MEETINGS WITH CHARACTER
What impresses the most in Azerbaijan is undoubtedly the mix of eastern sophistication and western modernity, which are always in the right ratio. Moreover, in Azerbaijan they faithfully cherish traditional character, easily experienced at bazaars, through their cuisine and by listening to their music. This laid the foundation for an extraordinary meeting destination waiting to be fully discovered by European meeting planners. At the end of September 2019, we explored the beautiful country of Azerbaijan far and wide in order to bring you the most relevant and exciting locations for meeting planners.
TOP 5 PLACES WHERE PEOPLE MEET
The best places to meet, stay and incentivize IN AZERBAIJAN
1. Baku Convention Centre
Baku’s new convention centre impresses with its functional architecture and is capable of hosting a variety of different events. The Auditorium is the crown jewel of the Centre and one of the most advanced meeting halls in the world. It can accept up to 3500 participants, boasting impressive acoustics and top-of-the-line technical equipment.
2. Heydar Aliyev Centre Baku
The Heydar Aliyev Centre has been Baku’s main architectural icon since 2012. The Centre, designed by the legendary Zaha Hadid, houses a giant conference/concert hall, library, different exhibitions on multiple floors and even a collection of rare cars. Many come to Baku just to see the giant structure and admire its proportions.
3. Heydar Aliyev Congress Centre Gabala
Gabala is one of Azerbaijan’s most popular leisure destinations and in 2013 it became one luxury conference centre richer. The Heydar Aliyev Congress Hall in Gabala is as VIP as it can get. The main conference room has space for 1200 participants with superior technical equipment throughout. From a Steingraeber piano in the main hall and Harman Kardon speakers, the Centre is capable of taking on the most demanding projects.
4. Baku Expo Centre
Baku’s fair activity is well developed, with most fairs being carried out at Baku Expo Center, located near Baku’s modern airport. It stretches across 26,000 sqm, has three large fair halls and over 10 acres of outside space that can also be used for events.
5. Baku Crystal Hall
This magnificent multipurpose hall was built for the needs of Eurovision in 2012. It is located on a small peninsula on the Caspian Sea. It can host 27,000 participants and has an impressive LED facade used to project colourful animations.
ESSENTIAL MEETING EXPERIENCES
Azerbaijani cuisine – a mixture of east and west and the perfect representation of their way of life. People in Azerbaijan love food and a meal without plenty of meat and vegetables is something you will rarely come across. You’ll also find some delicious local fish and everything will be seasoned with tasty exotic spices. The most famous dishes are rice-based (pilaff), but we were also really impressed by different dairy products and top-quality meat dishes. Eating local is the easiest way to get to know the culture and also a big added value for meeting planners.
HIT THE STREETS
The town of Sheki – a town stuck in time, full of merchants, craftsmen and beautiful buildings that you can admire at every step. The most significant is certainly the Sheki Khans Palace built in 1797. Its wooden stained-glass facade is a masterpiece and the reason why the palace is UNESCO listed. Although Sheki is a four-hour drive from Baku, we recommend a visit, as you will be taken back in time and introduced to local craftsmen selling products in their workshops. Sheki is strategically positioned at the foot of the Caucasus mountain range, where trade roads have been running for centuries.
PLAY THE GAME
Tufandag Ski Resort – Who would have thought that skiing was a thing in Azerbaijan? The Gabala region is known as the Switzerland of Azerbaijan, where three years ago a modern ski resort was built. It’s equipped with the most modern ski canons and cable cars. The ski season goes on until April and there is no lack of activities in the summer as well. The views of the Caucasus mountains are spectacular, the perfect backdrop to numerous team-building activities. Everything comes at a very reasonable price, comparable to all major European skiing centres.
ESSENTIAL INCENTIVE EXPERIENCES
Çövkan – experience
Not many people know that the sport of polo has its roots in Azerbaijan. Çövkan is the predecessor of polo and has been played in Azerbaijan for centuries. It is known as the sport of kings, especially popular among Persian Shahs. The main difference between modern polo and Çövkan is the number of players, which has been reduced from 5 or 6 to 3 or 4. You can learn more about the sport through an interesting incentive programme organised by some specialised DMCs from Baku.
If you really want to go back in time, visit Gobustan, where you will find prehistoric petroglyphs in Gobustan National Park. The park is located on the Absheron peninsula and also houses an excellent museum, where you can learn more about Azerbaijan’s geography and the life of its first inhabitants. If you have some time left, Gobustan’s mud volcanoes are also an impressive sight to see.
The carpet weaving tradition is so important in Azerbaijan that even the museum housing the carpets is shaped like one. In Azerbaijan, especially its rural parts, every woman weaves a carpet as a dowry when her daughter gets married. Every hamlet has its own distinctive pattern, which is why carpets represent a way of life. The carpet museum should definitely be on your list of must-sees. You can also try to weave a carpet yourself on one of the incentive programmes, where you will find out the meaning of the famous Azerbaijani saying: “Bliss for the legs, joy for the eyes”.
WHEN IN AZERBAIJAN
Traditional Mugham music – in addition to cuisine, music is one of the most important parts of Azerbaijani life. It’s a tradition that keeps developing and can never die down. Traditional melodic styles are being used as the foundation for new compositions, mixing local instruments with electric guitars and synthesisers. “Rast” is a traditional musical modal system that tells stories through its jazz-like improvisation, captivating its listeners. In addition, the music is an important carrier of folk tradition and a blessing for the ears.
Qutab – belongs to ancient Azerbaijani cuisine and later on, it was popular in Caucasian and Jewish cuisine as well. Qutab is made by creating a stiff dough from flour, water, eggs, and salt. The dough is rolled into a thin circular layer and the middle of each circle is filled with stuffing before finally being folded into a crescent shape. The resulting patties are griddled on both sides and served drizzled with butter. Qutab is usually served with yoghurt with fresh coriander, fennel and sumac.
CARRY ME HOME
Buta ornaments – decorative elements typical of Azerbaijan, most commonly found on carpets. Throughout the world, ornaments are expressions of local culture and have priceless ethnic content. It would be quite a challenge to take an original Azerbaijan carpet home with you, therefore we recommend buying some cultural heritage in the form of a traditional scarf, pottery or a mini version of the carpet.