the 17th floor offers views of the Caspian Sea and, if eligible, access to the Fairmont Gold lounge on the 19th floor, which comes with a private check-in area and concierge service.
The super-fast elevator to the 17th opens onto a spectacular landing with views across the bay. Once inside the suite, there’s a lobby area, are more jaw-dropping views, an office-slash-dining room, with wooden desk and a four-seater dining table.
Then there’s a generous, richly carpeted lounge with an oversized sofa and jazzy signature chair. The separate bedroom has a huge king-sized bed. There’s an enormous walk-in closet stacked with hangers, drawers and laundry essentials that leads into a large bathroom complete with bath and shower room.
In both of the suite’s two bathrooms, there are bespoke toiletries – yes, your name is printed on the shampoo, moisturizer and conditioner bottle. It’s a souvenir just asking to be taken home.
Nice touches, but does the hotel have celeb appeal? Yes, says, Zumrud Ismayilova, the hotel’s PR and marketing manager. Names are not named, but the list apparently includes leaders, royals and celebrities.
“We have had many VIP guests stay at the hotel, but we would never disclose who they are,” she tells CNN Travel. “When our guests come to stay with us, they expect privacy and confidentiality and that is exactly what we give them.”
Positioned at the very tip of the flame, the Royal Suite offers panoramic views of both city and sea. There are two bedrooms, both with en suite bathrooms, a lounge, private dining room, study, a guest bathroom, a kitchen and a grand hallway with chandelier – 375 square meters (4,036 square feet) of living space in total.
“The VIP or family will stay in the suite, but the rest of their party tends to take over the entire floor. We have additional rooms for security and staff, and a suite for extra family members,” explains Ismayilova.
There’s an open-plan living area, private study, a dining room fit for for 12 or more guests and a fully equipped kitchen (for the servants, of course). But the main attraction is the grand en suite bathroom with a vast oyster-shaped bath complete with window view over the bay.
The hotels amenities are a mixed bag. There’s an elegant spa spread over two floors of the hotel with indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, hammam and spaces to unwind. There’s also a fully equipped gym.
The beautifully designed Sky Garden allows guests the luxury of relaxing on the sundeck or taking advantage of the poolside sauna while looking out at the sea. There’s an S-shaped rooftop pool and outdoor bar, which look better from a distance than close up.
It’s best visited come evening. When the sun’s up, the towers reflect the sun and magnify its heat, making this area a frying pan.
As you’d hope from a fancy hotel inside one of the country’s biggest landmarks, the main Le Bistro restaurant offers an array of local Azerbaijani wines and delicacies. The Balcon café offers specialty teas and cakes, as well as sushi in the afternoons.
There’s also the Nur lounge which is a funky setting serving cocktails and snacks, and is a good pre-drinks site to soak in the atmosphere before moving onto the hotel’s Jazz Club, a local institution.
“We always recommend people to check out the Jazz Club after 9 p.m., because that’s when it really gets going. It’s very popular with both the hotel guests and the locals, and we always offer something new to keep people entertained,” Ismayilova says.
There are two things that most hotels are unable to provide – a shopping mall and cinema. Fairmont Flame Towers offers both.
Park Cinema provides guests (and members of the public) with six screens, including IMAX, showing the latest Arabic, English and Russian language films.
Next door is the Flame Towers Shopping Mall, due for completion in early 2020. Luxury brands, high street names, cafes and restaurants are all set to take up residency.
Fairmont Flame Towers, 1A Mehdi Huseyn St, Baku 1006, Azerbaijan; + 994 12 565 48 48