I’ve booked a hotel transfer, so a driver is waiting for me at the airport and the 20-minute trip is seamless. Opened in 2012, the new-build hotel has been made to look old and the nine-storey neoclassical structure just about pulls it off. The attention to detail inside and out is enough to make the atmosphere distinctive; the marble lobby is grand without being impersonal.
The hotel is in a prime location, sandwiched between the southern edge of the old city and the seafront Bulvar, so could hardly be better. It’s within walking distance of most of the central historic sites and the city’s high-end shopping district and is over the road from the 25-kilometre walkway on the Caspian Sea. The Carpet Museum is a five-minute walk away.
The hotel is popular with business and leisure guests, especially those from the GCC, Russians, Europeans and Americans. Local businesspeople gather for quiet meetings in the lobby or restaurants. The vibe is affluent and dignified without being stuffy. There is an indoor, Roman-style swimming pool and hot tub open 24 hours.
The hotel has 171 rooms; mine is a seventh-floor deluxe city room, which is ideal because it has a panoramic view of the old city and no traffic in between. From my windows and small balcony I can look down on the old city walls and its tangle of historic buildings. I also have a good view of the monumental Flame Towers. Rooms at the front of the hotel have views of the Caspian Sea. The room itself is well laid out, delicately designed and feels private. It has a walk-in wardrobe, a large Beaux Arts-style bathroom and a comfortable bed and desk area, with more muted grey and cream tones. There is an unpleasant smell coming from the shower which comes and goes during my stay. The TV in the bathroom mirror doesn’t seem to work.
Perhaps because of the ex-Soviet Union culture, staff here are professional without being obsequious, which I much prefer over the sometimes forced friendliness you get at other hotels. When my driver and guide fail to turn up on the first day, a man behind reception repeatedly calls the local numbers I give him to track them down. A call to fix the safe is attended to within a few minutes. The hotel doesn’t have a pillow menu, but when I request a firmer one, a member of housekeeping staff arrives with two pillows stuffed into one pillowcase. Marks here for improvisation. When I complain about the loud noise one night coming from the street – workers are setting up barriers for the upcoming Formula One – the duty manager deals with the matter immediately. Restaurant staff are attentive without being intrusive.
On my first night at the hotel I attend a corporate function and am served one of the most spectacular meals I've ever had – about five courses featuring different local dishes.
The all-day dining restaurant is the elegant Zaffarano on the ground floor. Food here is expensive, especially compared with many local restaurants, but high quality. The quinoa salad with avocado, red onion, cucumber, lime and chilli (28 manats/Dh60) is substantial enough to be a light meal by itself. The seafood stew, with a fillet of sea bream, prawns, mussels, clams, squid and toast comes in a delicious soup-style sauce (54 manats/Dh116). The buffet breakfast (40 manats/Dh85) is high-quality, with freshly prepared juice blends, a variety of local dishes including delicious tandir bread, and all the usual hot and cold items.
The location, my room and the apple and beetroot, pumpkin, honey and walnut and tumeric, honey ginger and coconut juices at breakfast.
The lack of a pillow menu and drain smell in the bathroom, in what is probably the best hotel in town – though having subsequently also stayed at another hotel in the city, that came with a similar smell, suggesting a wider problem.
A standout hotel – graceful, elegant and practical – that’s also a worthy base for a romantic weekend or anniversary trip, and good value, especially if you can bag an off-peak rate.
The bottom line
Double rooms at the Four Seasons Baku cost from 592 manats (Dh1,280) per night, including taxes.